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What is the Humanistic Approach?

Updated on January 1, 2013
The Humanistic Approach looks at every individual as a whole and unique being. You must first know a person fully before you begin to understand his perception and the roots to his behaviour.
The Humanistic Approach looks at every individual as a whole and unique being. You must first know a person fully before you begin to understand his perception and the roots to his behaviour. | Source

What is the Humanistic Approach?

The humanistic approach concerns itself with identifying each individual's perception and mentality from his unique experiences of life.

Having free will is a strong belief and element of humanistic psychologists who believe that we always have a choice. This approach also focusses on people's potential and their fulfillment of such a potential.

The humanistic approach is the newest of all of the approaches and stems from dissatisfaction with the biological approach.

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) the founder of humanism and Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) are the two main figures of this approach.

Carl Rogers

  • Carl Rogers believed that we can only fulfil ourselves if we are happy.
  • He said that the key to happiness is knowing that those around you will like you unconditionally, regardless of what you do with your life.
  • He states that the problem that a lot of people face is that they worry that the people around them will only like them if they have and keep certain merits (being physically fit or good at something).
  • Thus, there is a conflict between what a person is and what a person wants to be.
  • This, humanist psychologists would argue, results in a variety of odd behaviours since we often invent achievements that we think we will be happy with that are very unlikely.
  • This ties in with many mental illnesses where people take a seemingly positive goal (like losing weight) to the unhealthy extreme (anorexia) because they believe it will make the ones around them like them.


Maslow's original hierarchy excluded aesthetics and cognitive needs and as a result people often omit it from the hierarchy. The simplified version is shown below in the famous pyramid format.

The simplified version of Maslow's hierarchy - excluding his later added 'aesthetic' and 'cognitive ' needs.
The simplified version of Maslow's hierarchy - excluding his later added 'aesthetic' and 'cognitive ' needs. | Source

Abraham Maslow

Maslow ordered human needs into different levels of priority. According to Maslow our needs come in this priority:

  1. Physiological - We consider our most primary needs: food, drink, shelter, air, warmth, sex ...
  2. Safety - We make sure we have stability in our lives and we are protected (from things like weather, crime and all other physical dangers).
  3. Belongingness and Love - We concern ourselves with having healthy relationships and family bonds.
  4. Esteem - Our achievements, our self-esteem and our skills. This means working on our status in society (jobs and promotions), our dominance and our independence in life.
  5. Cognitive Needs - We pursue knowledge and meaning to life.
  6. Aesthetic Needs - We appreciate and search for all things beautiful.
  7. Sellf Actualisation - Lastly we seek to fulfil our own potential and seek self-fulfilment, looking for new experiences and personal growth.
  8. Transendence Needs - Lastly, after catering for our own needs, we focus on extending fulfilling our own potential to helping others to do the same.

Maslow believed that in order for us to be truly happy, we must climb this pyramid and try to get to self-actualisation which he claims only a few rare and remarkable people do. In order to get to the next stage, he claims, you must first have all of the lower prerequisites.

Professor Chomsky on Humanism


  • Unscientific because neglects objective information.
  • Does not facilitate empirical study.
  • It seems impossible to objectively quantify degrees of self-actualisation.
  • Ignores the unconscious mind's role in our behaviour.
  • Ignores our physiognomy and the role of our genes in behaviour (e.g. sex hormones and their known effects on our behaviour are ignored).
  • Difficult to compare qualitative data
  • Measuring qualitative data is inherently somewhat subjective and prone to error.
  • Opposes the deterministic laws present in science.


  • Considers people and their individualities instead of generalising human behaviour.
  • Does not focus on just genes or just observable behaviour.
  • Gives qualitative data which provides great insight into people and their perceptions.
  • Give accurate information about particular people who have had particular experiences.


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    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 5 years ago from London

      Glad you like them Jennifer!

    • Jennifer Sides profile image

      Jennifer Sides 5 years ago from Edmonton

      Interesting ideas.


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