Knowledge Base of Psychology

Occupational Therapy in relation to Humanistic Psychology

The History of Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is the general belief that people are innately good and that mental and social problems result from deviations from this natural tendency. It looks at the person in a holistic view and takes into consideration factors such as a persons environment and potential to grow as an individual ( It first emerged during the early 1950's as a response to two more traditional views, psychoanalysis and behaviorism. While other psychological views might have a more objective view of people (ex. what the person is like), humanistic psychology focuses more on understanding peoples subjectivity (ex. what it is like to be that person).

Two people that are widely considered to have helped establish this humanistic approach are psychologists, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. In 1951, Carl Rogers published a book called Client-Centered Therapy, which described his humanistic, client-directed approach to therapy. Roger's believed believed that people could fulfill their potential growth if they had a positive self regard , or a positive view of themselves (Psychlotron). In order to attain this positive self regard, a person must have the unconditional self regard of others, or the feeling that they are valued and respected without reservation by those around them. In simpler test, in order for a person to having any feeling of self worth they must first feel the approval and respect of the people around them. The most common problem with this, in Roger's eyes, was that most people don't see the positive regard of others as being unconditional; they feel that they will only be truly loved if they meet certain conditions of worth (behaving well, getting good grades, etc). No matter they do, it isn't good enough and until they are able to overcome this mindset they will not be able to reach their fullest potential. During Roger's client-directed approach, he had his clients be supported with unconditional positive self regard in therapy and hopes that it would create..

During the late 1950's, Abraham Maslow and other psychologists met to discuss the development that would take a more humanistic approach to psychology. They took into consideration factors such as self-actualization, creativity and individuality. This lead to the eventual establishment of the American Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1961. A year later, Maslow published Toward a Psychology of Being, in which he described humanistic psychology as the "third force" in psychology (the first and second force being behaviorism and psychoanalysis). In comparison to Rogers, who believed that people needed unconditional positive self regard, Maslow held the view that people have a variety of needs that differ in immediacy and which need satisfying at different times (Psycholotron). He arranged these needs in a pyramidal hierarchy starting with the more basic needs such as breathing, food, sleep, sex, water, etc. A person is not able to fulfill their fullest potential until all of their needs are satisfied, a rare and remarkable accomplishment.

Picture below: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (picture from

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Occupational Therapy and Humanistic Psychology

How exactly does Occupational Therapy relate to humanistic psychology? One notion that is commonly confused with any type of therapy is that it only includes the rehabilitation of the body and any physical disabilities. While this is true, it also includes the treatment and/or maintenance any mental or developmental conditions that a patient might have. Occupational therapy believes in treating the whole person, whether the primary problem relates to physical or mental health. Occupational therapy workers help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). These occupations, also known as ADL's (activities of daily living) include even the simplest of tasks. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and proving supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes ( Working on these cognitive changes, whether they are in younger or older patients, is what links occupational therapy to psychology. In order to best assist a patient, an occupational therapist must have an adequate knowledge of basic psychological principles while also taking into consideration the things that make each individual patient unique. They must be looked at both objectively and subjectively, as the consideration of all factors are important when working to improve, maintain or restore their physical and mental functioning.

Occupational therapy's emergence can be far as far back as the 18th century Europe, a time when mentally ill people were treated like prisoners. A more "moral treatment" began to evolve, which encouraged kindness and the therapeutic value of engagement in purposeful activities as opposed to punishment, brutality and idleness. Working with a patient with a mental health condition requires a variety of different assessments in which as much information should be obtained. The end result is the occupational profile, which is then used for goal-setting and treatment planning (Psychcentral). Some common areas of assessment include:

  • ADL's (bathing, dressing, eating)
  • Instrumental activities of daily living (driving, money management, shopping)
  • Education
  • Work
  • Leisure
  • Social Participation
  • Motor processing skills
  • Mental and cognitive processing skills
  • Communication and interaction skills
  • Habits, roles and routines
  • Client factors (difficulties due to body structure or functions)
  • Occupational self-assessment

As you can see, a wide range of different factors are considered when assessing a patient. Similar to humanistic psychology, there is a holistic view about each individual simply because everyone is unique and different in one way or another.

In conclusion

While other psychological approaches take a more objective view of a person (ex. what they are like), humanistic psychology focuses more on a person's subjectivity (ex. what is it like to be this person). Humanistic psychologists start from the assumption that every person has their own unique way of perceiving and understanding the world around them (Psychlotron). Each branch of psychology contributes to the understanding of the human mind, and humanistic psychology has done just that with its more holistic view of the individual. Its relation to occupational therapy is that in order to treat a patient, a holistic view must also be factored in. All avenues must be addressed because each person is different and may a different view of the world around them. What works for one person may not work for another...

References (2013). What is Humanistic Psychology? The Association for Humanistic Psychology. Retrieved from (2014). About Occupational Therapy: What is Occupational Therapy? Retrieved from

Jackman, Monica (2013). Occupational Therapy and Mental Health. Retrieved from

Sammons, Aldan. The Humanistic Apprach: The Basics. Approaches to Psychology.