Humanistic psychology is probably the most optimistic field of psychology. Born in an age of cold psychoanalysis and logical behaviorism, humanistic psychology believes that man is unique, and should be treated as such. They think that by dissecting the psyche into base elements or parts, the dignity and truth of the whole is lost (this relates to the idea of gestalt). The five basic postulates of humanistic psychology, as stated by the Association for Humanistic Psychology, are: "man, as man, supersedes the sum of his parts; man has his being in a human context; man is aware; man has choice; and, man is intentional." Some see this as touchy feely crap, other’s see truth. Also central to this branch of psychology is the idea of self-actualization.

Humanistic psychology arose in the early 1960s and was, as Caspen notes, a rejection of behaviorism and Freudian psychodynamics. The movement was influenced by the holism of gestalt psychology and by the emphasis on free will found in existential philosophy, and intended to take into account phenomena such as love and creativity which had been largely ignored by the fearless reductionism of the behaviorist approach, and the gloomy determinism of Freudian psychoanalysis. James Bugental neatly summarised it like this: "Humanistic psychology has as its ultimate goal the preparation of a complete description of what it means to be alive as a human being."

Humanists were not interested in coldly analysing the past in an attempt to predict future behaviour. What they were after was an understanding of each individual here and now, so that they could help people, out of simple altruism, to become as happy and fulfilled as possible. This approach has a number of defining characteristics:

  • People are studied as individuals. An understanding of someone cannot be derived from studies of average human tendency, less so from animal studies.
  • People are seen as having a meaningful internal experience as well as their external behaviour. This seems obvious but was largely ignored by the behaviorists.
  • People are assumed to have free will - they can influence their own future as they desire.
  • People are studied holistically and in their proper environmental context. It is assumed that you cannot understand an individual simply through analysis of component parts of their behaviour in a laboratory setting.
  • Methods of study are not usually intended to be scientific or reductionist.
Humanists are interested in establishing the development of self-worth, a sense of wellbeing, and congruence between ideal-self and actual behaviour. The idea of abnormality is rejected - people are seen as unique individuals. Humanistic therapy aims to increase self-actualization by person-centred therapy, with the therapist establishing "unconditional positive regard" for the client; the idea is that the client will learn to better control their own future and increase their happiness, well-being, etc. A humanistic therapist would attempt to stay open-minded about forms of treatment - he would not refrain from prescribing medication if he thought it would be a good way to begin the process of self-improvement, but he would also make sure to engage in honest person-to-person treatment.
Mike Cardwell, Psychology for A Level, 2000
Grahame Hill(?), Advanced Psychology through Diagrams(?), ?

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