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Psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers developed humanistic psychology in the late 1950's as a 'third force' in reaction to the then prevailing disciplines of behaviourism and psychoanalysis. Humanistic psychology shared the rejection by psychoanalysis of the behaviourist insistence on studying only those aspects of human psychology which were open to precise observation and measurement. Also like psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology wished to examine subtleties of what it feels like and means to be human which are difficult (if not impossible) to capture in experimental settings. However, unlike psychoanalysis, humanistic psychologists took a much more optimistic viewpoint on people's capacity to be consciously aware of themselves, and of their capacity for agency (i.e. to consciously initiate change in their lives). It also takes a holistic approach, attempting to study the 'whole person' – thoughts, feelings, and bodily awareness.
Humanistic psychology has developed or influenced a wide range of methods for facilitating personal growth, such as: Bioenergetics, Rebirthing.; Rogerian counselling, Encounter groups, Gestalt therapy, Co-counselling, Personal Construct therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Rational-emotive therapy; Psychosynthesis and many others. Research methods used by humanistic psychologists typically take an 'inside' viewpoint (in contrast to the 'outside' viewpoint of many other perspectives in psychology), using qualitative methods to try to understand people's subjective experience. They also take an 'idiographic' approach, in that they typically try, as much as possible, to understand people in terms of each person's unique way of viewing themselves and their world. So instead of experiments or psychometric measures, humanistic psychologists might use methods such as depth interviews. There is a considerable focus on helping people achieve their full potential, or self-actualization, in Abraham Maslow's term ('becoming all one is capable of becoming').

This is a quite different aim for psychology than, say, an experimental focus on eliciting reliable, 'scientific' data about cause-effect relationships. The best way to understand why different perspectives in psychology have such different methodologies, and focus on such different subject areas, is to ask, quite simply, what their aim is. There have been many critiques of humanistic psychology. As mentioned above, it is criticised for its lack of experimental methodology. Another criticism is that although it does acknowledge the existence of social influences, it arguably underplays the extent to which these construct many aspects of human experience (and, indeed, the way humanistic psychology itself can be seen as a product of postwar US culture, in its individualism and optimistic focus). It does not attempt to provide, as psychoanalysis does, a comprehensive theory of why we are as we are. Although, like the psychoanalytic perspective, humanistic psychology has had limited influence within academic psychology (because of its non-experimental focus), it has had a great influence in counselling and the various 'human potential' therapies. I has also had influence on teaching, and with aspects of work (e.g. some methods used in managementtraining and the development of interpersonal skills). At its best humanistic psychology provides conceptual frameworks and methods for encouraging personal growth that many people have found extremely valuable in their everyday lives. Ultimately, not unlike psychoanalysis, it takes an essentially pragmatic viewpoint in seeing the value of humanistic ideas and methods in their practical efficacy in helping human beings to lead more fulfilled lives.