Humanistic Approach in Psychology

In this week’s blog I am going to talk about the humanistic appraoch in psychology and how it differs from the behavioural approach.

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that emphasises the study of the whole person which is known as holism. Humanistic psychologists look at the human behaviour not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person doing the behaving.They believe that an individual’s behaviour is connected to his inner feelings and self-image. This perspective centres on the view that each person is unique and individual and has the free will to change at any time in his/her lives.

This perspective also suggests that we are each responsible for our own happiness and well-being as humans. We have the innate (i.e. inborn) capacity for self-actualisation which is our unique desire to achieve our highest potential as people. Because of this focus on the person and his/her own personal experiences and subjective perception of the world the humanists regard sciencific methofs as inappropriate for studying behaviour. Two of the most influential and enduring theories in humanistic psychology that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s are those of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

During the 1950s, humanistic psychology began as a reaction to psychoanalysis and behaviourism, which dominated psychology at the time.   Psychoanalysis was focused on understanding the unconscious motivations that drives behaviour while behaviourism studied the conditioning processes that produce bheaviour. Humanist thinkers felt that both psychoanalysis and behaviourism were too pessimistic, either focusing on the most tragic of emotions or failing to take into account the tole of personal choice.

Humanistic psychology was instead focused on each individual’s potential and stressed the importance of growth and self-actualization. The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology is that people are innately good and that mental and socila problems result from deviations from this natural tendency.

However, it is not necessary to think of these three schools of thought as competing elements. Each branch of psychology has contributed to our understanding of the human mind and behaviour. Humanistic psychology added yet another dimension that takes a more holistic view of the individual.

Now I am going to list a few criticisms and some strengths of the humanistic approach.

One criticism of humanistic psychology is that this apporach is often seen as too subjective; the importance of individual experience makes it difficult to objectively study and measure humanistic phenomena. Another major criticism is that observations are unveritiable; there is no accurate way to measure or quantify these qualities.

One of the major strengths of humanistic psychology is that it emphasizes the role of the invidual; this school of psychology gives people more credit in controlling and determining their state of mental health. It also takes environmental influences into account; rather than focusing solely on our internal thoughts and desires, humanistic psychology also credits the environment’s influence on our experiences. Humanistic psychology continues to influence therapy, education, healthcare and other areas. Humanistic psycholohy helped remove some of the stigma attached to therapy and made it more acceptable for normal, healthy individuals to explore their abilities and potential through therapy .







8 Responses to “Humanistic Approach in Psychology”

  1. Good understanding of the humanistic approach, although not a lot of comparison and contrast to the behavioural approach.

    Humanist psychologists place emphasis on subjective experience; in contrast to other perspectives on human behaviour which are considered objective. Part of the belief in the humanistic view is that we as individuals have complete free will, and that our behaviour and thought is not determined.
    The humanistic approach is more of a therapeutic approach,, thriving to help people achieve the best of their ability, to self actualise, a term founded by Maslow (1954).
    The humanistic approach adopts a ideographic approach, focusing solely on the individual, and not the general laws and public. They do no break behaviour down into smaller components. The behaviour is considered as a whole, in a holistic way; unlike many of the more robust, scientific views in psychology, such as the biological, which breaks behaviour down to it’s smallest form, investigating neurotransmitter abnormality, genetics etc in psychotic disorders such as Depression and Schizophrenia.

    In Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, he explores each need related to homoeostasis, maintain our bodies for survival. The human body; when its lacking a certain substance, it develops a hunger for it; When it gets enough of it, then the hunger stops. Maslow stretches the homoeostatic principle to needs, such as safety, belonging, and esteem, that we don’t ordinarily think of in these terms.

    The humanistic approach also looks into the future of individuals, rather than other approaches (The psychodynamic) who delve into the past reasoning for human behaviour and thought.

    A criticism of the humanistic approach, Maslow’s methodology in particular is that he places constraints on self actualization; he believed that only 2% of the human population would reach their full potential. In addition, Carl Rogers believed babies were the best to self actualise; thus reducing the approach to a small number that cannot be generalised to everyone.

    The approach has a lack of rigorousness and objectivity, in the result of humanist psychologists rejecting the scientific view. It’s fantasy theories of that people can self actualise, ignores the deviance of individuals and what they can impose on each other. Extraneous factors are ignored. Despite this, the therapy provided by the humanistic psychologists has provided a hugh contribution to psychology with interpersonal treatment for psychotic disorders such as depression (which humanistic psychologists believe is a result of a loss in a persons’ life). “As Kierkegaard pointed out, depression is likely to result when the difference between the ideal and the real becomes too great for the individual to tolerate.” (Sarason & Sarason, 1989).

    There is much more to the humanistic view than we think. It’s an unique look onto the reasoning behind human behaviour and thought, but it’s lack of scientific evidence results in huge criticism for the explanations of behaviour.

    Maslow, A. (1954). Retrieved from:

    Sarason & Sarason. (1989). Retrieved from:

  2. You’ve mentioned in your blog that a person’s own experiences and subjective perception of the world mean that scientific methods are inappropriate for studying behaviour according to humanists. But there are some ways in which humanism can be seen as very scientific. According to Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening (2000), the fact that humanism focuses largely on the “lived experience” of a person’s life, therefore means that is it focusing on the science of the individuals experience or knowledge.
    Although, on the other hand, Robbins (2008) argues that there is a significant lack of “empirical base” within the humanist approach. They have been criticised for being restricted in their views which rejects Carl Roger’s (1961) empirical work.

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