Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. It is concerned with the subjective experience of human beings, and views using quantitative methods in the study of the human mind and behavior as misguided. This is in direct contrast to cognitive (which aims to apply the scientific method to the study of psychology), an approach of which humanistic psychology has been strongly critical. Instead, the discipline stresses a phenomenological view of human experience, seeking to understand human beings and their behavior by conducting qualitative research (wikipedia). The humanistic approach has its roots in existentialist thought. The founding theorists behind this school of thought are Abraham Maslow, who presented a “hierarchy of needs”; Carl Rogers, who created and developed ‘client-centered therapy’ and Fritz and Laura Perls who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt psychologists claim to consider behavior holistically, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (psychclassics). Carl Ransom Rogers, (1902 – 1987) was a psychologist who was instrumental in the development of non-directive psychotherapy (Rogerian psychotherapy). His basic principles were congruence-genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding demonstrated by the counselor is necessary and sufficient to create a relationship beneficial to allowing the client to fully experience their phenomenological field, or self (Coon,2001). It was only after years of counseling experience that Rogers settled on these three conditions as the ones “necessary and sufficient” for relational health. Although they emerged from a therapeutic setting, he was certain that they are equally important in the business world, family life, education, and all interpersonal relationships (afirstlook).
Rogers used the term congruence to describe the match or fit between an individual’s inner feelings and outer display. The congruent person is genuine, real, integrated, whole, and transparent. The non-congruent person tries to impress, plays a role, puts up a front, and hides behind a facade. Rogers realized that congruence between feelings and actions can never be total, but his experience convinced him that choosing to be real with others is the single most important decision a person can make (afirstlook). He believed the professional roles of doctor, teacher, supervisor, minister, and therapist were created to maintain a safe distance from those seeking help. Yet when he established a warm and trusting climate for the client and they experienced themselves as fully received regardless of whether they expressed fear, anger, shame, pleasure, or affection, they got better.
Rogers could let himself express unconditional positive regard for others because he believed in the basic goodness of humankind. He realized this optimism was directly opposed to the prevailing Western cultural conviction that people are dangerous and need to be taught, guided, disciplined, and controlled. He assumed that given a suitable climate, people are trustworthy, creative, constructive, and capable of releasing vast amounts of untapped human potential. As a counselor and friend, he saw his responsibility as one of creating a warm atmosphere in which clients could explore, understand, and solve their own problems (afirstlook). “When in doubt, listen”. That was Rogers’ advice for those who are willing to explore what it’s like to be another person (afirstlook). He used the term empathic understanding to describe the caring skill of temporarily putting aside our views and values and of entering into another’s world without prejudice. It is an active process of seeking to hear the other’s thoughts, feelings, tones, and meanings as if they were our own.
Empathic listening is nonjudgmental. Rogers regarded judgment, evaluation, and appraisal as major barriers to interpersonal communication. Avoiding the natural tendency to approve or disapprove of what is heard is the single most difficult task faced by the average listener. Counselors must overcome the added tendency to interpret or diagnose (afirstlook). Rogers doubted the presence of a universal truth “out there,” and was even more skeptical that we could know at all if it does exist. Along with R. D. Laing, he believed that the only reality we can know for sure is our own. He didn’t view the experience as a “dangerous battleground”, he saw it as a “friendly resource to be treasured and embraced”. He was careful not to insist that his experience should have meaning for others, but merely presented personal accounts of healthy relationships in the hope that they might strike a responsive chord in his audience (atpweb).
Rogers also made a significant impact upon Education Psychology, a field in which his views are generally regarded as Humanist. He also developed a theory of experiential learning, which he contrasted to what he called “cognitive learning.” Critics of Carl Rogers have charged that his theory and methods are overly simplistic. These critics believe that the resources of the individual for helping themselves cannot be trusted or will lead to harm. Critics have also suggested that his theory of personality lacks precision and specificity in regards to some of the concepts and terms and does not maintain logical consistency. They also charge that he does not sufficiently address stages of development and does not give enough attention to the unconscious. Despite limited recognition in academic settings, many people in a wide variety of helping and other professions point to the work of Carl Rogers as being a great influence in their career and their life (atpweb).
I personally believe that Rogers’ ideas were great. Perhaps his ideas were simplistic, but the more complicated we make things the bigger the mess we make. Look at our lives today, everyone is running around with a hundred things on their mind, we occupy our lives with oodles of electronic gadgets that are supposed to make our lives simpler but instead we only manage to make them more complicated. The simpler the things are the calmer and happier we will be. We rush to buy the newest trend every season and the newest technology so we can be happy, but at the end of the day who is truly happy? We seem to have lost touch with ourselves and the world around us. We try to find happiness in material things rather than looking to find it within ourselves and the world around us. People no longer listen to each other, and I think that is a very important part of Rogers’ theory, LISTENING. No one does that anymore. Put aside your feelings, thoughts stereotypes, and generalizations and listen to what the person across from you is truly saying. Learn to accept the person for who they are and what they are not for who they could be or who you want them to be. Accept them with their flaws and problems and through that, you can see their good too.
We always look at the negative things in life rather than the positive, its like my mother always tells me, “you should always look up and not down, don’t compare yourself to the worst but the better”. She is right because by looking at people who may be in a worse position than you, you will never have the need to grow and be better because you will already think that you are better off, but by looking up you will always see that there is space to grow and improve. The simpler the things are the calmer and happier we will be. Perhaps I’m rambling on and getting astray from the psychological aspect of this paper and getting too philosophical, but that’s what I think is great about humanism is that you can truly apply it to your life and make it a way of living. I shall end my paper with one of my favorite quotes:
“Simplicity, Simplicity Simplicity” –Thoreau
- Coon, Denis.(2001) Introduction to Psychology Gateways to Mind and Behavior
9th Ed. California: Thomas Learning Inc.
- Pioneers. Carl Rogers. Guide to the Transpersonal Internet
- Existential Theory of Carl Rogers