Key Concepts of Humanistic Theory

By Lynda Lampert; Updated April 25, 2017
Humanist taking notes during patient session

Humanism came about as a reaction to the theories of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Humanists felt that focusing on unconscious thoughts in psychoanalysis ignored the thoughts humans were having and the experiences they caused. Unlike behaviorists, humanists felt humans have more control over their responses than to simply be a puppet to conditioning. These new thinkers focused on what it was to be human and the entire spectrum of human feeling.

Qualitative Research and Idiographic Approach

The humanists believed that statistics and numbers told very little about the human experience and were, therefore, irrelevant as research. The only thing that mattered was so-called qualitative research, such as case studies, unstructured interviews and diary accounts. This also outlines an idiographic approach, or studying individuals. Only by experiencing what it means to be human can the researcher truly understand what a person is going through. Humanists believed in studying individuals in-depth to understand the human condition.

The Self and Congruence

Humanists believed that the ultimate aim of human beings was to achieve a state of congruence. This is when the actual self is the same as the ideal self. They believed in the constant pursuit of self-knowledge and self-improvement to achieve this state. All people are thought to have inherent worth merely by being human. A person's actions may be positive or negative, but that does not affect his worth.

Holism

The person in humanism is studied as a whole. She is not looked at in separate parts but is looked at as an entire unit. The theories that came before the humanists focused on the unconscious mind or observable behavior rather than on how a person thinks and feels. This theory was groundbreaking for focusing on what it means to be human rather than the scientific, laboratory data that other theories produced.

Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was one of the pioneers of the humanist movement. He developed a pathway of needs that people must meet in order to achieve self-actualization or congruence. It starts off with the need for physical things, such as air, food and water. The pyramid moves on to the need for safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and then knowledge. It ends with the pursuit of aesthetics and then self-actualization. This is where a person achieves his entire potential. This is a point not many people ever reach.

Free Will

People who believe in free will believe that humans have the ability to choose how to live their lives free of any external forces making them chose. Humanists believe that all people have this ability and can exercise it at any time. Instead of believing that things such as behavioral conditioning or animalistic drives determine our choices, humanists believe that we naturally want to choose the positive path and will do so freely.

About the Author

Lynda Lampert began writing professionally in 2000 with the publishing of her romance novel, "My Lady Elizabeth." Her work has also appeared in the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review." Lampert obtained an associate's degree in nursing from Mercyhurst College Northeast.