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  What Is Psychology?
Written By: Dr. Levinson


During the 1950s, Humanistic Psychology began to rise, as a reaction to Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism, which flourished at the time. Humanistic Psychology is considered to be the: "Third Force" of Psychology. The first and second forces are Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis respectively.

While both Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis are Deterministic Approaches, the Humanistic branch added another, more holistic and optimistic dimension to human behavior: In Contrast to Psychoanalysis which focused on unconscious motivations to determine personality, and in contrast to Behaviorism which focused on learning to determine human's behavior and personality, Humanistic thinkers focused on individual’s potential for personal growth.
The fundamental premise of Humanistic Psychology is that people are innately good. Mental disorders and problems are some deviations from this natural tendency of goodness. This approach made it more acceptable for healthy individuals to explore their abilities and reach for their maximum potential. And by doing so, it removed some of the stigma attached to therapy in general.

Leading Intellectual Thinkers of the Humanistic Approach Are:

Abraham Maslow (1908- 1970), was one of the founder figures in the 1950s, who shifted the focus from mental symptomology and sickness toward positive sides of mental health. He was intrigued by human potential, seeking peak experiences that improved mental health. Specifically, he was interested in Self-Actualization, which is the process developing and achieving one's potential.

Human's potential was conceptualized by Maslow in his theory of: Hierarchy of Needs. It is often displayed as a pyramid, where the lowest levels of the pyramid include basic needs (photo#9). Examples are: Needs for food, water, safety and sleep. As lower-level needs are met, one goes up the pyramid and more complex psychological and social needs become

the person's target. Examples are: Needs for belongingness, love and friendship. Finally, need for personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment are located at the top of the pyramid.


Carl Rogers (1902-1987), was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with national intergroup conflict in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

In accord with Maslow, Roger also emphasized the need to achieve self-actualization levels. He developed an approach to therapy known as Client-Centered therapy. This is a unique, warm and nondirective way to understanding personality and human relationships.
Roger posits that in order for one to fulfill her potential, one need to experience Unconditional Positive Regard.
This is a non-judgmental acceptance of others. It facilitates development of security needed for exploration of feelings without the fear of being disapproved.

Furthermore, Roger compared and contrasted the "Real Self" and the “Ideal Self”. The "Real Self” represents aspects of one's true personality and needs. Therefore, it is the basis of the actualizing tendency. On the other hand, the “Ideal Self” represents one's a non-realistic, high standard values. Therefore, the 'Ideal Self " is bound to fail and may even result in mental disturbances.

Roger referred to the gap between the Ideal Self –and the Real Self as Incongruity and emphasized the need to minimize this unhealthy gap. Moreover, incongruent people work hard to protect their Ideal Self which is under constant threat.
While the real self-person represents a true: “I am" and is able to lead his life in a genuine way, the ideal self-person is led by the: “I should".

Also, Rogers argued that an incongruent individual, one who has big gap between his Real and Ideal Self, tends to be defensive and thus cannot be open to all experiences. This incongruent individual has high likelihood to deploy healthy defense mechanisms and use distortions and denial instead.

Distortion occurs when the individual perceives a threat to their self-concept. In other words, this individual needs to distort perception in order to fit the unrealistic, Ideal Self he is clinging to. And since incongruent individual cannot, by virtue, function ideally, she is likely to suffer emotionally.

Criticisms of Humanistic Psychology:
Similar to Psychoanalysis, Humanistic School is critiqued for not being scientific. It is often seen as too subjective, where it is difficult to measure, assess and quantify humanistic phenomena such as Self-Actualization.



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