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Home :: Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic Theory and Therapy

Humanistic psychology is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis . It is explicitly concerned with the human dimension of psychology and the human context for the development of psychological theory.

The Humanistic Approach began in response to concerns by therapists against perceived limitations of Psychodynamic theories, especially psychoanalysis. Individuals like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow felt existing (psychodynamic) theories failed to adequately address issues like the meaning of behavior, and the nature of healthy growth. However, the result was not simply new variations on psychodynamic theory, but rather a fundamentally new approach.

Humanistic "theories" of learning tend to be highly value-driven and hence more like prescriptions (about what ought to happen) rather than descriptions (of what does happen).

  • They emphasise the "natural desire" of everyone to learn. Whether this natural desire is to learn whatever it is you are teaching, however, is not clear.
  • It follows from this, they maintain, that learners need to be empowered and to have control over the learning process.
  • So the teacher relinquishes a great deal of authority and becomes a facilitator.
  • Humanistic theory is reality based and to be psychologically healthy people must take responsibility for themselves, whether the person's actions are positive or negative.
  • The goal of life should always be to achieve personal growth and understanding.  Only through self-improvement and self-knowledge can one truly be happy.

Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory

The biggest criticism of humanistic thought appears to center around it's lack of concrete treatment approaches aimed at specific issues.  With the basic concept behind the theory being free will, it is difficult to both develop a treatment technique and study the effectiveness of this technique.

Secondly, there are those who believe humanistic theory falls short in it's ability to help those with more sever personality or mental health pathology.  While it may show positive benefits for a minor issue, using the approach of Roger's to treat schizophrenia would seem ludicrous.  

Further, in their review of different approaches to positive psychology, Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi (2000) notes that the early incarnations of Humanistic psychology lacked a cumulative empirical base, and that some directions encouraged self-centeredness. Rowan (2001) believes that these suspicions are understandable as long as a large amount of time is spent on discussing such issues as the self and self-actualization.

Despite these problems, humanistic theory has been incorporated into many differing views on psychotherapy and human change.  Many argue now that a humanistic undertone in treatment provides a nice foundation for change.  While it may not be sufficient, it may still be necessary for a significant personality change to occur.


 

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