What is the science behind self-actualization?
The concept of self-actualization, that notion that we can develop over time into the best, most authentic version of ourselves, is an intriguing one. Perhaps because of its very nature, it has inspired countless self-help books, motivational seminars, and half-baked journeys of self-discovery. The concept can be used equally for selling new-age nonsense and helping people develop. In the latter case, the idea inspired an entire branch of psychology.
The psychology of becoming your best self
Humanistic psychology is a school of thought that was developed in the middle of the 20th century in response to the Freudian and behaviorist trends that dominated the field. Based on investigations into psychological growth and taking up many of the problems also considered by the existentialists, humanistic psychology continues the tradition of viewing the individual as an autonomous, whole, and ever progressing being.
With such names as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Virginia Satir, humanistic psychology has as strong of an intellectual foundation as any other school of psychological thought. While it might be best to consider it a perspective on humanity rather than a distinct school, it still has much to teach us in its approach, theory, and applications.
What stances does humanistic psychology take?
While Freud argued that our minds are chasing pleasure and dominated by past events:
Humanistic psychology postulates that our actions are primarily motivated by a need for self actualization and that we are utterly in control of them.
This need is seen in all life, so the humanist psychologists argue, but only in humanity does the need go beyond mere physical growth and into personal development.
The often seen hierarchy of needs. The idea that we all have a drive for personal completion, and that this drive is fundamental, motivates the rest of humanistic psychology.
This need is “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming,” as Abraham Maslow explained it.
The drive is considered to be good, and a person who can carry out their actualizing tendency to the end is considered to be the acme of mental health.
Humanistic psychology is therefore concerned with how to make that happen for as many individuals as possible and has many things to say about self-esteem, creativity, the modern world, and interpersonal relationships.
How else is it different from other schools of thought?
Perhaps its most substantial break from previous schools of psychology is its stance on humanity itself. Carl Rogers saw humanity as striving towards growth rather than homeostasis. While Freud started working by looking at people with neurosis and disorders and then determining how we all might function, Abraham Maslow began by trying to determine what the healthiest people had in common. There is also a tendency to view the human being holistically, rather than as a collection of psychological pieces as in other schools of thought.
These differences are seen very clearly when considering how therapy works for a humanistic psychologist. In Rogers’ person-centered therapy, the therapist creates an environment where the patient can explore their emotions and where growth is promoted. This differs significantly from the Freudian notion of a therapist, distant and judgmental.
What use does selfactualization have?
Carl Rogers used these concepts to develop the previously mentioned person-centered therapy, which has been shown to be an effective treatment. The ideas are also used in group therapy and the family therapy of Virginia Satir. The research these psychologists undertook has influenced and inspired other forms of therapy and treatment as well.
Social workers use some of the major concepts to help in their work by incorporating the ideas of selfactualization, a focus on agency, and the conditions for growth into their practice. There is an entire methodology and system of thought for this, referred to as humanistic social work.
How can I use it?
Even if you aren’t a therapist or social worker, the approach this school takes is one that we can all learn from. As Carl Rogers explained, everybody is trying to reach a higher level of being. Often due to circumstances beyond their control, they flounder at lower levels. This stunted growth is often viewed with scorn and rejection, but Rogers suggests we should instead consider such people with sympathy and help to encourage their growth.
Similarly, it teaches us that mental health is not the absence of neurosis but is instead continuous positive growth. Rogers himself said that:
“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”
It can help many of us to know that just because we aren’t fully actualized right now doesn’t mean that we can’t hope to be later. The knowledge that we aren’t just bags of neuroses waiting to be triggered can also be a great comfort.
Is this scientific?
There are problems with finding hard scientific proof with some of the ideas. Maslow was criticized for his methods of determining what a self-actualized person would be like and what his hierarchy consisted of, though later studies have suggested he was on the right track. Other, similar problems have cropped up from time to time. It is worth noting that the leading figures in the field have always been open to experiments to prove or disprove their conceptions.
While much of early psychology was based on the idea of the person as a walking pile of neuroses waiting to happen, humanistic psychology offers us a view of the human mind that allows for growth, a chance at real health, and becoming who we are. Even if we never need therapy, the insights of humanistic psychology can help us better understand, and perhaps even become, ourselves.
What Is Humanistic Therapy?
Also known as humanism, humanistic groups of people with similar characteristics, as having the same problems. Humanistic therapy looks at the whole person, not only from the therapist’s view but from the viewpoint of individuals observing their own behavior. The emphasis is on a person’s positive traits and behaviors, and the ability to use their personal instincts to find wisdom, growth, healing, and fulfillment within themselves.
When It’s Used
Humanistic therapy is used to treat people with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, purpose or reaching their true potential, who lack feelings of “wholeness,” who are searching for personal meaning, or who are not comfortable with themselves as they are, may also benefit from humanistic therapy.
What to Expect
Humanistic therapy is talk therapy that focuses on how a person feels in the here and now, rather than trying to identify past events that led to these feelings. Additionally, the humanistic therapist provides an atmosphere of support, empathy, and trust that allows the individual to share their feelings without fear of judgment. The therapist does not act as an authority figure; rather, the relationship between client and the therapist is one of equals.
How It Works
In the late 1950s, humanism grew out of a need to address what some psychologists saw as the limitations and negative theories of behavioral and psychoanalytic schools of therapy. This was a new, more holistic approach that focused less on pathology, past experiences, and environmental influences on a person’s behavior, and more on the positive side of human nature.
Around this time, psychotherapist Abraham Maslow developed a human hierarchy of needs and motivations, and fellow therapist Carl Rogers developed his person-centered approach. Humanistic therapy evolved from these theories. Humanistic therapists believe people are inherently motivated to fulfill their internal needs and their individual potential to become self-actualized.
Self actualization can take many forms, including creative endeavors, spiritual enlightenment, and persuit of wisdom, or altruism.
What to Look for in a Humanistic Therapist
A humanistic approach may be incorporated into various therapies. A humanistic therapist must be a warm, empathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental person.
Look for a licensed, experienced mental professional with humanistic values and a humanistic approach to their practice. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and approach, as well as relevant experience, look for a humanistic therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.
Think Positive, How positive thinking affects your health
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that people with high activity in a particular brain area may muster weak immune responses in the face of negative emotions.
Many studies have shown that a person’s emotional state may affect his or her physical health, depression can worsen, heart disease, and stress can contribute to colds.
Melissa Rosenkranz and colleagues monitored the brain activity of 52 men and women and asked them to write about emotionally negative moments in their lives. Researchers then injected each subject with a flu shot and tracked the level of antibodies in their blood to discover how well their bodies were fighting the virus in the vaccine. They found that subjects with high electrical activity in the right prefrontal cortex during the emotional writing task produced lower levels of antibodies, indicative of impaired immunity.
Rosenkranz says the study is the first step towards discovering a neural mechanism explaining the mind’s effect on the body.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Humanistic And Positive Psychology
Stephen Joseph P.Hd
Is it time to build bridges between humanistic and positive psychology?
Positive psychology has been successful in drawing attention to the fact that psychologists had overlooked what makes life worth living.
At first the relationship between positive psychology and humanistic psychology was difficult. But as positive psychology has developed and matured it is clear that the idea we should be concerned with what makes for a good life was an idea also at the core of humanistic psychology in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Humanistic psychology developed around the middle of the twentieth century in part to address the fact that the previous ways of thinking in psychoanalysis and behaviourism had not been concerned with the full range of functioning. As Sutich and Vich (1969), editors of the influential, Readings in Humanistic Psychology, wrote:
“Two main branches of psychology, behaviourism and psychoanalysis appear to have made great contributions to human knowledge, but neither singly nor together have they covered the almost limitless scope of human behaviour, relationships, and possibilities. Perhaps their greatest limitation has been the inadequacy of their approach to positive human potentialities and the maximal realization of those potentialities” (Sutich & Vich, 1969, p. 1).
Likewise, John Shlien, a Harvard psychologist and one of the early pioneers of person-centered psychology, originally writing in 1956, said:
In the past, mental health has been a ‘residual’ concept – the absence of disease. We need to do more than describe improvement in terms of say anxiety reduction’. We need to say what the person can do as health is achieved. As the emphasis on pathology lessons, there have been a few recent efforts toward positive conceptualizations of mental health. Notable among these are Carl Rogers’ ‘fully Functioning Person’, A. Maslow’s ‘Self Realizing Persons’…”(Schlien, 2003, p. 17)
Indeed, even the term positive psychology had been used. The final chapter of Maslow’s 1954 book, Motivation and Psychology”, where he called for greater attention to both the positive and negative aspects of human experience: As Maslow (1954) wrote:
“The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side. It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology has voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, and that, the darker, meaner half” (Maslow, 1954, p. 354).
Maslow seems to be the first to use the term positive psychology. Maslow wanted to create a psychology that was based not only on those who were dysfunctional, but also upon those who were fully living the extent of their human potential.
Now that positive psychology has become established, it is time for humanistic and positive psychology to come together to share ideas, methods and to learn from each other.