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Humanistic psychology emerged during the middle 20th century as a reaction against the perceived excesses of behaviorism. It is sometimes considered a third wave of psychology after the first wave, Freudianism, and the second wave, B.F. Skinner and behaviorism. Humanistic psychology emphasized the innate goodness and capacity for growth in each individual, holding self-actualization, a need for love and belonging, and self-esteem to be high in importance. Representing a break from both Freud and Skinner, it was influenced by existentialism, and in turn was very influential in mainstream psychology during the late 20th century, as well as being an influence on more woo-based movements such as the Human Potential Movement.
Among the best known figures in humanistic psychology were Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. Maslow coined the idea of a hierarchy of human needs. Starting with basic physical needs at the bottom (food, clothing, sleep, shelter), it progressed up through safety and stability (health, home, employment), love and belonging, self-esteem and achievement, and finally self-actualization. Once each need below was secured, fulfilling the next need would be the goal which a person would most often seek. In a prosperous society where all the lower needs were met, self-actualization would be the final goal. It is also the most nebulous concept in the hierarchy; to that end, Maslow also coined the idea of peak experiences, which are moments in which a person experiences transcendence, a feeling of completeness, or an experience perceived as highly spiritual. Perls founded Gestalt therapy, a form of encounter group emphasizing intimate sharing of personal feelings and experiential personal growth. Others often regarded as part of humanistic psychology include Eric Berne, Paul Goodman, Timothy Leary, and R.D. Laing. While not part of humanistic psychology, the ideas of other contemporaneous writers like Thomas Szasz and Eric Hoffer shared some similarities.
While humanistic psychology was most popular from the mid-20th century until the 1980s, it went out of vogue during the 1980s, partly because the conservative backlash regarded it as touchy-feely and part of the general zeitgeist of the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s. A more notable reason is because at the same time humanistic psychology was in vogue, a science-based cognitive revolution was also taking place in psychology which eventually won out over humanistic psychology in many places. The tendency of various woo-meisters to appeal to ideas derived from humanistic psychology and the movement's connections to the Human Potential Movement provide further areas for criticism. Humanistic psychology remains popular in several countries like Mexico or Argentina, despite criticism.