What is humanistic psychology?

Written by sheila buck | 13/05/2017
What is humanistic psychology?
Humanistic psychology is about the whole person. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Humanistic psychology looks at the whole person, as someone who's unique, has responsibilities and makes his own choices. Humanistic psychologists also believe that a person seeks creativity, meaning and value, and they use a therapeutic approach that focuses on how a person's behaviours relate to his inner feelings and affect his self-image.


In the late 1950s, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and other psychologists wanted a humanistic approach to psychology. They didn't believe that human behaviour was based on conditioning, or the unconscious and conscious mind. They believed that the person as a whole -- including health, creativity and individuality -- caused human behaviours. In the early 1960s, they published the first "Journal of Humanistic Psychology," followed by the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1963.


The main strength of humanistic psychology is that it doesn't reduce a person into components of the whole, such as genes, the unconscious mind and observable behaviours. This therapy is individualised for each person seeking help; for example, if the client wants to listen to soft music during the session, the therapist will allow it. The client usually decides what issues he wants to work on during the sessions, and the steps he will take to reach his goals. SimplyPsychology.org explains that this approach gives a person authentic insight into the reasons for his behaviour.


The humanistic approach lacks specific treatments for a person's problems, and thus doesn't work well with individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia or other major mental illnesses, explains Abraham-Maslow.com. The theories used in humanistic psychology may not be suitable for treating every client. This approach also ignores the unconscious mind, which seems to play an important role in the theories of other psychological fields.

Client-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers developed client-centred therapy based on the theory that all humans strive to reach their potential. He believed that mental health was a process of psychological development and that a mental disturbance was a bend in the growth process. Client-centred therapists strive for empathy, put the person first and try to help their clients reach self-actualisation -- the achievement of their full potential.

Hierarchy of Needs

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs -- four levels of needs that a person must obtain before she can reach self-actualisation. The person's physiological needs, including food, water and sleep, had to be met first, before she could move on to achieving safety needs, which include shelter, property and employment. She next needs to achieve love and belonging, which requires having family and friends, before achieving esteem for herself and others. In meeting all these needs, she will finally reach self-actualisation.

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