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By Sakshi Kanojia, Rudrani Mishra


This piece of work seeks to provide the reader with in-depth knowledge of humanistic psychology, starting with a table of content, it defines humanistic psychology, the third force of psychology as an important contribution to the history of psychology. It then proceeds forward to looking into the lives of its major contributors namely Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Moving forward, it explores various humanistic theories with their criticisms and lastly, it ends with some interesting facts for the readers.


1. Definition of Humanistic Psychology
2. Major Contributors
     2.1. Abraham Maslow
     2.2. Carl Rogers
3. Significant Theories
    3.1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
    3.2. Carl Rogers’ Concept of Self
4. Indian approach
5. Criticisms
6. Case study

What is Humanistic Psychology?

Humanistic Psychology is the third force of psychology. It is a perspective that emphasizes the whole individual and gives importance to concepts such as free will, self-efficacy, and self-actualization. It strives to help people reach their potential and help them in self-actualization that is maximized to their fullest potential.

It assumes that people are basically good, and they are motivated to self-actualize. It focuses on subjective experiences rather than objective ones. It rejects scientific methodology like experiments and typical uses of scientific research. Humanistic psychology rejects the study of animals as it does not suggest anything about human behavior according to them. 

In the early to mid-1900s, there existed only two viewpoints namely, psychoanalysis and behaviorism. An individual could be either a psychoanalyst or a behaviorist. There were not any other major viewpoints to rival these two. Behaviorism was seen as a mechanical theory -stimulus goes in, a response comes out.


Related Post: Behaviorism: An Influential Approach in Psychology


Some professionals began developing a 3rd read that primarily focuses on people’s ability to direct their own lives. This approach owes way more roots in philosophy than in biology and physiology. Humanists stated that individuals have power, the liberty to decide on their own destiny. Two of the earliest and most noted founders of this are Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) and Carl Rogers (1902-1987).


Major Contributors to Humanistic Psychology



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Born in 1908, Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist. He is best known for creating a hierarchy of needs, a theory that gives importance to human needs and self-actualization. His theory suggested that people have several basic needs that should be met before moving up to the hierarchy to pursue self-actualization needs.

Maslow is best known for the hierarchy of needs, humanistic Psychology, and self-actualization i.e., our ability to reach our highest potential. 

Early Life: A Brief History 

Maslow was born in 1908, in a Jewish family of seven children who migrated from Russia. Later, he described his childhood as sorrowful and lonely. Before pursuing psychology, he studied law at the City College of New York. But later, his interest in Psychology led him to pursue a bachelor's, master’s, and doctorate in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin.



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Carl Rogers is another significant contributor to humanistic psychology. He is known for developing the psychotherapy method called Client-Centred Therapy and being one of the founders of humanistic psychology. 

Carl Rogers was born in 1902 in Illinois. His mother was a housewife and his father, a Civil Engineer. He was an overachiever from a really young age.



Humanistic Theories

Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow proposed a motivational model in 1954. He believed that psychology ignores an individual's ability to strive for personal growth. He introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs. In the hierarchy, deficiency needs are at the bottom, and growth needs are at the top.



Deficiency Needs: needs of the body such as the need for food and water.

Growth Needs are for desires like having friends or feeling good about oneself.

The theory is generally rigid in the hierarchy but Maslow noted that the needs may not always occur in the given hierarchy. They may keep changing from one person to another. For example: For some people, esteem needs are more important than belonging needs, or esteem and physiological needs are the only superior ones. This suggests that the needs are not always satisfied in a hierarchy.

1. Physiological Needs: 
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Sex
  • Homeostasis 

These needs are basic needs, necessary for human survival and the progression of its species.

2. Safety Needs:

After the fulfillment of physiological needs, individuals progress to safety needs. Safety needs are nothing but the need to feel safe and secure and out of danger whether it be financial security, health and wellness, or safety against injury or accidents. It includes the need for shelter as well.
3. Belonging and love Needs:

Belonging needs include such things as love and acceptance. People want to feel loved and accepted to avoid stress and depression. As social beings, we need to be loved and accepted by the people around us.
4. Esteem Needs:

Esteem needs are the need for appreciation and respect. When the lower order needs in the hierarchy are fulfilled, there is a prominent need for self-esteem and personal growth. An individual needs to feel that they are valued and making contributions to the world. 
5. Self-actualization Needs:

It is the peak of Maslow's hierarchy. When all the lower needs are fulfilled, people can strive to reach their fullest potential.

Expanded Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Earlier, the theory included only five needs, later it added three more needs namely Cognitive needs, Aesthetic needs, Transcendence needs.

Cognitive Needs: It includes the need to know and understand. To explore, need for meaning and predictability. 

Aesthetic Needs: Need for symmetry, order, and beauty.

Transcendence Needs: Maslow added a higher need called Transcendence above self-actualization. This need includes needing to help others reach their highest potential. 


Related Post: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Carl Rogers' Concept of Self

Rogers believed that forces that direct us are within us and that if they are not blocked or distorted they can guide us to self-actualization. 

The Self

Self is the central concept in Rogers' theory. It is an organized, consistent set of perceptions about oneself.



The self-concept keeps developing in response to life experiences. Once it has developed, now the challenge is to maintain it, as it helps us to understand our relationship with the world around us. Thus, we need self-consistency, an absence of conflict between our perceptions and congruence, consistency between our perceptions and experiences.

Any inconsistent event evokes anxiety. A well-adapted individual will respond to this anxiety by modifying the self-concept, but other people choose to deny their experiences to eliminate incongruence, a strategy that can lead to problems in living.

The degree of congruence between self-concept and experience helps define one's adjustment level. The more rigid and inflexible one's self-concept is, the more maladjusted one would become.


The Need for Positive Regard

According to Rogers, we are born with an innate need for positive regard that is acceptance and love from others. He viewed positive regard as important for healthy development.

Unconditional Positive Regard: According to him, people are worthy of respect and love regardless of their behavior and accomplishments.

People need positive regard not only from others but themselves too. The need for positive self-regard i.e. the desire to feel good about oneself.

Rogers believed that conditions of worth can hold down people and cause major incongruence among self and experience.

Self-esteem is one of the most important aspects of self. It is how positively or negatively we feel about ourselves. People with high self-esteem are much happier and are less reactive to everyday ups and downs whereas, people with low self-esteem are more reactive to everyday ups and downs.

Towards the end of his career, Rogers became very much interested in the fully functioning individual. A fully functioning individual is an individual who is very close to being self-actualized.

According to Rogers, such people have an inner sense of freedom, self-determination and choose to move in their direction of growth.


Client-centred Therapy 

Another major concept given by Carl Rogers is Rogerian Psychotherapy also known as Person-Centered Therapy or Client-Centered Therapy.

Rogers believed there are three necessary and sufficient conditions of counseling :

  1. Empathy
  2. Unconditional Positive Regard
  3. Congruence (genuineness, openness, authenticity, transparency)



In therapeutic situations, empathy is primarily concerned with the counselor’s ability to feel the client and convey this understanding back to them. This may be done in multiple ways. Empathy may be subjective, interpersonal, or objective. 

Unconditional Positive Regard:

Unconditional Positive Regard is also known as acceptance, is a deep and genuine caring for the client as a person.


Congruence is the condition of being transparent in the therapeutic relationship giving up roles and facades. It is the counselor’s readiness for setting aside concerns and personal preoccupation and being available and open in relationship with the client.


Indian Approach

Collectivist societies, such as India, which emphasize community needs and interdependence, may struggle to identify with humanistic psychology's ideals and values.



  • Since humanism is based on individuals' subjective perceptions, scientifically measuring, recording, and studying humanistic variables and features may be difficult. Because of the focus on collecting qualitative evidence, measuring and checking any findings received in counseling is virtually difficult. Not only is comparing one set of qualitative data to another difficult, but the overall absence of objective data means that core hypotheses cannot be confirmed by empirical evidence.
  • Other criticisms of the approach include its ineffectiveness in addressing serious mental health problems, generalizations of human existence, and a total denial of certain primary behaviorist and psychoanalytic principles. While humanistic psychology claims that animal experiments are worthless in the study of human behavior, some animal studies have resulted in ideas that can be applied to humans. Furthermore, while humanistic psychology emphasizes free will and the conscious mind, research shows that the unconscious mind plays an important role in individual psychology.
  • Focuses on conscious awareness—this narrows the reach of the humanistic approach by excluding problems that are not visible to us.
  • It is too naive when it comes to human actions, assuming that humans are intrinsically decent and can choose better paths for their life. However, certain people's free will and decisions are minimal.

Case Study

Gloria's case analysis explores Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis' approaches to client-centered counseling. CCT therapy recordings are available on YouTube for the same.

Gloria Szymanski was the client in this film. Gloria was 31 years old when the sessions were taped; she had split six years before, and her daughter, Pammy, was in fourth grade when Gloria married for the second time in 1968, only to divorce ten years later. At the age of 46, she died of leukemia. Pamela Burry, Gloria's niece, later wrote a book called "Living with the Gloria Films: A Daughter's Recollection".



With Fritz Perls- Click here to watch the video.

With Carl Rogers- Click here to watch the video.

With Albert Ellis- Click here to watch the video.



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