Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Humanism as Ideological Rebellion: Deconstructing the Dualisms of Contemporary Mental Health Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Humanism as Ideological Rebellion: Deconstructing the Dualisms of Contemporary Mental Health Culture

Article excerpt

Humanistic thought has been oppressed by the dominant forces of contemporary mental health culture. The author argues that the rebellious essence of humanism must be incited to counter these reductive ideologies that have monopolized our times. A critical appraisal of the philosophical dualisms that support the prevailing mechanistic vision of human nature is elaborated, and the implications of this critique for a renewed humanistic rebellion are discussed.


Humanistic theory has many unique features, such as free will, holism, and personal growth, that differentiate it from other counseling orientations (Davidson, 2000; Halling & Nill, 1995; Hansen, 2005a; Matson, 1971; Sass, 1989). Arguably, however, there is another inherent characteristic of humanism that makes it somewhat distinct from competing theoretical systems. This unique feature is not a core assumption of humanistic ideology, but the spirit that propelled humanism to the center of the counseling profession during the mid-20th century. This underlying spirit, I contend, is the essentially rebellious nature of the humanistic movement.

Historically, humanism emerged as a theoretical protest against reductive ideologies (Matson, 1971). Maverick theorists, such as Rogers (1951) and Maslow (1968), rejected psychoanalysis and behaviorism, the dominant counseling orientations of the time, because of the reductive nature of these orientations. Rather than reducing persons to stimulus-response contingencies or psychic structures, humanism, or third force psychology, advocated that the total, unreduced person should be appreciated and encountered during the counseling process (Hansen, 2005a). This position represented a strong rebellious stance against the dominant scientific-reductive ideologies of the time.

As humanism became a mainstream orientation, this rebellious essence gradually faded and became less of a central feature of humanistic identity. Humanism, once a defiant underground movement, became a core counseling orientation. However, I maintain that contemporary mental health culture desperately needs to revive the rebellious core of humanism for at least two reasons. First, modern mental health culture has become increasingly dominated by ideologies that are antithetical to humanism, such as descriptive diagnostics (Hansen, 2003), biological psychiatry (Barney, 1994; Chodoff, 2002; Hansen, in press-b), and empirically supported treatments (Chambless & Hollon, 1998). Therefore, the current mental health zeitgeist bears a strong resemblance to the conditions that originally gave rise to humanism. Second, many of the original arguments made by humanistic theorists half a century ago have been fortified by recent advances in counseling theory and philosophy. Humanists now have a much stronger intellectual foundation on which to launch a rebellion than they did during the mid-20th century when third force psychology first emerged. Unfortunately, however, these philosophical and theoretical insights have generally not been integrated into humanistic thought.

The purpose of this article, then, is to integrate intellectual insights that have occurred since the original humanistic revolution into modern day humanism in order to provide a solid intellectual foundation for the rebellious essence of humanistic thought to reemerge in contemporary mental health culture. Because the original humanistic revolution was staged in the context of particular philosophical dualisms, these dualisms are revisited in light of conceptual advances that have been made in the latter part of the 20th century. To accomplish these goals, this article is organized according to the following structure: evolution of mental health culture, deconstructing philosophical dualisms, discussion and conclusions.


For centuries, dating back to the establishment of the first "insane asylums" in the United States, mental health culture has alternated between psychosocial and biologically based understandings of psychological suffering (Shorter, 1997). …

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