The humanist approach

The overall view of the humanist approach as a key approach in psychology.

The humanist approach

Carl Rogers founded humanist psychology. The approach formed largely due to concerns from therapists regarding the limitations of psychoanalysis failed to fully appreciate and deal with nature of healthy growth in an individual. In addition, humanist psychologists were dissatisfied with the deterministic nature and scientific approach of the behaviourists. The humanistic approach was therefore seen as the third force in psychology.

The humanist approach can be summerised into five core features:

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

Carl Rogers developed person centred therapy. Roger'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 focused on the client's immediate situation rather than their past.  

Person centred therapy is a non-directive, talking therapy. The therapist encourages the client to express their inner feelings and perceptions. Rather than suggesting how the client may 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.

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Concept of self

Rogers thought that there were three 'selves':

  • the self-concept- the way the person sees them self
  • 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 to the 'percived' gap between the ideal and real self. While no individual ever achieve a perfect state of congruence, Rogers stated that the relative degree of congruence is a good indicator of psychological health.

Three essential elements in order to achieve personal growth and positive self worth:

  • empathy with the client's emotions
  • genuineness
  • unconditioned positive regard
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Maslow's hiarchy of needs

Maslow suggested that certiain needs have to be met in order to achieve our full potential or self actualisation.

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Evaluation of Humanist approach


  • Humanist psychologists view a person as an active agent, able to control and determine their own development, unlike behaviourism
  • Humanist psychologists promote free will as opposed 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.


  • Humanistic theories are hard to falsify. They lack predictive power and therefore are unscientific.
  • In rejecting the use of scientific method, humanistic theories lack empirical support
  • Humanistic psychologists over-emphasise the person's ability to change  and develop
  • Individual emotions and consciousness are difficult to study objectively.
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