Humanistic School

Humanistic School

Ok- it was the late 1950’s and “make love, not war” era was peaking it’s head around the corner when the humanistic school popped up.  People were sick of the impersonality of the behavior school and the negativity of the psychoanalytic school.  People wanted to focus, not on the sick, but on the healthy.  They wanted to focus on how to be healthy and look for inspiration in their lives to make them feel good about themselves.  they turned to the Humanists.

Most of the schools of psychology are what we would call deterministic.  Determinism is the idea that the way we behave is dictated by our past and in certain ways beyond our control.  For example, those from the psychoanalytic school emphasize our childhood in shaping the way we act.  Behaviorists say that we were conditioned or reinforced to behave the way we do.  Neither theory emphasized the notion of free will or our ability to choose our own destiny.  The idea that we control our own fate is a central pillar behind the next school we are going to study, the humanistic school.

One of the first humanistic thinkers was a man by the name of Abraham Maslow.

Maslow first became celebrated when we studied motivation.  Maslow believed that our motivations in life are solely based on our needs.  If we are thirsty, we have a need for water and become motivated to go seek out water.  Maslow said that we have many different types of needs and their importance to us changes throughout our lives.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow said that all needs are not created equal.  He described a hierarchy of needs that predicts which needs we will be motivated to satisfy first.  Maslow predicted that will will act to satisfy our basic biological needs first, like food and water, and then work our way up the pyramid (see below).

Maslow believed that we must satisfy the lower needs first before moving on to the higher ones.  What makes Maslow one of the fathers of the humanistic school is the highest need on his pyramid, self-actualization.  Self-actualization is the idea that we “can be the best we can be”.  Maslow thought the ultimate goal of humanity is for each one of us to be focused on fulfilling our own potential.  If we are motivated in life by the idea that we should self-actualize, then everything else would just work out.  It would not matter how much money we made, or who had the bigger house.  If each one of us just strived to be the best we could be, then happiness would follow.  On a side note, Maslow realized that only a few people have actually ever fully self-actualized, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. etc…

So now we now that humanistic psychologists were focused on our free will and the idea that we should strive to fill our potential.  Still, what does that really mean?  It all centers around the idea that without self-esteem or a positive self-concept will have difficultly being happy.  Your self-concept, or your perception of yourself should be positive in nature.  Our self-concept is derived from how we get along with others, especially our parents.  If we do not get along with others, we likely have a negative self concept.  But if we have positive relationships with others, then we likely have a positive self-concept and high self-esteem.

Carl Rogers

Other than Maslow, Carl Rogers is the big Humanist you should know for the AP exam.  Rogers created what he called the self theory.  The self theory focuses on the idea that we are all inherently good people and we all want to reach our potential- he called this our actualizing tendency.  To reach this potential we need three things, genuineness, acceptance and empathy.

Genuineness is the idea that you are totally open with your own feelings.  Everyday each one of us walks around trying to live up to the image of how we want others to see us.  Instead, Rogers wants us to drop the facade and become our true selves.  Empathy is the concept that we can listen, understand and mirror what others are feeling.  Being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and grasp how they feel at that moment is a test of empathy.  Finally, Roger’s believed we need acceptance to grow and reach our potential.  We believed that we should accept both ourselves and others without reservation and he called this notion unconditional positive regard.  If a parent accepts you just if you get good grades, how will that make you fell?  But if a parent accepts their child unconditionally, a child’s growth will be positive.

Humanistic Therapy

All this stuff sounds hunky dorey, but how can a therapist use this to help a client?  Well, most humanistic therapy is based around a therapy by Carl Rogers called client centered therapy (or person centered therapy) which basically says that the therapist will show unconditional positive regard  and accept her client regardless of the circumstances.  In a nutshell, Rogerian therapists are nondirective and NEVER tell their clients what to do (unlike the cognitive therapists we will talk about soon).  Clients will find their own way as long as they think positively.  Humanistic therapists practice a skill they call active listening, which is listening that involves mirroring back the feelings relayed by the client.  So if the client says, “I am pissed off and want to run away”, the therapist may restate by saying, “So I hear that you are angry and want to escape”.

One last thing. Remember Gestalt psychologists, they studied perception and how we see the that the whole is bigger than the sum of their parts.  Gestalt psychologists are sometimes considered humanistic in that they emphasize that their client gets in touch with their whole selves.  For example, Gestalt therapists encourage their clients to explore feelings of which they may not be aware and emphasize the importance of body position and seemingly minute actions.  These therapists want their clients to integrate all their actions, feelings, and thoughts into a harmonious whole.  Gestalt therapists also stress the importance of the present because one can best appreciate the totality of an experience as it occurs.