Alternative MethodsConventional Methods


March 29

Historic Review of Humanistic Psychology

Priscilla Cain
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 5 min.

We are educators, doctors, nurses, human service workers, community activists, organizational development professionals, students, writers, musicians, artists, health and social workers, counselors, scientists, architects, business people, politicians, spiritual leaders, homemakers, trades people, anyone who shares humanistic values and wants to make a difference. While it has humanized and revolutionized psychology with its emphasis on our conscious ability to choose and create, AHP is not just for psychologists.

It’s hard to hold on to humanistic ideals in a world so fearful, so violent and increasingly rigid. In this society driven by production and consumption, sometimes it may seem like you are the only one who is standing up for humanity.

Throughout history many individuals and groups have affirmed the inherent value and dignity of human beings. They have spoken out against ideologies, beliefs and practices which held people to be merely the means for accomplishing economic and political ends. They have reminded their contemporaries that the purpose of institutions is to serve and advance the freedom and power of their members. In Western civilization we honor the times and places, such as Classical Greece and Europe of the Renaissance, when such affirmations were expressed.

Humanistic Psychology is a contemporary manifestation of that ongoing commitment. Its message is a response to the denigration of the human spirit that has so often been implied in the image of the person drawn by behavioral and social sciences. During the first half of the twentieth century, American psychology was dominated by two schools of thought: behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Neither fully acknowledged the possibility of studying values, intentions and meaning as elements in conscious existence. Although various European perspectives such as phenomenology had some limited influence, on the whole mainstream American psychology had been captured by the mechanistic beliefs of behaviorism and by the biological reductionism and determinism of classical psychoanalysis.

Ivan Pavlov’s work with the conditioned reflex (induced under rigid laboratory controls, empirically observable and quantifiable) had given birth to an academic psychology in the United States led by John Watson which came to be called “the science of behavior” (in Abraham Maslow’s later terminology, “The First Force”). Its emphasis on objectivity was reinforced by the success of the powerful methodologies employed in the natural sciences and by the philosophical investigations of the British empiricists, logical positivists and the operationalists, all of whom sought to apply the methods and values of the physical sciences to questions of human behavior. Valuable knowledge (particularly in learning theory and the study of sensation and perception) was achieved in this quest. But if something was gained, something was also lost: The “First Force” >systematically excluded the subjective data of consciousness and much information bearing on the complexity of the human personality and its development.

The “Second Force” emerged out of Freudian psychoanalysis and the depth psychologies of Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, Otto Rank, Harry Stack Sullivan and others. These theorists focused on the dynamic unconscious – the depths of the human psyche whose contents, they asserted, must be integrated with those of the conscious mind in order to produce a healthy human personality . The founders of the depth psychologies believed (with several variations) that human behavior is principally determined by what occurs in the unconscious mind. So, where the behaviorists ignored consciousness because they felt that its essential privacy and subjectivity rendered it inaccessible to scientific study, the depth psychologists tended to regard it as the relatively superficial expression of unconscious drives.

” An assumption unusual in psychology today is that the subjective human being has an important value which is basic; that no matter how he may be labeled and evaluated he is a human person first of all, and most deeply. “ Carl Rogers, 1962.

By the late 1950′s a “Third Force”was beginning to form. In 1957 and 1958, at the invitation of Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas, two meetings were held in Detroit among psychologists who were interested in founding a professional association dedicated to a more meaningful, more humanistic vision. They discussed several themes – such as self, self-actualization, health, creativity, intrinsic nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning – which they believed likely to become central concerns of such an approach to psychology. In 1961, with the sponsorship of Brandeis University, this movement was formally launched as the American Association for Humanistic Psychology. The first issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology appeared as “The Phoenix” in December, 1963.

In 1964, at Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the first invitational conference was held, an historic gathering that did much to establish the character of the new movement. Attendees included psychologists, among whom were Gordon Allport, J.F.T. Bugental, Charlotte Buhler, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Gardner Murphy, Henry Murray and Carl Rogers, as well as humanists from other disciplines, such as Jacques Barzun, Rene Dubos and Floyd Matson.The conferees questioned why the two dominant versions of psychology did not deal with human beings as uniquely human nor with many of the real problems of human life. They agreed that if psychology were to become more than a narrow academic discipline limited by the biases of behaviorism, and if it were to study human attributes such as values and self-consciousness that the depth psychologists had chosen to de-emphasize, their “Third Force” would have to offer a fuller concept and experience of what it means to be human.

By this time the term “human psychology” was in general use. It reflected many of the values expressed by the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Renaissance Europeans, and others who have attempted to study those qualities that are unique to human life and that make possible such essentially human phenomena as love, self-consciousness, self-determination, personal freedom, greed, lust for power, cruelty, morality, art, philosophy, religion, literature, and science.

Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May, who had participated in the conference at Old Saybrook, remained the movement’s most respected intellectual leaders for the decades that followed. Maslow( see Extracts from the writings of Abraham H. Maslow, Abraham H. Maslow Bibliography Compiled by Maurice Bassett and A Brief Biography of A.H. Maslow) developed a hierarchical theory of human motivation which asserted that when certain basic needs are provided for, higher motives toward self-actualization can emerge. Rogers introduced person-centered therapy, which holds that intrinsic tendencies toward self-actualization can be expressed in a therapeutic relationship in which the therapist offers personal congruence, unconditional positive regard and accurate empathic understanding. Thus Maslow and Rogers embraced self-actualization both as an empirical principle and an ethical idea. Their vision of human nature as intrinsically good became a major theme of the “human potential” movement, but was criticized by some other humanistic psychologists as an inadequate model of the human experience.

Rollo May represented the European currents of existentialism and phenomenology that became influential in humanistic psychology and emphasized the inherently tragic aspects of the human condition. His books provided an enduring philosophical perspective and much-needed insight into questions involving the enduring presence of evil and suffering in the world, the nature of creativity, art and mythology, and the value of the humanities as psychological resources. Humanistic psychology expanded its influence throughout the 1970s and the 1980s. It’s impact can be understood in terms of three major areas: 1) It offered a new set of values for approaching an understanding of human nature and the human condition. 2) It offered an expanded horizon of methods of inquiry in the study of human behavior. 3) It offered a broader range of more effective methods in the professional practice of psychotherapy.

by Maureen O’ Hara For AHP

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