Letter from the Editor

Les Temps Modernes: Humanistic Psychology and Mindfulness

How have, can, do and will contemporary humanistic psychologists employ mindfulness to contribute to a constructive dialogue with mainstream psychology and global, multicultural society?
By Andrew Bland, PhD

Consistent with humanistic psychology's emphasis on paradox (Rowan, 2001), we exist during an era characterized by contradiction and dialectics. On one hand, a half-century of social progress — which was accompanied, if not in part inspired by, the eruption of humanistic psychology out of the cultural landscape of post-World War II America (Grogan, 2013) — has devolved into divisiveness and homeostatic regression to the familiar. On the other hand, concurrently, the field of psychology is arguably at its most amenable to the humanistic perspective in decades. 

In the theoretical realm, DeRobertis (2013) identified numerous parallels and resonances between humanistic psychology and an assortment of subdisciplines of and movements in contemporary mainstream psychology — many of which provide empirical support for its principles — to make the case that humanistic psychology is far from a relic of a bygone era. To name only a few, these include positive psychology (see Joseph & Murphy, 2013; Medlock, 2012), self-determination theory (see DeRobertis & Bland, 2018) and emerging and/or renewed interest in the topics of awe (see Schneider, 2017a), heroism (see Franco et al., 2018), creativity (Sternberg, 2018), self-compassion (Neff, 2011), sustainability, attachment (see Siegel, 2012) and resilience (see Masten, 2014). Epistemological and methodological debates aside, these have reinfused the field with humanistic psychology's emphases on authenticity, social interest, optimal functioning, well-being, eudaimonia, virtue and human growth and potential and the developmental and ecological conditions that promote versus inhibit them (see Bland and DeRobertis, 2017a, 2017b; DeRobertis, 2008). 

In the research arena, qualitative methodologies developed by humanistic psychologists have become increasingly legitimized. By virtue of its incorporation of the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology as one of its three sections, Div. 5 changed its name from Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics to Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in 2014. As more and more qualitative studies are appearing in peer-reviewed psychology journals and conference programming, humanistic psychologists have followed suit by developing flexible: (a) recommendations for evaluating methodological integrity (Levitt et al., 2017) and (b) reporting standards that officially introduced qualitative research into APA Style (Levitt et al., 2018).

In the domain of clinical practice, mainstream psychotherapy has become imbued with a humanistic flair. The last decade has witnessed a blossoming of literature on the development of the helper-as-person in the training of helping professionals (e.g., Regas et al., 2017; Smith-Hansen, 2016), on collaborative assessment of the whole person à la Connie Fischer (see Groth-Marnat & Wright, 2016; Sattler, 2018), and on the interface of neuroscience and the therapeutic relationship as the vehicle for sustainable change (e.g., Cozolino, 2017; Schore, 2012). Arguably, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (see Harris, 2006) is an operationally-focused repackaging of principles from humanistic-existential therapies (e.g., overcoming experiential avoidance; promoting self-transcendence, psychological flexibility, acceptance and committed action, etc.) and of Charlotte Bühler's (1962) and Abe Maslow's (1971) espousal of values in psychotherapy. Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2012) is an updated rendering of Carl Rogers' (1959, 1961/1995) person-centered framework. With its emphases on antecedent functions of behavior and on single-subject design, Applied Behavior Analysis borrows liberally from Maslow (1966, 1987) and his hero, Alfred Adler. Meantime, the voices of reputable humanistic psychologists are now highlighted in volumes published by APA Press (i.e., no longer confined to commercial or university publishers) on relationally- and meaning-based healing (e.g., Cain et al., 2015; Elkins, 2016; Schneider & Krug, 2017) and in articles that showcase the viability of humanistic-existential therapies as evidence-based practice (Angus et al., 2015; Hoffman et al., 2015). 

And what of mindfulness, the theme of our current newsletter? Sixty-five years since Alan Watts (1953/2017) called for Western psychology to integrate meditation and Eastern focus on surrender of ego (or persona, mask, imago, pseudo-self, ought self, etc.) in favor of "inspired spontaneity" (p. 309) (aka self-actualization, self-realization, individuation, "I am" experience, etc.) into its purview, an EBSCO search based on the keywords "psychology" and "mindfulness" yielded over 3,700 hits of publications from the first half of 2018 alone. 

Mindfulness has been part of humanistic psychology from the beginning. For just a few examples, Maslow (1966), Jim Klee (1982), Rollo May (1981; May, Angel, & Ellenberger, 1958) and Gardner Murphy (1947) acknowledged the resemblances between foundational humanistic-existential theorizing and principles from Taoism, Zen and Hinduism, respectively. Clinically, Watts (1961/1989) recognized Rogerian therapy as a means of psychospiritual liberation "from confused thinking and feeling" (p. 56). As the transpersonal movement gained ground, Eugene Gendlin's (1978) focusing method served as an early introduction of mindfulness-based techniques to conventional therapy. More recently, humanistic psychologists have offered refinements and further applications of mindfulness practice and of therapeutic presence and the benefits thereof for both clinicians and clients (as summarized in Bland, 2013, 2018; also see Geller & Greenberg, 2012; Heery, 2014; Welwood, 2000; Wegela, 2009). Throughout this time, in the research domain, qualitative methods have been formulated that involve deliberate suspension of ego to arrive at intersubjective, reflexive understandings of psychological phenomena and/or experiences on their own terms. 

Today, humanistic-existential psychologists (e.g., see Hoffman et al., 2009) have come to recognize that despite the parallels with Eastern psychologies, there are also culture-specific nuances. Nonetheless, and most importantly, dialogue and further integration are possible … and in our tech-saturated world are perhaps more necessary than ever (Schneider, 2013, 2017b). Accordingly, mindfulness may be not only the topic of global discourse but also the tool for such an exchange to take place. As Ken Wilber (2017) recently emphasized in his observation of the current era characterized by "aperspectival madness" (p. 8):

Whatever solutions we offer for tomorrow — which will certainly include economic, technological and political aspects — if they do not also include the interior stages of consciousness development [i.e., inner paths of liberation shared in common by humanistic-existential and Eastern psychologies], we will be doomed to repeat the same basic conflicts in an unending fashion: the same fundamental value wars will simply latch on to — and manifest through — whatever new economic, technological and political structures that we create, and nothing will have fundamentally changed. (p. 21)

To contribute to such a conversation, this special issue of the Society for Humanistic Psychology (SHP) newsletter centers around the theme of Humanistic Psychology and Mindfulness. How have, can, do and will contemporary humanistic psychologists employ(ed) mindfulness to contribute to a constructive dialogue with both mainstream psychology and our global, multicultural society? And what "leading edges" can we offer today that, despite the aforementioned progress, have not yet been fully embraced by or incorporated into mainstream psychology?

This issue opens with a feature by SHP President Donna Rockwell, who suggests that mindfulness provides a foundation for deepening both inter- and intrapersonal relationships in our increasingly turbulent world.  This is followed by announcements of SHP programming at the APA 2018 convention as well as news from Ilene Serlin's Psychotherapy and the Arts special interest group, including collaboration with Div. 10, the rollout of an online newsletter and APA 2018 presentations). Next, David Lukoff and Richard Strozzi remind us that mindfulness is not confined to sitting meditation by exploring the value of martial arts as a visceral therapeutic modality for veterans with PTSD. Thereafter, Julia Falk presents her utilization of a narrative-based group therapy to help participants cleanse the doors of perception and work toward transformative self-development, as does Darrell Barr in his practical application of the enneagram. Next, Lois Yamauchi demonstrates the value of humanistic mentoring as a form of both mindfulness and Eriksonian generativity. From there, Ilene Serlin reflects on her experience introducing humanistic-oriented movement therapy to a Chinese audience. Then Ed Medelowitz's Humanitas column demonstrates that mindfulness serves as a reminder of our existential reality and that authentic creativity involves alchemically transmuting suffering into beauty. Finally, SHP President-elect Nathaniel Granger brings the issue full-circle with his evocation of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call for psychologists to assume the stance of creative maladjustment in the face of social injustice.


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