The Roots and Genealogy of Humanistic Psychology

Donald Moss. The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology: Leading Edges in Theory, Research, and Practice. Editor: Kirk J Schneider. Sage Publications. 2001.

The humanistic movement in psychology has emphasized the search for a philosophical and scientific understanding of human existence that does justice to the highest reaches of human achievement and potential. From the beginning, humanistic psychologists have cared deeply about what it means to be fully human and have sought pathways and technologies that assist humans in reaching full humanness. Humanistic psychologists criticized the mainstream psychological schools of the first half of the 20th century for proclaiming a diminished model of human nature. Their strivings for a new and better concept of humanity provided much of the motivation for the early flourishing of humanistic psychology.

What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?


Concepts of Human Nature in Psychological Science


Articulate humanistic scholars such as Abraham Maslow and Rollo May criticized psychoanalysis and behaviorism for attempting to explain the full range of human nature in terms of mechanisms drawn from the study of neurotic patients and laboratory rats. Sigmund Freud wrote monographs about artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and religious leaders such as Moses. Freud used the concepts of abnormal psychology to explain the lifetime artistic and spiritual achievements of these outstanding humans (S. Freud, 1953-1974, Vols. 11, 13, 23).

John Watson arrogantly proclaimed that, given the opportunity, he could condition any human infant to become either a criminal or a scientist by consistently applying the principles of modern behavioral theory (Watson, 1924, p. 82). Later, B. F. Skinner attacked concepts such as freedom and dignity and proposed reengineering human society by a process of instrumental conditioning (Skinner, 1971).

For humanistic psychology, this psychological reductionism presented a challenge. Can we study the higher reaches of human nature and discover a new basis for psychological science? Can we use the higher forms of human behavior to illuminate the lower ones instead of basing all psychological understanding on laboratory rats and the mentally ill? Authors as diverse as Straus (1930/1982), Maslow (1950/1973), and Csikszentmihalyi (1990) formulated this same challenge—to understand humans in terms of their highest potential and through the study of individuals who display the highest levels of human functioning.

Will Our Science Stifle or Nurture the Fulfilled Human Life?


The concern in humanistic psychology over inadequate scientific and philosophical models was not merely a matter of achieving a better understanding for the sake of understanding. Rather, reductionistic scientific theories of human behavior run the risk of constricting or reducing actual humans. If the prevailing understanding of humanness within science is narrow, then there is a risk that the same concepts will pervade popular culture as well and diminish the self-understanding and aspirations of the average human. Traditional “naturalistic” psychologies run the risk of harming humans by inviting them to lower their expectations of what is humanly possible.

A Prehistory and a History of Humanistic Psychology


This chapter provides a prehistory and a history of humanistic psychology. The history recounts those significant figures in modern psychology and philosophy who provided the foundational ideas and approaches making humanistic psychology what it is today. The prehistory examines the millennia before modern humanistic psychology and identifies some of the many antecedent figures who suggested more philosophically adequate concepts of being human. This portion of the chapter must remain sketchy— leaping across centuries at a time—because of the enormous variety of philosophers, theologians, and literary figures who have contributed at least passing insights into what it means to be fully human. More time is spent on antiquity because foundations for later understanding were laid down then. Many Renaissance and modern efforts to restore a more adequate image of humanity have returned to early Greek and Christian texts for inspiration.

The Prehistory of Humanistic Psychology


Classical Greece


Homer and the human journey. At the dawn of Western civilization, Homer's Odyssey created the image of the human individual as hero and of human life as a quest or an adventure. Odysseus, returning to Ithaca from the communal quest of the Trojan wars, is detained far from home by the nymph Calypso, the Sirens, and a variety of other dangers and distractions. In the course of the epic, Odysseus becomes an individual and a hero facing danger, battling adversaries, and savoring the adventures of the road. Finally, he returns to his home and family in Ithaca. The modern Greek poet C. P. Cavafy wrote of each human's journey to “Ithaca”:

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
And even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
Rich with all that you have gained on the way,
Not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

(Cavafy, 1961, p. pp. 36)

Greek tragedy. The Greek dramatists portrayed human heroes struggling powerfully against fates that define the course of human lives. The protagonists are heroic and inhabit a world peopled with gods, demigods, and humans, but their pathways are defined in advance and end in tragedy. The fate of Oedipus is foretold by an oracle and is changed neither by his father Laius's actions nor by Oedipus's heroic struggles. The final words from Sophocles' drama, Oedipus at Colonus, express the tragic view of life: “Cease now and never more lift up these lamentations, for all this is determined.”

Socrates (ca. 469-399 BCE) and Plato (ca. 427-347 BCE). Our image of Socrates is filtered largely through Plato, who recorded many of the Socratic dialogues decades later. Socrates left his heritage in the dialogues, dialectical conversations that sought deeper truths through examination of simple illustrations from daily life (Taylor, 1997). In the Socratic view, the psyche is the abode of character, intelligence, and virtue. Human well-being depends on the state of this psyche. Socrates' philosophy is ethical and personal. Socratic discourse perfects character and instills virtue through knowledge. Knowledge leads to good, and wrongdoing is involuntary and based on ignorance. In Socrates' view, no human would wish for anything less than true good and true happiness, but many individuals miscarry in their actions for lack of knowledge of the true good. Enlightenment by reason and dialogue leads to a correction of one's actions and a perfection of the human individual.

For Plato, this earthly life is but a dim likeness of the real and eternal life. A human lives as though in a cave without light, and by philosophical reflection the human gains a glimpse of the true Eidos, the transcendent essence of things as they are in truth (Plato, 1941). Plato's philosophy conveys a sense of values that we associate with Greek culture and with today's humanistic ideal. The true, the good, and the beautiful were elevated to the status of ends in themselves. The concept of an Eidos (or essence) reappeared in German phenomenological psychology when Straus (1930/1982) conceived of the essence of the person—the true self—as an Eidos that one sees actualized only in glimpses, in the course of existence, such as glimpses of light through a prism.

Platonism survived many centuries after Plato himself, especially in the form of neo-Platonism. Plotinus (205-270 CE) and Pro-clus (410-485 CE) stand out as central neo-Platonists. Neo-Platonism portrayed each individual human life as a type of falling from an eternal origin in divine oneness, into earthly multiplicity. The task of human existence became a journey of inward reintegration, recovering lost oneness. This metaphysical schema of existence, in which the eternal origin is the true reality and all of life seeks restoration, lingered in the background through the early centuries of the Christian era and resurfaced to influence medieval and Renaissance views of life. For the neo-Platonists, philosophy remained a pathway for personal renewal through moral and intellectual self-discipline. The pathway of renewal took a mystical turn as an awakening from the normal human alienated state toward a mystical union with the one and the good.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE). Aristotle developed his own ethics and psychology, systematically defining the soul and its attributes. Of equal importance for psychological theory, however, Aristotle developed a systematic empirical approach to natural science. In combination with Christianity, this Aristotelian philosophy served as the framework for most of medieval scholastic philosophy, for example, in the works of Boethius and Aquinas. The empirical framework of scientific research in psychology reflects this Aristotelian heritage.

Stoicism. Stoicism as a philosophical movement commenced in Greece with Zeno (ca. 333-262 BCE). Stoicism became a widely taught approach to rational living, with influence on leading figures in Greece and Rome, through the time of the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE). The Stoics advocated a thoughtful human life of self-cultivation, virtue, and wisdom (Inwood, 1985; Long, 1974). Philosophy for the Stoics was a love of wisdom (philo-sophia) and calls for a personal search for mastery over one's own life and emotions through reason. The Stoics developed confession or personal disclosure as a tool for increasing self-knowledge (Georges, 1995). The Stoics taught inward self-sufficiency through reason and wisdom regardless of how external tragedy might affect one's life. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus (born ca. 50 CE) anticipated the core of cognitive psychology when he wrote that it is not events that shape human life but rather the view that humans take of these events (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979). Stoic values of self-examination, self-discipline, and self-determination are consistent with the theories of modern humanistic and cognitive psychologies. The Stoics' use of philosophy as a tool for living anticipated the present-day movement of philosophical psychotherapy.

Athens and a humanistic way of life. It was not only in epic, drama, and philosophy that Greek civilization conveyed an image of the human. Rather, the entire Athenian way of life, epitomized during the age of Pericles (443-429 BCE), was dedicated to stretching human capacities and talents to a higher level. Athens valued the pursuit of athletic prowess, intellectual competence, artistic gifts, political sophistication, and architectural beauty. The institution of democracy, the academies of philosophy, the flowering of literature, and the displays of art all were part of a public pursuit of higher levels of human potential. The Olympic games took this cultivation of perfection to the highest possible level.

Christian Authors in the Early Church


The life and teachings of Christ conveyed a new and different image of a perfected life. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-11) and many other texts in the Christian scriptures provide specific values and guidelines for the would-be Christian. The early Christian image of the human placed less emphasis on reason and self-sufficiency than did Greek philosophy and placed more emphasis on an altruistic love for God, neighbor, and community. One early Christian philosopher, Aristides, writing circa 125 CE, described the Christian way of life in terms that still sound familiar today: “They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow and grieve not the orphan. He that hath distributeth liberally to him that hath not” (cited in Foster, 1981, p. 69). This image of loving, communally oriented humans converges well with the communitarian movements in humanistic psychology (Moss, 1998b, pp. 76-78).

Some Christian authors, such as Kierkegaard (1844/1962a), saw the historical figure of Christ as symbolizing that the divine principle entered the human, elevating and glorifying the human. Saint Paul wrote of hearing creation groan in the process of giving birth to a new glorified human, liberated from enslavement to the law and made perfect in Christ (Romans 8). The early Christian writer Irenaeus wrote that the glory of God is a fully alive human (Roberts & Donaldson, 1953). Two and a half centuries after Aristides, during the time of Augustine, the neo-Platonic worldview was so pervasive as to redraw the Christian faith into a search for a return to one's origins. In his Confessions, Augustine expressed his deep yearning: “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee” (Augustine, 1980, Book 1, p. 3).

Other commentators, such as Nietzsche (1886/1966), read the same biblical texts yet accused the Christian religion of degrading the human to glorify God: “From the start, the Christian faith is a sacrifice, a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit [and,] at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation” (p. 60).

Marx also labeled Christianity an “opium for the masses”; that is, he asserted that faith was a tool used by the wealthy to pacify and exploit the working class. Workers were promised a reward in the next world, thereby reducing their rebellion and discontent in this world.

Today's authors are perhaps accurate when they point to the history of Christian thought and the diversity of Christian theologies as showing that each generation interprets the historical phenomenon of Jesus in light of its own cosmology, ideologies, and need. Riley (1997) suggested that the initial gentile reception of Jesus was in terms of one more classical hero, such as Odysseus, wandering the earth and performing great feats. Riley showed that each age creates its own new image of Christ. The original scriptural message is filtered through the needs and understandings of the present age.

The Renaissance in Europe


The Renaissance began with a rediscovery of the learning of classical antiquity and a return to the original texts. Initially, this meant new translations and new access to Greek philosophy and literature. Later, it meant a return to biblical texts in their original languages, bypassing the versions of ancient knowledge mediated by the Catholic church and scholastic philosophy. In many cases, Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy replaced the thought of Aristotle that had formed the basis of medieval scholasticism. The Greek idealization of earthly beauty and human perfection, and the Greek emphasis on the sensuality of the human figure, emerged during the Renaissance and remained a crucial strain in the humanism of the 15th and 16th centuries. A look at Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) illuminates this development.

Ficino's (1985) De Amore was written in the form of a commentary on Plato's symposium on love and highlights one of the essential shifts in thinking that influenced Renaissance art and learning. Ficino described love as fundamentally a longing for beauty. This is a marked difference from the traditional Christian definition of love in terms of selfless altruism. In neo-Platonic terms, all things—including humans—emanate from the original one, wherein lies beauty, truth, and goodness. Humans, in this framework, are attracted to their primordial origin in the one and are drawn by beauty and truth. Ficino suggested that earthly love, including attraction to sensual beauty, participates in metaphysical and divine love.

This new viewpoint “baptizes” a worshiping of human beauty, and the results are evident in Renaissance art. Renaissance statuary and art portray the sensual beauty of the human figure, and Renaissance portraiture portrays the complexity of human individuality. Both are ubiquitous in Renaissance churches.

Humanism and the Reformation


In northern Europe, the Renaissance took the direction of a humanism exemplified by the Dutch scholar Erasmus. At the same time, the breach with medieval tradition and authority took the form of the Protestant Reformation of the Christian church, nurtured by a return to the original scriptural texts.

Desiderius Erasmus (ca. 1469-1536). For Erasmus, the human is the center of creation. The measure of God's goodness is that God created a rich world to unfold the nature of the human. Man is a “noble animal, for whose sake alone God fashioned this marvelous contrivance of the world; he is the fellow citizen of the angels, son of God, heir of immortality” (The Enchiridion, cited in Augustijn, 1991, p. 53). Erasmus anticipated Kierkegaard in the former's emphasis on the human individual: “Man stands before God as an individual and takes counsel only of God and his own conscience. Man's responsibility and ability to live his own life receives all the emphasis” (p. 55). Erasmus's heated debate with Luther was triggered by Luther's critique of Erasmus's essay on The Free Will. Erasmus insisted on a role for the human will and personal responsibility, as well as God's grace, in achieving salvation. Luther, in turn, argued that grace alone provides salvation for the human.

The 19th Century


The 19th century saw the emergence of a number of key philosophical and literary movements with significance for modern humanistic psychology. This section reviews the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. One also could highlight the movements of British and German romanticism in literature and Marxism in political economics.

Søren Kierkegaard: The dawning of existentialism. The Danish thinker Kierkegaard (1813-1855) wrote passionately about the existence of each human individual. He criticized the established church, philosophy, and society as lulling humans to sleep with a false sense of security. Kierkegaard believed that too many individual humans did not see any need to struggle with the direction of their personal existence. They assumed that they already were Christian and modern by birthright. He compared the average human's condition throughout life with that of a peasant who falls asleep in his cart while the horse pulls him home. Kierkegaard believed that philosophy should act like a mosquito and sting the complacent individual awake, to direct and experience the course of his or her own life or to awaken the individual and “oblige him to judge” (Kierkegaard, 1859/1962b, p. 35). Throughout his work, Kierkegaard confronted the myriad self-soothing defenses by which individuals preserve their sleepy complacency.

Was this your consolation that you said: One does what one can? Was this not precisely the reason for your disquietude that you did not know within yourself how much it is a man can do? … No earnest doubt, no really deep concern, is put to rest by saying that one does what one can.

(Kierkegaard, 1843/1959, pp. 347-348; see also Moss, 1998c, pp. 223-224)

Friedrich Nietzsche: Existentialism and the superman. Writing a generation later, Nietzsche (1844-1900) repeated Kierkegaard's emphasis on the individual. However, he saw Western civilization as degraded to the core and castigated Christianity as a distortion in humanity. He called for a “doctor of the soul” to tap his hammer and discover where the edifice of culture was rotten so that the wrecking process could begin. He called for a transformation in all values and created an image of a new individual, a “superman” (Übermensch) or “overman,” who would create authentic values (Nietzsche, 1886/1966, 1892/1954). The superman would realize to a higher degree the human capacity to create the shape of one's own life. “Such a person, one might say, lives courageously by overcoming illusions and taking responsibility for his or her life” (Halling & Carroll, 1998, pp. 96-97).

The 20th Century


The 20th century produced breakthroughs in philosophy, psychiatry, and psychology, providing many of the foundations for a humanistic understanding of human existence. This section introduces briefly the phenomenological philosophers Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, the phenomenological psychiatrists, and the unique dialogic theologian Buber (Halling & Carroll, 1998). Then, it reviews the contributions of Freud and his many followers within the psychoanalytic movement, who in several specific ways anticipated humanistic psychology.

Phenomenology in philosophy. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) created the new movement of phenomenology in philosophy and psychology with his battle cry of returning “to the things themselves” (Halling & Carroll, 1998; Husserl, 1900/1970b). He encouraged philosophers and scientists to set aside theoretical assumptions and describe their immediate experiences of phenomena. He emphasized the intentionality of human mental activity. Psychic acts are intentional because they are oriented or directed toward some specific situation or object beyond themselves and can be meaningfully understood only by that context. Ultimately, this means that consciousness is not merely internal; rather, it is an involvement of the perceiving human with the object perceived.2 Husserl (1936/1970a) emphasized the validity of the everyday “life-world,” the world of immediate experience and life. He rejected the Cartesian scientific view that external reality consists only of internal mental representations. The human and the experiential world are interactive. Through intentionality, humans “co-create” phenomena rather than just passively registering what is there. Husserl called for the development of a phenomenological psychology that would set aside the “naturalistic” modes of thinking used by medicine, biology, and physiology (Husserl, 1925/1977, p. 3; Kockelmans, 1967). Husserl's work parallels in its focus and approach the “radical empiricism” of the American psychologist and philosopher William James, and Husserl acknowledged James's work (Taylor, 1991).

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), a German philosopher, combined Husserl's phenomenological method with existentialism. He turned from the study of mental acts to a detailed examination of the structure of human existence. In Heidegger's (1927/1962) landmark work, Being and Time, he described the human as a “being-in-the-world,” that is, an entity whose very fabric involves an immersion in and openness to the surrounding world. Humans always discover themselves already thrown into a specific factual situation that defines them in their historicity. Heidegger studied the temporal organization of human life and found that humans discover their wholeness in an awareness of their own deaths. Humans also are truly metaphysical beings; they are the only beings that take their own being as a question to be pondered (Heidegger, 1927/1962).

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) drew on both Husserl and Heidegger and shifted the focus of phenomenological research to the structure of behavior. He understood behavior as intentionally directed toward a situation. Merleau-Ponty defined the “mental” as the organization or structure of behavior. In his principal works, The Structure of Behavior (Merleau-Ponty, 1942/1963) and the Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/1962), he used the evidence of the Gestalt psychologists, especially Kurt Goldstein's investigations of neurologically damaged individuals, to explore the organization of normal human movement and the embodied organism's relationship to the environment. For the phenomenologist, no human behavior and no neurophysiological process ultimately can be understood apart from its context and situation.

Phenomenology in psychiatry and psychology. Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) was a Swiss psychiatrist, as well as a lasting friend of Freud, who drew on the philosophy of both Husserl and Heidegger to find an alternative manner of understanding human existence, especially the experiencing of the mentally ill. Binswanger (1942, 1963) applied Heidegger's definition of the human as a being-in-the-world to psychiatry and mental illness. He emphasized the existential significance of the Mitwelt (the social world shared with others), the Umwelt (the physical and biological environment), and the Eigenwelt (literally, the “own world” of identity and personhood). Binswanger described fundamental existential a priori, or existential structures, that shape human experiencing. He studied the worldviews, or patterns of experiencing, of disturbed individuals. Binswanger's case studies and essays on existential and phenomenological directions in psychology had a direct impact on humanistic psychology because of the 1958 publication of Existence, a collection of translations from Binswanger and other European phenomenological psychiatrists (May, Angel, & Ellenberger, 1958).

Medard Boss (1903-1991), who was also a Swiss psychiatrist, initially was trained in psychoanalysis. After World War II, he sought out the philosopher Heidegger and organized regular seminars with Heidegger and Swiss physicians seeking to apply the phenomenological perspective to rethink the foundations of both medicine and psychology (Boss, 1971/1979). Boss defined health as the total “haleness and wholeness” of the human. Health is characterized by an openness and flexible responsiveness to the world. In turn, he defined unhealthiness in human existence as “nothing but the privation, blocking, impairment, or constriction of this original openness and freedom” (Boss, 1988). He investigated psychosomatic illness as a means of jamming or blocking one's openness to the world and to specific threatening situations (Boss, 1971/ 1979; Moss, 1978).

Space allows for only a brief reference here to four additional 20th-century European figures who contributed to the modern humanistic understanding of human existence. The German psychiatrist Erwin Straus (1891-1975) proposed an anthropological and phenomenological psychology as an alternative to psychoanalysis and Pavlov's reflex theory (Moss, 1998a; Straus, 1966, 1930/1982). The Austrian Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) drew on his experience in the Nazi death camps to formulate logotherapy, a new existential psychotherapy (Frankl, 1963). Jan van den Berg (born 1914) developed a phenomenological and historical understanding or “metabletics” of the human's changing nature (van den Berg, 1963/1974). The British psychiatrist Ronald Laing (1927-1989) used the philosophy of Sartre (1943/1965) to illuminate the divided self of the schizophrenic patient (Laing, 1960). Straus, Frankl, van den Berg, and Laing all lectured in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s and directly influenced the first two generations of humanistic psychologists.

A philosophy of dialogue. Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a Jewish German theologian. His classic monograph I and Thou (Buber, 1923/1970) provided an appealing philosophy of the interpersonal that had a profound impact on the American humanistic psychologies of the 1950s and 1960s. Buber described reality as falling into two opposing realms. In the first authentic realm, an “I” addresses a “thou” in dialogue or in relationship. Within this unfolding relationship of an I to a thou, the human person is born and unfolds to its full potential. For Buber, the human self does not develop except in relationship or in dialogue: “It is from one man to another that the heavenly bread of self-being is passed” (Buber, 1965, p. 71). The opposing realm involves an I addressing an “it,” that is, an object of practical utility. When one human addresses another human as an it, both the other and oneself are diminished. This philosophy challenged and complemented the emphasis on self-actualization and the pursuit of self in much of American humanistic psychology. A classic 1957 dialogue between Buber and Carl Rogers highlighted the commonalities of Buber's philosophy and humanistic views, especially the emphasis on healing through a meeting of two persons, as well as their differing emphases on dialogue and self-actualization.

Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis: A naturalistic humanism. Freud (1856-1939) has been criticized for interpreting human experiencing and behavior in terms of a biological instinct theory. In another sense, however, he laid down many of the foundations taken for granted by humanistic psychologists. He showed, by his initial research on hysteria, that psychiatric symptoms can be understood as a language expressing the secret emotional life of the patient (S. Freud, 1953-1974). He showed, by his research on dreams and the “psycho-pathology of everyday life” (e.g., slips of the tongue), that every human action, however trivial, is meaningful and expresses parts of the individual's personal story not yet accessible to consciousness. He showed, by his research on the psychosexual stages of development, that the human personality is created and organized developmentally and is affected by troubled relationships and traumatic experiences at each critical juncture point in early development. Freud also showed that a “talking cure” can bring a disclosure and resolution of many of the conflicts within the person and within his or her intimate private life.

After Freud: A gifted cacophony of quasi-humanistic approaches. Freud formulated his new science in biological terms and sought a rigid orthodoxy in theory among his followers. He attracted a collection of brilliant young physicians and laypersons to his movement and then proceeded to alienate many of the brightest. Many of the dissenters from Freudian orthodoxy contributed to the emerging humanistic understanding of human nature.

Alfred Adler: Individual psychology. Adler (1870-1937) developed a psychology emphasizing that each individual creates a style of life reflecting the central “fiction” or goal around which the person organizes his or her life. Humans are socially embedded, and the development of a sense of social interest and community feeling is critical to human development. Human behavior is purposeful and future oriented, not merely driven by instinct and mechanism (Adler, 1969).

Carl Gustav Jung: A forerunner of transpersonal psychology. Jung (1875-1961) insisted on the validity of spiritual experience and explored the symbols and archetypes of human experience found in primitive peoples and the world's religions. He described the human life as a lifelong, never-completed process of psychological and spiritual individuation and integration (Jung, 1961). He described the self as a deeper and less rational structure than the ego and advocated that humans come to trust and accept the wisdom that emerges spontaneously from the self in dreams, images, and intuitions.

Otto Rank: The psychology of the will. Rank (1884-1939) formulated a psychology of the will that mirrored many of Nietzsche's themes (Rank, 1936, 1941/1958). He studied the process of artistic creation and concluded that all of human life, including neurosis, is a process of self-creation. Rank defined human heroism in terms of the larger and riskier stage on which one risks creating oneself. The neurotic makes other persons into gods and creates an individual life guaranteed to please others. Most humans at times engage in such neurotic solutions to life, “tranquilizing” themselves with the trivial (Becker, 1973, pp. 178-179). The heroic human reaches for the broadest horizon, however unfamiliar, and lives more boldly (Becker, 1973; Rank, 1941/1958). Like Jung, Rank affirmed spirituality as one of the broadest stages on which the human can unfold an existence. Rank affirmed that the human is a “theological being” (Becker, 1973).

Wilhelm Reich: Character analysis and the body armor. Reich (1897-1957) was a gifted psychoanalyst who shifted the attention of psychotherapy toward an exploration of character and psychological defenses. Anna Freud's work on the ego and the mechanisms of defense developed from Reich's early research (A. Freud, 1936/ 1948). Later, Reich investigated the “body armor” or the muscular defenses against unacceptable feelings and impulses (Moss & Shane, 1998; Reich, 1949). Eventually, Reich and his student Alexander Lowen developed the bioenergetics approach, which applies a variety of techniques to facilitate a deep and systematic release of any muscular or bodily barriers against a full range of affective experiencing (Lowen, 1971). Bioenergetic therapy contributed to the humanistic emphasis on body therapies and the unity of body and mind.

The History of Humanistic Psychology


The years 1954 to 1973 can be seen as the golden years of the humanistic psychology movement. Those dates were selected as follows. In the year 1954 Maslow developed a mailing list for correspondence with persons interested in “the scientific study of creativity, love, higher values, growth, self-actualization, [and] basic needs gratification” (Misiak & Sexton, 1973, p. 111). In the year 1973 Misiak and Sexton wrote their systematic academic book describing humanistic psychology as a complete movement.

Of immediate importance for their crucial role in influencing the key concepts and images of the humanistic viewpoint are two European imports, Goldstein (1939) and Angyal (1941), and several American psychologists, especially Allport (1955), Murray (Murray et al., 1938), and Murphy (1958). Their works commenced during the 1930s and 1940s and continued into the 1950s. They contributed a holistic understanding of the human personality, drawing on European Gestalt principles and giving attention to the human individual's spontaneous movement toward self-actualization and mastery of the environment. Goldstein was a German, and Angyal was a Hungarian who was educated in Austria and Italy. Allport, Murray, and Murphy were American but were influenced by the holistic psychologies of Europe during the 1930s.

Abraham Maslow and the birth of humanistic psychology. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) is the single person most responsible for creating humanistic psychology. He translated the widespread yearning for a different type of psychological theory and practice into a cohesive viewpoint on humanistic psychology with journals, conferences, and formal organization. His theory of the self and of self-actualization served as a foundation for later humanistic psychologists. Rogers' client-centered or person-centered therapy and Sidney Jourard's psychology of self-disclosure are partially elaborations on the interpersonal conditions most helpful in awakening and actualizing the inner self.

Maslow envisioned humanistic psychology as a psychology of the whole person based on the study of healthy, fully functioning, creative individuals. He criticized the psychologists of his time for spending too much time studying mentally ill and maladjusted humans and for seeking to explain higher levels of human experience by means of neurotic mechanisms. Maslow (1950/1973) proposed an investigation of “superior specimens” as a pathway to understanding the highest potentials of human nature. Maslow turned empirically to the study of self-actualized persons and the patterns of their lives, selecting both living and dead individuals who had strained their human nature to its highest limits. Maslow concluded that the highest reaches of human nature include the capacity for self-transcending altruism and for what he later would call transpersonal experiencing. During the early 1960s, Maslow, along with colleagues such as Anthony Sutitch, founded the transpersonal psychology movement, a branch of humanistic psychology dedicated to the study of humans' highest potentials.

Carl Rogers: Client-centered therapy. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) provided the central clinical framework for the humanistic therapies. As a person, he provided leadership for three generations of humanistic clinicians. Rogers spent his early career identifying the “necessary and sufficient conditions” that enable humans to spontaneously grow and seek fulfillment. The conditions that define the core of his therapy are that (a) two persons are in emotional contact; (b) one of them, called the client, is troubled; (c) the other, called the therapist, shows genuineness and congruence in the relationship; (d) the therapist experiences and displays unconditional positive regard for the client; (e) the therapist achieves and expresses an empathic understanding of the client; and (f) the client perceives the genuineness, positive regard, and empathy of the therapist. Create these conditions, Rogers asserted, and the client will self-actualize in his or her own self-defined directions (Moss, 1998c, pp. 41-43; Rogers, 1957).

Frederick “Fritz” Perls: Gestalt therapy. Perls (1893-1970) was one of the many striking and memorable individuals of the humanistic movement. Trained as a psychoanalyst initially, Perls and his wife Laura, who was also an analyst, fled Nazi Germany and practiced in South Africa throughout World War II, then moved to the United States. His first book (Perls, 1947/1969) marked his migration away from Freud, and a subsequent fortuitous collaborative work, Gestalt Therapy, raised the banner of the new therapy (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951). As the title implied, Perls drew on the holistic understandings of the German Gestalt psychologists. However, the new approach was equally indebted to Perls's past contacts with Wilhelm Reich and Karen Horney as well as to Perls's unique personality. Perls went “on the road” with the new therapy, conducting live demonstrations of bombastic body-oriented confrontations of volunteers' defenses (Shane, 1998). A classic video comparing Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls served as the introduction to Gestalt therapy for several generations of graduate students.

The present history of humanistic psychology is all too brief. The roles of other major figures such as William James, James Bugental, Erich Fromm, Rollo May, George Kelly, Sidney Jourard, Amedeo Giorgi, Erwin Straus, and Ken Wilber are described in Moss (1998c).

Conclusion: Humanistic Psychology During the 21st Century


The original inspiration of humanistic psychology unfolded its great momentum during the 1950s and 1960s. Students of Maslow, Rogers, Jourard, Perls, and others continue to teach today, and the students of these students, in turn, occupy faculty positions and fill the schedules at meetings of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Each day, humanistically oriented psychotherapists assist troubled patients to discover their personhoods and renew paths of self-actualization. The recent movements of emancipatory, experiential, existential-integrative, transpersonal, and constructivist psychotherapy show the continued energies of humanism in psychotherapy (Schneider, 1998). Psychologists and therapists of all orientations, even the most behavioral ones, are more aware today of humanistic dimensions of personal change because of the lasting impact of humanistic psychology.

A challenge remains for all humanistically oriented psychologists: There is a continuing need to remind human society and the helping professions of the dignity and worth of humans (Moss, 1998c). The original humanistic vision must continue to be made relevant in each new generation. The world always will be in need of humanization. Psychology as a science and profession will need to be reminded in each generation of humanistic priorities and of the full breadth of human nature and human potential.