Humanistic psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasizes holistic human development, inherent human value, maximizing human flourishing, and the innate goodness of humans.
This branch emerged as a reaction to psychoanalysis and behaviorism, two psychological perspectives that often failed to see the whole human and the role of freewill in human behavior.
Humanism explores a wide range of concepts in psychology, including how humans achieve motivation, self-actualization, freedom, and fulfilment.
The most prominent of humanistic psychologists is Abraham Maslow, whose hierarchy of needs remains a highly influential concept in education, leadership theory, counseling, social work, sociology, and other social sciences fields.
Below are some key humanistic psychology concepts.
Humanistic Psychology Examples
1. Hierarchy of Needs: The Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory comprising five levels of human needs, depicted in a pyramid, from basic (physiological) to more complex (self-actualization). Developed by Abraham Maslow, this theory is foundational in humanistic psychology, emphasizing the individual’s journey toward self-actualization. See the image below:
2. Self-Actualization: Self-actualization refers to the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents, potential, and abilities. Abraham Maslow posited self-actualization as the highest level in his Hierarchy of Needs, representing the pursuit of personal growth, self-discovery, and self-improvement (Compton, 2018).
3. Person-Centered Therapy: Person-Centered Therapy is a therapeutic approach focusing on the individual’s subjective experience, emphasizing empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence (Cooper & McLeod, 2011). Carl Rogers developed this approach, which is fundamental to humanistic psychology, to facilitate personal growth and self-actualization.
4. Unconditional Positive Regard: Unconditional Positive Regard is the total acceptance and non-judgmental valuing of an individual, regardless of their behavior. Rogers introduced this concept as a crucial component of Person-Centered Therapy to foster a safe therapeutic environment for personal growth (Proctor, Tweed & Morris, 2016).
5. Congruence: Congruence refers to the alignment between one’s self-image and actual experience (Cooper & McLeod, 2011). Rogers identified congruence as essential for psychological well-being and a goal of Person-Centered Therapy.
6. Self-Concept: Self-concept is an individual’s perception of themselves, formed through experience and interaction with the environment (Lopez, 2012). This concept is central to humanistic psychology as it influences the individual’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings, and is shaped by and shapes personal growth.
7. Self-Esteem: Self-esteem is an individual’s overall evaluation of their worth and the feelings associated with that assessment (Cooper & McLeod, 2011). In humanistic psychology, self-esteem is considered a key component of mental well-being and personal development.
8. Self-Worth: Self-worth refers to the value one assigns to oneself, influencing one’s belief in their inherent dignity and deservingness. This concept is integral to humanism, as it impacts the individual’s motivation, behavior, and personal growth (Rowan & Glouberman, 2017; Smith, 2017).
9. Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is the drive to engage in activities for their inherent satisfaction and enjoyment, rather than for external rewards (Neto, 2015). For humanists, intrinsic motivation is believed to be a driving force for personal growth and self-actualization.
10. Free Will: Definition: Free will is the ability of individuals to make choices and decisions independent of external influence or fate. One of the differentiating factors of humanism is that it believes all humans have free will, unlike behaviorism (Rowan & Glouberman, 2017).
11. Personal Growth: Personal growth involves the development and enhancement of one’s self-awareness, knowledge, skills, and overall well-being. It represents the individual’s ongoing process of self-improvement and self-actualization (Compton, 2018).
12. Self-Determination: Self-determination is the ability of an individual to make their own choices and control their own life. Ryan and Deci (2005) popularized this term, emphasizing that self-determination is essential for personal growth and fulfillment.
13. Peak Experiences: Definition: Peak experiences are moments of intense joy, creativity, fulfillment, and a sense of transcending the ordinary. Abraham Maslow described peak experiences as moments that provide insight into self-actualization and human potential (D’Souza & Gurin, 2016).
14. Actualizing Tendency: The actualizing tendency is the innate drive in all organisms to grow, develop, and realize their full potential. Carl Rogers proposed this concept as the foundational motive driving individuals toward self-actualization and personal growth (Schneider, Pierson & Bugental, 2014).
15. Fully Functioning Person: A fully functioning person is someone who is in the process of self-actualization, living in harmony with their feelings and experiences (Proctor, Tweed & Morris, 2016). Carl Rogers developed this concept to describe individuals who are open to experience, living existentially, and continually growing.
16. Non-Directive Therapy: Non-directive therapy is a counseling approach where the therapist refrains from directing the client, instead facilitating their self-exploration. Developed by Carl Rogers, this approach is foundational to Person-Centered Therapy, emphasizing the client’s capacity for self-healing (Proctor, Tweed & Morris, 2016).
17. Positive Psychology: Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing and the factors that contribute to a fulfilling and meaningful life (Lopez, 2012). Positive psychology is rooted in humanistic psychology, focusing on strengths, well-being, and the pursuit of happiness.
18. Holistic Approach: The holistic approach involves considering the whole person, including their mind, body, emotions, and environment, in understanding human behavior (Rowan & Glouberman, 2017). Humanism adopts a holistic approach to understand the individual’s subjective experience and promote well-being.
19. Self-Exploration: Self-exploration is the process of examining and understanding one’s own thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Self-exploration is seen as a means to achieve self-awareness, personal growth, and self-actualization (Compton, 2018; D’Souza & Gurin, 2016).
20. Self-Transcendence: Self-transcendence refers to the experience of going beyond the self, connecting with something greater, and realizing a higher purpose (Compton, 2018; Schneider, Pierson & Bugental, 2014). Maslow later added self-transcendence to his Hierarchy of Needs, representing the pursuit of spiritual and transcendent goals.
21. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the present moment (Schneider, Pierson & Bugental, 2014). Mindfulness aligns with humanistic psychology’s emphasis on present experience, self-awareness, and personal growth.
22. Human Potential: Human potential refers to the capabilities and capacities that individuals possess, which can be developed and realized through personal growth (Lopez, 2012). The exploration and realization of human potential are central themes in many humanistic texts.
23. Autonomy: Autonomy is the capacity of an individual to make decisions and act according to their values and beliefs, independent of external control. Autonomy is seen as a fundamental aspect of human nature and a prerequisite for personal growth and self-actualization (D’Souza & Gurin, 2016; Smith, 2017).
24. Existential Anxiety: Existential anxiety arises from confronting the fundamental uncertainties and existential concerns of human existence, such as death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness (Chavatel, 2022). Humanistic and existential psychologists explore existential anxiety as a natural part of the human condition.
25. Growth Needs vs Deficiency Needs: Growth needs are motivated by the desire to develop and realize one’s potential, while deficiency needs arise from the lack of essential elements for survival and well-being. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, distinguished between deficiency needs (such as physiological and safety needs) and growth needs (such as esteem and self-actualization), with the latter representing higher-level aspirations in humanistic psychology (Compton, 2018).
More Guides on Humanism:
Chavatel, W. (2022). Revelatory Anxiety and Dissociative Disorders: An Existential-Humanistic Approach. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 00221678221138385. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/00221678221138385
Cooper, M., & McLeod, J. (2011). Person-centered therapy: A pluralistic perspective. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 10(3), 210-223. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/14779757.2011.599517
Compton, W. C. (2018). Self-actualization myths: What did Maslow really say?. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167818761929
D’Souza, J., & Gurin, M. (2016). The universal significance of Maslow’s concept of self-actualization. The Humanistic Psychologist, 44(2), 210. doi: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-28070-007
Lopez, S. J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology. New York: Wiley.
Proctor, C., Tweed, R., & Morris, D. (2016). The Rogerian fully functioning person: A positive psychology perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(5), 503-529.
Rowan, J. & Glouberman, D. (2017). Psychology: Humanistic or Human? (pp. 3-9) In: Kalisch, D., Maidman, J., & House, R. (Eds.). Humanistic Psychology: Current Trends and Future Prospects. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Neto, M. (2015). Educational motivation meets Maslow: Self-actualisation as contextual driver. Journal of Student Engagement: Education Matters, 5(1), 18-27.
Schneider, K. J., Pierson, J. F., & Bugental, J. F. (Eds.). (2014). The handbook of humanistic psychology: Theory, research, and practice. Sage Publications. Smith, M. B. (2017). Values, self and society: Toward a humanist social psychology. Routledge.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]