The Humanistic Approach to PsychoPathology

Jung and Adler broke sharply with Freud. Their fundamental disagreement concerned the very nature of humanity. Freud portrayed life as a battleground where...

Discuss humanistic approach in relation to psychopathology.

The humanistic paradigm argues that human behavior is the product of free will, the view that we control, choose, and are responsible for our actions. In many respects, this stance is a reaction against determinism, the scientific assumption that human behavior is caused by potentially knowable factors (a position held by the other paradigms).

Humanistic Approach

Jung and Adler broke sharply with Freud. Their fundamental disagreement concerned the very nature of humanity. Freud portrayed life as a battleground where we are continually in danger of being overwhelmed by our darkest forces. Jung and Adler, by contrast, emphasized the positive, optimistic side of human nature. Jung talked about setting goals, looking toward the future, and realizing one’s fullest potential.

Adler believed that human nature reaches its fullest potential when we contribute to the welfare of other individuals and to society as a whole. He believed that we all strive to reach superior levels of intellectual and moral development. Nevertheless, both Jung and Adler retained many of the principles of psychodynamic thought. Their general philosophies were adopted in the middle of the century by personality theorists and became known as humanistic psychology.

The Self and its Actualisation

Self-actualizing was the watchword for this movement. The underlying assumption is that all of us could reach our highest potential, in all areas of functioning, if only we had the freedom to grow. Inevitably, a variety of conditions may block our actualization.

Because every person is basically good and whole, most blocks originate outside the individual. Difficult living conditions or stressful life or interpersonal experiences may move you away from your true self.

Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) was most systematic in describing the structure of personality. He postulated a hierarchy of needs, beginning with our most basic physical needs for food and sex and ranging upward to our needs for self-actualization, love, and self-esteem. Social needs such as friendship fall somewhere between. Maslow hypothesized that we cannot progress up the hierarchy until we have satisfied the needs at lower levels.

Client-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers (1902–1987) is, from the point of view of therapy, the most influential humanist. Rogers (1961) originated client-centered therapy, later known as person-centered therapy. In this approach, the therapist takes a passive role, making as few interpretations as possible. 

The point is to give the individual a chance to develop during the course of therapy, unfettered by threats to the self. Humanist theorists have great faith in the ability of human relations to foster this growth. The client-therapist relationship is marked by: 
1. Unconditional positive regard, the complete and almost unqualified acceptance of most of the client’s feelings and actions, is critical to the humanistic approach. 
2. Empathy is the sympathetic understanding of the individual’s particular view of the world. 
3. Genuineness: The therapist behaves as himself rather than playing role of therapist, friend or parent so that clients will be more straightforward and honest with themselves and will access their innate tendencies toward growth.

Like psychoanalysis, the humanistic approach has had a substantial effect on theories of interpersonal relationships. This approach also emphasized the importance of the therapeutic relationship in a way quite different from Freud’s approach. 

Rather than seeing the relationship as a means to an end (transference), humanistic therapists believed that relationships, including the therapeutic relationship, were the single most positive influence in facilitating human growth. In fact, Rogers made substantial contributions to the scientific study of therapist- client relationships.

Application in Psychopathology

The humanistic model contributed little new information to the field of psychopathology. One reason for this is that its proponents, had little interest in doing research that would discover or create new knowledge. Rather, they stressed the unique, nonquantifiable experiences of the individual, emphasizing that people are more different than alike.

 As Maslow noted, the humanistic model found its greatest application among individuals without psychological disorders. The application of person-centered therapy to more severe psychological disorders has decreased substantially over the decades, although certain variations have arisen periodically in some areas of psychopathology.


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 carried over into different professions.  Whether you take a health class, or you study economics or business or you are in other professions the basics of humanistic thought strike an undertone in all of what is considered human.


The biggest criticism of humanistic thought appears to center around it’s 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, humanistic theory falls short in it’s ability to help those with more severe 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? These questions plague humanistic thought and the difficulty in researching the theory does not provide any freedom.

* * *

Humanistic approach is a branch of Psychology that emphasizes the human tendencies towards growth and fulfillment, autonomy, choice, responsibility and ultimate values such as love, truth and justice. A view point emphasizing human existence and the situation in the world, in giving life meaning through the free choice of mature values and commitment goals. 

The concept of Self-actualisation and client centered therapy are some of the key contributions of the approach. It is even useful in situations where individuals do not have psychological disorders. However, it has been criticized for a lack of scientific testability of some of the postulations.


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IGNOU Solved Assignments: Q1 - MPCE 011 PsychoPathology - MPCE 011/ASST/TMA/2015-16
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