In This Article Humanistic Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Reference Works and Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Online Resources
  • History, Development, and Influence
  • More Contemporary Applications

Psychology Humanistic Psychology
by
Andrew M. Bland, Eugene M. DeRobertis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0225

Introduction

Humanistic psychology emphasizes individualized qualities of optimal well-being and use of creative potential to benefit others, as well as the relational conditions that promote those qualities as the outcomes of healthy development. It offers an alternative to mechanistic and/or reductionistic psychological explanations based on isolated, static elements of observable behavior or mental processes. Humanistic psychologists believe that the technocratic assumptions and practices of the natural science approach conventionally adopted by psychologists in the interest of prediction, manipulation, and control of behavior are insufficient to capture appropriately the nuances of how human experience and behavior dynamically co-contextualize and co-constitute one another. They question (1) the placements of theory and method before human subject matter, as well as that of the observer and the observed in passive roles in the interest of mathematical precision, and (2) generalizability at the expense of contextually situated perspectives gleaned from meaningful interaction. Likewise, they consider rigid, unreflective employment of monolithic theories and preoccupation with technique in psychotherapy inappropriate for adequately understanding and addressing human suffering. Rather, humanistic psychologists employ a holistic, systemic, and empathically attuned approach in their therapeutic and research practices to understand lived experiences of individuals as active participants in their life-world—i.e., situated in sociocultural and eco-psychospiritual contexts. A flexible, process-oriented, descriptive approach is favored to elucidate individual self-awareness and self-regulation and to explore how values (e.g., autonomy and commitment, freedom and responsibility, personal decision, and worldly adaptability) influence commonalities and diversity in human experience. The person is conceptualized as continually evolving, motivated by a need to progress toward greater levels of interactive and integrated functioning, guided by intentionality and ever-expanding conscious awareness of self and others, and with capacities for growth and change irrespective of past limitations and future uncertainties. Humanistic psychologists highlight maturity and the role of cooperative meaning making. This article begins with a list of sources for novices to catch a “big picture” view of humanistic psychology as written by humanistic psychologists (General Overviews and Textbooks), followed by a selection of edited volumes (Reference Works and Anthologies), peer-reviewed publications (Journals), and multimedia presentations (Online Resources) that feature the broad range of voices that constitute classic and contemporary humanistic psychology. Next, recommendations are provided for primary source writings on theory and philosophy of humanistic psychology (Theory and Philosophy) as well as its applications in therapy and research (Applications). Finally, a review of sources on humanistic psychology’s history and development and influence (History, Development, and Influence) sets the stage for its additional contemporary applications (e.g., enhancing education, informing career development, and addressing the needs of technological and multicultural global society) (More Contemporary Applications).

General Overviews and Textbooks

From its inception, humanistic psychology has been a broad-based yet theoretically delineated movement rather than a highly specialized school. Initially known as the “Third Force” in American psychology, humanistic psychology began in the mid-20th century as an alternative to the limitations of and disparities between experimentalism and behaviorism and Freudian psychoanalysis. It both subsumed the strengths and transcended the limitations of those traditions by developing an intersubjective approach to arrive at a process-oriented conceptualization of optimally functioning (vs. pathological) personality and personal growth that had been inadequately available in the field. Subsequently, humanistic psychology has become elaborated by three movements in psychology: existential (which emphasizes limited and situated freedom, experiential reflection, and personal responsibility), transpersonal (which stresses spirituality, transcendence, and compassionate social action), and constructivist (which accentuates culture, political consciousness, and personal meaning). Contemporary humanistic psychology has evolved into a tripartite approach that phenomenologically integrates these three ontologies as the foundation for a human science and clinical outlook that explores the processes that organically promote psychological health and growth in accordance with a person’s innate nature and potentials. Such an intentionally nonexclusive approach has been preferred in order to keep the movement open and flexible with the deliberate goal of continuous revision and elaboration to remain relevant for new generations. As noted in Bland and DeRobertis 2017, humanistic psychology often is presented poorly (i.e., inaccurately and/or one-sidedly) in conventional psychology textbooks. For that reason, novices are encouraged to consult summaries that have been developed by reputable humanistic psychologists—e.g., Schneider, et al. 2015 (cited under Reference Works and Anthologies) and Cain, et al. 2016 (cited under Therapy (Contemporary Sources))—in consort with original source material. A concise overview of humanistic psychology from its inception to the mid-2010s (including the existential, transpersonal, and constructivist ontologies) is presented in Bland and DeRobertis 2017. Brief comparisons and contrasts of humanistic and conventional perspectives on a range of psychological topics are included in Bargdill and Broomé 2016 and Whitehead 2017. More detailed expositions of humanistic psychology are provided for undergraduates by Combs 1999 and Jourard and Landsman 1980. More advanced readers (graduate students, professionals, and academicians) are encouraged to consult the following, in order: Misiak and Sexton 1973 (surveys early phenomenological, existential, and humanistic traditions), Rowan 2001 (provides overviews of humanistic, transpersonal, and constructivist perspectives), Schneider 1998 (outlines humanistic psychology’s principal challenges to conventional natural science psychology), and Giorgi 1992 (suggests next steps for humanistic psychology). Interested readers are encouraged thereafter to consult primary source writings in specific topics of humanistic psychology (as identified in the remainder of this article).

  • Bargdill, R., and R. Broomé, eds. 2016. Humanistic contributions for Psychology 101: Growth, choice, and responsibility. Colorado Springs, CO: University Professors Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This edited text written principally by graduate students introduces humanistic perspectives on topics across the spectrum of psychology: theory and research, neurophenomenology, sensation and perception, consciousness, learning, memory, thinking and language, motivation, development, personality, social, stress and health, psychopathology, and therapy. Following the chapter structure of typical introductory psychology textbooks, it provides a supplemental humanistic counterpart to conventional psychological theory and research in each area. Although some philosophical material may be better suited for upper-division students, down-to-earth anecdotes and vignettes elucidate nontraditional concepts.

  • Bland, A. M., and E. M. DeRobertis. 2017. The humanistic perspective. In Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences. Edited by V. Zeigler-Hill and T. K. Shackelford. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1484-1E-mail Citation »

    Describes humanistic psychology’s key principles. Traces its influences (humanities; existential-phenomenological philosophy; Eastern wisdom; William James; systems, gestalt, organismic, personality, post-Freudian psychodynamic psychologies), and its historical development through four phases (1940s to 1960s: establishment as “Third Force”; 1960s to 1990s: expansion via existential and transpersonal movements; 1970s to 2000s: relationship with postmodernism and constructivism; and 2000s and 2010s: integration of perspectives and dialogue with conventional psychology). Identifies therapy and research applications. Outlines common critiques of humanistic psychology and provides counter-critiques as appropriate.

  • Combs, A. W. 1999. Being and becoming: A field approach to psychology. New York: Springer.

    E-mail Citation »

    Proposes a humanistic theory of motivation, development, emotion, meaning, embodiment, values, social relations, intelligence, learning, and growth based on holonic and systems principles applied to individual lives. Behavior is conceptualized in relation to one’s experience of events as challenging vs. threatening and self-concept in relation to the totality of one’s perception of “me” vs. “not me.” Implications of the theory for education, personal relationships, society, organizations, and psychological research are discussed.

  • Giorgi, A. 1992. Whither humanistic psychology? The Humanistic Psychologist 20:422–438.

    DOI: 10.1080/08873267.1992.9986807E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the essential characteristics of a humanistic conceptualization of the person and the promises of a humanistic psychology for revolutionizing the discipline at large. The article culminates with Giorgi’s assessment of the prospects of the humanistic movement with an eye toward a program of systematic, disciplined research from a human science viewpoint. A firm understanding of humanistic psychology is recommended before consulting this article.

  • Jourard, S., and T. Landsman. 1980. Healthy personality: An approach from the view of humanistic psychology. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.

    E-mail Citation »

    This undergraduate-friendly textbook summarizes key postulates of classic humanistic theorizing: self-actualization and optimal well-being compared to various theoretical perspectives on average or unhealthy functioning; consciousness and perceptions of reality; basic human needs; emotional and somatic experiences; identity, self-concept, and conscience; authenticity, defenses, and personal growth; social roles, communication, and relationships; love, sex, work, play, and spirituality; and psychological suffering and therapy. Some ideas and research are dated and/or presented simplistically, but this book is particularly accessible for beginners.

  • Misiak, H., and V. S. Sexton. 1973. Phenomenological, existential, and humanistic psychologies: A historical survey. New York: Grune and Stratton.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is a straightforward overview of the influence of phenomenological and existential philosophies in European and American psychology and their practical applications for an unbiased exploration of consciousness, inner experience, and individuals’ relationship to themselves, others, and the world. The authors trace the early history of humanistic psychology and address its controversial relationship with the human potential movement. They include contributions of numerous lesser-known figures and copiously summarize myriad formative humanistic texts that now are out of print.

  • Rowan, J. 2001. Ordinary ecstasy: The dialectics of humanistic psychology. 3d ed. London: Taylor and Francis.

    E-mail Citation »

    Rowan explores the emphasis in humanistic psychology on paradox, its relationship with natural science psychology, its influences and historical-perspectival trajectory, and its practical philosophy (e.g., questioning fixed categories, living spontaneously but not impulsively, approaching phenomena on their own terms, and breaking rigid patterns of thought and behavior) as applied in counseling and psychotherapy, education, organizations, sexuality and gender, society, power relations, and research. The author fittingly integrates assorted ontologies and epistemologies of humanistic psychology for 21st-century audiences.

  • Schneider, K. J. 1998. Toward a science of the heart: Romanticism and the revival of psychology. American Psychologist 53:277–289.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066x.53.3.277E-mail Citation »

    Schneider critiques the foci in conventional psychology on standardization and expediency as reflections of mainstream American culture. The author suggests that both psychology and society acknowledge affective, intuitive, and holistic understandings of behavior as alternatives to linear and causal knowledge; considers the broader context of individuals’ lived realities; asks systemic questions about health, dysfunction, love, and work; and engages in sustainable, socially conscious pursuits. Schneider also proposes that the romantic and conventional positions ultimately can enhance and enrich one another.

  • Whitehead, P. 2017. Psychologizing: A personal, practice-based approach to psychology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    E-mail Citation »

    This alternative introductory psychology textbook compares and contrasts conventional and humanistic and phenomenological psychologists’ perspectives on the following: methods; learning; thinking, knowledge, and intelligence; biological psychology; sensation and perception; memory, retrospection, and prospection; development; personality; motivation; emotion; normality and psychopathology; health psychology; dream analysis; and consciousness. Although arguably more accessible for beginners than Bargdill and Broomé 2016, it generally covers less ground.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down