Humanistic Psychology reaches out

This piece by John Rowan appeared in Self & Society.

For many years humanistic psychology cultivated its own particular patch.  Under names like the growth movement, human potential and authentic living, it differentiated itself from psychoanalysis on the one hand, and behaviorism on the other.  Its favourite values were decency, openness, authenticity, aliveness and expansiveness.

It became very popular.  In the 1960s and the 1970s there was a worldwide spread of groupwork and growth centres.  It was in tune with the optimism of the time, when everything seemed possible.  To many people, depressed by the narrowness and conventionality of the 1950s, it seemed like coming home.   I was there.  I lived it.  I went to the AHP conference at Princeton in 1976, and met the two thousand people there, including Carl Rogers, Jean Houston, Al Huang, Will Schutz and other worthies.  There were processions with drums and torches, there was skinny-dipping, there was original thinking, openness and connection.

But those days are long gone.  We have gone through a long dry period, with competing voices from many sides.  The New Age people were close enough to be really confusing, the behaviorists tried to take over everything in sight, the internet seemed like a different world.

And then, in 2009, disaster struck the AHP in Britain.  Through what might tactfully be described as a series of unfortunate events, we found ourselves poor and rudderless.  We had virtually no bank balance, no proper accounts, we were in bad odour with the Charity Commission, we had no programme of events, and Self & Society looked doomed to extinction.  The committee had disintegrated, and there was virtually no one in charge.

But some of us decided that this was not to be the end.  Under the able leadership of Maxine Linnell and Sue Orton we set out to put matters right.  Gradually the figures made sense, the Charity Commission was satisfied, Self & Society was saved.  We all put our shoulders to the wheel, and went about fund raising to restore our depleted treasure house.  These fund-raising events became quite historic in their impact.  Julian Nangle put in an amazing amount of effort which paid off richly in what we were enabled to do.  We reached out to people we thought might be sympathetic, and found a surprising amount of goodwill and help.

Tracy Jarvis, who some of you will have met at our last fundraising event, has been a terrific source of help with our use of technology, managing to procure a very efficient electronic database which enables us to keep our Membership details completely up to date and in a usable format.  We are working on developing the system further and our sincere thanks go to John Hawkins who kindly offered this system to us as a charitable donation.   Tracy has recently agreed to be co-opted on the Board and we are pleased to have her; not least because by having her join us, the average age of Board members has reduced significantly!    We improved our website, we got on Facebook and Twitter, we presented a fresh face to the world.  And at the same time we all got together to devise a new phrase or saying to head up our letterheads, our leaflets, our announcements to the world.  After a lot of ideas and drafts and arguments, Alexandra Chalfont came out with the final, our logo and the phrase ‘new vistas’.  By this we meant that we’re not just defending the old values, but opening to new ones.

When Positive Psychology  came along, we felt encouraged that somebody was following our lead in being interested in love, in happiness, in growth.  But we felt betrayed by their insistence on reducing everything to numbers.  We were put off when we found out that studying love meant creating a scale for measuring love, that studying happiness meant constructing a happiness measure, and so on.

So what now?  Now we want to give up our narrowness.  We want to reach out to others who have different names, different histories, but similar values, similar ways of seeing the world, a similar impatience with second-best and low horizons.  People in the transpersonal field are an obvious step in this endeavour, and the AHP in the United States (who have been going through similar difficulties) actually in 2007 went through a form of ‘marriage’ with the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, whereby they shared facilities and some publications.