Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychologists emphasise looking at individuals as a whole, considering a range of influences on them and trying to explain healthy, ‘normal’ growth in humans.

Free will: Other approaches to psychology are determinist to a greater or lesser extent, believing that human behaviour id shaped or determined by influences such as biology, learning, upbringing and so on. Humanistic psychology suggests that humans actually have free will over their actions- the ability to make genuine free choices over their actions. Therefore, it rejects the attempts by other approaches to establish general laws of behaviour, suggesting that human behaviour is unpredictable and that each person is unique, as everyone makes their own choices in life.

Self-actualisation: Maslow believed that humans have a ‘hierarchy of needs’ which need to be met in order to be satisfied, and develop as a person. The most basic needs are physiological (food, water and so on), followed by safety and security (having a home and family), love and belongingness, (having friends and positive relationships with family members), self-esteem (self-confidence and respect of others), and finally self-actualisation (creativity and spontaneity). Self-actualisation is the ability of humans to develop and achieve their potential. If the other, more basic needs are not met, then the person cannot self-actualise any may become unhappy or depressed as a result.

The self and congruence: Rogers suggested that in order to grow and develop, there must be congruence (equivalence) between a person’s concept of self- the person they perceive themselves as- and their ideal self- the person they would like to be. If there is too big a gap between these, the person experiences incongruence and will not be able to self-actualise, therefore possibly becoming anxious and depressed.

Humanistic Psychology, figure 1

Client-centred therapy: Developed by Rogers, this aims to achieve congruence in the client, who takes an active role in the therapy. The cause of incongruence may have been a lack of unconditional positive regard from parents- this means that the person’s parents attached ‘conditions of worth’ to them- setting conditions on their love. For example, telling them they will only love them if they achieve something (good exam results). This creates psychological problems for the person. In the therapy, the therapist provides the client with unconditional positive regard, along with empathy and genuineness, to try and reduce the incongruence between the client’s concept of self and ideal self.


  • This approach is more holistic than many others, as it considers a range of influences on a person and does not try to explain behaviour in simplistic terms. This is a strength as it better represents the complexity of human behaviour.
  • Humanistic psychology is a more positive approach than others, as it is optimistic and focused on personal growth and development. People are seen as essentially good, and able to better themselves. This is more optimistic than, for example, Freud’s theory.
  • The approach is not very scientifically rigorous, as concepts such as the self and congruence are hard to test empirically. This weakens the approach, as it lacks scientific credibility.

Views on Development

  • Psychodynamic approach: clear and coherent (psychosexual stages)
  • Cognitive approach: explains child development- going through stages- and development of schema
  • Biological approach: development is due to physical development, e.g. brain growth and complexity
  • Humanistic approach: parents have a role in development. The self can be developed throughout life
  • Learning approaches (behaviourism, SLT): learning happens in the same way at any stage of life (no account of development)

Humanistic Psychology, figure 1

Nature vs Nurture

(Behaviour is innate vs behaviour due to environment)

  • Learning approaches (behaviourist, SLT): support nurture. Humans are ‘blank slates’ and are products of learning and upbringing
  • Biological approach: supports nature. Behaviour caused by physiological processes affected by genes
  • Psychodynamic approach: supports nature (innate drives and instincts) and nurture (role of upbringing- psychosexual stages)
  • Humanistic approach: supports nature (natural tendency to self-actualise) and nurture (relationship with parents and others)
  • Cognitive approach: supports nature (biological processing abilities) and nurture (development of schema through environment)

Reductionism vs Holism

(Breaking down behaviour into parts that can be studied vs considering a range of factors on behaviour)

  • Behaviourist approach: very reductionist- behaviour due to stimulus-response
  • Social learning approach: slightly less reductionist, as does consider cognition
  • Biological approach: very reductionist- explaining behaviour in terms of levels of chemicals, brain structure
  • Psychodynamic approach: quite reductionist- behaviour due to primitive drives, but does consider upbringing and other factors
  • Cognitive approach: accused of machine reductionism- treating humans as if they were computers. Although, does consider how cognitions affect learning and interact with other influences
  • Humanistic approach: holistic. Considers a range of influences on an individual person

Determinism vs Free Will

(Behaviour determined by factors outside of someone’s control vs behaviour is due to conscious free choice)

  • Behaviourist approach: determinist (‘hard determinism’). Behaviour due to learning processes outside of our control
  • Biological approach: determinist (‘hard determinism’). Behaviour due to brain structure, genes, neurotransmitter, outside of our control
  • Psychodynamic approach: psychic determinism (‘hard determinism’)- behaviour due to unconscious drives and instincts outside of our control
  • Cognitive approach: determinist (‘soft determinism’)- behaviour guided by existing schema and stage of development, but there is some choice over thoughts
  • Social learning approach: reciprocal determinism (‘soft determinism’)- behaviour guided by learning, but some choice over which actions we choose to perform
  • Humanistic approach: free will. Behaviour is down to the conscious free choice of the individual

Humanistic Psychology, figure 1

Explanations of Abnormal Behaviour

The approaches explain that abnormal behaviour is due to:

  • Behaviourist approach: faulty learning (negative behaviour has been reinforced somehow). Can be treated by ‘unlearning’- counter-conditioning.
  • Social learning approach: negative/dysfunctional role models.
  • Psychodynamic approach: childhood trauma, unresolved unconscious conflicts, overuse of defence mechanisms. Can be treated by uncovering and resolving repressed conflicts through psychotherapy.
  • Cognitive approach: faulty/irrational thought processes. Can be treated by CBT, in which negative thoughts are challenged.
  • Humanistic approach: incongruence between concept of self and ideal self, inability to self-actualise. Can be treated through achieving congruence through client-centred therapy.
  • Biological approach: imbalance of hormones/neurotransmitters, genetic inheritance, faulty brain structure/workings. Can be treated through drug therapy.

Idiographic vs Nomothetic

(Studying and explaining individual behaviour through case studies vs studying large groups to establish general laws)

  • Learning approaches (behaviourist, SLT): nomothetic
  • Cognitive approach: nomothetic (although does use case studies as evidence)
  • Biological approach: nomothetic (although does use case studies as evidence)
  • Psychodynamic approach: idiographic
  • Humanistic approach: idiographic
What method did Wundt use in the first psychology lab?
Which approach emerged at the end of the 20th century?
Your answer should include: Cognitive / Neuroscience
Who investigated classical conditioning using dogs?
What concept was developed by Bandura?
Your answer should include: Social / Learning / Theory / SLT
What does the cognitive approach suggest the mind works like?
What is the actual set of genes a person has?
What process causes evolution in organisms?
Your answer should include: Natural / Selection
What is the first psychosexual stage, according to psychodynamic theory?
What are the three parts of the personality, according to psychodynamic theory?
Your answer should include: Id / Ego / Superego
What is the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?