In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Humanistic Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Reference Works and Anthologies
  • Online Resources
  • History, Development, and Influence

Psychology Humanistic Psychology
Andrew M. Bland, Eugene M. DeRobertis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0225


Humanistic psychology emphasizes universal and individualized qualities of optimal well-being, the constructive use of creative potential, and the relational conditions that promote those qualities. 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 the nuances of how human experience and behavior dynamically co-contextualize and co-constitute one another. They question (1) the unreflective placement of formal theory and hypothetico-deductive method before considerations of human subject matter, which includes the impetus to cast research participants in passive roles in the interest of mathematical precision, and (2) the tendency to prioritize methods that valorize probabilistic generalizability to the detriment of contextually situated perspectives gleaned from meaningful interaction. Likewise, they consider the rigid, uncritical employment of monolithic theories and preoccupation with technique in psychotherapy inappropriate for adequately understanding and addressing human suffering. In contrast, humanistic psychologists employ holistic-systemic and empathically attuned approaches in their therapeutic and research practices to understand lived experiences of individuals as active participants situated in their sociocultural and eco-psycho-spiritual contexts. A flexible, process-oriented, rigorously descriptive approach is favored to elucidate individual self-awareness and self-regulation and to explore how values (autonomy and commitment, freedom and responsibility, personal decision and receptive world-openness) influence both commonalities and divergences (that is, diversity) in human experience. The person is conceptualized as continually evolving, motivated by a need to progress toward greater levels of integrated interactive functioning, guided by intentionality and an ever-expanding awareness of self and others, with capacities for growth and change irrespective of past limitations and future uncertainties. Humanistic psychologists highlight overall maturity and the role of cooperative meaning making. This article begins with a list of sources for novices to obtain 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 humanistic psychology theorizing and its underlying philosophy (Theory and Philosophy), and its practical applications in therapy and research (Applications). Finally, a review of sources on humanistic psychology’s history, development, and influence (History, Development, and Influence) sets the stage for its contemporary applications: addressing cultural imbalances, technocracy and transhumanism, globalization, and climate change; enhancing education, career development, and leadership; promoting heroism, everyday creativity, and diagnostic alternatives (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-twentieth century as an alternative to the limitations of and disparities between, on one hand, decontextualized experimentalism and behaviorism and, on the other hand, 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 (versus 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, existential givens, experiential reflection, and personal responsibility), transpersonal (which stresses spirituality, advanced forms of transcendence, and compassionate social action), and constructivist (which accentuates culture, political consciousness, and their relationship to 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 nature and potentials. Such an intentionally nonexclusive approach has been preferred to keep the movement open and flexible with the deliberate goal of continuous revision and elaboration so that it may remain relevant for new generations. As noted in Henry 2017, DeRobertis 2021, and Bland and DeRobertis 2020, humanistic psychology often is presented 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 in consort with original source material. A concise overview of humanistic psychology from its inception to the 2010s (including the existential, transpersonal, and constructivist ontologies) is presented in Bland and DeRobertis 2020. Brief undergraduate-friendly comparisons and contrasts of humanistic and conventional perspectives on a range of psychological topics are included in Bargdill and Broomé 2016 and Whitehead 2017. A more detailed exposition of humanistic psychology are provided for intermediate readers in DeRobertis 2021 and Tageson 1982. 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: Univ. Professors Press.

    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. 2020. The humanistic perspective. In Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences. Edited by V. Zeigler-Hill and T. K. Shackelford, 2061–2079. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    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.

  • DeRobertis, E. M. 2021. The humanistic revolution in psychology: Its inaugural vision. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 61:8–32.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022167820956785

    Presents findings from a textual analysis of the first issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (cited under Journals: General) in 1961. Humanistic psychology was envisioned to be a unique amalgam of what would today be considered cultural, cognitive, and developmental psychologies without being reducible to any one of these subfields. Clarifies humanistic psychology’s formative principles and identifies ways in which it has influenced both psychology and society.

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

    DOI: 10.1080/08873267.1992.9986807

    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.

  • Henry, C. D. 2017. Humanistic psychology and introductory textbooks: A 21st-century reassessment. The Humanistic Psychologist 45:281–294.

    DOI: 10.1037/hum0000056

    Presents findings from a content analysis of the portrayal of humanistic, existential, and phenomenological psychologies in twenty-one contemporary introductory psychology textbooks. Emphasis is given to inadequate coverage, substantial omissions, and both explicit and implicit critiques of humanistic psychologies in textbooks, as well as to their acknowledging the movement’s contributions.

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

    This book offers 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 long out of print.

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

    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 (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.53.3.277

    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.

  • Tageson, C. W. 1982. Humanistic psychology: A synthesis. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

    A textbook for upper-division/graduate students and professionals that integrates strands of existential-humanistic theorizing with an emphasis on consciousness; phenomenology; holism; self-actualization and self-determination; authenticity; self-transcendence; and applications of person centeredness in research, therapy, management, education, medicine, law, religion/spirituality, family life, and social justice.

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

    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. Arguably, this volume is more accessible for beginners than Bargdill and Broomé 2016; however, in general, it covers less ground.

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