Humanistic Approach

HideShow resource information


Carl Rogers (1902-87) was an American psychologist who founded humanistic psychology in the '50s. The approach formed largely due to concerns from the therapists regarding the limitations of psychoanalysis. Rogers believed that psychanalysis failed to fully appreciate and deal with the nature of healthy growth in an individual. 

Humanistic psychologists were dissatisfied with the deterministic nature and sceintific approach of the behaviourists.

The humanistic approach is therefore seen as the third force in psychology.

Humanistic psychology (sometimes called Humanism) places central and overriding importance on the unique aspects  of individual human experience (idiographic). It values the subjective feelings and conscious thoughts of the person.

1 of 24


Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow thought that the other two approaches neglected essential aspects of what it is to be human.

The humanistic approach can be sumamrised into five core features:

  • Human beings must be viewed as a whole and not reduced to component parts
  • Human beings are unique and must be valued as such
  • Human consciousness includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people
  • Human beings have free will, that is the ability to choose and determine their own paths in life
  • Humans are intentional. They seek meaning, value and creativity.

Rogers was concerned with creating a more holistic form of psychology, that is, the focus on positive growth within individuals rather than their pathology.

Rogers was committed to forming an establishment dedicated to individual, unique issues such as self-actualisation, growth, love and creativity.

2 of 24


  • Humans are essentially good and will grow psychologically if given positive regard
  • People are motivated by the hierarchy of needs, with basic needs at the bottom
  • Psychological therapies should be client-centred and involve warmth, empathy
  • Each person can exercise free will and has control over what they think and feel, and how they behave.
  • Each person is a rational and conscious being and not dominated by unconscious, primitive instincts (unlike psychodynamic)
  • A person's subjective view of the world is of greater importance to understanding the person that objective reality (not about what we can test/measure)
  • Humans should be viewed as a whole and not reduced to component parts - must be looked at from a holistic perspective
  • Humans are active agents - able to control and determine their own development
  • Humans strive toward achieving self-actualisation
  • To be psychologically healthy, the real and ideal self must be congruent.
  • Humanism rejects the behaviourist assumption that we are stimulus-response machines and can be compared to animals. It views it as too deterministic.
  • Humanistic psychology rejects the psychodynamic approach that our unconscious, irrational and instinctive forces dicate our behaviour. It is viewed as too deterministic.
  • Conscious experience is all that counts - self and self concept are fundamental
3 of 24

Free Will

Both Maslow and Rogers regarded personal growth and fulfilment in life as the basic human motive. 

The humanistic approach holds the view that the person is an active agent who is able to change and decide his or her own development. Seeing people as active agents means that they can both control and change the environment in which they live. 

This means that people are responsible for their actions and for their own personal growth. Contrastingly, the behaviourist approach characteristises humans as passively  responding to stimuli in their environment

In psychotherapy, people are encouraged to understand how free will may be constrined. People cannot go around doing whatever they want all the time. What other people want, the morals and laws of society and family values (eg,) may all constrain free will.

In order to function effectivley in society, the person has to understand these constraints and learn to live with them at times.

4 of 24

The Person Centred Approach

Self actualisation is the main goal = psychological growth fulfilment and life satisfactions Theoretical ideas of Carl Roger's Person Centred Approach: 1) The fully functioning person characteristics: 

  • Open to experience; Positive and Negative emotions accepted - emotions worked through, not ignored.
  • Existential living in touch with life experiences and holds no preconceptions or prejudice
  • Trust feelings
  • Creativity
  • Fulfilment, happy and satisfied with life, searching new experinces

These people are often high achievers in life. Many people will never attain this, but it is a goal for all (in western society) 

5 of 24

The Person Centred Approach

2) Self worth and positive regard

  • Having a high opinion of ones self, these people are confident and open with people. Low self worth people are avoidant.
  • Similar to psychodynamic as it is believed that early childhood experiences can affect ones self worth.
  • Young children need UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD where (mainly) parents show acceptance and love the child no matter what (conditional postive regard = only sucess gains praise and is detrimental to development). This is likeness to psychodynamic as childhood experiences are deemed important.

3) Self Concept/4) Congruence

  • Has two aspects: Self Worth and Our Ideal Self.
  • Incongruence = large gap between ideal self and reality
  • Congruence = Close to ideal self
  • High Incongruence = psychological distress
  • Low incongruence = content
6 of 24

The Person Centred Approach

Carl Rogers developed person centred therapy (PCT) in the '40s and '50s. Rogers's new therapy, which he termed counselling, was to revolutionise therapy as a whole and, in particular, the relationship between the therapist and client.

For Rogers, an important aspect of therapy was to focus on the client's immediate situation, rather than their past (unlike psychoanalysis). By having a more personal relationship with the client, Rogers believed the client could be brought to a state of realisation in which they can help themselves and use the therapy as a way to achieve a more ideal sense of self rather than remaining in an irrational world. 

PCT is a non-directive, talking therapy. The therapist encourages the client to express their inner feelings and perceptions. Rather than suggesting how the client might wish to change, the therapist becomes a 'mirror' - listening and reflecting back the client's thoughts and feelings. This way, the client then has free will to decide what changes they would like in order for them to achieve personal growth.

7 of 24

Client Centred Therapy

Client centred and person centred therapy

  • The focus of this therapy is based on the assumptions related to incongruence, and the person's subjective view of the world

The therapist must be:

  • Congruent with the client = genuine toward the client to reflect harmony
  • Provide the person with unconditional positive regard = accept everything they think
  • Demonstrate empathy towards the client = always understand their situation

The Purpose of therapy:

  • To increase self worth
  • To reduce incongruence between ideal self and actual self
  • To help them become more fully functioning

Rogers also developed encounter groups where people feel safe to express feelings to a group = use as APPLICATION

8 of 24

Concept of Self

Rogers sauid the concept of self emerges in childhood. As the child grows older, they become aware of their own identity, personality, likes etc. He stated that in order for an individual to achieve personal growth, they must become congruent with their sense of self. Rogers thought that there were three selves:

  • The self-concept = the way in which a person sees him/herself
  • The Ideal self = the person whom we would like to be
  • The real self = the person we actually are

The aim of person centred therapy is to increase the client's level of congruence - to close the 'percieved' gap between the ideal and real self. While no individual ever achieves a perfect stage of congruence, Rogers stated that the relative degree of congruence is a good indicator of psychological health.

Rogers believed that an effective therapist should provide the client with three essential elements in order to achieve personal growth + positive self-worth:

  • Empathy with the client's emotions
  • Genuineness
  • Unconditional positive regard
9 of 24

Childhood experiences

Rogers stated many of the psychological probles experienced as adults  (eg, worthlessness) were due to a lack of positive regard from our mothers as children.

Children rasied in such environments will only feel worthy if they adhere to certain conditions, that is do what they are told. Rogers describes this as conditions of worth (a child will only recieve praise, love etc from its parents if it behaves in ways considered by them to be socially acceptable).

However, children that recieve unconditional positive regard, or unconditional love, from their mothers, have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Rogers said that it is essential that the therapist shows the client's earlier childhood experiences.

The therapist provides the right environment for the client to work towards achieving their full potential, or what Maslow termed self-actualisation.

10 of 24

Evaluation of Rogerian Therapy

Positive - research has shown that the client centred approach is effective. However, it is largely dependant on the persons personality

Negative - Effectiveness is based on what clients say not objectivley measured on better functioning. There is not usually a long term follow up of clients.

11 of 24

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Human motivation and the hierarchy of needs

  • Human motivation is based on achieving fulfilment and change via personal growth (to attain self actualisation)
  • The pyramid is made up of basic deficiency needs and growth needs.
  • The person must meet the 4 deficiency needs before they reach the goal of self actualisation

There are four lower levels of the hierarchy - esteem, love/belongingness, saftey, physiological needs, and are deficiency needs. The top level of the hierarchy - self-actualisation, is refered to as the growth need. 

Maslow stated in order to achieve self-actualisation, that is to become fully functioning, psychologically healthy individual, all deficiency needs must be met first.

Only when they have satisfied their physiological needs can they move up the hierarchy - their physiologcal needs are now no longer a priority. Maslow stated if a lower set of needs in the hierarchy is contiunually unsatisfied, the individual could re-proritise, that is return to the lwoer level in the hierarchy, until those needs are reasonably satisfied again.

12 of 24

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy has had enormous impact and practical application within the workplace. Employers understand that for individual satisfaction and efficiency, it is essential they discover how their employees percieve their jobs in terms of need satisfaction.

This then allows employers to match people to jobs that they are not only qualified for, but which would give their employees the most satisfaction as well.

13 of 24

Contrast and evaluation of hierarchy

In contrast with:

  • Psychodynamic Approach as it characterises people as avoiding conflict and wanting absence of tension
  • Behaviourist Approach which ignores drives and needs and explains behaviour as a result of external reinforcement and not internal forces
  • It oversimplies human behaviour
  • Not always true that the four deficiency needs are needed to be complete before self actualisation (eg, on holiday, in a relationship etc)
  • Only in conditions of extreme poverty are people motivated by physiological needs
14 of 24

Self Actualisation

Both Rogers and Maslow believed people have an innate tendency to self actualise. This may be achieved in different ways for different people, eg, writing poetry. The ten characteristics of self-actualisation:

  • Accurate perceptions (realistic understanding of reality)
  • Accepting others
  • Spontaneous and simple
  • Problem centred
  • Autonomous (independent of one social context)
  • Creative
  • Sense of Humour
  • Democratic
  • Detached (put aside own feeling and emotions)
  • private (needs some time alone and is content with this)

Summed up = striving for goodness, helping others, seeking truth and justice and a desire for order

Maslow described self actualisation as a sort of peak experience which many may not reach

15 of 24

Maslow's research

On the healthy personality.

Pre conditions of self actualisers = Absence of restraits. No or little distraction from the deficiency needs. A good self knowledge.

Peak experiences = These are feelings of ecstasy and deep satisfying fulfilment. During a peak experience, a person experiences an absence for the deficiency needs. Some people regard them as religious, whereas others regard them as events of major significance

However - Maslow identified the Jonah Complex. This applies to people who fear being the best they can be as they do not welcome the pressure it brings.

16 of 24

Rejection of the Scientific approach

  • Malows (1970)  conducted extensive research in identifying self-actualisers. He interviewed people he thought were SAs and made his own (subjective) judgements on the characteristics of these people. He measured only healthy individuals.
  • To measure self actualisation. Shostrum (1963) invented the Person Orientated Inventory (POI), low scorers on the POI tend to experience poor interpersonal relationships whereas high scorers tend to be Creative.
17 of 24

Evaluation of Maslow

Positive - his theories on motivation. Hierarchy of needs and the concept of self actualisation have been highly influential in psychology in an attempt to understand peoples motivation (as an alternative from financial motivation). Self actualisation has enjoyed widespread acceptance and has been applied to atypical behaviour to better understand peoples fears and anxities.

Negative - Culture specific! Representing white middle class North Americans (similar criticism to Freud!) His methods were unscientific and subjective therefore lacked objectivity. He ignored unhealthy/psychologically distressed individuals in this research on self actualisation

18 of 24

Rejection of the Scientific approach

  • Both Rogers and Maslow (humanism) rejected the scientific approach
  • They argue that a persons objective reality is less important than a persons subjective experiences
  • They place litle value on lab experiemtns using animals = a method used widely in the behaviourist approach
  • Humanists view humans as fundamentally different from animals as we are conscious beings capable of thought and reason and language
  • Non human methods are seen as dehumanising!
19 of 24

Key concepts

Key concepts:

1) Individual experiences - are unique to each person and cannot be repeated (only similar experiences are experienced). To understnad a person's individual experience one must be empathetic. The reporting of individual experience must be seen as valid, not questioned or challenged.

2) Promoting personal growth - an important aspect of both theories. For Rogers, personal growth occurs with the fully fuctioning person, with Maslow it is via satisfaction of deficiency needs. Events that distort personal growth and cause conflicts within a person are coined 'threat.' When people go through threatening situations, they go through a defensive process, aimed at warning off anxieties that stunt their personal growth ('not themselves.') 

According to Maslow, promotion of growth comes about meeting the deficiency needs and via positive peak experiences,

Csikszenmihalyi (1980) stated flow experiences also lead to personal growth. These are physical or mental experiences when a person becomes fully involved in what they're doing, as they want to develop in that activity.

20 of 24

Key concepts

3) Free will - humanists believe people have free will as opposed to will being determined by internal forces (psychodynamic) or other deterministic explanations for behaviour, such as behaviourism. Free will doesn't mean you can do anything you wish to. It's considered along side laws and regulations. It's determined by external consequences (eg, punishment) and internal consequences (eg, guilt).

One major influence the debate has is whether a person is or not always responsible for their actions (eg, criminal psychology)

4) Holism - 'the whole is greater than the sum of all it's parts' is the view of a gestalt psychologist. Humanistic psychology adopts a holistic approach and avoids attempts to reduce personality to smaller elements and regards it essential to onsider the person's behaviour in a whole/holistic way. 

It is opposed to reductionist explanations of behaviour that explain behaviour as a result of individual processes (internal, id, ego and superego, as well as the S-R contingencies of behaviourism.) Organismic theory: treating individuals in both MIND and BODY. It studies one person in detail in a holistic way.

21 of 24

Strengths of Humanism

  • Promotes a positive image of humans and that people can change throughout their lives
  • Focuses on subjective experience of individuals (many other approaches focus on objective only)
  • People are seen as being in control of their lives
  • It isn't reductionist and aims to assess every aspect of a person to help them grow
  • Therapies such as CCT helps individuals comr up with their own solution to a problem
  • View the person as an active agent, able to control and determine their own development, unlike behaviourism
  • Humanists promote the idea of personal responsibility - free will as oppose to determinism
  • The subjective experience of a person is of value and importance
  • Person-centred therapy is used by psychologists and counsellors in therapy today
  • It's optimistic about people, and it looks to the future in terms of personal growth
  • Client-centred therapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of relativley mild, rather than severe psychological disorders
  • The humanistic approach, as a third force, made psychologists think carefully about what the subject matter of psychology should be, and recognise the importance of conscious experience.
22 of 24

Limitations of Humanism

  • Lack of empirical research and comprehensiveness (too much focus on self actualisation and not on other drives)
  • Vaugeness of concepts. Not having a precise definition of key concepts means it is hard to empirically research them
  • Not scientific and doesn't allow for predictions to be made about behaviour
  • Too much emphasis on subjective experience
  • CCT is of little help to those with severe problems
  • Focus is on subjective experience, meaning that the approach ignores mental processes that do not take place at a conscious level
  • The approach rejects the scientific method of understanding and explaining human behaviour and thought. Theories, concepts and claims therefore can't be investigated
  • Roger's concepts and ideas have been criticised for being culture-bound. Self-actualisation is all about the individual in Western culture and doesn't deal with group achivements that may be more important in Eastern culture
  • By focusing entirley on the individual, it doesn't look at personality characteristics common to all people
  • They over emphasise the person's ability to change and develop, the ignore all cultural constraints.
23 of 24


  • Therapy and counselling: humanistic styles are effective in aiding people cope with changes to their lives
  • Education and learning: teachers who show unconditional positive reard to pupils help them reach their full potential
  • Understanding Relationships between people: helps people understand and achieve relationships with others
  • Occupational psychology: Maslow's idea of a hierarchy of needs has been widely applied to the work place (occupational psychology) to help employees reach their full potential and have job satisfaction
24 of 24


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Approaches resources »