Smart Thinking: The Humanist Approach to Addiction and Our Heritage in Psychology

By Werner, Michael | The Humanist, May-June 2015 | Go to article overview

Smart Thinking: The Humanist Approach to Addiction and Our Heritage in Psychology


Werner, Michael, The Humanist


JUST ABOUT every week for the past twenty-five years you could (and still can) find me volunteering to help those with addictions by offering secular, scientifically based alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its offshoots. I have seen incredible transformations by hundreds who have successfully overcome the slavery of addiction, but this work has also transformed me. It has renewed my faith in the potential for change in all of us, the inherent worth of every person, and my certainty that we are not powerless. I have seen those who even I had given up on suddenly "get it," recover, and radically transform their lives. (I never give up on anyone anymore.) Traditional religious concepts of epiphany, redemption, rebirth, and salvation have secular meanings in these cases.

Psychology, not theology, is the heart of humanistic therapy, and humanists have a rich history within the field. Sigmund Freud sought a scientific description of behavior and saw that "religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis." Since then, we find that virtually all the important figures in psychology were informed by their humanism. The following is a pantheon of prominent humanist forerunners in psychology, including the year they received the Humanist of the Year award from the American Humanist Association (AHA).

   Carl Rogers (1964), the founder of humanistic psychology, said of
   life: "It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and
   more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It
   means launching oneself fully into the stream of life."

   Psychoanalyst and philosopher Eric Fromm (1966) saw freedom as an
   aspect of human nature that we either embrace or escape.

   Abraham Maslow (1967), best known for creating his hierarchy of
   needs, asked what makes a healthy, flourishing human being.

   Pediatrician Benjamin Spock (1968) studied psychoanalysis and
   called for more loving and less authoritarian methods in child
   rearing.

   Albert Ellis (1971), founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy
   (REBT) and, indirectly, cognitive behavioral therapy, saw, as the
   Stoics did, that our ideas form much of our emotions, and our
   emotions direct our behavior. Learning to think rationally can then
   alleviate much of our harmful feelings and behaviors.

   Behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1972) tried to understand behavior as
   resulting from reinforcing consequences.

   Thomas Szasz (1973), a psychiatrist, warned of the dangers of
   coercive methods of control.

   Experimental psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker (2006) has
   tackled many areas, including how we are a complex mixture of
   nature and nurture, and, more recently, how modernism is actually
   making the world safer and less violent. … 

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