Copyright © 2001 by Arthur Warmoth, Ph.D. and Sage Publications. All rights reserved. In K. Schneider, J. Bugental & F. Pierson, eds. Handbook of Humanistic Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (in press; scheduled for summer 2001 publication)



Old Saybrook 2 Report and the Outlook for the Future

Arthur Warmoth
Sonoma State University

The Old Saybrook 2 Conference took place at the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton on May 11-14, 2000. Subtitled "Coming Home to the New Millennium," the conference was hosted by the Psychology Department and used Harrison Owen’s "Open Space" process, which was facilitated by organization development consultant John D. Adams. The discussions and Proceedings (Old Saybrook 2. . ., 2000) of the conference reflected a number of themes that are found in the present volume, including:

--the contemporary relevance of the values and theories of humanistic psychology,

--the central role of the study of human experience in psychology,

--the relationship between humanistic psychology’s philosophy of science and the varieties of postmodern philosophy, and

--the timeliness of broadening the horizons of humanistic practice.

Both the conference and this volume demonstrate that contemporary humanistic psychology is a rich ragout whose ingredients include a mix of spiritual ideology, democratic values, and professional aspirations.

The spiritual ideology is largely defined by the field of transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology embraces a worldview that incorporates elements of personal mysticism, oriental philosophy, and universal cosmology in proportions that vary with the theorist or practitioner. Its views of human potential, wholeness, nature, and the self place it in the intellectual tradition of modern era romanticism, particularly as romanticism has been played out by liberal judeo-protestant middle class culture. It can also point to roots in the distinctively American heritage of transcendentalism and the related communal spiritual movements which are documented by Eugene Taylor in his recent book Shadow Culture (1999). Taylor calls this the "visionary tradition" in American "folk psychology," but it might also be called a tradition of "personal mysticism" or "cosmic consciousness" (the latter is R. M. Bucke’s term and was an important influence on Maslow’s concept of the "peak experience").

Humanistic psychology’s democratic values and aspirations reflect a broader liberal tradition. These values can be seen as an extension of Carl Rogers’ key elements of effective psychotherapy--congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathic listening--to the larger social-political arena. "Congruence" can be understood as "personal integrity, a certain amount of which in politicians and citizens is the sine qua non of the democratic process. "Unconditional positive regard" is a somewhat stilted rephrasing of the democratic values of acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion. "Empathic listening" is the intimate version of the basic democratic processes of dialogue, conversation, and civic discourse. The commitment of the conference participants to democratic principles was evident in value statements that found their way into the conference Proceedings such as "Deep respect for diversity of every type, including contradiction and fragmentation," "Prizing of each individual and way of understanding," and a general commitment to inclusion expressed in the ideal of "One world unified transcends ethnicity, religion, nationality." (Some contradictions inherent in this latter aspiration will be discussed below.)

Finally, there was a clear sense of working to expand the professional applications of the field beyond the established arena of psychotherapy. This undoubtedly in part reflects the fact that the licensed practice of psychology is under siege, as a result of pressures from the managed care industry in concert with the responses to those pressures being orchestrated by professional psychology through organizations such as APA and state licensing boards. But it also reflected an authentic sense of unfulfilled potential. As many participants pointed out, this potential is suggested by already existing professions such as organization development and humanistic higher education. But as Maureen O’Hara, a member of the planning committee, suggested, "There is a tremendous potential today because everyone knows that our [institutional] systems are broken." As Maureen also suggested, this sense of the failure of our institutions was not nearly as widespread during the 60s and 70s, where humanistic psychology was being developed. It is true that one element of the counter-culture of the sixties was a radical political critique of the aesthetic and moral failures of capitalism. But by and large, radical politics and the human potential movement kept each other at arms length. Most of the energy of the human potential movement went into adapting anxious psyches to the realities of what was, for most, objectively (that is, economically) a reasonably comfortable life style.

The group exploring the question of who the new populations of clients should be came to the conclusion that there are plenty of situations where traditional humanistic skills are applicable. These skills include active listening, honesty, willingness to take personal risks, and serving as facilitators of dialogue and conversation, particularly where the focus is on conflict resolution and cooperative problem solving. From this perspective, the center of gravity of humanistic practice appears to be close to the basic skills of friendship, love, conviviality and fellowship, and good citizenship. When combined with technical skills and adequate objective information about the parameters of the system in question, these humanistic psychology skills can be useful in a wide variety of organizational and community settings where issues of morale, diversity, and social justice need to be addressed.

In some ways the most interesting (and the longest) report was generated by the group that took on the questions:

How are we shooting ourselves in the foot/What can we do to stop it?

What are our biggest known challenges?

What opportunities could/should we capitalize on?

The issues they identified include: naiveté about the goodness of human nature, avoidance of rigor, romanticizing of the past, naiveté about "real politick" [sic], poor at organization and coordination, rationalizing ourselves as "science" ("scientism") and ignoring our roots in the humanist tradition, focus on reaction rather than on a positive agendas, rejection of other approaches (e.g. positivism) rather than working with them, failure to operationalize the value and practice of prevention, insularity, failure to reach out to the student generation, "camps" within humanistic-existential-transpersonal psychology and failure to articulate a common theory and values, failure to practice listening/respect/compassion, and failure to honor relationships with those who hold other points of view.

I contend that these self-inflicted barriers encountered by organized humanistic psychology orbit primarily around two issues:

1) An inadequate understanding of the historical and cultural context of our focus on spiritual experience, values, and ideology.

2) Our limited vision, at least in terms of praxis, of the research agenda called for by humanistic theory and values.

The insufficient contextualization of our spiritual/cultural identity reflects our failure to transcend the universality assumption received from our judeo-protestant heritage. (This assumption is shared by all of the children of Abraham including Islam.) Our too narrow research agenda reflects our failure to transcend the received institutional framework of academic disciplines.

Both of these failures are corollary to the deeper failure of nerve of our economic acquiescence in modernist versions of medical model psychotherapy and compartmentalized academic disciplines. These are social categorizations which reflect modernism’s values of scientism, consumerism, objectification, and cultural universalism. And they account, at least in part, for the divergence of the human potential movement and radical institutional critique in the sixties, mentioned above. In the university, the separation of radical politics and the human potential movement was abetted by disciplinary boundaries between sociology and psychology. In the larger community, it was supported by social, racial, and gender differences. Those with status and power tended to emphasize issues of personal choice and competitive competency, and often channeled their interests into medicalized psychotherapy. Those without status and power tended to focus on the unjust and corrupt characteristics of the dominant system. Perhaps the most successful bridging of these two perspectives has taken place within the women’s movement which, at least in its most comprehensive expressions, seeks institutional changes which will facilitate both personal and social development.

In my view, a more adequate perspective can be gained by adding the postmodern constructionist perspective (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) to the foundational insights of humanistic psychology: the epistemological centrality of the data of human experience, and holism, or what has come to be called "systems theory" (Warmoth, 1998). Such an approach would be self-reflective about the complexity of the symbolic processes of the social construction of knowledge, and thus of social reality. It would therefore necessarily be interdisciplinary. It would also be more effective in supporting the humanistic values of inclusion, collaboration, and community (which are also the core values of democratic politics), and in dealing with the realities of a multicultural global society. Furthermore, it would contribute to sophisticated strategies for the advocacy of the ecologically sustainable design of human systems.

Transpersonal Psychology as a Spirituality-Based Subculture

It is clear that a large majority of the saving remnant that still identifies with humanistic psychology also identifies in one way or another with transpersonal psychology. There is also a significant segment of American society at large that embraces transpersonal practices, values, and ideas, if not the transpersonal label. Demographer Paul Ray has called this group the "cultural creatives," and he estimates them to approach a quarter of the population.

Transpersonal practices include many drawn from Eastern and Native American cultures, including meditation, yoga, martial arts, shamanic healing, and vision quests. All of these practices are centered a belief in personal mysticism and the possibility that personal discipline can lead to universal consciousness or wisdom. The practices also include a range of alternative, holistic approaches to healing, understood from a variety of perspectives ranging from the psychological to the organic to the somatic: osteopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, jin shin jyutsu, raiki, acupuncture, biofeedback, somatics, bioenergetics, the methods of Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkreis, therapeutic touch, crystal healing, and so forth.

These practices tend to be organized around a set of values historically central to the romantic protest against rationalistic industrial modernism: belief in the goodness of the person and of nature; trust in intuition, the emotions, and personal mysticism ("peak experiences"); and an affirmation of the necessity of personal creativity. They also tend to be organized around cosmological ideas, frequently influenced by oriental philosophy, proclaiming cosmic consciousness, universal wisdom, or perennial philosophy. Psychological versions include the collective unconscious of C. G. Jung and the evolutionary hierarchy of Ken Wilber. Recent, less universalistic psychologies making room for the tradition of personal mysticism include the romantic psychology of Kirk Schneider (1998) and the personal mythology of David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner (1997).

The crucial question which I believe the field has not faced is whether the perennial philosophy being proclaimed transcends culture, as many would like to believe, or whether, on the contrary, it represents the most recent expression of a particularly American cultural history and identity. Taylor’s Shadow Culture (1999) makes a strong case for the second alternative.

To view transpersonal psychology as the heart of a specific cultural or ethnic identity, rather than a universal religion, does not detract from its value. On the contrary, it reaffirms several specific values as values, rather than falling into the scientistic messianism of proclaiming them as universal truth. These values include the importance of personal spiritual discipline and insight, as well as an affirmation of the value of all human life and of the holistic integrity of nature grounded in our spontaneous aesthetic responses to both life and nature.

However, placing this subculture in its historical context actually deepens its meaning by emphasizing that its values are best realized through civic or social engagement and must embrace, rather than gloss over, the dark side of the human soul. It also suggests that the professional roles that are appropriate for those who identify with this heritage are to be found as much in the humanities--philosophy, literature, and the arts--as it is in the natural and social sciences.

As Taylor points out, this stream of cultural development has itself been pluralistic. The version that resonates most fully with modern transpersonal psychology was the 19th century transcendentalism of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Concord group, the authors Hawthorne and Melville, and the naturalists John Muir and John Chapman ("Johnny Appleseed"). But other expressions on this American impulse include the Quakers, Shakers, and Swedenborgians, imported from Europe, and Christian Science, Mormonism and Theosophy, born on American soil. One of the paradoxical characteristics of these American spiritual movements is that, although they share in the judeo-protestant tendency to proclaim universal truth, their practical fruits (by which, according to the gospel, "ye shall know them") primarily included Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience and a spate of utopian communities that dotted the 19th century landscape. To me, this suggests that wisdom in this tradition might lie more in the direction of responsible, collaborative social action aimed at community building, rather than in the direction of the proclamation of a new universal religion.

A dispassionate assessment of our particular cultural tradition suggests that it includes an individualistic bias that emphasizes personal values and beliefs and downplays the importance of shared or intersubjective values, beliefs, and iconographies. And yet it is these shared symbolic constructions which--along with their objectified projections in texts, art, architecture, and technology--are the basis for all human social organization and institutions, ranging in scale from families and tribes to mighty civilizations. Our tradition has a great deal to say about the emancipation of the individual through the social forms of democracy, and these messages are demonstrating broad cross-cultural appeal in the postmodern world. But other cultures have much to teach us about the structure and dynamics of intersubjectivity and cultural identity, lessons that can only be learned through openness to cross-cultural exploration.

These considerations do not vitiate the value of strivings by humanistic-existential-transpersonal psychologists for definitive philosophical statements in the areas of epistemology (theory of knowledge), ontology (theory of being, or of the "nature of things"), and axiology (value theory). However, they require that our epistemology incorporate the phenomenology of multiple culturally/historically contexted worldviews. They also point to an ontology that recognize a universal human nature that undertakes the construction of cultural contexts as well as of individual personalities, and an axiology whose respect for all human life includes a valuing of ethnic as well as personal identities.

Global integration today is not being propelled by any particular spiritual vision. It is being driven by the economic institutions of capitalism and by technological innovation (particularly in the communications media), sometimes tempered and sometimes propelled by the political forces and institutions of democracy. The intriguing question is whether politics can democratize capitalism before economics capitalizes democracy, devouring the natural and human resources of the planet in the process. In other words, can democracy produce sustainability and social justice in time.

Spiritual intuition and values can play an important role in motivating the needed political action. But the world will be a far more interesting place if the politics is based on an appeal to fairly universal values found in many different cultural contexts--for example, as respect for life and the integrity of nature--implemented within a democratic framework of respect for the diversity of religions and cultural traditions than it would be if we count on a universal conversion to the perennial philosophy (Aldous Huxley, 1972).

The psychological versions of the perennial philosophy belong to the tradition of romantic protest against our hyperintellectual, print-driven western civilization. This is an honorable tradition which has offered essential emotional and aesthetic counterbalance to the dominant culture. But understanding the role of romantic protest in the larger context of cultural history is essential is we hope to adequately orient ourselves to the complexities of a multicultural, global society.

Toward Problem-Centered Interdisciplinary Research Agendas

Acknowledging our cultural context and history is the key to not being bound by it. Humanistic psychology began in the sixties supported by powerful utopian aspirations for emancipation and human fulfillment. Those aspirations today call for humanistic psychology to embrace three complementary missions:

1) Articulate an epistemology adequate to today’s circumstances that recognizes the centrality of conscious communication and reflection in human affairs,

2) Participate in healing the wounds inflicted by the hyper-intellectualism of the dominant (in the U.S. and other technologically advanced democracies), largely patriarchal worldview, and

3) Develop research strategies and professional roles that are effective in solving human problems.

The effervescent idealism of the founding generation has led to major cultural paradigm shifts in the areas of education, mental health, and management. But much of the organizational energy generated during this period has been channeled into the received social forms of clinical psychology and academic disciplines, rather than leading to the creation of the new institutional forms that are called for today.

Humanistic psychology has rightly stood for the centrality of consciousness and personal identity in psychotherapy and the social and behavioral sciences. However, out thinking about the research and professional strategies that grow from this centrality have been constrained by our perceived need to advocate for the phenomena within the received institutional forms of academic discipline and clinical practice. While this may represent a commonsensical response to the realities of career politics in the last third of the twentieth century, the limitations of strategies based on established social forms are rapidly becoming apparent. It may be a good time to return to the wisdom of Maslow’s "Problem-Centering versus Means-Centering in Science" (1954) and ask the question: what are the research strategies that are needed to address the major problems of our time.

There is room to argue about just what the most critical problems are, but I will wager that the headings "sustainability," "violence," and "poverty" would include the topics on most of our lists. It is clear that the experience of the participants in ecological self-destruction, interpersonal and tribal violence, and the complex dimensions of the cycle of poverty are important elements that need to be understood in addressing these problems. And this applies not only to the experience of the obvious victims of dysfunctional systems but also to the experience and choices of anyone involved in perpetuating these systems. Therefore the phenomenological and experiential methods that have been developed by humanistic psychologists are clearly relevant. So are the action research methodologies that have been devised to guide effective organizational and community development.

However, a moment’s reflection on the complexity of each of these problems suggests the value of a more imaginative interdisciplinary approach. None of these problems is likely to be dealt with effectively unless we can mobilize strategies that combine phenomenological insight with objective technical information and intersubjective demographic and sociological systems information, as well as incorporating the creative imagination of the arts and humanities.

All of these problems share two common characteristics. First, although there are areas where global action is needed--global warming, currency reform, international terrorism, child labor in manufacturing, or the HIV epidemic in Africa, for example--in the advanced industrial democracies these problems can only be solved at the level of the local community. Second, they all involve an element of the common well-being or public good that requires coalescing political will and community resources into effective public attitudes and policies. This suggests two paths open to humanistic psychologists who are educated in self-awareness and deep reflection on the human condition:

1) Develop proficiency with a broad range of research tools, and

2) Develop the ability to facilitate public participation and coordinate interdisciplinary research teams incorporating the broad range of research skills that are needed.


It may turn out that humanistic psychology, viewed as the project of the social reconstruction of the modern self, may turn out to be primarily identified with a particular historical era in the third quarter of the twentieth century, much as classical psychoanalysis as the project of theorizing the erotic unconscious was identified with the first quarter. In this sense, humanistic psychology will be identified with the writings of Maslow, Rogers, May, Bugental, Moustakas, Jourard and Perls, just as classical psychoanalysis is identified with Freud and a handful of his associates. In both of these cases, the impact of the movement has been larger on the culture as a whole than it has been in the field of academic psychology.

However, for those of us still identified with the tradition of humanistic psychology, the project of constructing a contextualized vision of the psychological foundations of the social construction of social reality offers an abundance of challenges and opportunities. (In fact, based on observations at recent APA conventions, this may be an area where there is significant theoretical convergence with the psychoanalytic tradition.) Reconstructing dysfunctional human systems in the postmodern world in accordance with the emancipatory values of humanistic, existential, and transpersonal psychology is a project quite large enough to keep the next generation of theorists, researchers, and practitioners fully employed.




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