Person in Black Pants and Black Shoes Sitting on Brown Wooden Chair, humanism

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Click below to listen to this article:

The many branches of humanism – multiple facets of the same coin?

Humanism is a broad term that encompasses various philosophical, ethical, and psychological perspectives that emphasize human dignity, agency, and potential. However, within humanism, there are different branches that have different emphases and assumptions. In this article, we will explore the question: Are all the branches of humanism simply many facets of the same coin?

In this article, we will compare and contrast the main branches of humanist psychology: person-centred, existentialism and positive psychology.

Person-centred psychology, also known as client-centred or Rogerian psychology, is based on the work of Carl Rogers. It focuses on the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist, and the client’s subjective experience of themselves and their world. The therapist’s role is to provide unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, and to facilitate the client’s self-exploration and self-acceptance. Person-centred psychology assumes that people have an innate tendency to move towards growth and fulfilment, and that they are the best experts on their own lives (Rogers, 1951).

Sign up for our Newsletter!
We will send you regular updates regarding new articles, as well as hints and tips regarding self-transcendence. We aim to limit this to once per month, though some months we will have additional special editions covering significant articles worthy of being the sole focus of a newsletter. There will be no sales spam or selling your address to third parties.

Existential psychology, also known as existential-humanistic psychology, is influenced by the existential philosophy of thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. It explores the meaning of human existence, the freedom and responsibility of choice, and the anxiety and despair that arise from facing the limitations and uncertainties of life. The therapist’s role is to help the client confront their existential dilemmas and find authentic ways of living in accordance with their values and goals. Existential psychology assumes that people have to create their own meaning and purpose in life, and that they have to face the existential givens of death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness (Yalom, 1980).

Positive psychology, also known as the science of wellbeing, is a relatively new branch of humanistic psychology that emerged in the late 1990s. It is inspired by the work of Abraham Maslow, Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. It studies the factors that contribute to human flourishing, such as positive emotions, strengths, virtues, resilience, flow and happiness. The therapist’s role is to help the client identify and enhance their positive qualities and experiences, and to promote optimal functioning and well-being. Positive psychology assumes that people have inherent strengths and potentials that can be nurtured and developed, and that they can achieve a state of eudaemonia or fulfilment (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Similarities between the branches of humanist psychology.

One of the main topics of debate in humanistic psychology is the extent to which different branches share common assumptions and goals. For example, person-centred, existential, and positive psychology are often considered as three major approaches within humanistic psychology, but they also have some distinctive features and emphases. However, it is possible to identify some similarities among them, such as:

They all adopt a holistic view of human nature, meaning that they consider the person as a whole rather than a sum of parts or a product of external forces.

One of the main features of humanist psychology is the emphasis on the holistic view of human nature, meaning that they consider the person as a whole rather than a sum of parts or a product of external forces. This view is shared by the three major branches of humanist psychology: person-centred, existentialism, and positive psychology. Each branch, however, has its own perspective on how to understand and promote human well-being.

Person-centred therapy, developed by Carl Rogers, is based on the belief that every person has an innate tendency to grow and actualize their potential, and that this can be facilitated by providing a supportive and empathic environment. Rogers (1951) stated that “the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behaviour – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” (p. 115).

Existential psychology, influenced by Rollo May, is concerned with the meaning and purpose of human existence, and the challenges and choices that people face in their lives. Existential psychologists help clients to explore their values, goals, and responsibilities, and to confront the realities of death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. May (1969) argued that “the aim of psychotherapy is to set people free” (p. 14), and that “freedom is man’s capacity to take a hand in his own development” (p. 15).

New article alerts!
We will notify you of new articles as soon as they are published. There will be no sales spam or selling your address to third parties.

Positive psychology, founded by Martin Seligman, is the scientific study of human flourishing and optimal functioning. Positive psychologists investigate the factors that enable individuals, communities, and institutions to thrive, such as positive emotions, strengths, virtues, resilience, and well-being. Seligman (2002) defined positive psychology as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life” (p. 3).

These three branches of humanist psychology all adopt a holistic view of human nature, but they also differ in their focus, methods, and applications. A debate among them could explore the similarities and differences in their theoretical foundations, empirical evidence, ethical implications, and practical outcomes.

They all emphasize the importance of subjective experience, meaning that they respect the individual’s perception of reality and their feelings, values, and meanings.

One of the main principles of humanist psychology is the emphasis on subjective experience, meaning that humanist psychologists respect the individual’s perception of reality and their feelings, values, and meanings. This principle is shared by the three major branches of humanist psychology: person-centred, existentialism, and positive psychology. However, each branch also has its own distinctive features and perspectives on how to understand and promote human flourishing.

Person-centred psychology focuses on the therapeutic relationship as the key to facilitating personal growth and wellbeing. Rogers believed that every person has an innate tendency to actualize their potential, but this can be hindered by incongruence between their self-concept and their experience. He proposed that therapists should provide three core conditions: empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence, to help clients achieve greater self-awareness and self-acceptance. He also advocated for a holistic view of the person, considering their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects. As he stated, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” (Rogers, 1961, p. 17)

Existential psychology, influenced by philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre, explores the meaning of human existence and the challenges of living authentically in a world full of uncertainty and limitations. Existential psychologists emphasize the freedom and responsibility of individuals to create their own values and purpose in life, as well as to cope with anxiety, death, isolation, and meaninglessness. They also stress the importance of existential dialogue, which is a genuine and respectful encounter between two persons that allows them to share their existential concerns and insights. As Rollo May, one of the founders of existential psychology in America, wrote, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (May, 1972, p. 24)

Positive psychology, initiated by Martin Seligman in the late 1990s, aims to study and enhance the positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, well-being, strengths, virtues, and optimal functioning. Positive psychologists use scientific methods to investigate what makes life worth living and how to foster positive emotions, positive relationships, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment. They also apply their findings to various domains such as education, health care, work place, and public policy. As Seligman (2002) explained, “Positive psychology is not remotely intended to replace therapy or pharmacology. So it is not a new way to fix problems. It is a new way to nurture what is best within ourselves.” (p. xi)

In conclusion, humanist psychology encompasses a diverse range of approaches that share a common respect for subjective experience as a source of knowledge and value. Each branch also contributes its own unique perspective and methods to help individuals achieve greater well-being and fulfilment in life.

They all acknowledge the diversity and uniqueness of human beings, meaning that they do not impose rigid categories or norms on people, but rather celebrate their differences and potentials.

One of the main features of humanist psychology is its emphasis on the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their circumstances, abilities, or achievements. Humanist psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and Martin Seligman have developed different approaches to understand and promote human flourishing, but they all acknowledge the diversity and uniqueness of human beings, meaning that they do not impose rigid categories or norms on people, but rather celebrate their differences and potentials.

For example, Rogers (1951) proposed that people have an innate tendency to grow and develop their full potential, which he called the actualizing tendency. He argued that this tendency can be facilitated or hindered by the social environment, especially by the presence or absence of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence.

Similarly, May (1969) advocated for an existential approach to psychology, which focuses on the meaning and purpose of human existence. He suggested that people face four basic existential dilemmas: freedom and responsibility, isolation and relatedness, death and life, and meaninglessness and meaning. He stated: “The purpose of psychotherapy is to set people free” (p. 15).

Finally, Seligman (2002) introduced the concept of positive psychology, which studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. He proposed that wellbeing consists of five elements: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. He claimed: “authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others” (p. 61).

These are just some examples of how humanist psychology respects and values human diversity and uniqueness. By providing quotes from different branches of humanist psychology, I hope to demonstrate the points made in this debate.

They all affirm the existence of free will and self-determination, meaning that they believe that people can choose their own actions and goals and to take responsibility for their lives.

One of the main themes of humanist psychology is the affirmation of freewill and self-determination, meaning that humanist psychologists believe that people can choose their own actions and goals and to take responsibility for their lives. This theme is evident in the three major branches of humanist psychology: person-centred, existentialism, and positive psychology.

Person-centred psychology emphasizes the importance of the therapeutic relationship and the client’s subjective experience. Rogers believed that people have an innate tendency to grow and actualize their potential, but they need a supportive and accepting environment to do so. He also believed that people are free to choose their own direction in life, as long as they are congruent with their true self. He stated, “We cannot change, we cannot get away from what we are until we accept what we are. Then the change seems to go almost unnoticed” (Rogers, 1961, p. 17).

Existential psychology focuses on the meaning and purpose of human existence. Existential psychologists argue that people are free to create their own meaning and values, but they also face the challenges of anxiety, loneliness, and death. They encourage people to confront these existential issues and to live authentically and responsibly. As Sartre (1946) famously said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

,Positive psychology aims to study and promote the positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, wellbeing, and flourishing. Positive psychologists believe that people have the capacity to enhance their strengths and virtues, and to pursue their goals and aspirations. They also believe that people have some degree of control over their happiness, and that they can choose to engage in activities that increase their well-being. Seligman (2002) wrote, “We can choose what we want from life; we can choose life’s meaning; we can choose our identity; we can choose our goals” (p. 10).

In conclusion, humanist psychology affirms the existence of free will and self-determination in human beings, and it is reflected in the three branches of person-centred, existentialism, and positive psychology. These branches share a common view that people can choose their own actions and goals and to take responsibility for their lives.

These similarities reflect the humanistic psychology’s core principles or postulates, as summarized by Bugental (1964) and Greening (2006). Bugental (1964) stated, “humanistic psychology is not a particular school or system of psychology; it is rather a point of view that can be shared by psychologists who otherwise differ widely in their theoretical orientations” (p. 11). Similarly, Greening (2006) argued that “humanistic psychology is not a single theory or method but a family of approaches that share certain values and assumptions” (p. 4). These values and assumptions are reflected in the core principles of humanistic psychology and the diverse branches that derive from them. As Rogers (1961) stated, “the humanistic approach rests upon a basic trust in the organism” (p. 24). This trust implies a positive view of human nature and a recognition of human dignity and worth.

Some quotes from prominent humanistic psychologists that illustrate these similarities are:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” (Maslow, 1970, p. 22)

“The most personal is the most universal.” (Rogers, 1961, p. 26)

“Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” (Sartre, 1946/2007, p. 28)

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” (Rogers, 1961, p. 186)

“The aim of positive psychology is to catalyse a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 5)

 

Discuss the differences between the branches of humanist psychology.

Person-centred psychology aims to help clients achieve Self-actualization by providing a therapeutic relationship that fosters empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence. The therapist does not impose any interpretation or direction on the client, but rather facilitates their own exploration and growth. According to Rogers (1959), “The client is the best expert on himself, and he is fully capable of achieving realistic and satisfying forward movement if a climate of understanding and acceptance can be provided” (p. 214).

Existentialism aims to help clients find meaning and purpose in their lives by confronting the existential dilemmas of freedom, responsibility, death, isolation, and meaninglessness. The therapist does not offer any easy answers or solutions, but rather challenges the client to take responsibility for their choices and actions. According to Yalom (1980), “The existential therapist’s task is to help the patient face his anxieties squarely, to examine the sources of these anxieties, and to aid him in the difficult task of living with these anxieties” (p. 8).

Positive psychology aims to help clients enhance their wellbeing and flourishing by focusing on their positive emotions, strengths, and virtues. The therapist does not focus on the problems or deficits of the client, but rather on their resources and potentials. According to Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), “The aim of positive psychology is to catalyse a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life” (p. 5).

These three branches of humanist psychology share some common themes, such as the emphasis on human dignity, agency, and potential. However, they also differ in some aspects, such as the degree of optimism or realism they adopt, the role of the therapist or the client in the therapeutic process, and the scope or focus of their inquiry. By comparing and contrasting these approaches, one can gain a more profound understanding of the diversity and richness of humanist psychology.

Conclusion

One could argue that the branches of humanism are not simply many facets of the same coin, but rather complementary perspectives that enrich our understanding of human nature and potential. Humanistic psychology recognizes the complexity and diversity of human existence, as well as the ethical and intentional dimensions of human behaviour (Open Text BC, n.d.). It also challenges the reductionism and determinism of other approaches, such as behaviourism and psychoanalysis, and offers a more holistic and optimistic view of human agency and growth (Explore Psychology, 2017). Moreover, humanistic psychology has influenced and inspired other fields and movements, such as positive psychology and transpersonal psychology, which share its emphasis on human strengths, values, and spirituality (Verywell Mind, 2022). As Rogers (1961) stated, “the humanistic approach represents a broadening and extension of the psychological point of view” (p. 184). Therefore, rather than seeing the branches of humanism as conflicting or competing, we can appreciate them as different lenses that illuminate different aspects of the human experience.

References

Bugental, J.F.T. (1964). The third force in psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 4(1), 19-25.

Explore Psychology. (2017). Humanistic psychology: Definition and history. https://www.explorepsychology.com/humanistic-psychology/

Greening, T. (2006). Five basic postulates of humanistic psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(3), 239-239.

Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). Harper & Row.

May, R. (1969). Love and will. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

May R (1972) Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: Norton.

McLeod, S. (2015). Humanism. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/humanistic.html

Open Text BC. (n.d.). 2.4 Humanist, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/2-4-humanist-cognitive-and-evolutionary-psychology/

Rogers, C. R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context (pp. 184-256). McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C.R. (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, C.R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.

Sartre, J.P. (2007). Existentialism is a humanism. (C. Macomber, Trans.). Yale University Press. (Original work published 1946).

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In C.R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 3-9). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seligman MEP (2002) authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Verywell Mind. (2022). Humanistic psychology: Definition, uses, impact, history. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-humanistic-psychology-2795242

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content