Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

A Historical Review and Contemporary Reassessment of Free Will Concepts in Psychological Humanism and Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

A Historical Review and Contemporary Reassessment of Free Will Concepts in Psychological Humanism and Counseling

Article excerpt

The authors review the history of the concept of freedom in humanistic counseling theory and present a contemporary rationale for including certain negative implications of existential indeterminate free will in the theoretical foundations of the profession. Implications for counseling and a table of definitions that clarifies unique constructs are included.


Psychological humanism came into existence as a causal paradigm that challenged the biological/psychic determinism of psychoanalysis and the reductionism and mechanistic determinism of behaviorism (Hansen, 2005a). Since that time, the term free will has been consistently characterized in the literature as a component of various existential, phenomenological, and humanist paradigms (Delprato, 2003; Hansen, 2000, 2005a). However, genuine indeterminate free will, philosophically defined as "the will's alleged independence of antecedent psychological and physiological conditions" (Runes, 1962, p. 112), has never constituted a causal component in a major theory of counseling and psychology, including humanism (Morganstein, 1974; Roediger, Goode, & Zaromb, 2008). Instead, historically, humanist counseling embraced free will that was conceived of as self-determinism or "decision independent of external constraint but in accordance with the inner motives and goals of the actor" (Runes, 1962, p. 112; Wilks, 2003, 2004).

Recently, however, indeterminate free will has been revisited by a number of researchers (Baer, Kaufman, & Baumeister, 2008; Phemister, 2001), and the growing body of revisitation literature includes data (Libet, 2001; Ratheal & Wilks, 2006) supporting the inclusion in counseling theory of both the construct of event-causal self-determinism and the construct of genuine, agent-causal free will. (Philosophical terms are defined in Table 1.) In this article, we (a) trace and critique the philosophical causal assumptions of humanism, (b) argue for humanism's inclusion of the negative side of its philosophical existential free will roots (Hansen, 2005b; Wilks, 2003) in its theory base as a complement to the positive freedom of goal-directed self-determinism, and (c) reiterate the Wilks and Ratheal (2009) theory of unidirectional free will as an effective causal construct in counseling theory.


In relation to the counseling profession, existentialism has been considered to be a sound theoretical base (Ginter, 1996), and humanist counseling theory has been described as a mixture of philosophical assumptions drawn from existentialism and phenomenology. However, in the selectivity process, darker conceptual elements (e.g., despair, meaninglessness, the absurdity of life and death) that were associated with genuine indeterminate free will and advocated by existential writers such as Sartre (1938/1959) and Camus (1955) were excluded from the emerging theoretical system. Hansen (2005b) wrote,

   Humanism is a unique distillation of the existentialist and
   phenomenological systems (Hansen, 2000). From existentialism,
   humanism borrowed an emphasis on human freedom. The gloomier
   aspects of existentialism, such as the focus on death, were not
   incorporated into humanistic theory. From phenomenology, humanism
   gained an appreciation for conscious experience and human
   subjectivity. (p. 5)

Wilks (2003) also addressed the absence of certain bleak existential perspectives in counseling theory. She pointed out that humanism included positive existential freedom (self-determinism) but excluded negative aspects such as Sartre's (1938/1959) view of agent-causal, responsibility-producing free will as a state of existence in which humans are condemned to be free to choose their own moral or immoral essence in a world in which there are no a priori values. In contrast, humanist counseling theory did not adopt and build upon a theoretical foundation of nonbeing, nihilism, or perspectives that focused on meaninglessness or valueless nothingness. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.