Humanistic Approach to Psychopathology Theory

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  • 0:03 Humanism
  • 2:43 Psychopathology
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Here, we look at what gave rise to humanism and some of the field's basic ideas. We will also look into how humanism views psychopathology, as well as how it treats it.


Many things happen in response to other things. What I mean is, if you eat chocolate ice cream a lot for months and months or even years, suddenly, you don't want chocolate anymore and you want vanilla ice cream, or you may even want some vegetables! This has happened in psychology. In this lesson, we will briefly explore what humanism is, and how it interprets - and to some degree treats - psychopathology.

For a long time, behaviorism was king of American psychology. It demanded that you pay no attention to the black box labeled 'mind.' Everything about learning, pathology, or what it means to be alive could be learned via operant and classical conditioning and their many sub components. This really removes the whole human spirit, as well as our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It reduces everything down to a simple structure, and some people didn't like that.

A new approach came about in response: humanism, which is a loose grouping of researchers who believed in the uniqueness of humans. Effectively, you see the pendulum swing. On one side is behaviorism, the ultimate reductionist model, and on the other side is humanism, the ultimate anti-reductionist model.

Two big researchers in the humanism field are Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. If you have spent a decent amount of time in psychology, you would be familiar with the hierarchy of needs, a theory describing human needs from the most basic to the existential. Maslow's hierarchy of needs starts at the most basic with physical needs that are shared by every living being, things like shelter, food, and security. As we move up, we begin to see things like companionship, love, and self-actualization. These last few items, where people begin to develop higher senses of self, are impossible with the behaviorist model.

Carl Rogers was the founder of person-centered therapy, also called Rogerian therapy, which is a therapy focused on unconditional positive regard and self-actualization. With person-centered therapy, the idea is that people generally know how to make themselves better, and they need help in reaching their loftiest sense of self. We'll explore this a little bit more in the next section.


Psychopathology is a study of mental and social disorders and is also a synonym for mental illness. Every type and style of therapy has a different way of viewing psychopathology. The behaviorists would tell you that it comes from maladaptive strategies learned by conditioning. But with humanism, we see a belief in humans and what humans are capable of.

Humanism describes psychopathology as having an unmet need that disturbs our homeostatic norm. Humans have many needs, from the most fundamental, like food, to the most complex, like the desire to connect with other people and explore human potential. Humanism states that one or more of these needs is being unmet, resulting in mild to severe psychopathology. The field also argues that if a person can have this need met, then they can be freed of the shackles of their pathology and move on to the next stage.

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