Humanistic psychology was born in the United States in the 1950s in opposition to psychoanalysis and behaviorism, which were popular at that time.
Psychoanalysis examines the unconscious motivations that impact behavior, while behaviorism is focused on the conditioning processes that form one's behavior. Humanistic psychology, on the other hand, is characterized by a broader understanding of the human being and an expanded vision of psychological practice.
Humanistic psychologists are opposed to scientific psychology's focus on the measurement, prediction and control of one's behavior. They disagree with the exclusion from psychological investigation of basic features and experiences of the individual such as love, consciousness, creativity, freedom, values and spirit.
Abraham Maslow (1908 to 1970) is considered the father of humanistic psychology. He called it the "Third Force", which came to oppose the first and second force or in other words psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Maslow accepted the ideas of Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939) - the founder of psychoanalysis and the beliefs of behaviorism although he saw these two models of psychology as inadequate and incomplete.
Maslow described himself as "epi-Freudian" and "epi-behavioristic". He sought to build upon the foundations of and to enrich these models. He believed that it was impossible to approach and understand human experience and action with a science that ignores personal values, purposes, goals, intentions and plans.
In Maslow's view there were a number of common assumptions that serve to unify humanistic psychologists. These include the assumption that human beings have an essential inner nature, which is in part species-wide and in part unique to each person. This inner nature can be studied scientifically. It can be either neutral and pre-moral or good, but never intrinsically evil. This inner nature has to be encouraged and not suppressed or denied. Encouragement will result in psychological health and productivity, while suppression leads to psychological sickness.
According to Maslow that inner nature of each individual is weak and can be easily overcome by cultural pressure and wrong attitudes. At the same time it persists and continues to press toward actualization.
Carl Rogers (1902 to 1987) also contributed significantly to the early development of humanistic psychology. He provided the central clinical framework for the humanistic therapies. He managed to bring a fresh perspective to clinical practice, which during his time was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. From the very beginning Rogers reconceptualized treatment as the process of helping the patient to alone remove these obstacles that prevent his or her from moving forward.
Other psychologists that took part in the formation of humanistic psychology include Gordon Allport (1897 to 1967), Rollo May (1909 to 1994) and James Bugental (1915 to 2008).
According to humanistic psychologists the methodologies of psychological research should be tailored to respond to the full scope of human experience, instead of one's observable behavior in a laboratory. Humanistic psychology does not oppose science - rather it aims to transform the science of psychology into a fully human science with approaches and methods that are relevant to its subject.
Humanistic psychology also aims to free itself from gender and racial prejudices, from social and religious expectations and from limiting ideas of human nature. Despite the fact that this branch of psychology fundamentally opposes psychoanalysis, it does not exclude it from its own methods. A lot of humanistic therapists utilize an analytic model of verbal psychotherapy. Still it is defined in new conceptual frameworks for interpreting the human being's actions and experiences. In humanistic psychology existential categories and modes of interpretation have taken the place of instinct theory and deterministic inferences about childhood causes.
Humanistic psychology is often criticized for being too subjective. Due to its focus on individual experience it is rather difficult to objectively study and measure humanistic phenomena. As a result it is impossible to say if a person is self-actualized. Humanistic psychologists rely on one's own assessment of his or her experience.
A major strength of this branch of psychology is that is promotes the role of the individual. It allows patients to determine and control their state of mental health. Additionally, humanistic psychology pays attention to environmental influences instead of only observing one's internal thoughts and desires.
Humanistic psychology has a significant impact on therapy, education, healthcare and other areas. It succeeded in removing some of the stigma related to therapy. Humanistic psychology made therapy more accessible for healthy individuals who seek ways to explore their abilities and potential.