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CRITICISMS AND LIMITATIONS OF HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY

One of the things we are often accused of is being too self-indulgent and narcissistic. One critic said that the AHP really stood for the Association for Hedonistic Pursuits (hedonism is the philosophy of personal pleasure). It is an accusation which I believe deserves an answer. It really can give offence to serious people when they see courses advertised at 150 a time on "Turning Inward", or "Loving your Body", or "Integrative Holistic Macrosynthesis". The first step is obviously to get clear what we are talking about. There seem to be six things that are worth distinguishing: self-esteem; egotism; selfishness (exclusive); selfishness (inclusive); and self-actualization.

SELF-ESTEEM

This is a general feeling of being convinced of one's own worth. It is also often called self-love, self-respect or having a good self-image or self-concept. This seems to me a healthy thing, and most people in the helping professions would be only too pleased if their clients had more of it. What is often called love is a kind of addiction, or what is nowadays called co-dependency, and this is quite unhealthy. But if people can give more love to themselves, they are better able to give it to others and to accept it from others in a genuine way.

EGOTISM

This is a general feeling of being convinced of one's own pre-eminence. It has a lot to do with pride, with an inflated self-image, with a kind of self- importance. Ego-boosting leads to this. Egotism always sees things in terms of better and worse, so it is always having to prove something. This is not something which anyone I know is trying to foster.

SELFISHNESS (Exclusive)

This is looking after one's self-interest with blinkers on. This kind of selfishness can only see what is straight in front of it. It is a kind of tunnel vision. It is as if the rest of the world somehow did not exist. It is impulsive - if I want something, I have to have it now. This is not something which anyone I know wishes to encourage.

SELFISHNESS (Inclusive)

This is looking after one's own self-interest without blinkers, letting in everything from inside and outside. It means going after what I really want, but with complete openness to experience. At my best, I am in touch with all my relevant feelings and all my relevant values and all the relevant information, and I can then act spontaneously in whatever situation I find myself. This kind of spontaneity is the most rational action of which I am capable. The world would be a better place if there were more of this open and all-embracing selfishness around, and the word "empowerment" is often used today to indicate that we are aiming at this particular goal.

SELF-IMPROVEMENT

This is about the attainment of long-range goals. It has to do with good self-management. This is a tricky area, because it can lead to a kind of self- separation, where one part of me is trying to improve another part of me - leading possibly to a kind of self-oppression. But if this can be avoided, self- improvement obviously makes sense. One thing needs to be watched: if someone improves as a slave-driver, that would be a bad thing in my book.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION

This is being all I have it in me to be - being that self which I truly am. As we have seen in earlier sections of this booklet, this is the main aim of humanistic psychology as a whole. We get hints of what this is like in peak experiences, which have been well described by Maslow and others. Obviously there are dangers here: as Maslow himself pointed out, we can start to go after peak experiences in a programmed way which is basically deficiency-oriented, and also basically self-defeating.

To sum up, then, the things we are positively interested in as proponents of humanistic psychology are not self-indulgent or narcissistic, but socially defensible and politically desirable.

HUMANISTIC HERESIES

Let us turn our attention now to another area - the question of the way in which humanistic psychology can go wrong when one of its elements is blown up and exaggerated out of proportion. I have called these the humanistic heresies, and I think there are at least nine of them. Here they are:

1. Instrumentalism

This is where people use the methods developed within humanistic psychology to oppress others in new and more effective ways. Techniques can be useful when a person wants to do something, but genuinely doesn't know how to do it. Instrumentalism loves technique for the power it gives to the practitioner. Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War under Hitler, ran his ministry in accordance with the best principles of humanistic management. Many organizations today which are less than admirable teach social skills in ways taken from humanistic psychology. This can also happen in education: is telling children to reveal their dreams any better than telling them to copy the sums off the blackboard? The content is different, but the form is the same - the teacher is the provider and the student is the consumer. The point is that humanistic psychology is always about the realisation of potential, not about its guidance into some groove laid down by someone else. We stand for real freedom and real communication, and systems which allow and encourage this.

2. Feelingism

Feelings are important to recognise and do justice to, and humanistic psychology is noted for its attention to feelings. But sometimes this can get exaggerated, so that people are expected to express feelings all the time, or even to express certain approved feelings all the time. This is a distortion and is quite undesirable. Feelings are in reality no more important or central than sensing, thinking, intuiting, imagining, desiring, willing and so forth. All these things can be connected to the centre or disconnected from it. For good communication and real intimacy between people, not only feelings need to be cultivated, but also honesty, freed energy, clear demands and other human qualities. We re trying all the time to encourage the real person to come out, and this means the whole person. We are encouraging the person to put her or his whole self behind life and action. One-sidedly feeling people would be monsters, just as much as one-sidedly thinking (sensing, intuiting, imagining, desiring) people would be. What we are aiming at is integration, not feelings.

3. Autonomy-ism

One of the key things about humanistic psychology is the way in which it emphasises taking responsibility for oneself, and on creating one's own world. As a therapeutic stance, and taken in a first-person way, this can be extremely valuable. It is the classic empowering move for people who have defined themselves as victims hitherto. But taken in a third-person way this becomes oppressive and punitive, a denial of solidarity and fellow feeling. The point is that "You alone can do it, but you don't have to do it alone". Both sides of the statement are true, and they must not be separated from each other. Autonomy is important, but love and mutual support and nourishment are important too. The sequence goes: dependence, counterdependence, independence, interdependence; it is important not to stop at independence. Autonomy as a total ideal is for hermits.

4. Peace-and-love-ism

This is the way in which group leaders and others aim at warmth, trust and openness in a way which says that if you are not being warm, trusting and open you are not getting it right. This is just as harmful as any other attempt to tell people what to think and what to feel. We are not in the peace and love game, we are in the reality game. If we attend closely to reality and do justice to what is present, what is there, my experience is that peace and love do ultimately ensue, but if they do, they too are real. However, there needs to be a note of caution the other way too. I have seen people dismiss certain workshops on love as "peace-and-love-ism" when in fact what the leader was doing was to use "total love" exercises to explore the scope and limits of love. The test is simple: what happens when hate, lust, fear or anger comes out instead of love? If the leader welcomes them and works with them and helps the person work through such feelings, that is fine: but if they are ignored or shunted aside, or wished away, then we are faced with peace-and-love-ism.

5. Peakism

Here people get hold of the bit about peak experiences being important, and turn it into something to strive for. Instead of the emphasis being on opening oneself up so that peak experiences have a chance to get in, all the emphasis goes on pushing oneself to greater and greater heights. The recent craze for fire-walking is a good example of this. But a deficiency-oriented search for private peaks can become very narrow and nasty.

6. Spiritual-ism

An inelegant word to describe an all-too-elegant reality. This is where one gets so very spiritual that one loses touch with the ground altogether. It has been said that New Age music is like the peak of a pyramid suspended in mid- air, and this expresses well the ungrounded nature of this diversion. When people get into this state they often seem to confuse smiling with insight. There is a lot of talk about losing the ego, but I don't think we ever really lose our ego. What we lose are false images of the ego, false boundaries to the ego. But the ego does not really die, it just has to change. I have never met anyone who seemed to me to have lost his ego, have you?

7. Expertism

Humanistic psychology is essentially anti-mystification. It is noticeable how the most central figures in humanistic psychology are also those who use jargon least. So to use vast numbers of technical terms and highly specialised vocabularies may make one feel more like an expert and one who knows, but they are not really much to do with humanistic psychology.

8. Sexism

Sexism is the oppression of women and all that is feminine. It usually involves reducing women to the rigid roles which represent the only proper ways of being female in a patriarchal society - almost always service roles of one kind or another, but also idealised moralistic roles. Humanistic psychology is dedicated to questioning all rigid roles whatsoever, because they represent one of the main ways in which potential is limited, by self or others. But it is all too easy for patriarchal patterns to creep back into the practice of humanistic psychology, because they are so all-pervasive. So most groups have male leaders, most of the most famous and highest-paid leaders are male, and most of the participants are female. In many groups, the heterosexual couple relationship is emphasised and underwritten. In some groups, the women are treated differently from the men. Child care is very often not taken care of as an issue in weekend groups. Women may find it exhausting to keep on fighting these patterns all the time, and there is no excuse for the men in humanistic psychology to avoid awareness of these issues.

Similarly with racism, it is important to be aware how easy it is for racism to creep in. There are very few black faces in humanistic groups or gatherings, even though it is one of the aims of humanistic psychology to work for the recognition of difference and the welcoming of diversity. 9. Eclectic Mish-mash-ism

One of the strengths of our general approach is its adventurousness - the way in which we are prepared to try things out and see whether they work or not. But pushed to a one-sided extreme, this becomes a nervous search for novelty and fads. If we put disparate things together and try to make them fit without really integrating them properly, the work of forging new theories and new unities of theory and practice is avoided and side-tracked. This is not what humanistic psychology is about.

If we want to steer clear of these heresies, diversions and aberrations we have to keep open and keep on learning. We have to use our vulnerability to let in reality, and sometimes the hard lessons which society and history teach us. We cannot learn much when all our defences are up. It is the horror, and the shame, of the world we live in that so often we seem driven to defend ourselves, forced to raise our barriers. It takes real inner strength, and staunch allies, to keep on going for a better world. Humanistic psychology stands for this unafraid look at the personal, the social and the spiritual.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory

Strengths of Humanistic Theory. Like every theory, some people find the humanistic approach to be valid while others see it for the numerous inherent flaws. Some of the 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 carries over into different professions. If you take a health class, you are likely to discuss Maslow's hierarchy. If you study economic or business, you will also focus on moving upward in our lives in order to be more aware of who we are and where we fit in with the world. The same holds true with other professions, including literature, criminology, and history, among others, as the basics of humanistic thought strike an undertone in all of what is considered human.

Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory. With the good, always comes the bad, and this theory is no different. 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, there are those who believe humanistic theory falls short in it's ability to help those with more sever 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? Why do some people seem to make negative choices even when positive solutions are staring them in the face? These questions plague humanistic thought and the difficulty in researching the theory does not provide any freedom.

Despite these problems, humanistic theory has been incorporated into many differing views on psychotherapy and human change. Many argue now that a humanistic undertone in treatment provides a nice foundation for change. While it may not be sufficient, it may still be necessary for a significant personality change to occur.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory

Strengths of Humanistic Theory. Like every theory, some people find the humanistic approach to be valid while others see it for the numerous inherent flaws. Some of the 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 carry over into different professions. If you take a health class, you are likely to discuss Maslow's hierarchy. If you study economic or business, you will also focus on moving upward in our lives in order to be more aware of who we are and where we fit in with the world. The same holds true with other professions, including literature, criminology, and history, among others, as the basics of humanistic thought strike an undertone in all of what is considered human.

Weaknesses of Humanistic Theory. With the good, always comes the bad, and this theory is no different. The biggest criticism of humanistic thought appears to center around its 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, there are those who believe humanistic theory falls short in its ability to help those with more sever 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? Why do some people seem to make negative choices even when positive solutions are staring them in the face? These questions plague humanistic thought and the difficulty in researching the theory does not provide any freedom.

Despite these problems, humanistic theory has been incorporated into many differing views on psychotherapy and human change. Many argue now that a humanistic undertone in treatment provides a nice foundation for change. While it may not be sufficient, it may still be necessary for a significant personality change to occur.

EVALUATION

It provides power to individuals by emphasising free will and the ability to change.

The therapy provides great insight into what any experiences have meant to the individual.

Rogers has provided evidence (in the form of detailed tapes of therapy sessions) on which to base research.

It has been shown to be effective but only with less severe problems (e.g., Greenberg et al., 1994; see PIP p.816).

It does not pay sufficient attention to unconscious thoughts.

It ignores biological influences.

There is no attempt at diagnosis. This limits the ability to offer effective therapy

Humanistic Psychology

Basis

Humanistic Psychology is so named due to its core belief in the basic goodness present in and respect for humanity. Its core is founded upon existential psychology, or the realization and understanding of one's existence and social responsibility. The two psychologists, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow initiated the movement with this new perspective on understanding people's personality and improving their overall life satisfaction.

When war broke out in the 1960s, the world felt compelled to better understand the nature of humanity. Humanistic theory provides an understandable mechanism for examining an individual's need for conflict in order to create peace. This simplistic theory has become a favorite and popular topic throughout self-help literature. Additionally, the struggle for mankind to gain greater understanding and meaning for life and existence is a timeless cornerstone conflict in entertainment and literature.

The premise behind humanistic psychology is simple. So simple, in fact, that naysayers believe it to be excessively simple. Humanists adhere to these beliefs:

The present is the most signficant aspect of someone. As a results humanists emphasize the here and now instead of examining the past or attempting to predict the future.

To be mentally healthy, individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions, regardless if those actions are positive or negative.

Each person, simply by being, is inherently worthy. While any given action may be negative, these actions do not cancel out their value as a person.

The ultimate goal of living is to attain personal growth and understanding. Through constant self-improvement and self-understanding can an individual ever be truly happy.

Abraham Maslow provided the best known and mostly widely understood precept in humanistic psychology. Abraham Maslow believed that Watson and the other behaviorists' ideas about control were lacking. He saw human life as more than simply external reinforcement, disputing the assumption that humanity was born without value or direction.

When Maslow studied psychology, the prevalent ideas were psychoanalysis and behaviorism. These theories were covered by most courses and a great deal of energy was exerted for each psychologist to figure out the theory aspiring psychologists would subscribe to. Maslow did not follow either of these paths.

Maslow condemned behaviorism, eventually taking the same perspective with Freud's works as well. Even though Maslow accepted the existence of an unconscious being within us, Maslow refuted Freud's idea that the bulk of our being is hidden far from our consciousness. Maslow purported that humanity is aware of motivation and drives on the whole. Without life's obstacles, all of humanity would become healthy psychologically, attaining a deep self-understanding and acceptance of society and the world around them. Maslow reinforced his energy on realizing the positive aspects of mankind, while Freud saw mostly negativity. One might summarize the distinction between humanism and psychoanalytic thought in this way - psychoanalysis is founded upon acceptance determinism, or acceptance of aspects of our lives outside of control, while humanistic thought bases itself on the concept of free will.

Maslow's best known contribution to Humanistic psychology is his Needs Triangle/Pyramid. Maslow's Needs Hierarchy is frequently used to sum up the humanistic psychology belief system. The fundamental premise of his hierarchy is that everyone is born with specific needs. If we do not meet those base needs, we are unable to survive and focus upward within the hierarchy. The first stratum consists of <b>physiological needs</b>, or survival needs. Unable to obtain oxygen, sleep, water, and food, all else is irrelevant.

After we meet these needs, we can shift our focus to the next stratum, the need for security and safety. When pursuing safety needs, we attempt to secure safety in others and yearn to create an environment that protects us, keeping us free from harm. Until these goals are met, it is unlikely that someone would consider higher order needs, and their growth is then stifled.

When someone feels safe and secure, we attempt to build friendships and establish a sense of belonging to a greater whole. Maslow's third level of needs, the social needs of belonging and love, focus on our desire to be belong to a group and have a place in a larger whole. Meeting social needs get us one step closer to the top of the triangle -- the fourth level: esteem needs. Those attempting to fulfill esteem needs channel their energy on respect from others, self-esteem, self-respect, and gaining recognition for our accomplishments in life. We push further and further to excel in our careers, to expand our knowledge, and to constantly increase our self-esteem.

The final level in the hierarchy is called the need for self-actualization. According to Maslow, many people may be in this level but very few, if anybody, ever masters it. Self-actualization refers to a complete understanding of the self. To be self-actualized means to truly know who you are, where you belong in the greater society, and to feel like you are accomplishing all that you are meant to be. It means to no longer feel shame or guilt, or even hate, but to accept the world and see human nature as inherently good.

Against Scientific Basics

At its onset, Humanistic theory was not researched easily. To start with, since the fundamental belief of Humanism is in the goodness of people, treatment should focus on the positive, instead of negative. This leaves very few tests upon which to build the case of Humanism. Then, through assessment, the assessor is essentially trying to say that the tester knows more about the client's emotion, thought, and behavior. To do something so presumptuous is a flagrant contradiction of the belief principles of Humanism.

As a result, most theorists, specifically behaviorists, refuted humanistic theory since it was not easily researched. However, as with psychoanalysis, it was possible to aggregate meaningful data on the effectiveness of applying Humanistic theories. Actually, just as with psychoanalysis, innovative testing needed to be designed to accentuate the exact theory and the intended application of the theory. Psychoanalysis use tests like TAT and Rorschach -- humanists use the Q-Sort.

Humanistic Theory - Weaknesses and Strengths

Humanistic Theory Strengths

Just as with every theory, some find humanistic psychology to be relevant, as others can only see the flaws. A couple of humanistic theory's strengths are the focus on the positivitity and goodness of humanity, as well as the free will related to change. Contrasting Freud's and biological approaches, focusing on the belief that human behavior and cognition are causally determined by prior events and actions, such that we lack self-control, Maslow and Humanistic psychology believe that the individual is quite powerful.

Another strength of humanistic theory is how easily many aspects of the theory integrate with other schools of thought. A number of therapists adopt humanistic undertones when working with their clients. While the individual may believe that humanistic theory doesn't cover the distance, they understand the benefit of the core values and beliefs in changing people's lives for the better.

Ultimately, humanism has benefits which carry over into a number of other professions. In a business class, you will probably cover Maslow's hierarchy. When studying finance or economics, the course will no doubt cover the concept of moving up financially and physically, to eventually become more enlightened and aware of who we are and our place in the world. This principle is similarly present in other professions such as criminology, history, and literature, since the core of humanistic thought rings true in everything that deals with what it means to be considered human.

Humanistic Theory Weaknesses

For every yin, there is also the yang. Humanistic theory has its share of flaws as well. The most significant criticism of humanistic psychology centers around its lack of specific approaches to treatment aimed at precise problems. Since the core belief behind Humanistic theory is that of free will, it is very complicated to both innovate a technique for treatment as well as a means to study the efficacy of this treatment technique.

Additionally, it is believed that humanistic theory falls is unable to help people with severe personality or mental health disorders. While Carl Rogers' Theory of Personality may have positive effects on a minor abberation, using it as treatment for schizophrenics is laughable.

Lastly, humanistic theory applies some human nature generalizations which are widely believed to be complete. Are all people good at the core of their being, or are some people just not there? Can we effectively position that Maslow's needs hierarchy, as explained, applies to everyone universally? Or is it possible that each individual can impose their own belief system or their order of attainment, or even their very definition?

Why is it that some individuals appear to consciously take negative alternatives while positive choices are right in front of them? These doubts huant humanistic psychology and the complexity associated with performing measurable research of the theory further exacerbates the issue.

However, regardless of these trials, humanistic theory is incorporated into nearly every opposing school of psychotherapy and improvement of the human condition. It is widely believed that treatment with humanistic undertones creates a nice environment for positive change. While, alone, humanistic theory may be insufficient, the groundwork it lays might be a necessity for to effect significant changes of personality.

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