What it means to be human? During my teenage years, I was a very optimistic girl, full of dreams and hopes, and I wished to make a difference in the world. As I began to get older, I started to realize how much evil there was in people and how unfair life was; for that reason, my joyful, positive outlook slowly transformed into one of anger and disappointment.
For my eighteenth birthday, I received one of the best presents of my life, the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. After reading it, I felt that something had transformed inside me; this book changed my life! It helped me to view the world and the people around me in a different way, to acknowledge I have the ability to fulfill my highest potential and to realize I have a choice in who I want to be regardless of the adverse events that have affected me.
These are just few of the life principles gleaned from the book that have influenced my view of life. It amazes me that, without knowing it, I was learning and practicing many of the basic concepts of the humanistic perspective of psychology.
The theories of humanistic psychology have impacted thousands of people throughout the world, including myself, and have helped us realize we have the capacity to become better people, overcome obstacles, achieve our goals, and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
The humanistic perspective is an approach in psychology that emphasizes the study and understanding of the person as a whole.
Humanists try to answer the question: What does it mean to be fully human? They have drawn inspiration from the philosophical ideas of the ancient Greeks, Renaissance Europeans, and Christians, who debated for centuries about all the special qualities that identify and make us humans. By the late 1950s, the humanistic perspective was born as a reaction and a protest against the predominant psychological perspectives, behaviorism and psychoanalysis.
These methods primarily concentrated on a more scientific and mechanical method of analyzing the mind and behavior, without taking into consideration the importance of values, emotions, meaning, and the individual’s subjectivity.
Many psychologists criticized these perspectives for their lack of empathy and understanding of the individual needs of each different person. It became obvious these methods were not able to be used in full analysis of the complexity of the human being and could not help in the human search for meaning, purpose, and acceptance.
3 Positive Qualities that Makes Us Who We Are.
Humanists believe that
- Every person possesses an intrinsic potential for growth,
- Every person has the ability to choose their own behavior,
- Every person has an inherent need to find meaning and purpose in life.
Among the most prominent founders of the Humanistic Movement are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Sydney Jourard, and many others. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology was established in 1961, followed by the foundation of the American Association for Humanistic Psychology one year later.
Abraham Maslow’s theory of the self and of the self-actualization personality is one of the foundations of the humanistic perspective, Maslow had a vision of a branch of psychology that takes the whole person into account, based on the study of healthy, functioning, creative individuals.
Carl Rogers developed the practice of client-centered therapy during the 1940s which ultimately became the framework for all clinical psychotherapies thereafter. He greatly contributed to the humanistic movement and emphasized the theory of empathy as a way of connecting with the client and understanding his or her view of the world in order to help him or her resolve problems. (Buhler, 1971; Elkins, 2012 Schneider, Bugental, and Pierson, 2001; ahpweb, n.d.).
The Core Values of the Humanistic Perspective are:
- That humanistic psychology is the study of a person as a whole and emphasizes that a person’s behavior cannot be studied solely by breaking it down in parts.
- Humanists believe that every person has a conscience and a responsibility and are able to choose their own course of actions and behavior.
- Humanists affim that every person has the potential to grow and self-actualize and, in addition, psychologists must focus on understanding the person’s own subjectivity, emotions, values, spirituality, creativity, and goals in order to be able to effectively help them.
- In research, humanists use qualitative methods to allow them to understand other people’s subjectivity through participant observation, instead of quantitative objective methods, which cannot explain the complexity of a human being. (Humanistic, n.d; Pastorino & Doylle-Portillo, 2012; Psychlotron, n.d.; Schneider, Bugental, and Pierson, 2001).
Equally important, humanists’ goal is to connect in a deeper way with each person in order to help them improve their lives on an individual level.
Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy concept follows the idea that, in order to understand a person’s behavior, one must understand how that person views himself or herself and how he or she perceives the events around them; in other words, the psychologist must imagine himself or herself in the other person’s circumstances.
He also stated that people would be able to fulfill their potential if they have a positive self-image. Many psychologists agree with his theories and implement them in practice all around the world. (Humanistic, n.d; Pastorino & Doylle-Portillo, 2012; Schneider, Bugental and Pierson, 2001.)
Furthermore, the humanistic perspective diverges from others in that it studies individuals who have achieved their highest potential regardless of adversities and continue to be exemplary members of society. In contrast, other perspectives concentrate on the objective study of the mentally ill or on mechanical experiments.
Humanistic psychologists are not in total opposition to the other perspectives, they agree that they are valid within their domains, but at the same time they want the field of psychology to more broadly incorporate the humanistic theories in all approaches.
However, many psychologists criticize the humanistic perspective saying it is unscientific, it lacks objectivity, and that it takes a naïve, optimistic, and positive view of the world. (Elkins, 2012; Humanistic, n.d.; Pastorino & Doylle-Portillo, 2012; Schneider, Bugental, and Pierson, 2001).
Nonetheless, humanistic psychology has made great contributions to modern psychology. It has brought to the forefront the need of a more person-centered psychology that understand how humans are amazing, complex, intrinsic beings capable of the greatest acts of love and sacrifice and at the same time capable of the worst acts against their own kind.
The person-centered therapy approach has helped many people find meaning in their lives and overcome their struggles. It has also helped them understand themselves better, interact with others in a healthier way, and live goal-oriented lives. (Bugental, 1992; ahpweb, n.d.)
“It studies individuals who have achieved their highest potential regardless of adversities and continue to be exemplary members of society”
How Humanistic Psychology Impacted my Life
Without doubt, the humanistic theories have greatly influenced and impacted my life. I owe much of who I am today to my faith in God, my family, and this wonderful perspective of the human condition. Everything I do, how I cope, how I interact, and how I take care of my family are based in what I have learned from this approach. Now, I am able to help other people, listen to their problems, and even give them good advice. In my house, I take the role of the family therapist, and in church I counseled the youth.
I have seen the positive influence of the humanistic perspective not only in my life, but also in my husband’s. His life experience is a perfect example of how a humanistic approach of therapy can help a broken person achieve his or her full potential regardless of how difficult his or her life has been.
My husband, Norberto, was abandoned by his parents at a very young age and was forced to struggle against extreme poverty for most of his life. He was raised by strangers, moving from house to house, not even being able to attend school.
At age 11, his mother found him and brought him home with her, but it turned out that this would only hurt him more. Although she enrolled him in school, he was only able to finish second grade because after just two years, she abandoned him again. He was only 13 years old when he was left all alone in the world, unable to afford food or a place to live. He suffered hunger, sickness, and extreme emotional pain.
However, one day, he found refuge and rest in a Christian church, where he was taught how to heal his emotional scars with the love of God. He started reading and learning from the Bible and inspirational books and he became a youth leader in his church. Nobody had ever noticed it, but throughout his life he had possessed this extraordinary potential, amazing intelligence and memory, and unique skills.
One might think that because of the tragic events endured he would have grown up to be a hateful adult, a thief, an addict, or a delinquent; however, because he found something different, a positive perspective of the world, he overcame all stereotypes and now leads a successful life. With no higher education, he became a spiritual leader in his church, a webmaster, and a graphic designer.
He built a successful business and established his own Christian ministry. Most importantly, he found love and acceptance and now has a loving family. The life lessons he learned in church and from inspirational self-help books, helped him to realize he had a purpose in life, he was important, he had a great potential, and that his tormented past did not define him or his future.
He learned that he had free-will and that he could choose who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life. He chose to be happy regardless of what he went through. This was the humanistic therapy that successfully saved his life.
“When you finally learn that a person’s behavior has more to do with their own internal struggle than you, you learn grace.” ~ Allison Aars.
The humanistic movement raised awareness in the field of psychology about the need for a more human science that focuses on the whole person and takes into account everything a person represents emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It has brought forth many contributions to the body of research and the study of human behavior and has helped many people find purpose and meaning in their lives.
Humanist psychologists remind us of what it truly means to be human: that every person is unique and special in their own way, and that individuals cannot be reduced to simple ideas of stimuli and response. No other psychological perspective has had so much influenced on the social, emotional, spiritual, and mental health of our society as a whole (ahpweb, n.d.), it has motivated thousands of people to reach for higher aspirations and fight to fulfill their dreams.
The stoic philosopher Epictetus (born ca. 50 CE) wrote “it is not events that shape human life but rather the view that humans take of these events” (Schneider, 2001, 8).
I think this is true. No matter how much evil, injustice, and pain there is in the world, there are good people who can do great things, just like heroes throughout history, who suffered greatly but rose above everything and eventually succeeded.
Humanistic psychology has had a profound impact on my life; it has made me a better person, and it has helped me live a happy and fulfilled life with my family and friends; it has helped me to understand what it means to be human, and to understand myself better as well as understand others. I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with my children and help them become the best they can be.
- Bugental, J. T., & Bracke, P. E. (1992). The future of existential-humanistic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 29(1), 28-33. doi:10.1037/0033- 3188.8.131.52
- Buhler, C. (1971). Basic theoretical concepts of humanistic psychology. American Psychologist, 26(4), 378-386. doi:10.1037/h0032049
- Covey, S. R (1996) The seven habits of highly effective people. [Provo, UT]: Franklin Covey, Elkins, D. N. (2012). The humanistic and behavioral traditions: Areas of agreement and disagreement. Psychotherapy, 49(4), 465-468. doi:10.1037/a0027798
- Humanistic psychology (the third-force). nd. Retrieved from http://www.epoche.ca/files/Psychologie%620Humaniste. pdf.
- Pastorino, E. E, & Doylle-Portillo S. M. (2012) What is psychology?. (3rd ed.) United States: Cengage Learning.
- Sammons, A. The Humanistic Approach: The Basics. Psychology Teaching Resources. Psychlotron.org.uk. (n.d). Retrieved from: http://www.psychlotron.org uk/newResources/perspHumanistic.html.
- Schneider, K. J., Bugental, J. F. T., & Pierson, J. F. (2001). The handbook of humanistic psychology leading edges in theory, research, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- What Is Humanistic Psychology? Association of Humanistic Psychology, n.d. Retrieved from: http:/www.ahpweb.org/index.php?option-com_k2&view-item&id-8:humanistic.
By Yeszenia Gulloso, Editor in Chief. Written in 2013.
In Memory of
Norberto Salcedo Lacle
August 29, 1976 – November 22, 2021
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“It is not events that shape human life but rather the view that humans take of these events” (Schneider, 2001, 8).