Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance


Perspectives in Psychology:

– Psychological – Understanding behavior in terms of psychological events
– Behavioral – Understanding behavior in terms of the principles of learning
– Neuroscience – Understanding behavior in terms of biology
– Cognitive – Understanding behavior in terms of cognitive events
– Group/Social – Understanding abnormal behavior in terms of the effects of  groups and  

Perspectives in Personality Psychology:

The First Force:  Psychoanalytical – Sigmund Freud – Self-regulating and independent unconscious processes make up the essence of personality.  They operate though mental structures that are in continual conflict.  Neo-Psychoanalytical – Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Karen Horney -Conscious individual, social, and interpersonal, factors are powerful forces in shaping personality.  Also referred to as Freud-Neo-Freudian theory.

The Second Force:  Behavioral Theory – John Watson, B.F. Skinner – Personality is learned and is the observable result of reinforcement.

The Third Force:  Humanistic Theory – Albert Ellis, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow – People are basically good and strive toward maximum personal development or self-actualization.

Trait Theory:  Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck – Differences among people can be reduced to a limited number of distinct behavioral styles or traits, The Five Factor Model – OCEAN.


John is 17 and has been drinking heavily since he was 12. He drinks almost every day, but when he is particularly anxious, he drinks until he passes out. His father and his grandfather were diagnosed alcoholics; the father drank himself to death when John was 14. His mother and older brother do not drink at all, and they have always told John that he is the family’s black sheep, the rebellious who is destined to be like his father.

  • What causes John‘s behavior:
  • Genetics?
  • Early childhood experiences?
  • Problems with feelings and thoughts?
  • Current circumstances?
  • Wider society?
  • What are the causes of alcoholism???

From the psychodynamic perspective:

  • Freud might say, this is an oral fixation. Is a dependency a result or a cause of drinking? What information would suggest that early deprivation caused John’s adolescent behavior or trauma? John probably engages in the defenses of rationalization, denial, and projection.

From the psychodynamic perspective: 

  • Neo-Freudians will look at the environment and focus on the family’s definition of John as the black sheep and the brother as perfect, they are in tune with systems thinking. His mother and father most likely were in frequent conflict; perhaps John resented that or was ignored. How did the family deal with the father’s death? John’s symptoms may only reflect a wider family pathology; in fact, the family may need to have a black sheep so other members maintain their roles. Therefore, mother and brother may unconsciously assist John in staying drunk. They are enablers!

From the Behavioral perspective:

  • Behaviorists would look at how John’s father and grandfather modeled how to drink heavily. At the same time, they probably introduced a good deal of stress in the boy’s life, and he probably learned that drinking reduced that stress. If his mother and brother criticized him a great deal, perhaps drinking became an operant behavior that alleviated the criticism temporarily, illustrating operant conditioning’s concept of negative reinforcement. Finally, if the sight and smell of alcohol now produce an automatic response in John, we could see his use as having a classically conditioned quality, too.

From the Humanistic perspective:

  • Humanistic theorists might focus on John’s lack of self-esteem or the conditions of worth that his family might have placed on loving him. Alienated from society, he may find comfort in intoxication and escape from responsibility. Does he freely choose to drink heavily? Is he being honest with his feelings?

From the Social/Group/Cognitive perspective:

  • John probably thinks that he can function only when he is drunk. He may catastrophize discomforting circumstances in his life and thereby give himself a rationale for drinking heavily. Irrational beliefs such as “unless I am perfect no one will love me, so I might as well get drunk” are part of Ellis’s A-B-C theory of personality. Beck would emphasize illogical thought processes John might have, such as a tendency to maximize any perceived hurt and minimize the effects drinking has on his life.
  • PEER PRESSURE:  John may be acting out sex- and age-role stereotypes. The multicultural perspective would look at the cultural norms for John and adolescents like him. What is the peer culture like? Are others labeling him “alcoholic” prematurely or using a cultural standard that is inappropriate?

From a NeuroScience/Biological perspective:

  • From the biogenic perspective, genetic vulnerability might explain the concept of concordance.  If John had an identical twin, would he, too, drink heavily and at the same times? Also under the biogenic heading, neuro-chemical differences can be discussed.  If we found that John metabolized alcohol differently from his older brother, would that support a biogenic explanation (preexisting biological difference).  Diathesis‑stress theory, genetics.  If John has a preexisting, inherited vulnerability, is he doomed to become an alcoholic? (Most likely, a combination of genetic factors and family and social stressors produced this pattern of use.)

Interpretation Personal Perspectives:

The same information about a person can be interpreted quite differently and that each perspective has something valuable to offer. An eclectic approach is attractive, but note that complete eclecticism is untenable. For example, isn’t it logically impossible for John to be both free in his actions and the product of determinism?

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Comer, R.J. (2013). Abnormal Psychology (8th ed).  Worth Publishers
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5) American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Sue,Sue, and Sue (2014).  Understanding Abnormal Behavior (10th Ed), Cengage Learning

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