Author and Psychologist
The Hidden History of Humanistic Psychology

The Hidden History of Humanistic Psychology

In most contemporary histories of psychology, humanistic psychology is presented as emerging as a novel protest against behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are often cited as the fathers of a “Third Force” of humanistic psychology, as though this school of thought coalesced for the first time in the 1950s. In history of psychology texts, the evolution of humanistic thought is not described in anything approaching the fairly standard genealogies of behavioristic and psychodynamic theories. When antecedents are noted, they are many and varied. William James is almost never mentioned among them.

Yet more than half a century earlier, notions of a holistic self and human motivation quite similar to those of Rogers and Maslow were being cogently described by James. Did James’ seemingly humanistic notions simply disappear, only to be expressed forty years later with no apparent connection to Maslow and Rogers? On the face of it, it seems hard to believe that a psychological perspective that values the holistic nature of the self and proactive individual striving would disappear for decades at a time. The thesis of this paper is that there are three clear historical threads that connect William James to the humanistic theorists of the 1950s and beyond. It is hoped by articulating these links will go a long way to restoring the important and enduring place of humanistic constructs in our profession’s evolution.

In attempting this genealogy of ideas, historian and James scholar Eugene Taylor cautions that “blithely drawing so many lines from James to the present” doesn’t necessarily prove “causal influences or links that could even be called a tradition” (Taylor, 1991, p. 67). As such, this necessarily brief review of a wide range of psychological thinkers must remain suggestive at best, an opening point of discussion for considering the construction of a far richer history of humanistic psychology.

The Central Tenets of a Humanistic Psychology

Before tracing the history of a humanistic psychology prior to Maslow and Rogers, the critical elements of that approach must be identified. Looking for those elements instead of an explicitly identified humanistic outlook is necessary. As will be demonstrated, the matrix of these elements are often present in the writings of earlier figures, just not subsumed beneath of a single identifier.

In an issue of the American Psychologist and soon after in the fledgling Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Bugental (1963) defined what he felt comprised this new Third Force as Maslow had called it. Humanistic psychology maintained the importance of a holistic conception of human beings, their uniquely human context, the centrality of consciousness of self and others, the intentional, creative and goal-directed nature of humans, and the responsibility that exercising such choices entails.

A decade later, in an early attempt at establishing its history, Maddi and Costa (1972) defined humanistic psychology in terms of its understanding of personality, a revealing choice of terms in and of itself. They argued that the humanistic assumptions towards human personality are that it is proactive, unified and organized (holistic) in structure, complex and individually unique, predominately rational, and future oriented (goal-directed). Their definition was largely similar to Bugental’s, though interestingly they omitted the social dimension and added a rational one.

Cain (2001) focused specifically on the attributes of humanistic psychotherapies suggesting such approaches demonstrated a focus on: the person as a holistic, unique entity; the construct of the self and its actualizing tendency; empathy and the importance of the “growth-inducing power” of relationship; the importance of emotion, meaning, and subjective experience; the centrality of personal freedom and responsibility for the choices that freedom entails; and finally, anxiety as a key motivating emotion engendered by uncertainty, difficult choices, and inauthentic living (pp. 4-13).

These factors, collectively, suggest the importance of grappling with present experiences, current dilemmas, and their meaning. While not essential to these definitions, humanistic psychologies often value spirituality as often being a part of a search for meaning and powerful, non-rational emotions that are often central to that sense of meaning. This spiritual dimension was often a part of early humanistic points of view.

William James on the Parts of the Self

A humanistic perspective as defined by Bugental (1963), Maddi and Costa (1972), and Cain (2001) can be found if the historian of psychology ceases to require a humanistic label. If the search for antecedents to the self-actualizing and proactive paradigms of Rogers and Maslow is extended sixty years earlier, multiple candidates emerge. One could do far worse than to begin the narrative of humanistic psychology with William James.

James (1842-1910) attempted a comprehensive psychology that might account for the full range of human experience. But embedded in his writings is a rich account of the role of selfhood in in his Principles of Psychology (1890). In that pioneering work, James expressed his view that there were three levels or contexts to the self:

  1. the bodily and material self (including all of a person’s belongings),
  2. the social self (incorporating all of the roles a person plays with other people),
  3. the spiritual self (“the self of selves”, which includes dialogue with higher forces and helps envision our potential.

This last is close to describing the soul, and was rejected by later psychologists.

James’ concept of the social self set the stage for important contributions within what become a new discipline within psychology, namely social psychology. James wrote that “a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him” (as cited in Jahoda, 2007, p. 139). James evoked evolutionary principles in suggesting that the physical, but also the emotional survival of the individual depends on a sensitivity to the reactions of important others around him. While James suggested human motivation was driven by instinct, he included play, attachment and love among those instincts.

James (1890) also introduced the concept of self-esteem—which he suggested was determined by an individual’s percentage of successes out of their total of personal pretensions. By extension, James noted that an individual’s self-esteem could be improved by their succeeding more in life or, conversely, by attempting or expecting less.  As would the later humanistic psychologists, James also wrote about character and personality traits or habit, linking them with age. James believed that for most, one’s unique character was largely set by the age of thirty.

While James attempted a comprehensive theory of psychology that included some atomistic elements, at its heart, James is seen as a theorist with strong humanistic leanings (Taylor, 1991). In terms of the essential elements of humanism, James articulated a holistic self that was shaped by social relationships. He noted the distress that could be created between a self-ideal and the experienced self. James stressed the importance of the religious in human life in its broadest spiritual sense of personal, emotionally meaningful experience. Like all good humanists, he protested the emerging reductionistic tendencies in the field. Yet, ironically, he is rarely identified as a forefather of humanistic psychology.



Mary Whiton Calkins: Keeping the Self Alive

Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930) was a female student of William James. While often  remembered for her early role as a female pioneer in a male-dominated field, Calkins was far more than that. Her far from marginal status in the contemporary currents of her day is reflected by her election as the first female president of both the American Psychological Association and, years later, the American Philosophical Association. Calkins found experimental psychology too cold and impersonal for her tastes, and found her mentor’s self-psychology far more rewarding. She was one of two pioneers in self-psychology, along with the now more famous Gordon Allport. Beginning in 1900, Calkins began publishing articles on the self.

Calkins (1915) broke with the central tenets of the emerging empirical psychology, which argued that the subject matter of psychology should also be measurable and observable. She declared that the self was essentially indefinable. Nonetheless, she argued that its study was justified because of:

  1. It’s centrality to subjective consciousness,
  2. the individual uniqueness of each self,
  3. the inseparability of the self from an individual’s sensory experiences, and
  4. the interaction of this self with objects in the environment.

Calkins did not do experiments or research on her theory, but did help keep the concept alive. She was a critic of both structuralism and behaviorism.

Calkins divided her labors between psychology and philosophy, reflecting the Harvard perspective that they were allied fields, enough alike that they could be housed in the same academic department. As a philosopher and a psychologist, Calkins was firmly in agreement with a personalist perspective (Allport, 1937). That one might profitably labor in both domains was reflected by the fact that Calkins was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1905 and the American Philosophical Association in 1918. Though largely forgotten today, such honors reflect Calkins’ central role in both disciplines in the early 20th century. But it was precisely her ties to a more philosophical psychology that marked her, unfairly or not, as less rigorous than self-styled scientific and largely reductionistic psychologists.

While Calkins’ emphasis on the unobservable self as a proper object of psychological study put her at odds with an increasingly behavioristic American scene, it does demonstrate that a current of holistic and humanistic thought remained viable, if secondary, in American academia. However, there was genuine reason for despair. By 1919, Richard Cabot was moved to write: “The social worker is liable to disappointment when she tries to find textbooks on personality study. The study of personality does not exist, either as a science or an art, written down. It exists in lives and not in books and lectures” (as cited in Nicholson, 1998, p. 58). Yet, such an assessment neglects George H. Mead’s The Social Self, published in 1913 and the early social psychology of William McDougall (1908). For her part, Calkins (1925) touted psychological research on the self throughout the 1920s.

Writing near the end of her life, Calkins (1930) also argued what she saw as a necessary link between self-psychology and social psychology: “Imitation and initiation, leadership and docility, fundamental categories of social psychology, offer … experiences meaningless unless conceived as relations of selves to each other” (p. 61). A similar link between the self as it relates to the conceptual domain of personality was made by the champion of that construct, Gordon Allport, a younger contemporary of Calkins.

Allport referenced Calkins as an important voice for a personalistic construct of the self in the first edition of his Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (1937). But Allport was hoping to champion a more empirical construct of the self in a new sub-discipline he was calling the psychology of personality. By the third edition of Personality, it was no longer necessary to reference Calkins at all, as the more philosophical shadings of James and Calkins were increasing seen as out of date.

Gordon Allport: A Link Between Generations

Like William James, Gordon Allport (1897-1967) was a longtime psychology professor at Harvard. Like Calkins, Allport argued the centrality of the self to psychological study. This view was clearly expressed in his seminal work, Personality, and more forcefully argued in a 1943 essay published in Psychological Review entitled “The ego in contemporary psychology” (Baumeister, 1993). But his published ideas on the subject had appeared as early as 1921 (Nicholson, 2003).

At the peak of his influence, Allport (1937) argued for the importance of understanding the uniqueness of individual persons in their totality, discussed by Allport in terms of differing personalities. Methodologically he argued that psychology as a profession overemphasized the pursuit of nomothetic norms that might be generalized across individuals. Far more important, in Allport’s view, was an idiopathic understanding of the individual in all of their uniqueness. He advocated for qualitative methods, such as using autobiographies, personal diaries or letters as ways of researching personal uniqueness. His theory of traits was something of a methodological compromise’ He saw certain traits as being universal among all humans, but the differing degrees to which individuals manifested those various traits provided a uniquely individual picture of the individual.

To the extent that lineal links between historical figures are important, there are clear points of connection between Allport and the personalist philosopher and psychologist, William Stern. Stern’s ideas on the indivisibility of self and body were more to Allport’s liking than the hints of Greek idealism he found in Calkins (Allport, 1937). The personalist tenet that the uniqueness of the individual must be the starting point of all discourse on the human condition appealed to Allport. He had even stayed in the home of Stern, while studying in Germany in 1923 (Nicholson, 2003). This was just a few years after the publication of Stern’s central work on the subject.

As for some of Gordon Allport’s American influences, he was an undergraduate of William James’ at Harvard. His biographer cited several authors who argued convincingly that James’ ideas permeated Allport’s (Nicholson, 2003).  Furthermore, in a 1943 Psychological Review article entitled “The productive paradoxes of William James,” Allport approvingly linked ideas of “self, free will, and individuality” to his old mentor (High and Woodward, 1980, p. 69).

It is also interesting to note that William McDougall was on Allport’s dissertation committee and “must be counted among the important influences on Allport during this period” (Maddi and Costa, 1972, p. 126), though Nicholson (2003) notes that the relationship between them was sometimes hostile. But he continued to dialogue with McDougall in 1937, discussing aspects of human motivation, and repeatedly referenced his ideas in Personality: A psychological interpretation.

While Rogers, Maslow and other voices of the Third Wave are considered to be a powerful protest against the reductionism of behaviorism, Gordon Allport was doing much the same far earlier. Allport wrote an intriguing article as early as 1929, “The study of personality by the intuitive method,” a clear challenge to strict behavioral methodologies.  Allport often publicly challenged what he saw as the austere and ultimately illogic of Watson’s behavioristic vision (Nicholson, 2003). At a time when the conventional wisdom is that behaviorism and psychoanalysis ruled the day, it is worth noting that Allport was elected president of the APA in 1939. He was hardly a marginalized figure.

Allport also addressed prejudice against non-dominant groups, an earmark of what we think of as a key focus for humanistic psychology today. In his The Nature of Prejudice (1954) he summarized much of the existing research on prejudice. In doing so he accurately detailed the unfortunate normality, that is to say, the universality of human prejudgment. He addressed the psychological impact of being victimized by the dominant group. In-group and out-group influence on personal identity and attitudes were also referenced. Once again, the holistic linkage between personality and social psychologies was once again demonstrated.

Gordon Allport also shared with James, Calkins, and Adler a valuing of religious belief as an often positive influence on the individual (Nicholson, 2003). While humanism as a philosophy would later become associated with a more secular form, in the 1930s Allport could still be described as following a tradition which valued both individual personhood and spirituality and saw no inherent contradiction between the two. There are any number of ways to connect these figures into a conceptual domain of what we would now characterize as humanistic beliefs and values. Rudmin (1991), in an effort to trace the history of anti-war “peace psychologists”, noted James, Calkins, Adler, McDougall and Allport among their number.

During the first murmurs of a more organized humanistic psychology, Gordon Allport (1955) clearly summarized the challenges of the last few decades:

For two generations psychologists have tried every conceivable way of accounting for the integration, organization, and striving of the human person without having recourse to the postulate of a self. In very recent years the tide has turned … As if to make up for lost time, (psychologists) have employed ancillary concepts such self-image, self-actualization, self-affirmation, phenomenal ego, ego-involvement, (and) ego-striving… (p. 37)

Allport himself availed himself to the term proprium, by which he referenced various interlocking functions associated with the self, including the experiencing I, the experienced me, the bodily sense, and propriate striving or goal-directedness.

While not the dominant voice within academic psychology, Allport and others  continued to articulate what might broadly be conceived of as the humanistic project during the 1930s and 1940s. Gordon Allport would also be present at a key gathering in the early 1960s when a more structured humanistic psychology movement took definitive shape.

Humanistic Links to Personality and Social Psychologies

Historians often neglect the multiple ways that the humanistic sentiments of William James survived the gauntlet of behaviorally inclined academics and psychoanalytically inclined psychiatrists of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Such historians often limit themselves to looking in the areas of philosophy and clinical psychology. However, concepts of a holistic and socially interactive self continued to be articulated in the new personality and social psychologies. The connections of social psychology to William James and later humanistic psychology are provided by William McDougall, Floyd Allport and gestalt psychologists who applied their paradigm to the social realm, such as Kurt Goldstein and Kurt Lewin. With their early interest in self-directed, socially inspired motivation, it is appropriate to consider early social psychology within the framework of psychological humanism.

As a side note, it is interesting to observe that not only do many modern histories of psychology neglect the continuous evolution of humanistic thought in psychology, they also pay scant attention to developments in the fields of personality, social and developmental psychology. It is the suggestion of this author that these two realities of psychological historiography are related, and not coincidental. To explore the possible reasons for this neglect, however, are beyond the scope of this paper.

William McDougall: Social Instincts and Self-Regarding Sentiment

William McDougall (1871-1938) was an English psychologist who became a professor at Harvard. He viewed himself as a disciple of William James, dedicating one of his books to him. McDougall shared with James a belief in instincts, broadly defined, as an internal source of human motivation. Indeed, it is McDougall’s investment in instinctual drives that obscures his affinity to several important humanistic principles. McDougall wrote one of two definitive books on social psychology published in 1908.

McDougall (1908) proposed a very experiential model of how an individual’s initial bodily sense of self or self-consciousness develops:

The conception of the bodily self is in large part dependent on the development of the conception of things as persistent realities of the external world; and the conception of those things is in turn completed by the projection into it of the idea of self as a centre of effort, a cause of movement and of resistance to pressure. (p. 188)

At first, the infant makes no distinction between the animate and inanimate objects with which he interacts. But in McDougall’s (1908) view, this gradually begins to change, with the infant’s interactions with other people and objects. A self-concept is further complicated by the child’s incorporation of these others ideas and feelings about him: that he is a “good boy,” “naughty boy” or “my sweet boy” (p. 191). The powerful influence others play on children and adults is driven in part for a desire for approval. To account for this, McDougall posited the existence of the self-regarding sentiment. He identified two aspects of this sentiment: pride and self-respect, the later reflecting a more complex sense of morality and related moral emotion.

Another factor driving individuals was identified by McDougall (1926) as active sympathy. He defines active sympathy as “that tendency to seek to share our emotions and feelings with others which, as we found, is rooted in primitive passive sympathy and in the gregarious instinct” (p. 206). McDougall regarded moral behavior on behalf of others that was motivated by a desire to please or not discomfort others as pseudo-altruism. Truly altruistic or self-sacrificial behavior can only occur when the self-regarding sentiment is extended to other, wider groups. This can only occur when the individual lends personal emotion to what may be an abstract sense of one’s nation or one’s fellow man.

While McDougall can be considered one of the fathers of social psychology, he also wrote extensively on personality. Like later humanistic psychologists, McDougall voiced a strong protest against the reductionism of behaviorists, going so far as to have a public debate with John Watson in 1924. While not everyone’s flavor of humanist (McDougall held some decidedly racist view), he figures into a continuity of humanistic thought nonetheless. If not quite reaching the magnitude of a third force, Gordon Allport and William McDougall represented a third perspective which was not beholden to either behaviorism or psychoanalysis. Nor was they alone in their protest.

The Humanism of Alfred Adler

The humanistic threads of self psychology, the psychology of personality, and social psychology all owed a debt to the work of William James. In contrast, a third thread of humanistic thinking emerged from modifications of the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud. The label of neo-Freudian does a disservice to the original contributions of figures like Alfred Adler, Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan, who all began to emphasize a more present-oriented and largely humanistic perspective on human nature. While it is understandable that such figures are usually discussed in history texts after Freud, doing so disguises the way in which their ideas fed, inspired, or paralleled those of the “founders” of humanistic psychology.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), an Austrian psychiatrist, was the first psychodynamic figure who clearly embodied the values commonly associated with the humanistic movement, including a more optimistic, rational and relational view of the human condition and its remedies. Adler broke with Freud in 1911 to form a rival school of therapy he called individual psychology. Some suggest that the English translation loses some of Adler’s original intent to emphasize his more holistic and unique sense of the individual self (Hoffman, 1994).

Historians might have readily deemed Adler a humanistic therapist with psychodynamic undercurrents, were it not for his having Freud as an early mentor. Adler creatively explored concepts of self-esteem and its opposite, coining the term inferiority complex in the process. He felt an individual’s relative self-esteem is largely dependent on his social interactions, making current relationships a key part of Adler’s theory. The parallels to William James’ discourse on the nature of selfhood are not often recognized. Adler talked about the self-concept, the self-ideal and the creative self, the latter delineating individuals’ ability to create or construct themselves. As such, he identified self-development as an appropriate therapeutic goal, as well as the individual’s increasing social interest in matters outside of him- or herself (Hoffman, 1994).

While there is no evidence that James was a direct influence on Alfred Adler’s ideas, Adler (1927) explicitly acknowledged there were important similarities to their ideas: “The nearest to the individual psychologists, and really their predecessors, are among the Americans—William James and Stanley Hall” (p. 121). His reference to James and Hall as predecessors to his viewpoint is worth underscoring. While James and Adler didn’t know one another, Adler and Hall would carry on an extensive correspondence (Ansbacher, 1971).

In terms of possible cross fertilization of humanistic ideas, an under-explored event is the International Symposium on Feelings and Emotions held in Springfield, Ohio in October 1927. Many of the key figures discussed in this article were present at that conference, including Alfred Adler, William McDougall, and William Stern, as well as a notable German gestalt psychologist named Karl Buhler (Hoffman, 1994).

Adler did not emerge out of the American humanism of James, Calkins and Allport, nor would all of his followers wholeheartedly join the Third Wave of the 1950s and 1960s. Nonetheless, a solid case can be made for his inclusion in the humanistic narrative of the history of psychology.  Central to this assertion is his apparent impact on the “big three” of the Third Wave: Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Rollo May.

Adler’s Impact on Rogers and Maslow

Cain (2001) noted that while Alfred Adler’s direct influence on figures like Maslow and Rogers seems minimal, his views anticipated many of their key principles. Cain included among these Adlerian concepts: experiential subjectivity, holism, self-determination, emphasis on meaning, existentialism, empathy, and the importance of the therapeutic alliance (pp. 15-16). But Adler’s direct influence on Rogers and Maslow may be greater than Cain allows.

Carl Rogers cannot be said to have been a disciple of Alfred Adler, but he did attend lectures by Adler and observed him conducting therapy with families during his 1927-28 clinical internship at the Institute for Child Guidance in New York City (Watts, 1998). Rogers noted

the impact of that experience, so in contrast to the psychoanalysis he’d been taught:

I was shocked by Dr. Adler’s very direct and deceptively simple manner of immediately relating to the child and the parent. It took me some time to realize how much I had learned from him. (as cited in Ansbacher, 1990, p. 47)

Watts (1998) makes the case that Rogers’ core concepts of empathy and unconditional regard greatly resemble Adler’s concept of social interest and the importance it played in personal development in general and in psychotherapy in particular.

Adler defined social interest or feeling in a number of ways, but most useful here is his 1927 use of a literary description: “To see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of heart of another” (as cited in Watts, 1998, p. 5).  Two years later, Adler would explicitly note the importance of the “unconditional expression of social interest on the part of the psychotherapist” towards his client (as cited in Watts, p. 6). It would also be hard to find a more poignant description of Rogers’ empathy, unconditional positive regard and the technique of reflective listening. It is also striking that Adler was expressing these concepts at precisely the time that Rogers had come to know him.

Abraham Maslow’s relationship with Alfred Adler was far more personal, intimate and ultimately intense. Evolving over a year and a half, from 1935 to 1937, Adler influenced Maslow’s emerging thinking, including introducing him to the concept and developmental ideal of social feeling. Ultimately, Maslow’s expression of a divergent point of view from his mentor led to Adler angrily breaking off the relationship in a striking parallel to how his relationship with Freud had ended. Adler died a few months later (Hoffman, 1988, 1994).

Maslow regretted how things ended between them and his appreciation for Adler’s ideas grew over the years.  “As the facts come in,” he wrote in 1970, “they give stronger and stronger support to his image of man … (and) his holistic emphasis.” (as cited in Ansbacher, 1990, p. 50).

One further linkage between Adler and the humanistic tradition must be noted. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Adlerian publication The Journal of Individual Psychology published several articles by Maslow and other humanistic therapists. While Adlerian therapists might or might not identify themselves as humanistic per se, there was a clear overlap of ideology and sympathies (Hoffman, 1994).

The Influence of Rank, Horney, Fromm and Sullivan

Other central figures emerging from a more holistic, present-oriented psychodynamic school of thought include Otto Rank, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm and Henry Stack Sullivan. What was the influence of these clinicians on the likes of pioneering humanists like Rollo May, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow? In the case of Rank and Horney, their debt is openly acknowledged.

As early as 1939, Rollo May credited the influence of Adler and Rank on his thinking; by 1950 he also referenced Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan (Hoffman, 2003). In his 1951 work, Client-Centered Psychotherapy, Rogers acknowledged the influence of Otto Rank (DeCarvalho, 1990; Hoffman, 2003). Two decades later, in 1975, Rogers spoke of the “quite Rankian” orientation at the Philadelphia School of Social Work, where he had worked early in his career and been lucky enough to attend a “fruitful” three day seminar by Rank. He concluded this recollection by declaring that “there’s no doubt that my ‘therapy’ was influenced by his thinking” (as cited in Evans, 1975, pp. 28-29).

As for Maslow, the budding humanist was inspired by conversations with Adler, Fromm and Horney, all of whom had fled the anti-Semitism of Germany for the safe harbor of New York City; a grateful Maslow recalled how he was there “when the wave of distinguished emigres arrived from Europe” (as cited in Maddi and Costa 2008, p. 130). During the same period he was associating with Adler, Maslow was also socializing with Erich Fromm and regularly attending lectures by Karen Horney. One example of the cross-fertilization of ideas was how much Maslow’s concept of self-actualization resembled Horney’s later notion of self-realization (D. Hoffman, 2003; E. Hoffman, 1988).

The work of Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) deserves more attention in a humanistic context. Like McDougall and Mead, Sullivan posited self-identities shaped by interpersonal relationships: the bad-me, the good-me and the not-me, this last associated with the unconscious. Indeed, he felt personality only manifested in an interpersonal context. In addition, Sullivan suggested a self-system of personal traits specific to the individual which often functioned as anxiety fighting mechanisms to protect that individual’s self-esteem. Sullivan also presumed psychological development into adulthood, as would both Erikson and Rogers. But any direct influence on those figures is not known (Evans, 1996).

Nonetheless, Sullivan’s ideas had a significant influence on developing psychologists, social workers and ministers. Those who hoped to practice in the field were able to obtain a certificate in applied psychiatry in the latter half of the 1940s through the Washington School of Psychiatry, which Sullivan had been instrumental in establishing (Evans, 1996).

As a significant transitional figure during this period, it is also important to consider how Gordon Allport may have figured into this rich mix of emerging humanistic constructs. It appears he may have been less impacted by this incoming wave of European thinkers than impactful on them. Allport has been cited as having had “a substantial influence” on Horney and Fromm (DeCarvalho, 1990, p. 34). In any case, cross currents between these important figures in 20th century psychology and psychotherapy are clear.

While outside the scope of this paper, the contributions of existential philosophers and psychologists to the humanistic project must also be acknowledged. Though existentialism as a therapeutic approach has been understandably linked with humanistic psychology, this important and often parallel movement only began to receive attention from Maslow and his fellows, with the close of the 1950s. Rollo May spearheaded a symposium on the topic at an APA convention in 1959 (DeCarvalho, 1990). Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning, published for the first time in English in the United States in 1959, would also have an impact on humanistic thinkers of the period.

The Organizing of Humanistic Psychology

It is hoped this discussion provides ample evidence of important precursors to the thinking of both Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who, for all their important innovations in the field, were building on well-tilled intellectual territory. Nor is this author the first to suggest that it is short-sighted to present them as creators of a movement. It is illustrative to note the thoughts of Salvatore Maddi and Paul Costa on this matter. In their Humanism in Personology: Allport, Maslow and Murray, Maddi and Costa (1972) offered this assessment:

It would be surprising to find humanism only now entering personology, with its history of 70 years or more as a formal discipline. Nevertheless, some third-force        adherents, carried away by their enthusiasm, invite one to believe that humanism in personology is new despite abundant evidence to the contrary. (p. 7)

Maddi and Costa go on to assert that Allport had been a strong proponent of humanistic constructs of personality since the 1930s. Commonalities in the theories of Allport, Maslow and Murray, in their view, included seeing human nature as fundamentally proactive, future-oriented and holistic in nature. Humanistic psychologists “thought that only when the inner core of human nature was released from internal and external controls and allowed full expression does one become fully functioning (Rogers), self-actualizing (Maslow), functionally autonomous (Allport), and authentic (May and Bugental)” (DeCarvalho, 1990, p. 35). Maddi and Costa (1972) suggested that Maslow was uniquely situated to help crystallize a more vital and organized humanistic movement within psychology.

DeCarvalho (1990) identified Rollo May, Carl Rogers, Henry Murray and Abraham Maslow as four of seven key figures in the “institutionalization of humanistic psychology” (p. 23). Beginning with a mailing list of humanistically inclined psychologists that was Maslow began compiling in 1954 gradually crystallized into the launching of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1961. The fact that one of the proposed names for the journal was Self-Psychology (DeCarvalho, 1990) underscores a conceptual lineage going back to James and Calkins. That same year, in January, Maslow, Rogers and other like-minded individuals met at the University of Florida for the First Annual Conference on Personality Theory and Counseling Practice (Hoffman, 1988). From the start of the more formal movement, the kinship between personality research and humanistic psychotherapy was recognized.

Adlerian scholar, Heinz L. Ansbacher noted that Maslow, when first articulating a sense of humanistic psychology as a Third Force, explicitly included Adlerians as part of that movement. As arguably the most prominent representative of contemporary Adlerian psychology, Ansbacher was invited to be a founding sponsor of the American Association for Humanistic Psychology (AAHP) in 1963.

A conference of the new association was held in Old Saybrook, Connecticut in November 1964 and included Carl Rogers and Gordon Allport, who had finally lent his name and empirical authority to the group (DeCarvalho, 1990). Other attendees included Charlotte Buhler, George Kelly and Henry Murray (Evans, 1975; Hoffman, 1988). Buhler’s creative work on self-actualization has been generally neglected, as has her leadership role in the movement as an early president of the AAHP.  The establishment of the AAHP brings this historical narrative to its close with the exception of one glimpse into the movement’s influence in the future.

The humanistic construct of self-actualization figured prominently in what can be called the identity-oriented psychologies of the 1970s and 1980s. Maslow (1954) argued that mature individuals who achieved self-actualization would share certain characteristics, among them acceptance of self and others, a related sense of shared identity with humanity, a capacity for interpersonal intimacy, a personal spirituality, and a creativity that allowed for non-conformity. While Maslow didn’t stress the cultural factors that might inhibit such self-actualization, others would. For members of non-dominant groups, part of increasing one’s realistic orientation as Maslow put it would be the recognition of the role dominant culture played in keeping them conforming and unaware. A final stage in identity development models for such individuals was their adoption of a healthy group identity as a self-affirming woman, African American, or gay or lesbian individual and often included a commitment to their own and wider communities (Cass, 1979; Cross, 1995; Downing & Roush, 1985). This final stage seemed nothing less than a shift from self-preoccupation, which could risk narcissism if taken to extreme, to the more fully realized social interest of Alfred Adler. A more far reaching history of humanistic psychology in the age of multi-culturalism, however, must await a future paper.

Olaf Millert: My Link in the History of Humanistic Psychology

An essentially genealogical study of psychological ideas may beg the question of where the author falls on this family tree and how that might in turn impact his analysis. In my case, my own training and practice led me to adopt a psychotherapy that is a blend of humanistic and cognitive behavioral principles. That said, my heart has always been pulled towards William James and his intellectual progeny and I engineered my own humanistic protest at my heavily behaviorist graduate program. I earned my one and only C there by arguing for the validity of the construct of personality, in a paper for the program’s Personality course!

My love of the history of psychology I can attribute directly to a wonderful professor at St. Olaf College. Standing ramrod straight and sporting a faded dueling scar, Olaf Millert mesmerized me with tales of the great figures in psychology and his own time as a student of Gordon Allport. In some small way, having been a student of Dr. Millert’s allows me to feel a part of the great current of psychological humanism. It is with great respect and sincere affection that I dedicate this paper to the late and very fondly remembered Olaf Millert.

Mark Carlson-Ghost 

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Mark Carlson-Ghost, Ph.D.

Presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention

August, 8, 2014


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