Unifying Liberation Psychology and Humanistic Values to Promote Social Justice in Counseling

By Chavez, Tom A.; Fernandez, Ivelisse Torres et al. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Unifying Liberation Psychology and Humanistic Values to Promote Social Justice in Counseling


Chavez, Tom A., Fernandez, Ivelisse Torres, Hipolito-Delgado, Carlos P., Rivera, Edil Torres, Journal of Humanistic Counseling


The unification of liberation psychology and humanistic values can provide counselors with a powerful tool for promoting social justice in counseling. In this article, the authors present and compare the principles of each theory. A discussion is delineated on how unifying liberation psychology and humanistic values may promote a comprehensive understanding of human concerns.

Keywords: liberation psychology, humanistic counseling, social justice, oppression

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Euro-American philosophy and natural-scientific psychology have immensely influenced how we understand the human mind and behavior. They have impacted the worldviews of not only helping professions in Western societies, but also professionals of other countries around the globe. However, dissatisfaction among Western and non-Western psychologists led to critiques stemming from traditional psychology's "scientization" of the human experience (Dillon, 2008; Elkins, 2008; O'Hara, 2001; Watkins & Shulman, 2008). These critiques centered primarily on traditional counseling models' neglect of the connection between self and environment, how context influences clients' perception of reality, and how clients make meaning of the world.

Humanistic psychology developed out of mainstream psychology's limited and distorted view of humans (Giorgi, 2005); opposing the scientization of cognitive behavioral psychology and psychoanalysis (Hayes, 2012). O'Hara (2001) explained that humanistic psychology was "designed to be the antidote to the alienation, ethical corruption, and emptiness of modern secular, commercial, and industrialized life" (p. 481). The author further stated that, since its early beginnings, the humanistic tradition has privileged the unique experiences of humans, amelioration and prevention of suffering of the marginalized, the need to make meaning of self in the world, well-being over pathology, and addressing anxiety at the individual and cultural level.

Although humanistic thought provides a person-centered framework to address human suffering and promote well-being, it is limited in addressing deep social, cultural, and political issues among marginalized and oppressed communities. Martin-Baro (1994) clearly delineates this humanist-materialist dialectic within liberation psychology (Albers, 2000). Liberation psychology historically advocated for a more systemic, sociopolitical, social-justice-oriented perspective within the field of psychology (Martin-Baro, 1994). In traditional psychology, the subjective experiences of oppressed people are seldom examined and are often pathologized; liberation psychology, however, promotes the recognition of the within-group strengths and virtues of marginalized communities. Furthermore, by focusing on local strengths and resources, Martin-Baro advocated for the appreciation of community virtues and collaboration with local communities in working toward social change.

As a classic theory in the field of counseling and psychotherapy, humanism not only acknowledges the uniqueness of the human experience but also recognizes the individuals' potential to overcome challenges and remain hopeful amidst adversities. Although these principles have informed the core values that guide the counseling profession, counseling models that unify the individual and his or her context, particularly for oppressed and marginalized individuals, are imperative. Liberation psychology is a relative newcomer to the field of counseling. Rooted in Latin America, liberation psychology goes beyond traditional humanistic practices to also address the social, cultural, and political context that affects the human experience.

This article will discuss the need to expand humanistic psychology beyond the appreciation of human nature to provide a more critical view of how social, cultural, and political factors influence perceptions of reality and views about the world. We will begin by presenting some of the core tenets of liberation psychology and humanistic counseling. …

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