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Humanistic Psychology-Historical Origins, Theories and Current Applications

Humanistic Psychology-Historical Origins, Theories, and Current Applications

Psychologists have, throughout time, through the application of various approaches, attempted to examine the full potential of human personalities. Various assumptions and arguments have been raised in reference to human behavior. The nature of a person in their natural sense is either defined by good or bad. Previously, the nature of human behavior was developed on the basis of behaviorist and psychodynamic perspectives, which argued that a person’s externalized behavior is a response to the conditions in their environment or a reflection of the underlying factors that influence behavior in a person, such as their subconscious mind or experiences. Moving from these perspectives of human behavior focused on behavior as a reinforcement of response to stimulus, humanistic psychology sought to expand the spectrum of how inquiry into human behavior is carried out.

Humanistic psychology, usually termed humanism, is an approach to understanding behavior that assumes that humans are innately good. Humanism approaches in the study of behavior argue that a person’s behavior is driven by their sense of morality, ethics, norms, values, and intentions. From a humanistic psychological perspective, behaviors that can be defined as bad or behaviors with adverse social experiences and outcomes are explained as deviations from the innate personal behavior being good. Other schools of thought in psychology, including behaviorism, have explored human behavior from an objective perspective that only focuses on externalized human behaviors and processes. Humanistic psychology explores a person’s behavior from an introspective viewpoint. It first assumes that the person in their natural state is good, then studies their inner mental processes to logically determine their actual behavior. Therefore, as a perspective that seeks to create a better understanding of human behavior, humanistic psychology has clearly emphasized studying the person as a whole and appreciating the individuality and uniqueness of an individual.

To better understand the perspectives held by humanistic psychology on human behavior and explore how studying a person as a whole, including their inner feelings, this paper aims to review humanistic psychology, its historical origins, theoretical backgrounds of humanistic psychology, and its applications today.

Literature Review

History and Origins of Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology was first pegged on the existential assumptions that humans have free will, unlike animals, and through introspection, motivate themselves towards actualization. The humanistic psychology movement began in the late 1950S as a rebellious response to behaviorism and psychodynamic perspectives of human behavior. Much of the influence of this school of thought in psychology was evident in the 1970s and the 1980s. Most psychologists who hold a behaviorist perspective on human behavior have argued that a person’s behavior can only be understood objectively. The humanists’ perspective of human behavior, such as those developed by Carl Rogers, argued that the views of behaviorism were based on conditioned assumptions, thus limiting the view of actual human behavior. According to early behaviorists, humans are incapable of understanding their own behavior. Rogers framed behavior as personal and that only an individual could understand their own behavior. Therefore, humanists, including Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, focused on developing a subjective view of human behavior to guide behavior and behavioral analyses to better understand the nature of human behavior.

Fundamental Assumptions Theoretical Foundations of Humanistic Psychology

The first assumption that created the foundations of humanistic psychology is the assumption that humans are innately good and that the nurturing environment plays a role in creating experiences that reinforce inherently good human behaviors or deviations from such behaviors. The founders of humanism assumed that experiences related to thought, perception, remembrance, and senses are central to all humans. A review of past literature on humanistic psychology, especially from Carl Rogers, broadly highlights that it is through these subjective experiences of an individual that form the basis of their behavior. The process of self-actualization develops from a free will state of the individual, and humans naturally engage in the process of self-growth and personal fulfillment (Russu, 2019). Humanistic psychology further holds the assumption that the need of an individual to better themselves and reach their full functioning potential is natural in humans. Carl Rogers, in response to the behaviorist perspective of human motivation as extrinsic and guided by external stimuli, noted that for a person to be a fully functioning person, they had to get in touch with their deepest and innermost natural feelings and desires (Wimaladhamma, 2021). The founders of the humanistic perspective on human behavior also assumed that humans as individuals are unique and that each should be treated as such. The presentation of human beings as having a will and ability to self-motivate towards achieving a full-functioning potential is grounded on phenomenology and its doctrine of self-determinism, personalism, and existentialism (DeRobertis & Bland, 2018).

Applications of Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology has found a multitude of applications in a number of fields, including education, healthcare, and in psychotherapy, and counseling. In education, humanistic psychological approaches have been applied in the design of student-centered approaches to instruction. According to Tulasi and Rao (2021), humanistic approaches have enabled the design of instruction with a focus on the student as a person and that education is not only about intelligence but the student as a whole. Humanism has also been incorporated into healthcare education and practice to help equip practitioners with people skills and interpersonal skills to better consider personal preferences and health targets and improve health outcomes (Hulail, 2018). In psychotherapy and counseling, humanism finds a natural application due to its focus on a person as an individual, their inner feelings, and perception of themself.


Humanistic psychology can conclusively be viewed as a rebellion and a counter to the perspectives of human behavior held by behaviorism and psychodynamic psychology. Carl Rogers and The perspectives held by humanistic psychology on human behavior good, although subjective, can help create a better understanding of a person’s behavior than the use of stimulus and judging behavior based on conditioned response. The Humanistic perspective on the human as a whole and a unique individual allows humanistic psychologists to explore behavior from a more person-specific viewpoint. Such an emphasis on human and inner feelings is applicable in the determination of behaviors within different fields, such as in healthcare and in business. The aspects of self-actualization and full functioning in humans are important in motivating a personal level of productivity, empowerment towards achieving their goals, or motivation to gain confidence. Human beings naturally strive to fulfill their desires and happiness and, therefore, have a responsibility for their own well-being. This reinforces the view of humanistic psychology on humans having an innate capacity for self-actualization and achieving their full-functioning potential. In conclusion, humanistic psychology’s perspective on human behavior is most applicable in contemporary settings and can best be applied to understanding human populations and behaviors, even in diverse or unique settings from a granular individual level.


DeRobertis, E. M., & Bland, A. M. (2018). Tapping the humanistic potential of self-determination theory: Awakening to paradox. The Humanistic Psychologist46(2), 105.

Hulail, M. (2018). Humanism in medical practice: what, why and how. Hos Pal Med Int Jnl2(6), 336-339.

Rusu, M. (2019). The process of self-realization—From the humanist psychology perspective. Psychology10(08), 1095.

Tulasi, L., & Rao, C. S. (2021). A Review of Humanistic Approach to Student Centred Instruction.

Wimaladhamma, V. (2021). A Comparative Study on Self-actualization in Humanistic Psychology and Nibbāna in Buddhist Psychology.


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Humanistic Psychology-Historical Origins, Theories, and Current Applications

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An abstract (not more than 250 words)
An introduction
A literature review
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