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Humanistic psychology

Humanistic Psychology.

Humanism was the third force in psychology, Behaviorism was the first force and Psychoanalytic was the second. Humanist theories are concerned with characteristics that are distinctly and uniquely human, and that people are more important than science. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers paved the way for this new approach to understanding personality and improving the overall satisfaction of individuals. Both Rogers and Maslow agreed that all individuals have the potential for personal growth, they called this self-actualization. They believed that only through self-improvement and self-knowledge could one truly be happy. Gross, R (1996)

Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970)

Abraham Maslow discovered in his research with monkeys, that some needs take precedence over others. Botscharow, J (2004) For example thirst takes precedence over hunger because we can survive without food a much longer period of time than we can do without water, but the need to breathe is more important than either of those. The need for sex, on the other hand, is less powerful than any of these. Bell, M (2004). Boeree stated in 1997, that this directly contradicts Sigmund Freud’s earlier theory in which he said that the sex drive is the most important motivating force.

Maslow developed his Hierarchy of Needs model between 1943 and 1954. He argued that all living things are motivated by needs. The most basic of these needs are inborn because they have been developed as we have evolved over tens of thousands of years. (Chapman A 2001). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself. Bell, M (2004) Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development, but if the things that satisfy our lower order of needs are not met, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order of needs. (Chapman A 2001) These needs help to motivate us.

Maslow identified that our hierarchy of needs was like a pyramid, with all the basic needs at the bottom, and the needs concerned with man's highest potential at the top His research suggested that each level of the pyramid is dependent on the previous level. For example, a person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied. Knight, A (2004)



The psychological needs.

The psychological needs are the most important to us; they include satisfying thirst, hunger, and maintaining a level of vitamins and minerals. We also need to be active and to sleep and rest, our bodies need to get rid of waste products. We need to avoid pain and engage in sex so that we can procreate.

When the physiological needs are largely taken care of, the second layer of needs comes into play.

Safety and security needs.

In the second layer of needs concentrate on finding safe circumstances and stability. We satisfy the need for structure, order and limits in our lives. We become more concerned with fears and anxieties rather than thirst and hunger.

When both the psychological and safety needs are met, a third layer starts to show up.

Belonging needs.

In this layer of needs we fulfill our needs to have a partner, children and affectionate relationships in general. We avoid becoming lonely.

Esteem needs.

Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one.

Lower needs

In the lower needs level we crave the respect of others and we need to find status, fame, glory, recognition, attention and appreciation.

Higher needs

In the higher level we have the need for self respect and feelings of confidence, competence, achievement, independence and freedom.

Self actualization.

Maslow (1954) believed that man has a natural drive to healthiness, or self actualization. He believed that man has basic, biological and psychological needs that have to be fulfilled in order to be free enough to feel the desire for the higher levels of realization. He also believed that the organism has the natural, unconscious and innate capacity to seek its needs. (Maslow 1968) In other words, man has an internal, natural, drive to become the best possible person he can be.

In Toward a Psychology of Being (1968), Maslow describes self-actualization as: "an episode, or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative, more humorous, more ego-transcending, more independent of his lower needs ... He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualizing his potentialities, closer to the core of his Being, more fully human."

There are however criticisms of Maslow’s work, this is mainly about his methodology, for example, picking a small number of people that he himself declared self-actualizing, then reading about them or talking with them, and coming to conclusions about what self-actualization is in the first place does not sound like good science to many people. (www.

Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987)

Carl Rogers developed a theory that every human being has two basic psychological needs, which must be satisfied if that person is not to suffer psychological damage and become mentally disturbed. The first is the need for self-actualisation, in other words, the need to develop one’s personal interest, skills and abilities to the full. The second need is that of the positive regard from other people, namely the approval, love and respect from others. Hayes, N (1984) Rogers suggested that the need for this respect from others is truly a need, and not something which we can do without. Hayes,N & Orrell, S (1987) Rogers claimed that as long as these needs are both met, the individual does not face problems. Hayes, N (1984)

In life, on the whole, people tend to put conditions on positive regard, for example individuals tend to like and respect people who behave in a certain way, but they tend not to like people who do not behave in a way that they want them to. Rogers says that due to conditional positive regard, humans do not believe positive things about themselves and have low self- esteem and conditional positive self-regard.  People begin to like themselves only if they meet up with the standards others have applied to them, rather than if they were truly actualizing their potentials.  And since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not they find themselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem. Boeree, C.G (1998). When these conditions of worth cause the individual to act in ways directly oppose the self-actualizing behavior, which is valued by that person, then threat results, because the individual’s need for self-actualization is being threatened. Hayes, N (1984) According to Rogers, the healthy person is one whose idea self and true self are very similar.  The closer one gets to the person he or she wants to be, the more self-actualized they become. ( A truly self-actualized person is one who knows himself completely and accepts himself for all his strengths and weaknesses. Bell, M (2004) As the ideal and true self get closer and closer together, he or she climbs closer and closer to the top of Maslow's hierarchy. (

Rogers developed his view through clinical settings. One of the techniques he used for assessing personality was called the Q-sort, which was devised by Stephenson in 1953. It consisted of a series of one hundred cards with statements like educated, lazy, shy etc. The cards are laid out in a series of nine ranging from ‘very like me’ to ‘very unlike me’. The first time they do this is to describe how they actually are. The second time they would put them into piles that described their ideal self or the way they would like to be. By comparing the piles it was possible to tell how close the person’s self-concept and their ideal self-concept were. Hayes,N & Orrell, S (1987) This allows the client and the therapist to know where the client is at in the present and what direction the client would like to take in treatment.  (



Rogers developed person-Centered therapy; he believed that people were able to sort out their own problems if they lost the overwhelming desire to seek approval, or if they were put in a position where they obtained unconditional positive regard from others. Rogers emphasised that it was the therapist’s job to provide this unconditional approval, this therapy provides a supportive atmosphere which boosts the clients self esteem. The therapist has an extremely personal relationship with the client.this would free the person to explore their own options and satisfy their need for self-actualization. The therapist in now way directs the client but instead encourages them. This requires the therapist to be genuine and have active empathy and listening skills. Hayes, N (1984).

In 1961 Rogers wrote, "It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what problems have been deeply buried. It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely on the client for the direction of movement in the process."

In terms of how Carl Rogers work developed, Tony Merry (1994) stated that: ‘His early work was known as ‘non-directive’ psychotherapy. This was based on the hypothesis that therapists cannot decide the directions in which people should change and develop, but should help clients explore their needs from their own point of view, and discover their own internal resources. Later, Rogers and his colleagues started calling their work ‘client-centered therapy’ to emphasize that it was clients who were at the centre of the process, not techniques and methods’. Roger’s client centered therapy has some limitations, for example, it seems more successful with people who are more articulate and who are motivated to seek help, clients who are withdrawn or seriously disturbed may need more direct help in changing their behavior , however, Rogers called upon psychologists to investigate some of his ideas. He also tape recorded therapy sessions and made them available for analysis by researchers. (Malim. M, et al 1992)

Comparing the theories of Maslow and Rogers.

In 1979 John Medcalf and John Roth suggested that Maslow and Rogers’ theories were different in many ways, but they also had much in common. They both had great faith in the fundamental strength and goodness of human nature and given the proper environment all people are capable of fulfilling this promise. On the other hand, it is agreed that if the environment is oppressive in someway, it opposes natural growth and natural destiny will not be fulfilled. A person might become aggressive and defensive under these circumstances. A criticism of the Humanistic approach is that it is largely a vague, unscientific and untestable approach.


Bell. M (2004) Psychology lecture Sutton Coldfield College (1st October 2004)

Boeree. C.G (1998) Personality Theories <> (accessed 29th November 2004)

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Knight. A (2004) Choosing Your Focus <> (accessed 28th November 2004)

Malim.T, Birch.A & Wadeley, A (1992) Perspectives in Psychology London, Macmillan Press LTD.

Maslow. A (1954) Motivation and Personality New York, Harper & Row.

Maslow. A (1968) Toward a Psychology of Being New York,

Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.

Medcalf. J & Roth, J (1979) Approaches to Psychology Great Britain, J.W. Arrowsmith LTD.

Merry. T (1994) Invitation To Person Centred Psychology USA, Whurr Publishers.

Rogers. C (1961) On Becoming A Person USA, Houghton Mifflin Company. (2004) Personality Synopsis <> (accessed 30th November 2004) (2004) Abraham Maslow <> (accessed 6th December 2004) (2003) Motivation in Therory <> (accessed 29th November 2004)

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