Humanist Approach (to human behaviour)

Main assumptions of the Humanist Approach:

  • The Humanist Approach emerged from the US in the 1950s (work of Maslow & Rogers)
  • Focus on conscious experience, rather than behaviour (like Behaviourist, Social Learning Theory and Cognitive)
  • Personal responsibility & free will
  • Experience rather than the use of the experimental method
  • Specific to the individual

Humanist Approach and Free Will:

The Humanistic Approach is quite different to the other approaches we’ve already studied, in that it claims that human beings are essentially self-determining and have free will. The approach still maintains that people are affected by internal (biological) and external (societal) influences but they are active agents who have the ability to determine their own development within the constraints imposed by the other forces. The humanistic approach rejects scientific models that attempt to establish general laws of behaviour and instead concerns itself with the study of subjective experience. Often referred to as a person-centred approach

Self-Actualisation and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Self-actualisation represents that uppermost level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow considered that whilst everyone has the desire to, not everyone achieves self-actualisation.

It’s considered that self-actualisation can be achieved in stages, he identified the 5 most basic needs an individual has and suggested that the lower 4 stages (deficiency needs) must be attained before someone can work towards self-actualisation (growth need).

Visual representation of Maslow's hierarchy/triad of needs.

Self-actualisation Definition – The desire to grow psychologically and fulfil one’s potential, becoming what you’re capable of.

Focus on the Self and Congruence:

In order to self-actualisation and person growth to be achieved an individual’s concept of self (how they see themselves) must be almost equivalent (have congruence) to their ideal self (the person they want to be).

Diagram displaying congruence - self-actualisation possible.
Moving Towards Congruence: Self-actualisation possible
Diagram displaying Incongruence, self-actualisation not possible.
Incongruence: Self-actualisation not possible

If too big a gap exists between these two ‘selves’ the person will be in a state of incongruence and self-actualisation won’t be possible, this is because incongruence breads negative feelings of self-worth.

Conditions of worth (why incongruence happens) Rogers believed that that of the issues we experience as adults, like feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, have their roots in childhood. He suggested that these issues can be explained by a lack of unconditional positive regard from our parents, basically, that the parents hadn’t provided unconditional love. Parents who set boundaries, limits and conditions on their love for their child stores up psychological issues for later life, e.g. of conditional love, “I will only love you if you behave well”

Influence on Counselling (how incongruence can be resolved)

In order to reduce the gap between the concept of self and the ideal self, Rogers developed client-centred therapy to help people cope with the problems of everyday living.

Those in therapy are clients, not patients, the individual is an expert on their own condition. A non-directive therapy where the client is encouraged towards the discovery of their own solutions within a warm, non-judgemental, therapeutic atmosphere. An effective therapist should be able to provide their clients with the unconditional positive regard that they failed to receive as a child. The aim is to increase a person’s feelings of self-worth and reduce incongruence.

Humanist Approach Evaluation (AO3):


(1) POINT: A strength of the Humanist Approach is that it is not deterministic. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, according to this approach an individual has the ability to determine their own development. ELABORATION: This is a strength because, it means that this approach to human behaviour doesn’t reduce human behaviour down to simple pre-programmed behaviours, instead it considers the individuals ability to determine their own behaviour.

(2) POINT: A strength of the Humanist Approach is that it isn’t reductionist. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, humanists reject any attempt to break up behaviour and experience into smaller components. ELABORATION: This is a strength because it means that the approach may have much more validity that its alternatives by considering meaningful human behaviour within its real-life context.


(1) POINT: A weaknesses of the Humanist Approach is that there is evidence to criticise the humanistic approach. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, many qualities considered desirable by the approach (autonomy, personal growth) are more readily associated with an individualistic, rather than collectivist culture. ELABORATION: This is a weaknesses because the approach can be considered to be ethnocentric and culturally bias.

(2) POINT: A weaknesses of the Humanist Approach is that it can be criticised for having limited applications. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, the approach is described as a loose set of components rather than a comprehensive theory. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because whilst it’s revolutionised counselling therapy the approach has had little impact on psychology generally.

(3) POINT: A weaknesses of the The humanistic approach is that it does not advocate the use of scientific methods. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, humanistic concepts such as congruence and self –actualisation cannot be scientifically tested with scans or carefully constructed experiments. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because it means that the theory cannot be measured objectively.