The Echoes of the Mind (15) Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself. ~ Abraham Maslow

In the early decades of the 20th century the disparate schools of structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism, Gestalt psychology, and psychoanalysis coexisted, each carving their own niches. By the middle of the century structuralism had disappeared, while functionalism and Gestalt had lost their distinctiveness, as their insights had been incorporated into other views. Into the early 1960s, only behaviorism and psychoanalysis remained as influential schools of thought.

A protest began against these views, headed by Abraham Maslow, who started the movement that was referred to at the time as third-force psychology.

Behaviorism was ridiculed for concentrating on trivial behaviors common to many animals while ignoring the mental and emotional processes which presumably made humans unique (this supposed human matchlessness was a false premise).

Psychoanalysis was attacked for its focus on abnormality, emphasizing unconscious and sexual motivations, while ignoring healthy people, whose motives included personal growth and societal improvement.

Third-force psychology had its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s. Its popularity began to wane in the 1980s and has continued its slide since. But, like the other 2 schools, humanistic psychology remains influential.

The most vivid contrast between humanistic psychology and the other schools is that humanistic psychology does not assume determinism in explaining behavior. Rather it presumes that humans have free will in choosing their life.

Third-force psychologists claim that subjective reality is the most important cause of human behavior. This shucking of determinism places humanistic psychology outside of the confines of science, as being beyond the rigidity of experimental verifiability. In this modern humanism follows in the philosophic traditions of romanticism and existentialism.

Romantics distrusted reason and science and rejected religious dogma, and even societal laws, as proper guides for human conduct: the only valid guide was a person’s honest feelings. Romantics tended to believe in the innate goodness of humanity. If free, people would do what is best for themselves and be socially minded; happy thought indeed.

Existentialists emphasized that the meaning of life is inherently subjective. An individual’s beliefs and values guide that person through life, thereby shaping that person’s existence. (As far it goes, existentialism states the obvious.)

Humanistic psychology melds the worldviews of romanticism and existentialism into an idealized perspective on human nature and behavior. Hobbes would have laughed out loud at the notion.