Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology is a perspective that rose to prominence in answer to the limitations of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism. With its roots running from Socrates through the Renaissance, this approach emphasizes the individual's inherent drive toward self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing one's own capabilities and creativity.

Humanistic psychology helps the client gain the belief that all people are inherently good. It adopts a holistic approach to human existence and pays special attention to such phenomena as creativity, free will, and positive human potential. It encourages viewing ourselves as a "whole person" greater than the sum of our parts and encourages self exploration rather than the study of behavior in other people. Humanistic psychology acknowledges spiritual aspiration as an integral part of the psyche. It is linked to the emerging field of transpersonal psychology.

Primarily, this type of therapy encourages a self-awareness and mindfulness that helps the client change their state of mind and behavior from one set of reactions to a healthier one with more productive self-awareness and thoughtful actions. Essentially, this approach allows the merging of mindfulness and behavioral therapy, with positive social support.

In an article from the Association for Humanistic Psychology, the benefits of humanistic therapy are described as having a "crucial opportunity to lead our troubled culture back to its own healthy path. More than any other therapy, Humanistic-Existential therapy models democracy. It imposes ideologies of others upon the client less than other therapeutic practices. Freedom to choose is maximized. We validate our clients' human potential." In the 20th century, humanistic psychology was referred to as the "third force" in psychology, distinct from earlier, less humanistic approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

Carl Rogers' focus was to ensure that the developmental processes led to healthier, if not more creative, personality functioning. The term 'actualizing tendency' was also coined by Rogers, and was a concept that eventually led Abraham Maslow to study self-actualization as one of the needs of humans. Rogers and Maslow introduced this positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis.

The five basic principles of humanistic psychology are:

  1. Human beings are greater than the sum of their parts so cannot be reduced to components.
  2. Human beings exist in a uniquely human context, as well as in a cosmic ecology.
  3. Human beings are aware and are aware of being aware—i.e., they are conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.
  4. Human beings have the ability to make choices and therefore have responsibility.
  5. Human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity.

The aim of humanistic therapy is usually to help the client develop a stronger and healthier sense of self (self actualization). Humanistic therapy attempts to teach clients that they have potential for self-fulfillment. This type of therapy is insight-based, meaning that the therapist attempts to provide the client with insights about their inner conflicts.

Humanistic psychology includes several approaches to counseling and therapy. Among the earliest approaches we find the developmental theory of Abraham Maslow, emphasizing a hierarchy of needs and motivations; the existential psychology of Rollo May acknowledging human choice and the tragic aspects of human existence; and the person-centered or client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers, which is centered on the client's capacity for self-direction and understanding of his or her own development. Client-centered therapy is non-directive; the therapist listens to the client without judgment, allowing the client to come to insights by themselves.

The therapist should ensure that all of the client's feelings are being considered and that the therapist has a firm grasp on the concerns of the client while ensuring that there is an air of acceptance and warmth. Client-centered therapist engages in active listening during therapy sessions. A therapist cannot be completely non-directive; however, a nonjudgmental, accepting environment that provides unconditional positive regard will encourage feelings of acceptance and value.

Existential psychotherapies, an application of humanistic psychology, applies existential philosophy, which emphasizes the idea that humans have the freedom to make sense of their lives. They are free to define themselves and do whatever it is they want to do. This is a type of humanistic therapy that forces the client to explore the meaning of their life, as well as its purpose. There is a conflict between having freedoms and having limitations. Examples of limitations include genetics, culture, and many other factors. Existential therapy involves trying to resolve this conflict.

Marshall Rosenberg, one of Carl Rogers' students, emphasizes empathy in the relationship in his concept of Nonviolent Communication. It is one of very few psychologies with both a simple and clear model of the human psyche and a simple and clear methodology, suitable for any two persons to address and resolve interpersonal conflict without expert intervention.

Empathy is one of the most important aspects of humanistic therapy. This idea focuses on the therapist's ability to see the world through the eyes of the client. Without this, therapists can be forced to apply an external frame of reference where the therapist is no longer understanding the actions and thoughts of the client as the client would, but strictly as a therapist which defeats the purpose of humanistic therapy. Included in empathizing, unconditional positive regard is one of the key elements of humanistic psychology.

Unconditional positive regard refers to the care that the therapist needs to have for the client. This ensures that the therapist does not become the authority figure in the relationship allowing for a more open flow of information as well as a kinder relationship between the two. A therapist practicing humanistic therapy needs to show a willingness to listen and ensure the comfort of the patient where genuine feelings may be shared but are not forced upon someone.

Self-help is also part of humanistic psychology: Sheila Ernst and Lucy Godison have described using some of the main humanistic approaches in self-help groups. Humanistic Psychology is applicable to self-help because it is oriented towards changing the way a person thinks. One can only improve once they decide to change their ways of thinking about themselves, once they decide to help themselves. Co-counseling, which is an approach based purely on self-help, is regarded as coming from humanistic psychology as well.

The ideal self and real or true self involve understanding the issues that arise from having an idea of what you wish you were as a person, and having that not match with who you actually are as a person (incongruence). The ideal self is what a person believes should be done, as well as what their core values are. The real self is what is actually played out in life. Through humanistic therapy, an understanding of the present allows clients to add positive experiences to their real self concept. The goal is to have the two concepts of self become congruent. Rogers believed that only when a therapist was able to be congruent, a real relationship occurs in therapy. It is much easier to trust someone who is willing to share feelings openly, even if it may not be what the client always wants; this allows the therapist to foster a strong relationship.

Humanistic psychology tends to look beyond the medical model of psychology in order to open up a non-pathologizing (non-disease) view of the person. This usually implies that the therapist downplays the pathological (what is wrong) aspects of a person's life in favor of the healthy aspects. Humanistic psychology tries to be a science of human experience, focusing on the actual lived experience of persons. Therefore, a key ingredient is the actual meeting of therapist and client and the possibilities for dialogue to ensue between them.

The role of the therapist is to create an environment where the client can freely express any thoughts or feelings; he does not suggest topics for conversation nor does he guide the conversation in any way. The therapist also does not analyze or interpret the client's behavior or any information the client shares. The role of the therapist is to provide empathy and to listen attentively to the client.

While personal transformation may be the primary focus of most humanistic psychologists, many also investigate pressing social, cultural, and gender issues. In 2018, British psychologist Richard House  wrote, "From its very outset, Humanistic Psychology has engaged fully and fearlessly with the social, cultural and political, in a way that much of mainstream scientific, 'positivistic' psychology has sought to avoid". Some of the earliest writers who were associated with and inspired by psychological humanism explored socio-political topics.

Humanistic psychology's emphasis on creativity and wholeness created a foundation for new approaches towards human resources in the workplace stressing creativity and the relevance of emotional interactions. Previously the connotations of "creativity" were reserved for and primarily restricted to, working artists. In the 1980s, with increasing numbers of people working in the cognitive-cultural economy, creativity came to be seen as a useful commodity and competitive edge for international brands. This led to corporate creativity training in-service trainings for employees, led by G.E. in the late 1970s.

Concepts of humanistic psychology were embraced in education and social work, peaking in the 1970s-1980s in North America. However, as with the whole language theory, training practices were too superficial in most institutional settings. Though humanistic psychology raised the bar of insight and understanding of the whole person, professionally it is primarily practiced today by individual licensed counselors and therapists.

"Gestalt Therapy is a client-centered approach to psychotherapy that helps clients focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now, rather than what they may perceive to be happening based on past experience. Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through re-enactment. Through the gestalt process, clients learn to become more aware of how their own negative thought patterns and behaviors are blocking true self-awareness and making them unhappy."  Psychology Today

Gestalt therapy emphasizes personal responsibility, and focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. Gestalt therapy is built upon two central ideas: that the most helpful focus of psychotherapy is the experiential present moment, and that everyone is caught in webs of relationships; thus, it is only possible to know ourselves against the background of our relationships to others.

Gestalt therapy focuses on process (what is actually happening) over content (what is being talked about). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought, and felt at the present moment, rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should have been. Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness practice, by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be conducive to interpreting, explaining, and conceptualizing  experience. This distinction between direct experience versus indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what he or she is doing and that triggers the ability to risk a shift or change.

The objective of Gestalt therapy is to enable the client to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being.

Positive Psychology is the study of "positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions ... it promises to improve quality of life." Positive psychology focuses on both individual and societal well-being. It is a reaction against past practices, which have tended to focus on mental illness and emphasized maladaptive behavior and negative thinking. It builds on the humanistic movement which encouraged an emphasis on happiness, well being, and positivity. 

Positive psychologists have suggested a number of factors may contribute to happiness and subjective well-being. Those suggested ways include social ties with a spouse, family, friends, colleagues, and wider networks; membership in clubs or social organizations; physical exercise and the practice of meditation. Spirituality can also be considered a factor that lead to increased individual happiness and well-being.

Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life" or flourishing, living according to what holds the greatest value in life and other such factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. While not attempting a strict definition of the good life, positive psychologists agree that one must live a happy, engaged, and meaningful life in order to experience "the good life.” Martin Seligman referred to "the good life" as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification."

Positive psychology complements, without intending to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By emphasizing the study of positive human development, this field helps to balance other approaches that focus on disorder, and which may produce only limited understanding. Positive psychology has also placed a significant emphasis on fostering positive self esteem and self image, though positive psychologists with a less humanist direction are less likely to focus as intently on such topics.

The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often drawn by the future more than they are driven by the past. A change in our orientation to time can dramatically affect how we think about the nature of happiness. Another aspect of this may come from our views outside of our own lives. As author of Grit Angela Duckworth might view this as having and other-centered purpose, of which could have a positive effect on our lives. Seligman identified other possible goals: families and schools that allow children to grow, workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, and teaching others about positive psychology.

Those who practice positive psychology attempt interventions that foster positive attitudes toward one's subjective experiences, individual traits, and life events. The goal is to minimize pathological  thoughts that may arise in a hopeless mindset and to develop a sense of optimism toward life. Positive psychologists seek to encourage acceptance of one's past, excitement and optimism about one's future experiences, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present.

According to Seligman and Peterson, positive psychology addresses three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one's past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one's strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people. From the beginning of psychology, the field has addressed the human experience using the "Disease Model," specifically studying and identifying the dysfunction of an individual.

Positive psychology grew as an important field of study within psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed: "for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only – mental illness". He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.

While the formal title "positive psychology" has only been around for the past two decades, the concepts that form the basis of this field have been present in religious and philosophical discourse for thousands of years. The field of psychology predating the use of the term positive psychology has seen researchers who focused primarily on topics that would now be included under the umbrella of positive psychology. Some view positive psychology as a meeting of Eastern thought, such as Buddhism, and Western psychodynamic approaches. The historical roots of positive psychology are found in the teachings of Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics teach the cultivation of moral virtue as the means of attaining happiness and well-being, which he referred to as eudaimonia.

The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook (2004) represented the first attempt by Seligman and Peterson to identify and classify positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provided a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues and for developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identified 6 classes of virtues (i.e., "core virtues"), underlying 24 measurable character strengths.

The CSV suggested these 6 virtues have a historical basis in the vast majority of cultures; in addition, these virtues and strengths can lead to increased happiness when built upon. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints threefold: 1) The study of positive human qualities broadens the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness, 2) the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism, suggesting people are "evolutionarily predisposed" toward certain virtues, and 3) virtue has a biological basis.

The organization of the 6 virtues and 24 strengths is as follows:

  1. Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open mindedness, love of learning, perspective, and innovation
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness, mercy, humility, prudence, and self control
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

There are several popular psychology books written by positive psychologists for a general audience.

 Positive Psychology in a Nutshell by Ilona Boniwell

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Positive psychology has received academic and general criticism over the years. This is worthy of consideration as there are dangers in taking an overly optimistic outlook and discounting or ignoring the harsh realities of life, and we seek to come to a full healing of the full human experience. Positive psychologist Tim Lomas has studied how experiencing sadness, boredom , and anger enable individuals to gain perspective, understanding, and complexity on life and happiness, which in turns enhances their subjective well-being in the long term.    

Winston Churchill noted this in a speech in 1940: "We shall rather draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival." This was in reference to the war, but stands as a testament to all the battles we fight, and how we all can find the energy and strength to overcome within the darkness and obstacles before us.

                             (all information courtesy of Wikipedia except Gestalt quote from Psychology Today)

 

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