Human Potential Movement

Human Potential Movement

The Human Potential Movement (HPM) arose out of the social and intellectual milieu of the 1960s and formed around the concept of cultivating extraordinary potential that its advocates believed to lie largely untapped in most people. The movement took as its premise the belief that through the development of "human potential", humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment. As a corollary, those who begin to unleash this assumed potential often find themselves directing their actions within society towards assisting others to release their potential. Adherents believe that the net effect of individuals cultivating their potential will bring about positive social change at large.


The movement has its conceptual roots in existentialism and humanism. Its emergence linked to humanistic psychology, also known as the "3rd force" in psychology (after psychoanalysis and behaviorism, and before the "4th force" of transpersonal psychology — which emphasizes esoteric, psychic, mystical, and spiritual development) [ [ 4th force tetrahedron geometry] ] . Some commentators consider the HPM synonymous with humanistic psychology. The movement views Abraham Maslow's theory of self-actualization as the supreme expression of a human's life.

Some sources credit the name "Human Potential Movement" to George Leonard (see "Esalen" below).

Relationship to other fields

Commentators sometimes classify the human potential movement as being categorised under the broader umbrella of the New Age movement. HPM distinguishes itself ideologically from other New Age trends by an emphasis on the individual development of secular human capabilities — as opposed to the more spiritual New Age views. However, participants rarely make this distinction, and most who embrace the ideas of the human potential movement also tend to embrace the other more spiritual ideas within the New Age movement.Fact|date=June 2008

Christopher Lasch notes the impact of the human potential movement via the therapeutic sector:

The new therapies spawned by the human potential movement, according to Peter Marin, teach that "the individual will is all powerful and totally determines one's fate"; thus they intensify the "isolation of the self." [Christopher Lasch: "The Culture of Narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations". New York: Norton, 1979, page 9. ISBN 0-393-01177-1. Quoting Peter Marin: "The New Narcissism" in " Harper's", October 1975, page 48.]

The HPM in many ways functioned as the progenitor of the contemporary industry surrounding personal growth and self-help.

Authors and Essayists

Michael Murphy and Dick Price founded the Esalen Institute in 1962, primarily as a center for the study and development of human potential, and some people continue to regard Esalen as the geographical center of the movement today. Aldous Huxley gave lectures on the "Human Potential" at Esalen in the early 1960s and some people consider his ideas too as fundamental to the movement.

George Leonard, a magazine writer and editor who conducted research for an article on human potential, became an important early influence on Esalen. Leonard claims that he came up with the phrase "Human Potential Movement" during a brainstorming session with Murphy. He and Murphy then popularized the idea in bestselling books. Leonard has worked closely with the Esalen Institute ever since and in 2005 served as its president.

Ayn Rand also expressed themes along the lines of achieving one's human potential, in many of her novels and essays



The first class of criticism of the HPM comes from researchers in psychology, medicine, and science, who often dismiss the movement as grounded in pseudoscience and overusing psychobabble.Fact|date=June 2008Such critics regard any efficacy as explicable entirely as a placebo. Richard Feynman's response to his visit to Esalen expressed this sort of criticism. (See Feynman's 1974 Caltech commencement address for his development of the term "cargo cult science" and the description of his visit to Esalen.)

Alleged failure to achieve goals

The second criticism of the HPM comes from those who, though often considered sympathetic to the movement, nevertheless believe that the HPM has not succeeded in its goals, but has instead created an environment that actually inhibits personal development. Such critics may claim that the HPM encourages childish narcissism by reinforcing the behavior of focusing on one's problems and expressing how one feels, rather than encouraging behaviors to overcome these problems. One can view this criticism in the terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This analysis characterizes the failure as an exclusive focus on helping individuals fulfill their "Deficit Needs", without moving individuals up the hierarchy to "Being Needs" (self-actualization).

An extension of this criticism claims that this problem stems from a flawed foundation of the movement altogether — the focus on the individual's own development as supreme, to the detriment of the consideration of others and society (i.e. victim-blaming, underestimating forces of oppression, or feelings of apathy towards large-scale social problems.)

Sonia Choquette, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and others have responded to this criticism by suggesting that individuals consider putting their individual development in the hands of the divine as a means to better others and society. Such an approach implies the invalidity of the criticism on the grounds that the movement, for the most part, guides itself by extrinsic consideration for the highest good of all beings on the planet.

See also

* Anthroposophy
* Attack therapy
* Autosuggestion
* Awareness movement
* Biofeedback
* Consciousness movement
* Esalen Institute
* est/Erhard Seminars Training / Landmark Forum
* Feldenkrais method
* Gestalt Therapy
* Humanistic psychology
* Hypnosis
* I Ching
* Large Group Awareness Training
* Meditation
* Neuro-linguistic programming
* Open Source Religion
* Personal development
* Redefine God
* Re-evaluation Counselling
* Self-actualization
* Self-help
* Shaman
* Silva Method
* The Template Network (former Emin society)
* Thought Field Therapy
* Transformation
* Visualization
* Yoga
* Binaural beat

Notable figures

* William James (1842–1910) — an early proponent
* Fritz Perls (1893–1970)
* Abraham Maslow (1908–1970)
* Alan Watts (1915–1973)
* Carl Rogers (1902–1987)
* Werner Erhard (1935- )
* Fernando Flores (1943- )
* Jean Houston (1937- )
* Joshua Loth Liebman
* Harvey Jackins (1916–1999)
* George Leonard (1923- )
* Michael Murphy (1930- )
* Victor Frankl (1905–1997)

External links

* [ Esalen]
* [ Esalen Alumni Group]
* [ "Full hearts and empty heads: the price of certain recent programs in humanistic psychology"] by W. R. Coulson
* [ "Personal Growth"] on the Island Foundation web-site


* Salerno, Steve (2005). "SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless". New York: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-5409-5.


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