Behavioral and Humanistic Approaches in Psychology


Various aspects of human relationships promoted in the modern world are based on certain principles and approaches to the perception of reality and the assessment of factors affecting this perception. Behavioral characteristics are the result of various reasons, for instance, accumulated experiences, internal beliefs, and other causes. In the era of individualism and the desire for personal comfort and well-being, humanistic norms of communication among people are erased, which complicates interaction in society and does not allow solving many problems quickly and jointly.

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As a result, the principles of interpersonal communication are based on the extraction of individual benefits, and such a worldview separates people from one another. Today, when much depends on mass opinions, behavioral aspects are the key factor determining the position of a person in society. Humanist norms, in turn, serve as an incentive for establishing positive interaction and help achieve mutual understanding and support. Both behavioral and humanistic approaches are drivers for the formation of a specific picture of society and contribute to a better understanding of the motives of certain actions.

Behavioral Approaches

Behavioral approaches are those aspects that are largely based on the use of psychological techniques and methods to influence specific motives or the pursuit of peculiar goals. Vyskocilova et al. (2016) give an example from medical practice and note that such principles of psychological influence are often promoted in the psychiatry sector, for instance, for addressing patient stresses. The features of perception directly depend on how a person accepts his or her current state psychologically, and an opportunity to influence one’s belief is the principle of behavioral intervention. As a result, as Vyskocilova et al. (2016) note, effective interaction with patients allows medical employees to minimize the manifestations of negative emotions and stresses in the target audience and exclude behavioral disorders. Such examples are numerous, and the background of these interventions lies in the cognitive characteristics of personal development.

The concept of the behavioral approach can be substantiated from a theoretical point of view as a set of external influences and responses to them. King (2017) states that this psychological method “emphasizes the scientific study of observable behavioral responses and their environmental determinants” (p. 11). Psychologists belonging to the category of behaviorists study the features of motives that prompt a person to take specific actions and explore the methods of influencing these motives to adjust cognitive preferences. The detailed analysis allows developing the most detailed scenario for the occurrence of a symptom described in observable and measurable terms.

Triggering and symptom-supporting factors are also analyzed to draw up and implement a step-by-step plan of action in both joint and independent work regimes. According to Vyskocilova et al. (2016), target participants in such interventions have an opportunity to feel the reasons that hinder their objective or natural worldview and acquire new skills to help get rid of specific negative preferences. This practice is promoted in many psychological correctional centers and has a number of unique approaches designed to address certain violations in people’s cognitive perception.

Behavioral approaches in psychology occupy a significant place and serve as valuable tools for interventions involving the addressing of patients’ various disorders and addictions. Vyskocilova et al. (2016) argue that appropriate assistance techniques help restore lost value priorities and choose personal interaction strategies individually. For the human mind, such an outcome is optimal since not the consequences of irrational behavior are corrected but symptoms themselves, which contributes to avoiding relapses and helps establish productive communication. In addition, addressing psychological problems by using behavioral approaches allows solving related problems, which is a chain reaction. As King (2017) remarks, the observation of human habits provides an opportunity to better understand the nature of specific actions and their motives. Therefore, the application of such approaches is relevant to the field of psychology and can be used as a valuable technique for helping patients with real problems.

Humanistic Approaches

According to humanistic views, human life is priceless, and particularly vulnerable groups of the population need protection. In practical psychology, such approaches are most expressed in psychotherapy, in helping people who find themselves in a difficult situation and in relieving them of mental pain and solving their problems. The ethical principles of interaction form a stable background according to which a service provider is an unconditional guarantee of safety for the target audience. As Bowers and Lemberger (2016) state, humanistic approaches, as a rule, are persona-centered and allow creating a productive framework for interaction in different social sectors.

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The authors note that, despite the lack of evidence-based research on the benefits of such approaches, much attention is paid to the ethical aspects of the psychologists-population relationships (Bowers & Lemberger, 2016). Therefore, although qualitative studies prevail over quantitative ones, the value of humanistic approaches is considered in the context of successful interventions from an ethical perspective.

The special nuances of humanistic approaches distinguish these forms of interaction from many other psychological concepts. Despite their personal orientation, these practices differ from those promoting the idea of a behavioral background. According to Noer (2017), “observed behavior is incompatible with humanistic values” because, in the first case, any intervention is aimed at eliminating symptoms, and in the second, self-adaption is promoted (p. 109). With a humanistic approach, a psychotherapist accepts clients’ positions unconditionally, which is expressed, in particular, in empathic listening and emotional support.

No pressure or strict prescriptions are maintained, and the pursuit of understanding is a fundamental area of ​​work. Humanism prohibits imposing a particular worldview, coercion, strict limits, or manipulation. Conversely, a person’s individual value is emphasized as a key component of interventions. Inner harmony is one of the ultimate goals of approaches promoting humanism. Thus, the correction regime is soft and unobtrusive and does not stimulate fundamental changes in the psyche and worldview.

Regarding the areas of the application of humanistic approaches, different social areas may be proposed. Bowers and Lemberger (2016) focus on the educational sector and note that in the context of psychological assistance, a humanistic technique of interacting with the target audience is one of the most optimal mechanisms. Encouraging academic success and respecting students’ personal priorities and preferences stimulate their interest in learning and help them focus on achieving their ultimate goals (Bowers & Lemberger, 2016). Strictness and inflexibility, conversely, impede the process of interaction and are reflected negatively on the learning outcomes (Bowers & Lemberger, 2016).

Humanistic approaches as the principles of promoting freedom in the choice of worldview give psychologists an opportunity to establish contact with clients and discourage disagreements concerning the modes of intervention. When paying attention to the preferences of the target audience, specialists create a productive environment for the exchange of experience. The main achievements are due to clients’ personal initiatives that are enhanced by confidence in individual capabilities. Therefore, humanistic approaches are the convenient mechanisms of psychological impacts due to minimizing practical interventions and promoting individual values.

Similarities and Differences

When comparing behavioral and humanistic approaches, one can note some similarities in these principles. Firstly, in both techniques, person-centered interaction norms are advanced, which contributes to establishing close contact. Secondly, achieving individual harmony is the ultimate goal of these principles, and minimizing negative stressors is promoted. Nevertheless, despite these similarities, some differences are observed not only in the specifics of work but also in the mechanisms of influence. For behavioral approaches, addressing symptoms is a key activity, while humanistic practices suggest the absence of any restrictions or prescriptions.

Also, for behavior correction, practical interventions are the most common, and in the interaction of psychologists and clients on a humanistic level, psycho-emotional interaction is the basic technique. Thus, despite their similar nature, behavioral and humanistic approaches have different goals and distinctive principles of implementation.

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Behavioral and humanistic approaches are valuable psychological techniques that allow understanding the nature of certain disorders or stresses and contribute to the effective correction of clients’ psycho-emotional states. Each of the two principles of interaction has unique working methods and promotes unique schemes for establishing communication. Behavioral approaches focus on addressing symptoms in order to eradicate them. Humanistic practices imply abandoning strict regulations and prescriptions and promote respect for the personality in order to realize one’s individual value. The two categories of approaches under consideration may be used for different purposes and can be utilized as productive intervention mechanisms.


Bowers, H., & Lemberger, M. E. (2016). A person-centered humanistic approach to performing evidence-based school counseling research. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 15(1), 55-66. Web.

King, L. A. (2017). The science of psychology: An appreciative view (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Noer, D. (2017). Humanistic consulting: Its history, philosophy and power for organizations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Vyskocilova, J., Prasko, J., Ociskova, M., Sedlackova, Z., Slepecky, M., Hruby, R.,… Marketa, M. (2016). Cognitive behavioral approaches to coping with suffering and hardship. European Psychiatry, 33, S697. Web.

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