The Humanistic Perspective


Humanistic theories emphasize our inborn potential for healthy growth and development. Psychopathology occurs when our healthy potentials are blocked by pathogenic parenting or other harmful environmental forces. Common symptoms include an inability to know what one really wants and to enjoy a meaningful life.

Carl R. Rogers

Rejected Freud’s pessimistic view of human nature and argued that our inner potentials are entirely positive. We have an innate tendency to develop these healthy capacities (actualization), and we are born with the ability to value positively (or negatively) that which will actualize (or not actualize) these potentials. However, we also have a powerful need for our parents’ love (positive regard). Psychopathology occurs when parents make their affection and nurturing conditional on the child’s personality meeting their standards, which causes the child to give up the healthy drive for actualization in order to keep the parents’ positive regard. The child therefore introjects the parents’ standards, and tries to satisfy these conditions of worth instead of actualizing his or her true potentials. The psychotherapist uses genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard to establish a constructive personal relationship with clients, who learn to abandon their conditions of worth and replace them with their real needs and wishes.

Abraham H. Maslow

Argued that our inner potentials are entirely positive, but are weak and can easily be overwhelmed by pathogenic learning. Sought to integrate the best aspects of various theories of personality (eclecticism). Human needs form a hierarchy, where we do not try to satisfy (and do not even become aware of) higher-level needs until lower-level needs have at least to some extent been satisfied. The highest-level need (self- actualization) involves fulfilling our healthy innate potentials, leads to different kinds of behavior, and is very difficult to achieve.

Rollo May

Devised an existential theory of personality that emphasizes the science of being (ontology): what it means to exist as a distinctively human organism for one fleeting and random moment in an eternity of time, in one small and random corner of an infinitely vast universe. Personality is a unified whole, the unconscious is very important, and we must have the courage to assert our existence and make our own choices despite our anxiety about nonbeing and death.