The Evolution of Humanistic Psychology: From Maslow to the Fourth Wave


Let’s dig into the journey of humanistic psychology, from Maslow’s groundbreaking work to the emerging Fourth Wave to understand the human experience.

Humanistic psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasizes the holistic understanding of the human experience and the individual’s subjective experience of reality. It emerged in the 1950s as a response to the limitations of traditional behaviorism and psychoanalytic approaches, and it focused on the positive aspects of human nature and the potential for growth and self-actualization. The evolution of humanistic psychology has been marked by the contributions of prominent thinkers such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May. Today, the field has expanded to include the Fourth Wave of psychology, which seeks to bridge the gap between humanistic and conventional psychology by drawing from a diverse range of sources and methodologies to develop a comprehensive understanding of the human experience.

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The Rise of the Third Force: Humanistic Psychology Emerges

Humanistic Psychology, a guide
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In the early 1900s, American psychology took a sharp turn away from James’ emphasis on personal growth and instead embraced a more rigid scientific approach that rejected concepts like consciousness, mind, and agency. But a group of renegade psychologists, including Allport, Maslow, and Rogers, weren’t content to let the human experience be reduced to a mere collection of observable phenomena. They wanted to put the “self” back into psychology.

This concept of humanistic psychology became the Third Force of psychology, rejected the idea of the self as a static entity, and instead saw it as an ever-evolving process of becoming. They believed that personal growth is a continuous journey, not a destination to be reached.

At the heart of humanistic personality theory is the idea that we are constantly balancing the tension between process and organization, motivated by our own unique potential. Although different humanistic theorists had their own take on things, they all shared a few core beliefs: fulfilling our basic needs, experiencing a full range of emotions, and having the power to give and receive love are key to our well-being.

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When we’re able to let go of the damaging expectations that hold us back and embrace our authentic selves, we open ourselves up to new experiences and further growth. We become more self-reflective, spontaneous, creative, and self-determined, and we start living life to the fullest.

But it’s not just about ourselves – a healthy personality also involves feeling connected to humanity as a whole, which leads to empathy and a desire to help others. According to Adler’s concept of social interest, we can devote ourselves to causes that go beyond our own self-interest and meet the needs of our fellow humans.

To fully realize our potential, we need a supportive, enriching environment that encourages us to expand our horizons. When we’re free to be ourselves without fear of judgment, we’re more likely to experience personal growth and fulfillment. On the other hand, when we’re forced to conform to societal norms, we risk losing sight of our true selves and experiencing psychological distress.

At the end of the day, humanistic psychologists believe that we have the power to change and grow, no matter our past experiences. By learning more about ourselves and striving for personal growth, we can become the best versions of ourselves and live our best lives.

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Evolution of Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology theory
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The world of psychology underwent a fascinating transformation from the late 1960s to the 1990s. The old-school approach, which treated human beings like machines, and the dreary Freudian perspective were pushed aside. Instead, a more positive and uplifting view of human nature emerged, although it didn’t find favor with everyone in the field. Some psychologists argued that our personalities were shaped by our potential for involvement in the world, rather than any inherent self-actualizing drive.

These psychologists drew on European existential-phenomenological traditions that were less focused on human goodness and more on the limitations and tragedies of our nature. They believed that we all have the potential for both creativity and destruction and that embracing both aspects of ourselves leads to growth and fulfillment.

Around the same time, transpersonal psychology also emerged. It sought to expand our understanding of human potential beyond the ego and into the realm of the spiritual. Wisdom traditions from Buddhism to Christian mysticism were all considered.

As the century drew to a close, postmodern philosophy began to take hold in psychology. It challenged the Western worldview and questioned the very notion of a permanent, autonomous self. The idea that reality is socially constructed and that there are multiple truths gained traction, emphasizing the importance of our subjective experiences in our relations with others. Postmodern psychologists promoted new forms of discourse that broke down individualism and shifted the focus from the content of our beliefs to the way we believe.

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Bridging the Gap between Humanistic and Conventional Psychology

Bringing the gap, humanist psychology
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A model was proposed by J. K. Schneider in 2015 that combines the psycho-spiritual elements of transpersonal psychology with the socially constructed aspects of postmodern/constructivist psychology. This model encourages individuals to navigate the delicate balance between constriction and expansion by embracing paradoxes and moments of awe and developing trust in their own creative energies and those of the universe, despite inherent uncertainty. Furthermore, the concept of hardiness is discussed as a valuable tool to transform stress into opportunities for personal growth.

Humanistic psychologists have also found value in integrating conventional psychology and psychiatry into their principles. Emphasizing authenticity and autonomy, humanistic psychology has played a significant role in expanding the five-factor and seven-factor models of personality. Additionally, positive psychology has contributed valuable operationalization and quantitative support, while humanistic psychology offers a diverse range of epistemologies and methodologies for positive psychologists to draw upon in their work.


Bland, Andrew & Derobertis, Eugene. (2019). Humanistic Perspective.


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