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The Humanistic Approach

The Humanistic Approach

Developed by Rogers and Maslow in the 1950s

Assumptions
  • A healthy mental attitude is dependent on taking personal responsibility, recognising the existence of free will, and striving towards personal growth and fulfilment.
  • Individuals have a need for self actualisation.
  • People are naturally good, with the potential for personal growth if they are provided with the appropriate circumstances.
  • Rogers (1959): if in early life children receive unconditional positive regard they will develop satisfactorily. However, if they experienceconditions of worth, they are prevented from realising their potential and becoming self-actualised.
  • People use distorted thinking to defend themselves, e.g., by rationalisation, that is distorting their real motives to fit in with their self-concept.
Evidence

It is not based on scientific methods since Rogers did not believe they were appropriate, but on phenomenology, in which individuals report their own conscious experiences.

Treatment implications

Treatment aims to uncover distortions and denials so the individual can gain insight into his/her true self. Client-centred therapy is based on the therapist giving the client unconditional positive regard, being genuine and honest, and empathising showing empathy (PIP p.815).

Strengths and Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory

Strengths of Humanistic Theory.  Like every theory, some people find the humanistic approach to be valid while others see it for the numerous inherent flaws.  Some of the strengths of this theory include the focus on both the positive nature of humankind and the free will associated with change.  Unlike Freud’s theory and the biological approach, which focus on determinism or our lack of power over ourselves, Maslow and others see the individual as very powerful.

A second positive aspect of humanistic theory is the ease in which many of its aspects fit well with other approaches.  Many therapists have adopted a humanistic undertone in their work with clients.  While they may argue humanistic theory does not go far enough, they see the benefit of the core components in helping people change.

Finally, most have seen the benefits of humanism carry over into different professions.  If you take a health class, you are likely to discuss Maslow’s hierarchy.  If you study economic or business, you will also focus on moving upward in our lives in order to be more aware of who we are and where we fit in with the world.  The same holds true with other professions, including literature, criminology, and history, among others, as the basics of humanistic thought strike an undertone in all of what is considered human.

Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory.  With the good, always comes the bad, and this theory is no different.  The biggest criticism of humanistic thought appears to center around its lack of concrete treatment approaches aimed at specific issues.  With the basic concept behind the theory being free will, it is difficult to both develop a treatment technique and study the effectiveness of this technique.

Secondly, there are those who believe humanistic theory falls short in its ability to help those with more sever personality or mental health pathology.  While it may show positive benefits for a minor issue, using the approach of Roger’s to treat schizophrenia would seem ludicrous.

Finally, humanistic theory makes some generalizations about human nature that are not widely accepted as complete.  Are people basically good or are their some individuals who are not capable of this?  Can we adequately argue that everyone follows the same levels as Maslow explained, or are these levels, and even what they stand for, be determined by the individual?  Why do some people seem to make negative choices even when positive solutions are staring them in the face?  These questions plague humanistic thought and the difficulty in researching the theory does not provide any freedom.

Despite these problems, humanistic theory has been incorporated into many differing views on psychotherapy and human change.  Many argue now that a humanistic undertone in treatment provides a nice foundation for change.  While it may not be sufficient, it may still be necessary for a significant personality change to occur.

EVALUATION

  • It provides power to individuals by emphasising free will and the ability to change.
  • The therapy provides great insight into what any experiences have meant to the individual.
  • Rogers has provided evidence (in the form of detailed tapes of therapy sessions) on which to base research.
  • It has been shown to be effective but only with less severe problems (e.g., Greenberg et al., 1994; see PIP p.816).
  • It does not pay sufficient attention to unconscious thoughts.
  • It ignores biological influences.
  • There is no attempt at diagnosis. This limits the ability to offer effective therapy
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