Humanistic psychology, which appeared in the mid-20th century in the United States, is distinguished by a holistic approach to the person. This direction considers people as strong-willed and striving for self-actualization. The emergence of humanistic psychology was a response to the shortcomings of two other prevailing approaches – behaviorism and psychoanalysis, and as a consequence, it became the “third force” in psychology. According to the humanistic direction’s founders, the first approach was too attached to biological mechanisms, and the second focused on pathologies in person. Humanists sought to understand people in terms of their potential and maximum capabilities.
The direction gained its maximum popularity in the 1950-the 1960s in America. Its representatives, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and other psychologists, received significant recognition among colleagues. Moreover, humanistic psychology has attracted many Americans to therapy and self-actualization practices. However, having reached the peak of popularity in the early 70s, humanistic psychology significantly lost its influence. Despite the direction’s rapid fading, some ideas still became part of mainstream psychology.
Humanistic psychology quickly faded due to a combination of internal and external factors. Previously, more attention was paid to the internal ones – characteristics of the direction as a reason for the decline, but external forces had a more significant influence. Considering its features, humanistic psychology had few publications in mainstream journals, ineffective organization, and a substantial exclusion from other areas instead of cooperation. Despite these circumstances, humanistic psychology attracted many Americans to therapy and contributed to the development of encounter groups. Within the humanistic perspective, people freely expressed their feelings and individuality and sought independence, making it appealing.
Influential external factors include the political, cultural, and religious environment and the influence of mainstream psychology. The critical political force of that period was right-wing parties that did not want societal changes that individual freedom could lead to. Religious forces considered this direction as selfish, godless, capable of destroying the family structure and Christian morality. Finally, conservative values had a more significant influence on culture, and they contradicted the softness and freedom of humanistic psychology.
There were also the values of cold logic, tough mind, and unsentimentality in scientific circles. As a result, mainstream psychology did not accept a humanistic approach since it lacked the natural science paradigm and research. However, humanistic psychology does not deny the scientific paradigm but believes that using this model is not always appropriate in psychology. They did not create their methodology, and based on the reluctance to use laboratories and set experiments, humanists used qualitative research methods. Direction’s representatives believed that one should start a conversation and allow people to reveal their feelings to understand them. Moreover, the humanistic approach to clients differed significantly from the mainstream medical model. The discussed direction focused on supporting clients in the process of their self-development, not treatment. Such an attitude and criticism of humanistic psychology created many unpleasant stereotypes about it and persuaded other psychologists to ignore the achievements of the direction.
Thus, humanistic psychology gained a significant influence after its emergence in the 1950s. It attracted many people to therapy, impacted the creation of encounter groups, and many ideas that are still influential in psychology. However, it quickly faded due to a significant difference from mainstream and contradiction with dominant values. One of the key differences was the lack of natural science studies, which seemed more meaningful than humanistic practice. Representatives of the direction, in turn, believed that it was impossible to understand human psychology only by scientific means and used qualitative methods.