Humanistic and Existential Theories of Abnormality

Humanistic and existential theories of abnormality involve the idea that individuals feel pressure and stress with confirming to society’s rules, which causes them to be unable to achieve their desires, leading to abnormal functioning. Various humanistic theories include Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Carl Rogers’ self-actualization concept.

Carl Rogers is one of the most well known proponents for humanistic therapy. He believed that if societal pressures were removed, individuals would grow happily and achieve self-actualization – true meaning in the world. However, individuals in society faced with the burdens and constrictions placed upon them may have a distorted view of themselves and lose touch with their own needs and desires. Through his client-centred therapy, Rogers helps people realize their own needs and break free from outside pressure.

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Similarly, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that a person’s needs range from the most basic needs, such as food and water, to the higher-order needs, including self-actualization and meaning in life. The higher-order needs can only be achieved when the lower-order needs are met, and if these lower needs are not met, a person can be faced with distress and anxiety.


Image credit: J. Finkelstein

The humanistic and existential theories of abnormality hold strong in psychological treatment due to the positive mentality behind individuals taking control of their lives, loving themselves, and realizing their own strength and potential. However, a negative aspect of this approach is that it is very difficult to study scientifically in research.

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