Compassion and Understanding Versus Drugs and Disease: Where Does Humanistic Psychology Stand Now?

An historic new Special Issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology includes authors with lived experience of extreme states and presents a contrast to the drug-focused model of psychiatry.


Covers of both issues of JHP

Humanistic Psychology. I’m going to tell you a little bit about what that means to me and what it meant to be asked to develop, design, and edit a new two-volume special issue on extreme states—inviting and editing the articles of 26 very diverse authors, 10 of whom (including myself) have lived experience of extreme states.

The first time I read the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (JHP), I was a young psychology undergraduate in the 1970s who was just barely back from my own harrowing, terror-filled, heart-of-darkness journey into un-medicated extreme states. To see those JHP journals sitting on the college library shelves, full of merciful caring about human suffering, was proof that the human heart and spirit could prevail over the human head and the dangerous objectification of the disease model of psychiatry.

The contrast was human-hearted compassion and potential for all, versus human-disordered abnormality/pathology and emotion-killing psych drugs for all.

It was JHP founder Abraham Maslow’s revelatory hierarchy of human needs and Carl Roger’s almost sacred text of modern humanism On Becoming a Person, versus psychiatry’s human degradation-justifying Bible, the DSM.

The JHP was the venerable journal of a revolutionary movement began in the 1950s to provide a “third force” in the field, to counter the two dominant movements of Freud’s psychoanalysis and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism.

Abraham Maslow became famous for his formulation of a very practical and common-sense hierarchy of human needs that pointed towards a human potential where peak experiences of spiritual- and life-enhancing transformation were held out to be part of our human birthright.

The early pioneers of Humanistic Psychology like Maslow and Rogers viewed the pessimistic and over-determined view of human nature held by Freudians, and the sterile behavior modification regimens of Skinner’s laboratory style practices, as leaving out too much of what human beings can aspire to.

Roger’s classic book, On Becoming a Person, offered an accessible and hope-filled vision of how any of us can partake in the discovery of becoming, as opposed to the fate of settling—of settling for a mostly resolved neurosis via psychoanalysis or settling for the “extinction” of unwanted behaviors via behaviorism.

Those two entrenched approaches were challenged by a potent third option becoming available, one that drew many people into the worldview and therapy modalities that delivered the goods of a heart-centered alternative that flourishes to this day.

Of course, these early pioneers like Rogers, Rollo May, Maslow, and many more would be heartbroken to see the imposition of a worldview settling for a life of emotion-killing medication contaminating the lives of countless toddlers, children, teens, adults, and seniors. They would be against it, and aghast at the wholesale labelling and pathologizing carried out in the name of monolithic psychiatry via the DSM.

It is consistent with the 60-year enduring vision of Humanistic Psychology for a two-volume special issue on helping people through extreme states to emerge now.

When JHP editor Shawn Rubin attended a workshop I did at an American Psychological Association Division 32 conference a few years ago, he recognized the value of what I shared about my 40 years of compassionately doing therapy with folks in extreme states. The experiential exercise I led that focuses on the subjective physical, cognitive, and emotional state of a caregiver while sitting face-to-face with a person going through extreme states, shows how an intentional commitment to be open hearted, grounded, and not distracted by ideas of problem solving and analyzing is a proven approach of “being with” a person that offers the tangible benefit of caring, both given and received. He gave me free rein to develop the special issue that I titled, “Humanistic perspectives on understanding and responding to extreme states.”

As I invited the 26 authors for this peer-reviewed special issue, I posed two questions for them to hold as the backdrop to whatever article they wanted to write.
The first question was simply, “If extreme states aren’t what psychiatry says they are, then what are they?”

That first question was easily followed by, “If extreme states aren’t what psychiatry says they are, then how should care-givers best respond?”

I attempted to answer both of those questions myself, based on my extreme states experience and as a dissident Jungian therapist for over 40 years, I was grateful to contribute an article to the JHP Special Issue titled, “Merciful love can help relieve the emotional suffering of extreme states.”

As you’ll see by the included tables of contents, the authors were a wonderful mix of family member caregivers, peers counselors and peer program directors, a medical anthropologist, two Jungians, two psychoanalysts, psychiatric survivors, transpersonal therapists, an existential therapist, a practitioner of Buddhist psychology, two mental health administrators, a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurses, several psychologists, some family therapists, and a clinical social worker.

Many of the authors, like myself, have published articles here on MIA over the years. That speaks well for Bob Whitaker’s bold vision and support of the diverse authorship on MIA that’s now reflected in this new two-part JHP Special Issue.

Sarah Kamens, who wrote a very moving and groundbreaking article in part one of this special issue, took over the helm as Editor-in-Chief of the JHP from Shawn Rubin’s brilliant tenure. I’m very grateful to both of them, to all the brave and forthcoming authors, and to the huge-hearted David Lukoff, who contributed greatly in assisting me.

In closing, those of us who have been through the often waking nightmare of extreme states, and those of us who have been held against our will, been victims of forced meds, ECT, lobotomies, restraints and the medical curse of a DSM label, surely will be grateful that the humanistic psychology movement brought hope and mercy where none was given, by those who should have not harmed us in the name of the deadly practices of psychiatry.

Those practices cause victim/patients to die 25 years earlier than the natural average.
May the powerful beacon of hope and human caring brought by humanistic psychology finally make the inhumane practices of psychiatry be outlawed and replaced with human-hearted caring.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Wonderful article and wonderful quote:

    “Merciful love can help relieve the emotional suffering of extreme states.”

    Not receiving merciful love is usually the reason people find themselves in an extreme state. And showing kindness can bring them back.

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  2. The field of psychology should be called ‘behaviorism’ because that’s all it is. After all, ‘psyche’ means ‘soul’ and souls can’t be “clinically studied”.

    And psychiatry should be called drug pushing, because that’s EXACTLY what it is.

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  3. Dear Michael,
    I was nearly in tears as I read this article. I’ve been desperate to meet you since the last time you broached this subject on Mad in America a year or so ago. I left a message on your website, but it always says you won’t be around. I know I’m a nobody, but for the last 15 years I’ve done everything you are talking about as I walked with my wife thru her early childhood trauma and extreme dissociation (ie. DID in dsm speak). I’ve walked with her thru every extreme state she experienced, held her during the worst, and as I calmed her using attachment concepts, we could make meaning of them, and help integrate the source of them so that at this point it’s been years since she’s experienced them…at this point were still working to gather all her dissociated parts and interconnect them, mostly, as she is becoming ‘whole’.

    I was asked to write a little book about how I walked with her thru it all. A third of it is how I engaged her in all the things you were talking about and so we found healing and wholeness without the drugs and loss of agency known to most here. I know I’m a nobody, but perhaps you could give me just a little of your time or you would honor me and glance at my little book. When I lost my sponsor, I had to finish it on my own, and I was told to find an editor to help me clean it up, so I’m hoping to do that now. But if you don’t have time to do that, perhaps you could point me in the direction of other family members who, like me, understand we have to walk with our loved ones thru all those things so they can deeply heal. I’m happily astounded you would invite someone like me to contribute to your book as I have yet to find someone like that even after 15 years of searching.

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    • Hi Sam, I’m very sorry I haven’t been available to read or help you with your very important book that shares so much about you and your wife’s healing journey. I’m working so much on a book myself, that I don’t see me being available for many months this year. You might try contacting editorial folks here at MIA, especially those who work on the MIA family initiative. Best wishes, Michael

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  4. “The JHP was the venerable journal of a revolutionary movement begun in the 1950’s to provide a “third force” in the field, to counter the two dominant movements of Freud’s psychoanalysis and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism.”

    Human beings are not just their brain chemistry; they are mind, body and spirit/soul. In my mind, humanistic psychology recognizes what other psychologies and certainly psychiatry do not, which is the overriding reality and beauty of the human soul, without which life loses its purpose and meaning.

    Check this out on YouTube: “This Is Priceless – George Harrison On What Lies Beyond…” T&H – Inspiration & Motivation

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  5. “Inhumane practices of psychiatry”.

    A space rocket is cold and perfect and inhumane. A scalpel and needle are icy and precise and inhumane. An IV drip stand is chilly to the touch and inhumane. A nuclear power plant is frigid and inhumane. A Ferrari car is glacial and sublime and inhumane.

    Perhaps “humanity” ought to face its love of all things “inhumane” in order to explore “why” there is always a need to go beyond “earthy imperfection”.

    I recall an era when people queued up to see “a proper” professional, rather than muddle along with weeping at the clay feet of a busy neighbour. In that era people “wanted” inhumane. People wanted a professional “doctory” type who would be frosty and sublime and arid and chilly and perfectly all-knowing, a steely messenger from “perfect science”. A space rocket manufacturer. A math wizard. People “wanted” their “feelings” to be easily comprehended “mathematical formulae”, not scary chaotic vortices of breakdown. But the quickest way to have a breakdown is to try not to have a breakdown. Breakdown became synonymous with “imperfection”. Thus went up the call for the proper professional “perfectors”. Those vested with turning humans into super human heroes mastering over their own earthy catastrophic propensity to “feel”. We courted becoming “in-humane”. We were at varience with our humanness.

    But I suspect that because a collective notion of “perfection” is subject to vogues and is therefore a moveable feast, our love affair with “inhumane perfection” has not gone away but is very much still propelling our quest to have hope in mastering our messy “feelings”, in stopping breakdowns rather than letting breakdowns stop us from being so wooden. I suspect our new pursuit of “inhumane perfection” is dovetailing with an idea that nothing ever goes amiss with the messy biological creatures we are. It is a bit like how some evangelical churches perpetuate the myth of the perfectly fixed person who is now and everlastingly without “sin”. A “saved” body and soul, transformed “inhumanely” and made “super human” merely by agreeing to “a belief” that all the religious tick boxes have been checked and commandments followed to the letter, enabling us all to become risen chilly space rockets without flaw.
    Into antipsychiatry can occasionally increep a similar cheerleading and “perfecting fundamentalism” that sees the human potential to become “saved”. All rise and be rescued from the muck and mayhem of being a moody misery guts! New Age resurrection babble can sometimes seem indistinguishable to what went on in psychiatry. Both can “reject” the chaotic “animalness” of being a soft bodied human living in a hard world.

    I am occasionally told in the world that I ought to bin the schizophrenic diagnosis that seems to have emated from “inhumane psychiatry”. If I do will I become “without sin?”. Will I become differently inhumanely super human by becoming instantly flawlessly super well?

    And if I am beckonned to become super humanly, super well, through professional space rocket therapy is a therapist of such ideal perfecting of me really going to “be” with me in my very real relentlessly “imperfect” breakdown?

    Where ever there is a “Doer” and a “Done to” is an open door to potential “inhumane perfectionism”. But I am not castigating anyone for wanting to “perfect” themselves in that professionally assisted way. The FREE CHOICE to pursue becoming super human, through a space program or through psychiatry or through therapy or through New Age regulations or through old style religion or through some aspects of antipsychiatry IS a FREE CHOICE that must be allowed because if these choices are also curbed then there is no such thing as FREEDOM. Self improvement will always run the risk of attracting those who think this means the getting “rid of” the messy psyche, by all manner of prayers or techniques or politics or attitudes or meditations or medicaments. But the FREE CHOICE to do with your own self what you want to, whether improve it, perfect it, make it flawlessly impossibly impervious to disaster, make it inhumanely super human and invincible, make peace with its brokenness, destroy it, is YOURS as A CHOICE and YOURS ALONE.

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  6. ….continued continued….

    From the outset I want to say that I love ALL religions. Love may not be “reverence”. But love them all I do.

    Laughably I sent the video link without watching the video beyond its jolly beginning. In The Begin Was (fill in the blank). But hours later, nowish, I did sit down to enjoy the video with my luncheon. That’s when I grew bewildered at how I could make it fit my prior comments. You all might have to help me. It’s a bit of a tangent. But up for a challenge I suppose I can see how our holy man here has a rascally glint in his eye as he lashes his audience with abrupt shouts. Shout, shout, shout. We must obey. His audience must do this. His audience must do that. They each must undergo hardship, travails, unflinching mortification of the flesh, wrestling with desires, gruelling fasts, purgatives, disjointing of limbs, gritty dawn scrubs, immersions in planks of frozen rivers, lonely self abnegation, howling regression, shrinking, disembodying, martyrdom, coy saintliness, bedding down on broken stones, getting rid of all reason, getting rid of all feeling, and if they do endure such tests they each may see the face of God in the luminous embers of the campfire just before they singly perish of divine discomfort.

    The audience seem like puppets on strings to this touselled pup with a pup. I wonder is it the promise of conferred “know-all” sacred knowledge. As if knowledge can end human suffering, even hurt of toothache or the pain of childbirth? The audience are drawn to his “certainty”. His certainty is that everyone else’s freely chosen path is dubious at best. His path is wiser, he assures.
    I have always entertained a loathing for any path that does not peter out in the middle of nowhere, that pathless place where I can finally sit down and hear my own self think.
    Seldom is this “nowhere” not fenced off. You often find that “nowhere” is privately owned. Paths are profitable one way or another, because they line up with “certitude”. Bully’s like to frequent paths.
    The cocksure holy man has a lot to say. People come to him in droves because he seems on a path. There is something about his demeanour and assuredness that ironically reminds me of a prestigious consultant psychiatrist. Another pillar of the scenery, mastering himself, trotting up and down the ladders of a slithery path. Both holy men, the Sadu and the Shrink, are on talking terms with God in a way you have no hope to be. One has a God of nature. The other has a God of science. Both have been given God’s own “certainty” about you, to bequeath to you, lest you do not know yourself, lest you stumble blindly into a “nowhere” after straying off a path.
    The everlastingly smiling woman seems the most beautifully lost and found, as she sits in assorted off camera “nowheres”. Yet even she seems obedient to this heirarchical notion of Great God who is bigger and better than her and knows her even more than she knows herself. A “certainty” Deity.

    There is of course nothing wrong with freely choosing any path and choosing a life filled with irrefutable “certitude”. Choosing a fussy God who demands obedience or enlightenment is a fine free choice millions of people adore making. Choosing to follow a ramshackle, rag bitten, untangling holy man is a fine free choice. A shouter. A blazing mad quasi psychiatrist in a forest preaching at sad people to go back to their family. People are free to follow whomever they are inclined to choose to. As the antilope so follow other antilope. It is just that humans like to come out with screeds of verbal reasons why it is “necessary” to be on “a path” and follow “a know-all”. Animals just admire eachother and blissfully follow one another “without ever quite knowing why”. Absent is the need for extra, extrapolated, worthy “certitude”. Following is based on feeling in animals, not logic. Certainty tends to be logic’s lovechild. So it is interesting seeing this holy man coming out with logical certitude whilst purporting to be spiritual. To my way of seeing anyone spiritual will accomplish finally getting back to the newborn’s wisdom of “knowing nothing”.
    How can a person advise anyone if they “know nothing”?

    It is impossible to be a bully if you are aware you “know nothing”.

    Unfortunately holiness and bullying often go hand in hand.

    I say…ALL ARE EQUAL.

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  7. Something to note is that the Humanistic Psychology movement, itself, remains somewhat elitist and exclusionary. Partly by choice and partly not.

    So many lived experience voices have no capacity to be heard or uplifted. The funding isn’t there. The support isn’t there. Partly that’s systemic. A lot of contributors to journals such as this are doing what they can. And, to be clear, many are survivors and have lived experience themselves.

    That said, the advocate and activist perspective remains direly unsupported. There aren’t jobs for this work. It’s damn near impossible to compete for philanthropic “mental health support” funds. And so on.

    I’m hoping contributors to journals such as this continue to fight THE SYSTEM ITSELF and provide more CAPACITY SUPPORT for critical, critiquing voices.

    Otherwise it just feels like yet another club speaking for people like me rather than with people like me.

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