Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers

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Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are two of the founding fathers of modern day Humanistic Psychology. Their work into the self-actualisation principle paved the way for further insight into the holistic development of the human psyche. Although they have been heavily criticised for their lack of empirical and theoretical evidence, this can be largely attributed to a misinterpretation of their works. More modern day research has suggested that their theories are of strong theoretical basis that just needs further development.

Humanistic psychology, or the “third force” of psychology, constantly comes under scrutiny for it’s holistic view of human development. Unlike psychoanalytical Freudian psychology, which predominantly focuses on mental illness and the negative aspects of human behavior, and behaviorism, which tends to “reduce human behavior to statistical correlations between different kind of stimuli, responses and personality traits” (Rule, 1991), humanists acknowledge the human as inherently ‘good’ and as active participants capable of shaping their own healthy development.

In particular, humanistic psychologists recognize the humans potential for goodness, creativity, insight and freedom. Maslow and Roger’s are typically acknowledged as the founders of this particular branch of psychology, which brought with it a much-needed holistic look into the human psyche. Maslow is prominently known for his identification of how a happy, mentally healthy, and well functioning person behaves. In conjunction with his motivational theory of a “self-actualising” personality, he identifies a ‘hierarchy of needs’ that when sufficiently fulfilled results in someone who is “most fully human” (Rogers, 1961).

Rogers, like Maslow, shared a positive view of human nature and is heavily praised for his ‘client-centered’ clinical approach, focusing much more on how an individual has the inner resources for positive development, which results in congruence between the perceived self and the actual self. Maslow & Rogers’ theories of personality development have both come under scrutiny since their original formulation – often being criticized for their lack of evidence and scientific testing methods.

Abraham Maslow’s nomothetic approach to humanistic psychology has left us with a complex framework into how an individual is an active participant in the positive development of their personality. His self-actualisation theory provides a rich insight into the humans “development and fulfillment of needs or capacities inherent in human nature” (Geller, 1982). Whereas typical psychoanalytical methods of psychology focused more on the minds of those considered ‘mentally unhealthy’, Maslow focused on what constitutes a healthy personality.

He focused mainly on those he considered to be ‘self-actualizing’, who were at the peak of their potential and thus, mental health. Maslow’s notion of “self-actualisation” was developed after his extensive research into what he conceptualized as a “high-dominance” individual (Maslow, 1973). A person who was of ‘high-dominance’ was someone who was found to be extremely secure with his or her personality and completely accepting of themselves.

Similarly, Maslow believed that this feeling of ‘high-dominance’ was generalized to those who are more extroverted and less religious. He stated that someone who possesses these qualities is “most fully human” (Maslow, 1973). Over time, Maslow better defined himself to create his widely acknowledged “self-actualisation” theory. Through studying various historical figures and personalities, Maslow defined self-actualisation as an ongoing process where an individual makes “full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.

Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing” (Maslow, 1970). With a definition of a self-actualising person, Maslow became more interested into how one becomes self-actualising. He incorporated different theories of motivation into a single framework to come up with a hierarchy of needs that need to be fulfilled in order to reach self-actualisation, however as there are always needs – it’s a continuous process.

Absolutely central to Maslow’s self-actualisation theory is the doctrine of a ‘hierarchy of needs’ (Maslow, 1973; Geller, 1982) present in all individuals and are essential to healthy human development. Maslow stated that human behavior is motivated by trying to satisfy our changing needs where a particular behavior depends on the need that is to be fulfilled. Unlike instincts however, “a need is a lack or deficiency that can be gratified through a variety of action patterns” (Geller, 1982) and behaviours, yet if ungratified can result in severe distress and dysfunction.

Satiation of these needs will then have a positive effect leading to equilibrium in the human and positive mental health. Maslow believed that there is a specific natural priority of needs that takes place starting from the most basic level – biological. His hierarchy is typically depicted as a pyramid, with the largest most fundamental needs at the bottom, and the need for self-actualisation at the top. In this sense, the needs lowest on the hierarchy are considered the most urgent and must be satisfied before a higher need can take control.

Furthermore, Maslow believed that it was an essential and necessary condition that these lower level needs be satisfied in order for a higher need to take control, thus a lower level need being gratified “does not throw the organism into a state of complete homeostasis but immediately brings about the emergence of a new need level” (Geller, 1982). Maslow’s hierarchy depicts the lowest level of needs as typically physiological needs, referring to the basic needs the body requires satiated to maintain homeostasis (Heylighen, 1992). A typical example given is an organism’s need for food and water, whereby if these are not satisfied the individual dies. Once these lower level, yet critical, needs are met, the individual directs their attention to higher, more typically, “human” needs. The next level of needs is what Maslow referred to as “deficit needs” (Maslow, 1973), including the need for safety, self-esteem, security & shelter, love and friendship. The final level of needs is then called being needs or B-needs or metaneeds (Maslow, 1973).

These are the growth or self-actualisation needs that when gratified, lead to a condition of positive well-being and include creativity, wholeness, justice, perfection, richness, simplicity, beauty, spontaneity, ego-transcendence, peak experiences, truth and many more. One of Maslow’s crucial differences between deficit needs and being needs is that the satisfaction of deficit needs (excluding basic physiological needs), is needed to reduce tension and annoyance to restore equilibrium in the body whereas being needs produce positive health rather than avoiding illness (Geller, 1982).

Furthermore, Maslow believed that being needs are reliant on the individual with no external factors whereas deficit needs are dependent on the external environment since they rely on the social environment. Thus when a poor external environment, e. g. physically abusive parents, thwarts the satisfaction of these lower level needs it can result in metapathologies of the metaneeds (Schultz, 2009). These metapathologies refer to the individual to suffer from conditions that may prevent their self-actualisation process including alienation, cynicism, joylessness and despair.

Carl Rogers (1961) started his study of human nature as a clinical psychologist delving into the complexities of troubled personalities. He is typically praised for his development of ‘person-centered’ counseling as an active means for individual growth. Rogers’ theories stemmed from his belief that psychopathologies developed as a result of an individual not being who they truly are. At the center of this theory is the distinction he makes between inauthenticity and authenticity.

Someone who is inauthentic typically interacts with a false persona or under a fai?? ade and is generally governed by external factors such as the expectations of others. Alternatively, someone who is authentic acts in accordance with their own beliefs, values and directives through themselves rather than a false persona. In this way, becoming ‘self-actualised’ also means to become congruent with oneselfs beliefs and feelings. Roger’s (1963) saw this as self-discovery whereby the individual moves away from “what one is not” and acts in the world authentically.

Rogers believed that becoming self-congruent was the major stepping-stone towards self-actualisation to “discover and live in harmony with the real or true self whose nature is inherently good and trustworthy” (Geller, 1982). Rogers’s theory didn’t see self-actualisaion as a form of healthy human development but rather the process of becoming authentic with your true nature. This is a critical point in Rogers’ theory as it states that what is actually being actualized is the person rather than the “true self”.

Through Rogers’ ‘person-centered’ therapy he believed that a therapist could successfully foster healthy personality growth, however a number of conditions had to be met. These six conditions (Rogers, 1963) included that: 1. Two people are in psychological contact 2. The client is in a state of self-incongruence 3. The therapist is self-congruent 4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client 5. The therapist experiences empathy for the clients internal frame of reference and tries to communicate this experience back to the client and finally 6.

The understanding that the therapist feels empathy and positive regard for the client. Rogers believed that when all these were met, positive change would occur in which the client will become more self-congruent and more freely accept their feelings and perceptions as their own. The critical difference between this type of therapy and what Rogers called “directive counseling” is that the therapist is there purely to facilitate change in the client rather than shape the clients behavior (Rogers, 1963).

Central to both Maslow & Rogers theories is that every human is working towards ‘self-actualisation’. This principle is often highly criticised by many researchers in psychology. Whitson and Olczak (1991) note that a nomological network “interlocking system of laws which constitute a theory” is needed to better define what self-actualisation really is as it can be misinterpreted or redefined by different authors (Leclerc, 1998). Leclerc (1998) further states that there is no operationalised definition of self-actualisation and no consensus among experts regarding self-actualisation attributes.

Patterson (1974) notes that self-actualisation “does not allow individuality” as self-actualizers all fall into a particular category with similar traits and characteristics. Similarly, Geller (1982) notes that Rogers & Maslow’s theories seem to promote selfishness and egoism in their decision making process. Vitz (1977) further criticizes Rogers’ approach for abandoning God in favour of the self. It must be noted however that Maslow’s (1962) work stresses the actualization of the individual and as such, all individuals strive for actualization in different ways, thus it is not selfish to self-actualise but rather healthy for mankind.

Rowan (1998), notes that although Maslow’s concept is not well defined, it just needs further development and is unfinished. Maddi (1973) and other researchers (Williamson, 1950; M. B. Smith, 1973) argue that if self-actualization is internal and requires no need for external stimuli, then it is an anti-social process and we should “live in the woods [rather] than enter public life” (Maddi, 1973). Fromm (1947) however disputes these arguments regarding love for others and self-love as complementary of each other whereby self love can become unconditional love for others.

Whitson (1991) goes one step further to identify self-actualising individuals who have constructively contributed to society e. g. Thomas Jefferson and Eleanor Roosevelt despite their classification as ‘selfish self-actualising individuals’. Another heavy criticism about self-actualisation is that it lacks empirical evidence regarding the construct (Leclerc, 1998). When exploring this argument, it must first be noted that no Maslow’s model of personality has never been empirically contradicted (Maddi, 1973).

More recent research however (Doyle, 1975; Hjelle & Butterfield, 1974) has been able to provide some empirical evidence suggesting that high scores on measures of self-actualisation were positively correlated with “attitudes favourable to equal rights for women and for a nonsexist society” (Whitson, 1991) not only providing relevant empirical evidence but also showing that self-actualisation may not be such a ‘selfish’ construct after all. Furthermore, work by Rogers (1954) himself used a Q-sort technique to measure self-congruency between clients before and after therapy.

His results found positive correlations regarding congruency after client-centered therapy improving the empirical research relevant to his field. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is also heavily scrutinized for its claim that lower-level needs must be met before progressing to higher ones (Leclerc, 1998). Many great works of art such as novels by Alexander Sozhenitsyn have been produced whilst little care was being taken care of basic needs such as food and water.

Rowan (1998) however disputes this claim, saying that Maslow’s hierarchy is often misinterpreted to look like a pyramid where one level must be completed to reach the next, although Maslow never made any reference to a pyramid at all. Regardless of the ongoing criticisms, the basic principles set out by Maslow & Rogers are still a good framework that have been heavily reinforced by more recent literature in the fields.

There are increasingly better definitions being devised, and the humanistic principles continue to widen and become more complex to cover a range of different ways to help facilitate healthy human development. Where Rogers & Maslow’s humanistic theories excel is exactly where other traditional forms of psychology fail, it provides an optimistic look into human development and personality. If anything, it is worth further acknowledgement, development and testing to see what other mysteries it can unlock into the human psyche.

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