What is Humanistic Psychology?

· October 4, 2015

Humans are complex beings, and there are various factors which can influence our mental health. Our emotions, body, feelings, conduct and thoughts converge and interrelate. Humanistic psychology is a branch of psychology that considers the human being as a whole in order to understand, diagnose and treat mental illness.

The origins of humanistic psychology

“I realize that if I were stable, prudent and static; I’d live in death. Therefore I accept confusion, uncertainty, fear and emotional ups and downs; because that’s the price I’m willing to pay for a fluid, perplexed and exciting life.”
Carl Rogers

Humanistic psychology emerged in the mid-20th century. It originated as an alternative to the two main areas of psychological thought — behaviorism and psychoanalysis — to approach man’s problems in a different way.

The humanistic approach praises mental health and all of the positive attributes of life. A person is seen as an individual, which must be addressed in a multidimensional and personalized way.

The roots of humanistic psychology can be found in European existentialism, with authors such as: Jean-Paul Sartre (“Man is born free, responsible and without excuses.“), Jean Jacques Rousseau (“Man is good by nature. It is society that corrupts him.”), Erich Fromm (“If I am what I have and I lose what I have, then who am I?”), and Viktor Frankl (“Man fulfills himself to the same extent that he commits himself to fulfilling the meaning of his life.”).


These authors had a vision of the human condition based on freedom, the meaning of life, emotions and responsibility. They view the individual as a being responsible for its own life and actions, capable of finding its own way to liberty.

The pioneers of humanistic psychology

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are considered the main pioneers of humanistic psychology.

Abraham Maslow is best known for the famous “Maslow’s Pyramid,” a theory that established a hierarchy of human needs, starting with the most basic (physiological) at the bottom and self-actualization  at the top. Self-actualization is a concept created by Maslow which means that once a human being has satisfied all of its needs, only then can it develop its full potential.

Carl Rogers has an innovative vision of therapy that creates a more direct relationship with the “client” (a term he coined within psychology, considering it more appropriate than “patient”).

In his book Client-centered Therapy, he shows how in his clinical experience he rejects the directive techniques, showing a closer relationship with his clients, which encourages them to find themselves.

From this perspective, his contribution to psychology is of great value, since it considers the individual able to find within itself all of the resources necessary to keep its life balanced.

To Rogers, people suffer because they are “asleep” and need to be awakened through inner wisdom. The therapist acts as a guide so they can find their own answers. This is based on his trust in each individual’s self-healing abilities.

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Principle tenets of humanistic psychology

  • It embraces a broad and holistic perspective. The person is seen as a whole, with each aspect having the same relevance: thoughts, body, emotions and spirituality. These aspects mutually interrelate and converge.
  • Human existence occurs in an interpersonal context. Therefore, relating with others is very important and necessary for a person’s personal development.
  • People possess the ability to make their own decisions, be responsible for themselves, and embark on the development and actualization of their own potential.
  • Personal development is encouraged and facilitated. The psychologist serves as a tool to the individual, so that through their own abilities they may come to understand and develop themselves.
  • People have an innate tendency toward self-realization. Human beings can rely on the wisdom within themselves. All healing can be found in their own answers. We don’t need to control our surroundings nor our own emotions by repressing them.

Humanistic psychology focuses on the individual from a holistic perspective, understanding that every aspect that makes up a human being is important. The human being is considered unique, responsible for its own experience, and capable of being aware of its own resources to develop itself, reach self-realization and discover its own potential.

“The basic element of the field of knowledge is intimate and direct experience. (…)
There is no substitute for experience.”

Abraham Maslow