Humanistic psychology grew out of the positive views of human nature and human potential that were promoted in Classical Greek philosophy and in the Renaissance. Humanistic view of psychology rejects the negative view of human nature taught in religion. People are not innately “fallen” and self-centered. Rather, human nature possesses unlimited potential to do good and to experience the self-actualization or a sense of ultimate purpose and meaning in life.
Humanistic psychology is often labeled the “Third Force” in psychology. The First Force was Behaviorism. Behaviorism was loosely based on Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with conditioned reflex and John Watson’s conditioning “unnatural” behavior. The “Second Force” began with Freud’s Psychoanalysis and evolved into Psychodynamic theories such as those offered by Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. Psychodynamic theories focused on the internal world of the unconscious that was influenced by early experiences, emerging impulses, and the collective unconscious.
The “Third Force” of Humanistic psychology rejected the mechanistic view of the human psyche and behavior promoted by Behaviorism and the fixation on the unconscious touted by the Psychodynamic theories. Carl Rogers is credited with initiating the “Third Force” in the mid-twentieth century.
The first national conference for humanists in psychology was held in Saybrook, Connecticut in 1964. Attendees would become champions in the field of psychology such as Gordon Allport, Abraham Maslow, and Rollo May. The attendees concluded that the current two “Forces” were not sufficient in their explanation of the human psyche or in their prescription for how to mitigate all psychological issues.
Two attendees went on to make significant contributes to the field of psychology and counseling. Carl Rogers offered person-centered therapy. Person-centered therapy emphasized the positive and growth-oriented nature of people and relational techniques that facilitate therapy such as reflective listening, appropriate touch, and acceptance of the client with unconditional positive regard.
Abraham Maslow developed an approach to psychology that emphasized the role of needs as a motivation for human behavior. Maslow offered a needs hierarchy and suggested that people naturally want to move to the top of the ladder and experience self-actualization. However, lower-level needs may be unmet and must be fulfilled before movement up the hierarchy is possible.
Humanistic Psychology Today
Though most of the major theoretical work in humanistic psychology is behind us, the humanistic view of psychology continues today. The humanistic tradition has made perhaps its greatest impact on the area of counseling techniques. For example, Rogers’ therapeutic techniques such as be non-judgmental, listening, and demonstrating unconditional positive regard for the client are standard therapeutic techniques in counseling today regardless of the therapeutic modality.