Practicing What We Preach in Humanistic and Positive

Practicing What We Preach in Humanistic and Positive

psychologists but seem not to trouble positive psychologists. He similarly argued that they dif- fer in their epistemology because their adher- ents read separate literatures. Last, Waterman argued that their approaches to practical appli- cations differ in that humanistic psychothera- pies typically emphasize the value of working in the present, while positive psychotherapies typically emphasize using specific intervention techniques. Even if any of these generalizations might be true or somewhat true, how would they demonstrate irreconcilable differences rather than, more simply, just differences?

In fact, his last argument of irreconcil- able differences pertaining to practical appli- cations is especially curious, as Waterman (2013) illustrated his point with a specific intervention favored by positive psychology, namely, promoting mindfulness. However, focusing on experience in the present, which he attributed to humanistic psychology, is essentially the same as using mindfulness techniques (Friedman, 2010). There are other contradictions mentioned by Waterman, such as his linking the notion of a “true self” with positive psychology—and arguing that hu- manistic psychologists would reject this con- struct. In fact, the conjecture of a true self is central to many humanistic psychology the- ories (e.g., Friedman, 1983) and something I think most positive psychologists would, in- stead of accepting, soundly reject. In his dis- cussion of the true self, Waterman argued that integrating the humanistic and positive psychology perspectives would require rec- onciling in ways seldom attempted, as if rar- ity supports the contention that these are ir- reconcilable. Likewise, Waterman dismissed reconciling qualitative and quantitative re- search, despite admitting that they are com- plementary, by arguing that few psychology research efforts employ mixed methods, which again does not support that humanistic and positive psychology are incommensu- rate. Perhaps Waterman’s clinching argu- ment is that an integration of the two would require a desire on the part of humanistic and positive psychology researchers to address issues relevant to both sides of their divide. Once more, this surely does not support his central contention of an incommensurable di- vide, and, as a counterexample, I might men- tion that much of my recent research (e.g., Needham-Penrose & Friedman, 2012) has specifically been oriented to bridging this rift.

In conclusion, Waterman (2013) has provided some broad-brush generalizations about differences between humanistic psy- chology and positive psychology, many of which do not hold in all cases, and he has pointed out some difficulties that would be involved in reconciling them. However, he has not presented any convincing argument that the two are irreconcilable. Essentially,

Waterman has confounded difficulties with impossibilities by concluding these are in- commensurate. Worse, the founding of pos- itive psychology involved a political agenda in attacking its own precursor, and this article subtly continues that founding tradition. In contrast, humanistic psychology has tried to be conciliatory in the face of the lambasting given it by positive psychology, as exempli- fied by the plea of a prominent humanistic psychologist in an article aptly subtitled “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?” (Sch- neider, 2011). Although Waterman pro- claimed that humanistic and positive psy- chology should abandon hope for any reconciliation and, instead, should operate as independent silos, he offered only evidence that bringing them together would have some difficulties. I have argued elsewhere in great detail how these difficulties could be sur- mounted (e.g., Friedman, 2008, 2013), and in examining many of the same concerns as Waterman did, I drew the opposite conclu- sion, namely, that humanistic and positive psychology are commensurate and, for a va- riety of reasons, should be reconciled.


Friedman, H. (1983). The Self-Expansiveness Level Form: A conceptualization and mea- surement of a transpersonal construct. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 15, 37–50.

Friedman, H. (2008). Humanistic and positive psychology: The methodological and epis- temological divide. The Humanistic Psy- chologist, 36, 113–126. doi:10.1080/ 08873260802111036

Friedman, H. (2010). Is Buddhism a psychol- ogy? Commentary on romanticism in “Mind- fulness in Psychology”. The Humanistic Psy- chologist, 38, 184 –189. doi:10.1080/ 08873267.2010.485899

Friedman, H. (2013). Reconciling humanistic and positive psychology: Bridging the cultural rift. Self & Society, 40(2), 21–25.

Needham-Penrose, J., & Friedman, H. (2012). Moral identity versus moral reasoning in reli- gious conservatives: Do Christian evangelical leaders really lack moral maturity? The Hu- manistic Psychologist, 40, 343–363. doi: 10.1080/08873267.2012.724256

Schneider, K. J. (2011). Toward a humanistic positive psychology: Why can’t we just get along? Existential Analysis, 22, 32–38.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduc- tion. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

Waterman, A. S. (2013). The humanistic psycholo- gy–positive psychology divide: Contrasts in philosophical foundations. American Psycholo- gist, 68, 124–133. doi:10.1037/a0032168

Correspondence concerning this comment should be addressed to Harris Friedman, Depart- ment of Psychology, University of Florida, 1270

Tom Coker Road, LaBelle, FL 33935. E-mail:

DOI: 10.1037/a0034868

Practicing What We Preach in Humanistic and Positive


Scott D. Churchill University of Dallas

Christopher J. Mruk Bowling Green State University

After presenting his assessment and some evidence concerning what may be under- stood as an insurmountable divide between them, Alan Waterman (April 2013) con- cluded that it is best for humanistic and positive psychologists to “look for those occasions on which mutual benefit is pos- sible, and get on with respective projects, with as few recriminations as possible coming from either side” (p. 131). Al- though such a recommendation may be preferable to some alternatives, there are at least two problems with this position. One is that there is more evidence for an opti- mistic conclusion than meets the eye in the Waterman article, and the other is that such a decidedly pessimistic position runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is true that the logical positivism un- derlying positive psychology is clearly and irrevocably at odds with the existential-phe- nomenological foundations of the humanistic position in their most radical or pure forms. However, it can also be argued that such differences largely occur at the theoretical level rather than at applied levels. Although the early founders of positive psychology took an unfortunately dismissive stance to- ward their humanistic forebears (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), what can be called “second-generation” positive psychologists are much more open to genuine dialogue with humanistic psychology (Mruk, 2013). For example, positive psychologists Linley and Joseph (2004) reached a conclusion very different from Waterman’s when they wrote,

Humanistic psychology is a broad church, and there are parts of it we would not recognize as positive psychology; but in our view, the ideas of the main humanistic psychology writ- ers . . . deserve to be set center stage within positive psychology. Theirs was an empirical stance, explicitly research based. . . . We ought to respect this lineage, and we encour- age those who are not familiar with this earlier work to visit it. (p. 365)

Similarly, although there certainly are hu- manistic and existential psychologists who sharply distinguish their work from the log-

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