Humanistic psychology, as a general concept, began with the works of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of human needs. Maslow and some others in humanistic psychology regarded transpersonal psychology as a further development, but this is not the majority approach.
Fritz Perls, who with his wife Laura Perls had created gestalt psychology, started with psychoanalytic models but rejected them. "Started seven years of useless couch life. Felt I was stupid. Finally, Wilhelm Reich, then still sane, made some sense. Also Karen Horney, whom I loved."
In 1937, he began to teach at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and produced some of his best-known work. During this time, he said he was inspired by colleagues including the anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer, whom he was to regard as models of "self-actualizing" people operating at the highest level of human consciousness. Earlier researchers such as Freud had focused on illness, while Pavlov looked for actions dictated by other than conscious choice. Maslow, however, was interested in the optimal, conscious capabilities of people.
He proposed the hierarchy of needs model in 1943 in a paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation, which assumed people had a hierarchy of needs, and that it was necessary for the basic needs to be fulfilled first before advancing on to more sophisticated needs.
Humanistic psychology has the optimization of human beings at its core, rather than the "fixing" of people with disorders. As such, it has always had a strong emphasis on education.
In 1946, Kurt Lewin, "then Director of MIT's Research Center for Group Dynamics, concluded from his experiences that increased awareness of self and others could be accomplished through facilitated group dialogue in Training Groups (or T-Groups) that advocates open-minded appreciation and inclusion of differences. Lewin also concluded that T-Groups who learned by experience, rather than lecture (i.e., didactic learning and reading, provided high potential for diagnostic study, evaluation and, most important, for changing behaviors.
The National Training Laboratories, now the NTI Institute, with funding from the Office of Naval Research and the National Education Association, developed process learning model, also called experiential or participatory learning, developed by the , Searching for ways to accelerate the introduction of adult veteran learners into civilian education, the NTL approach was in some respects new, and in some respects a resurrection of Socratic dialogue or of the tutor system at Oxford and Cambridge. One idea is that the learner may already have much of the knowledge, but is not fully aware of it or needs to organize it. The group experience may discover that the learners, collectively, have much of the needed information and technique, and the role of the leader is more as facilitator.
It should be noted that a facilitated group is not an example of radical egalitarianism, and the leader does make sure that all participate in a meaningful way, and expertise is recognized. The balance between enforced discipline and sharing experience has always been a challenge in military training at intermediate and advanced levels, where an instructor may know more theory but students may have hard-won combat experience.
Varieties of experience
Cognitive psychology shows that different people learn in different ways, the major modes being visual, auditory, and tactile.
Some forms of psychotherapy, still being evaluated, such as Eye Motion Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), draw from the experiential learning model. The therapist encourages recall of emotional trauma, and then uses, respectively, visual or tactile stimuli to break up what otherwise would be regenerative feedback loops.
- Fritz Perls, A Life Chronology
- A Science Odyssey — People and Discoveries: Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), PBS
- History, NTI Institute