What is the humanist perspective and why is it important?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated January 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The humanistic perspective in psychology tends to focus on empathy and the importance of goodness within the conduct of human beings. From a philosophical level, humanism focuses on the great value in equality and human rights. In psychology and during humanistic therapy applications, the humanistic perspective may help people improve their self-image by focusing on the positive aspects of being human.

The importance of a mindset in different types of therapy

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A closer look at the humanistic perspective

Positive aspects of humanity

Humanistic perspective psychology offers existential therapy, and client-centered therapy, with a strong emphasis on the positive aspects of humanity. A person who is going through a challenging time and working with a humanistic-focused specialist will likely be encouraged to consider certain hopeful aspects of life. For instance, if a person feels that their life is lacking meaning or purpose, their therapist may work with them to determine what's missing. This could be a relationship, a recreational interest, or something else altogether. The general idea, however, is to find a solution that will generate personal fulfillment and meaning for the whole person as an individual. Part of the goal of a humanistic psychologist may be to help their client become a fully functioning person in life.

Innate human potential

An individual's innate potential as a human being is another fundamental belief within the humanistic perspective. Hardship, suffering, and other plights that people face are often viewed as manifestations of one deviating from the path of their natural potential in life. To remedy this issue, a therapist may encourage clients to pursue avenues that allow them to grow as human beings. In many regards, this closely relates to the theme of positive humanity.

Concepts established by the humanistic theory

There are a series of now standard themes and concepts in society that were brought about by the humanistic perspective. Free will, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and self-concept are some of the important aspects of this theory that are now commonly discussed and employed because of the humanistic perspective. Free will pertains to the human ability to make choices and decisions on one’s own accord. In psychology, there are countless studies devoted to understanding the underlying factors that motivate people to make given choices.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was created by Abraham Maslow, one of the key theorists of the movement, and is one of the most well-recognized tools born of humanistic psychology. Put simply, Maslow’s Hierarchy maintains that each person has a series of needs in life that build toward the goal to be a self-actualized, fully functioning person. The most basic needs exist at the lower end of the hierarchy and serve as the most important. As the hierarchy increases, the needs become more psychological and dependent upon healthy interactions with society. The essentials listed on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are physiological needs, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, with self-actualization being the highest on the hierarchy from Maslow’s perspective.

In this hierarchy, self-concept pertains to how each person views themselves, their actions, and their abilities. The quality of a person’s self-concept can have a significant impact on their lives and the decisions they make. An individual who has a low self-concept may be more likely to make destructive decisions than someone who enjoys a positive self-concept and values who they are.

Humanistic approach of perspective in therapy

The humanistic perspective is applied in various types of therapy. Individuals who participate in this form of therapy are often encouraged to focus on their strengths and the ways their strengths can improve their lives. Furthermore, humanistic therapists aim to work with clients in such a way that they do not feel judged and are given a sense of self-worth.

Humanistic psychology uses a gestalt therapy approach, which means that an individual’s behavior and any negative feelings are explored from the perspective of the now, not as a result of past events that led them to this point. In this type of person-centered therapy, some approaches may differ; there are three key factors that are followed:

  • Unconditional positive regard. The concept of unconditional positive regard means that the therapist will remain non-judgmental during client statements and offer understanding and trust. Regardless of what the client tells them, the therapist will generally maintain a positive regard for them as a person.

  • Empathetic understanding. This type of understanding has the therapist accept a client’s full experience with a focus on guiding them toward their ideal self and helping them reach their full potential as a fully functioning person. 

  • Genuineness, or congruence. This means that the therapist offers a transparent and non-superior demeanor that makes a client feel safe. 

The Journal of Humanistic Psychology is a psychological review publication that offers a multidisciplinary forum for contributions and research methods, looking at both the philosophy and subjective reality of humanity, as well as how methods can be tested through the scientific method. It is the official journal of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, the professional organization dedicated to the study of this perspective of the human mind. This professional association also supports academic psychology standards for therapists. 

Criticism of the humanistic perspective

Despite the benefits and contributions of humanistic psychology to the world, there are still some detractors. One of the most common criticisms against the humanistic perspective asserts that it fails to explain the dark side of human nature and focuses too heavily on the positive side of humanity.

For all the good that the humanistic perspective has done, it doesn't currently provide a strong framework for an in-depth analysis of human motivation in psychopaths, sociopaths, and others who engage in devious behavior. Emphasizing the good sides and strengths of human beings is important, but the ability to understand the reasoning behind the darker side of humanity can be equally as critical. In some cases, it may not be helpful to look at a person who has been extremely harmful to others with unconditional positive regard.

Additional criticisms of the humanistic perspective have stated that this psychological outlook ultimately fails to address the reasons behind various personality traits and the underlying contributors to the human psyche. Some critics view the humanistic perspective as nothing more than a description of already existing abilities within individuals.

Think a humanistic approach may be right for you?

Takeaway

If you’re interested in learning more about humanistic psychology, you can talk to a licensed therapist near you or you can try online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as in-person therapy. With online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home or from anywhere with an internet connection. You can talk to them via phone, video chat, or in-app messaging at a time that fits into your schedule.

With BetterHelp, you can be matched with an online therapist with knowledge and experience in the various facets of humanistic psychology. You can also change therapists if needed until you find the right match. Take the first step to learning more about humanistic psychology and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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