Humanistic Perspective: AP Psychology Study Resource

Everyone has been through something.

Whether it’s small or big, positive or negative, the experiences we have growing up shape who we are as adults.

The brain comprises many layers of memories.

Some of these memories we suppress, while others come back to haunt us from time to time.

Some are voluntarily brought out for enjoyment.

As human beings, we are complex.

Our needs and desires have been the center of many psychological debates over the last few decades. What drives our behavior and responses is a fascinating topic that’s unlocked many possible theories.

Let’s take a look at one of these theories.

What is the Humanistic Perspective?

human shadow

So, what is humanistic perspective, then?

Humanistic perspective, otherwise known as humanistic psychology, is the emphasis of an individual’s ability to realize their creativity and capabilities.

Wikipedia explains that the humanistic perspective grew popular in the 20th century. It was an answer to the limitations brought on by Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and Skinner’s behaviorism model.

The humanistic perspective helps the client to conclude that everybody is inherently good. Through this, it promotes a holistic approach to the human existence and focuses on areas such as free will, creativity, and positive human potential.

The humanistic perspective encourages us as humans to see ourselves as a while being, as opposed to just being the sum of our parts. It helps us to explore ourselves rather than focusing on the behavior of others.

Another interesting aspect of humanistic psychology is its recognition of spiritual aspiration. This psychological theory believes that our spiritual hopes are inherent in our psyche.

The primary goal of this theory in client therapy is to encourage the client to change negative behaviors by replacing them with positive ones. The client does this through becoming more self-aware and practicing mindfulness.

Essentially, this therapeutic approach combines the concept of mindfulness with behavioral therapy.

A Brief History of the Humanistic Perspective


So, where did the humanistic perspective come from, then?

A few key theorists were involved in the development of this theory.

These included Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Very Well Mind also mentions Erich Fromm and Rollo May as influential theorists behind this concept.

In 1943, Maslow published a written article in the Psychological Review journal. This article was titled “A Theory of Human Motivation,” and it specifically described the hierarchy of needs that he was promoting through this theory.

After this article was published, Maslow met with other like-minded psychologists to discuss the possibility of starting an organization that focused on this new-found theory. The organization’s primary goal was to pioneer a more humanistic approach to therapy and psychology.

These like-minded psychologists all agreed on the three fundamental principles that the humanistic perspective exists on. These are self-actualization, individuality, and creativity.

Carl Rogers followed Maslow’s published article with one of his own in 1951, which he called “client-centered therapy.” In 1961, this group of psychologists established the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

Shortly after this journal was created, Maslow published another piece that detailed the three forces of psychology. He believed that these were behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and humanistic psychology.

Fundamental Principles of the Humanistic Perspective

What are the basic principles of the humanistic perspective?

Study reminds us that this revolutionary theory was in contrast to the behaviorist approach, which believed that human beings weren’t entirely aware of the reasoning and motivation behind their own behavior.

  • Holistic: As has been mentioned, one of the essential principles of humanistic perspective is that a human being is a whole, not the sum of their parts.
  • Environment: The humanistic perspective believes that their environment directly influences a human’s behavior. A side principle of this is that social interactions are inherent to a human’s development.
  • Awareness: Humans are aware that they exist, meaning that they are fully conscious of themselves and their surroundings. They have an appreciation of the past and use past experiences to influence present and future behavior.
  • Free Will: Humans have free will. This means that they are entirely in charge of the conscious choices they make. Unlike behaviorism, they do not act on impulse or by instinct alone.
  • Intention: Human beings are intentional about their behavior. This is evident in their motivation to work on life goals and bring unique meaning to their life.

Personality Aspects of Humanistic Perspective

Ideal Self vs. Real Self

The famous psychologist Carl Rogers, an expert of humanistic perspective psychology, split each human being into two separate categories. These two are the ideal self and the real self. The ideal self is the person you would like to be in a perfect world; the real self is the person you are in this one. Carl Rogers proposed the idea that we need to achieve unity between these two selves.

We experience harmony in self-acceptance when our beliefs about our real self and ideal self are alike— meaning our self-concept is accurate. High congruence (harmony) leads us to a bigger sense of self-worth and a healthy, productive life. On the other end, when there is a significant inconsistency between our ideal and actual selves, we experience a situation Carl Rogers called incongruence, which can lead to failure to cope in reality, both socially and personally.

Unconditional Positive Regard vs. Conditional Positive Regard

In the construction of the self-concept, Carl Rogers hoisted the value of unconditional positive regard, also known as unconditional self-love. People who are raised in a setting that offers them unconditional positive regard (where their worth is not challenged), have the opportunity to actualize themselves fully. When people grow up in an atmosphere of conditional positive regard, a reality where value and love are offered only when certain conditions are met, they must reach those conditions to gain the love or positive regard they wish to have.

These are the environments where their best is never enough. Sometimes these standards are given by parents, teachers, or other people in leadership and authority. Others, with influance on them, determine their ideal self based on these conditions, and they are forced to develop apart from their personal and genuine actualizing inclination; this adds to incongruence and puts a more significant gap between the real self and the ideal self.

Achieving an Ideal Life

Carl Rogers described life in illustrations of principles instead of stages of development to reach or achieve; he formed (or put into words) principles we live by as humans. This famous psychologist claimed that a healthy person would steadily strive to meet their potential by using these principles, which gains them the best and healthiest state of being. These people would let personality and self-concept come up from the experiences they have in daily life, allowing them to reach their ideal life and self.

Critical Evaluation of the Humanistic Perspective

While this sounds like a move in the right direction for psychology and therapy practices, the humanistic perspective does have its critics.

Simply Psychology explains that because the humanistic approach has applied to so few areas of psychology, its contributions to branches like abnormality and therapy are somewhat limited.

One potential explanation for this lies in the humanist side of this theory. The humanistic perspective has deliberately taken a non-scientific approach to the study of humans. Psychologists that believe this theory wanted to study the human mind without completely dehumanizing it.

Humanistic psychologists believe that rigorous scientific study around the conscious mind takes richness out of the experience as a whole and doesn’t account for the organic flow of the human consciousness.

As we’ve mentioned previously, much of why the humanistic perspective exists in the first place is as an answer to the dominance of a behaviorist approach in psychology before the middle of the 20th century.

Another challenge that humanistic psychologists face is the simple fact that areas like emotion and consciousness can be difficult to study. The limited outcome of scientific experiments around parts of the human brain that are like this means there’s a lack of evidence to support the proposed theories.

Humanistic Perspective Therapy

We’ve looked at the definition of the humanistic perspective and its limitations as a branch of psychology. How is it applied in a therapeutic setting?

The American Psychological Association explains that there are currently three different types of humanistic therapy:

  • Client-centered: Client-centered treatment is a particularly popular method executed under the humanistic perspective umbrella. Client-centered therapy aims at rejecting the idea that the therapist is the final authority on their clients’ inner emotions and experiences. Instead, therapists help their clients change through understanding and empathy.
  • Gestalt Therapy: The second approach to the humanistic perspective of therapy is Gestalt therapy. This approach places a strong emphasis on “organismic holism,” which is the importance of being aware of yourself in the present. It also encourages the client to take responsibility for their choices and behaviors based on the theory that they have free will.
  • Existential Therapy: This type of humanistic therapy focuses mainly on the concept of free will and the client’s overall search for meaning in life. Existential treatment also addresses the importance of self-determination when overcoming negative behaviors and patterns of thinking.

Humanistic Perspective: Societal Application

How is the humanistic perspective applicable to society?

Wikipedia continues by discussing the importance of social work concerning this theory. Directly after psychotherapy comes social work in the humanistic perspective’s hierarchy of methodology.

In fact, this theory has led the way in revolutionizing the definition of social work itself and how this role impacts on a societal level. The values and principles that humanistic social workers hold include human creativity, developing the self and one’s spirituality, obtaining resilience and security, flexibility and accountability.

The humanistic perspective has also branched out into the corporate world. Its emphasis on wholeness and creativity has encouraged corporate organizations to embrace more of a creative approach to the work environment.

The presence of humanistic perspective in a corporate setting also seeks to encourage more emotional interactions, too.

Previously, in a work situation, the idea of creativity was reserved strictly for artists. However, with an increase in the numbers of people working in the cultural economy over the last few decades, companies have looked to creativity as a way to stand out and become noticed, especially when it comes to branding.

This shift in office environments and attitudes has led to the development of corporate creativity training, executed within the office with a particular focus on employees.

Looking at the Humanistic Perspective

woman standing in front of the window

Psychology has come a long way since the Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Skinner’s behaviorism approach.

Slowly over time, psychologists have begun to explore different approaches to studying human behavior. When thinking outside the box and wondering where else our reasoning for behavior could come from, they came across the concept of humanistic psychology.

While this approach has its limitations like all other theories, its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.

Seeing a human being from the humanistic perspective means encouraging them to take responsibility for their own behavior.

We are more than just the sum of our parts – in fact, we’re a whole.

We’re a whole with free will who is in charge of how we behave and respond to stimuli. This allows for a much more empathetic approach in modern-day therapy, motivating the individual to participate in their own treatment for a positive outcome.