The 1960s saw the beginning of a movement in psychology, which is called the humanistic movement. A group of psychologists were unhappy with the then current state of psychology and its methodology, and were determined to bring about a change, which is often referred to as the humanizing of psychology. The approach that they proposed is known as the humanistic approach to psychology or humanistic psychology.
The humanistic approach to psychology, which was a part of the third force in psychology (after psychoanalysis and behaviorism), emphasizes on personal growth, strengths, aspirations, positive values, free will, human potential, and conscious experiences. Humanistic psychology conceptualizes humans as positive beings. It creates an optimistic picture of human nature and describes human beings as active and growth oriented.
In the 1950s, a number of psychologists began to show dissent and dissatisfaction with the existing approaches, especially psychoanalysis, which was dominant at that time. The humanistic movement began as a reaction against psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis was heavily criticized for creating a pessimistic and negative picture of human beings. Humanistic psychology made an attempt to not just provide an alternative approach, but to all together replace the existing approach; they felt that instead of emphasizing the negative aspects, focus should be on the positive aspects of human nature.
Even though humanistic psychology began as a reaction against psychoanalysis, it was psychoanalysis itself that had a strong influence on humanistic psychology. The roots of the humanistic movement are found in psychoanalysis. The early psychoanalysts who moved away from the orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis played an influential role on humanistic psychology. They emphasized on conscious experiences (not just the unconscious), social urges, free will, and the significance of not just the past, but the present. Some of these ideas formed the foundations of humanistic psychology.
The psychoanalysts whose specific ideas can be said to be a precursor to humanistic psychology are Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan, Heinz Kohut, and Erich Fromm. These theorists modified the orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis in their own way, but had some basic Freudian psychoanalytic elements in their theory, which the humanistic movement had opposed.
One of the most significant ideas in humanistic psychology is the concept of self-actualization given by Abraham Maslow, a pioneer of humanistic psychology. Self-actualization is the innate tendency of individuals to grow beyond their basic needs and realize their true potential. In the words of Maslow, self-actualization is the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. It involves the continuous desire to fulfil potentials and become the most complete, the fullest.
Self-actualization, even though being a concept of humanistic psychology, has actually been derived from Jung’s ideas. The concept of self-actualization is reflected in Jung’s idea of the transcendent function of individuals. This concept is used by Jung in terms of development and it is the capacity to work towards the ideal goal of perfect wholeness.
The aim of this function is the revelation of the essential person, the realization of the personality in all aspects, and the production and unfolding of the original, potential wholeness. In all, the transcendent function is about self-exploration leading to the tendency to integrate various psychic forces and becoming a whole person. The transcendent function is very similar to Maslow’s idea of self-actualization.
Like self-actualization, one of the major ideas of humanistic psychology is free will, which asserts that behavior is not determined by past experiences or unconscious forces, and that human beings can exert their own choices in given circumstances and choose their path towards self growth. This idea of free will in humanistic psychology was much earlier reflected in the concept of the creative self given by Alfred Adler.
Adler’s concept of creative self suggests that people have the capacity to shape their own personality. Adler suggests that each individual can shape and determine his/her destiny. According to him, instead of behavior being determined by the unconscious and past experiences, people can themselves achieve their goals and their true potential. Adler was also the first person to move away from orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis and emphasized on social urges and humanistic tendencies of individuals.
Another pioneer of the humanistic movement, Carl Rogers, was influenced by Karen Horney in his ideas of self. Rogers distinguished between real self and ideal self. The real self is what the person actually, which is based on his/her true potential and the ideal self is what the person feels he/she should be, which is based on societal expectations. The more the person moves towards the ideal self the more he/she has incongruence, which means that the person is anxious, defensive, constricted, and is more likely to be maladjusted. Whereas when there is little discrepancy between the real self and ideal self, the person is said to be well adjusted, is characterized by openness to experience and self-awareness, and has harmonious relationships.
Karen Horney had similar ideas about the self before Rogers. Horney describes three different aspects of the self – real self, despised self, and ideal self. The real self is the inner core of personality based on self-perceptions, which is the true potential of the individual. The despised self is perceptions of inferiority based on others’ negative evaluations that leads to helplessness. The ideal self or the idealized self-image is hope of achieving perfection based on inadequacies of the individual. It is an imperfect and misleading perception of the self.
The idealized self gives a false picture of personality and alienates the individual from the real self. Horney suggests that the more an individual has an idealized self-image the more he/she moves away from his/her real self and thus, is more likely to be neurotic. Rogers was clearly influenced by Horney in giving his concept of congruence and incongruence.
|Harry Stack Sullivan|
Rogers was also influenced by Harry Stack Sullivan. Rogers gave a lot of emphasis to positive relationships, unconditional positive regard, and empathy, and how these play a role in developing a fully functioning person. Sullivan was the pioneer of the interpersonal approach to psychology, which emphasized the role of interpersonal interactions and relationships in developing the self and personality.
According to Sullivan, individuals’ relationships shape the self and personality, and that personality cannot be isolated from relationships. Therefore, positive and empathic relationships become the key in the development of an individual. Sullivan suggests that positive relationships lead to better mental health and helps the individual in coping with anxiety and loneliness.
Heinz Kohut also emphasized the significance of positive relationships in the development of a healthy self. He suggested that empathic reactions from significant others is very important for the formation of the self. Further Kohut suggests that when significant others reassure the strengths and uniqueness of the person then he/she has high self-esteem and fulfilling relationships. If this does not take place then the person might get into sensation seeking, substance abuse, and perceives the surroundings as a hostile place.
According to Kohut, lack of acceptance from parents makes the individual prone to narcissistic personality disorder. For their treatment, Kohut believed that the therapist playing the role of a parent would reduce the feeling of lack of acceptance and lead to the development of a healthy self. This aspect of therapy is also found in the method of Rogers.
Rogers also suggested that the therapist showing unconditional positive regard to the client/patient, just like parents show to their child, will lead to healthy psychological development. Kohut, in fact, is regarded as the bridge between Freudian psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology.
Among all the psychoanalytic approaches, Erich Fromm’s approach seems to be the closest in foreshadowing humanistic psychology. Fromm’s psychoanalytic approach is called humanistic psychoanalysis. According to Fromm, the only way to alleviate loneliness is the spirit of love, seeking contact, and sharing among each other. The idea of humanistic psychoanalysis, which includes love, affiliation, sharing, and bonding is very similar to the features of humanistic psychology. Fromm also suggested that human beings have an inherent striving for love. This is similar to Maslow’s belongingness and love needs, which is a need to seek satisfying relationships and affiliating with others.
The humanistic movement in psychology demanded a change in the then existing approaches to psychology. Humanistic psychologists were dissatisfied with the psychoanalytic approaches that were dominant at that time, and felt that a very negative and pessimistic picture of human beings is being portrayed. They wanted to replace this approach with ideas that gave a positive and optimistic picture of human beings.
However, much before the humanistic movement there were some psychoanalysts who modified psychoanalysis in their own way, without changing some of the basic elements of Freudian psychoanalysis. They were bringing about a change that emphasized on wholeness, capacity to shape ones personality, positive relationships, and the spirit of love and sharing. In short, they were being more humanistic in their approach. In this sense, it can be said that humanistic psychology even though being a reaction against psychoanalysis, was also very much influenced by psychoanalysis.