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Maslow the needs theory vs. contemporary positive psychology

Ontology and their implications for conceptualization of human nature

Maslow needs theory addresses concepts of meaning in human life, how they are concerned to human life and how humans make sense of the nature of their existence by establishment of coherent view of what they are, who they are, what the world is like, how well they are fitting in the world, and the aspirations that are worth pursuing (Shlien, 2003). Even though the needs theory argues that persons are responsible for their decisions, they have to ascribe and adhere to a given protocol of needs that happens by default as a result of humanistic needs.

On the other hand, positive theory starts from the critical point of an active-organism meta-theory with three elements playing crucial role for a meta-theory that underlies the entire positive psychology. The first is that human beings are inherently proactive and thus, they bear the potential to act on and master external and internal forces that they encounter and they are not passively controlled by such factors (Seligman, 2002). The second is that humans are self-organizing and they have an inherent tendency towards growth, development, and integrated functioning. Lastly, positive psychology is based on the assumption that although activity and optimal development are inherent to a human being, they don’t to happen through default.


Epistemological difference

Phenenomenological underpinnings of the needs theory are related with the extensive and rigorous use of qualitative methodologies in research. On the other hand, positive psychology theory is more generally associated with the utilization of quantitative mythologies accompanied with rigorous experimental or/and statistical techniques. As a result of the different methods for investigation of these ideographic questions and the related epistemological philosophical approaches, there is the development of a very different form of theories for understanding psychological constructions (Sutich & Vich, 1969). Psychologists investigating the theory of motivation will opt for qualitative research utilizing instruments such as narratives, discursive studies that can result to valuable information on the nature of a particular effect on the study sample. This studies don’t present information related to frequencies and magnitude of the effects, variations rage of the effects, the effect of mediating or moderating variables, or even the impact of similar type of variables for example, impact of adults compared to impact on adolescent populations (Shlien, 2003). On the other hand, positive psychology investigators design quantitative methods with a considerably large study sample with the aim of getting information that can’t be obtained through qualitative methods. Nevertheless, such studies reveal very little if at all they do on the nature of the process of influence that take place. As a result of this methodological differences, psychologists on either positive psychology or the needs theory are in most cases, and as guaranteed by literature, talking past each other.


Practical philosophy and implication for the goals and conduct of therapy and counseling interventions

Psychologists operating under the needs theory do have a variety of methods at disposal concerning the practical application of their services. Such methods include client-centered therapy, existential psychotherapy, and existential-integrative psychotherapy. These methods generally lay emphasis on the understanding of phenomenological experiences of the presenting case as well as the dialogic interactions of the patient/client and the therapists. To deliver effective therapy or counseling services, it is important that a response to existential isolation and meaninglessness be developed through a meaning-making process. In this method, there is a theme of personal freedom and attendant personal responsibility that recurs. In addition, therapies under the motivation theory are hermeneutical but there might be slight difference in terms of the extent to which the source of interpretation rests with the client/patient (Rich, 2001).

On the other hand, positive psychology are associates with interventions that seek to promote well-being for example, those designed to promote mindfulness, strength of character, and happiness and subjective wellbeing, as well as a technique that is referred to as life coaching (Sutich & Vich, 1969). One of the distinguishing features of positive psychology practical session sis that they are not lengthy and they are not introspective, i.e. they do not focus on the relationship between the client and the therapist. In addition, practical interventions under positive psychology are not concerned with such themes like aloneness, existential angst, or tragic, instead, their philosophical assumption is based on pragmatics i.e. pointing the client on what can be done in the moment to make incremental improvements in the quality of life. The aim of positive psychology interventions is to create a virtuous cycle that starts with immediate improvement of mood, character strength, and problem’s solution leads to greater optimism which then boosts future improvements.



  1. Rich, G. J. (2001). Positive psychology: An introduction. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41, 8–12.
  2. Seligman, Martin E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.
  3. Shlien, J. M. (2003).  A criterion of psychological health.  In P. Sanders (Ed.),To lead an honourable life: Invitations to think about Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach (pp. 15-18).  PCCS Books: Ross-on-Wye.
  4. Sutich, A. J., & Vich, M. A. (1969).  “Introduction.”  In A. J. Sutich and M. A. Vich (Eds.), Readings in humanistic psychology. (pp. 1 – 18). Free Press: New York.

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