The Third Force

At mid-century, there were two dominant theories in psychology: the behavioral approach carried forward by Hull and Skinner, and the highly speculative theories of the Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.

Freud is discussed in detail in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories). He believed that psychological problems could often be traced to childhood sexual conflicts over such issues as breastfeeding, toilet training, and sexual jealousy centered on the parents. Psychologists still teach about Freudian theory because it played an important role in the history of psychology, inspiring many different opposing theories. However, a 1999 review article by Robins, Gosling, and Craik (1999) found that Freudian theory itself had almost disappeared from mainstream psychology journals. Freud's works are best considered literature and history at this point, not modern psychology

How did many American psychologists choose "neither"?

Faced in the 1940s and 1950s with a choice between (1) Freudian theory, with its emphasis on unconscious sexual motives, and (2) behaviorism, which refused to deal with mental processes, increasing numbers of American psychologists chose neither. They began looking for a third alternative.

Where did "third force" psychology get its name?

In the early 1960s, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and several other psychologists proclaimed an alternative to the two main theories then dominating psychology (Freudian theory and behavioral theory). They called it "third force" psychology, also known as humanistic psychology.

Although we do not have a chapter titled "Humanistic Psychology," Part Three of Chapter 9 (Motivation) is devoted to Maslow's theory, and Part Two of Chapter 13 (Therapies) includes the ideas of Carl Rogers. Both were key figures in the Third Force movement.

Humanistic or Third Force psychology focuses on inner needs, fulfillment, the search for identity, and other distinctly human concerns. It is less concerned with doing research on human behavior than with describing its meaning and purpose. Phrases like human potential and self actualization are associated with humanistic psychology.

Humanistic psychology should not be confused with secular humanism, the anti-religious philosophy often attacked by evangelical Christians. Humanistic psychologists respected religious feelings, although they often embraced Eastern philosophies and other belief systems that were unusual for the West in the early 1960s.

When did humanistic psychology peak? What are modern descendants of it?

In some respects humanistic psychology peaked in the 1960s. Maslow published an influential book about humanistic psychology, Toward a Psychology of Being, in 1962. In 1967, Maslow was elected president of the APA (American Psychological Association). Today, graduate schools of psychology specializing in humanistic psychology still exist, but they are not as common as they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Transpersonal psychology is a modern version of humanistic psychology, dealing with existential issues that go beyond the individual human being. Other intellectual descendents of humanistic psychology exist mostly outside of academic psychology. Examples are the human potential and New Age movements, as well as the holistic medicine movement.

Psychologists are divided on the merits of the human potential and holistic medicine movements. Gibbons (1979), who started the APA's Division of Humanistic Psychology, referred to his disappointment with "hucksters and charlatans" in the human potential movement, while approving of scholars who followed in Maslow's tradition.

The Third Force movement was successful in an important way: its core values, such as respect for human dignity and the importance of personal growth, became shared by almost all psychologists, not just those who called themselves humanistic psychologists. The ideas are also popular with large segments of the public. Theories such as Maslow's form the basis of many popular books about how to live a happier and more fulfilling life.


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