Human Potential Movement

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The Human Potential Movement (HPM) arose out of the social and intellectual social environment|milieu of the 1960s and formed around the concept of cultivating extraordinary potential that its advocates believed to lie largely untapped in all people. The movement took as its premise the belief that through the development of "human potential", humans can experience an exceptional quality of personal life|life filled with happiness, creativity, and Personal fulfillment|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 Potentiality and actuality|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 is 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 esotericism|esoteric, psychic, mystical, and spirituality|spiritual development). Some commentators consider the HPM synonymous with humanistic psychology. The movement is strongly influenced by Abraham Maslow's theory of Maslow's hierarchy of needs#Self-actualization|self-actualization as the supreme expression of a human's life.

Some sources credit the name "Human Potential Movement" to George Burr Leonard|George Leonard.[1][2]

Relationship to other fields

The human potential movement is sometimes 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 secularism|secular human capabilities—as opposed to the more spirituality|spiritual New Age views. However, some participants rarely make this distinction, and some who embrace the ideas of the human potential movement also tend to embrace more spiritual ideas within the New Age movement.

Christopher Lasch notes the impact of the human potential movement via the psychotherapy|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." [3]

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

Authors and essayists

Michael Murphy (author)|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. Aldous Huxley gave lectures on the "Human Potential" at Esalen in the early 1960s, and some consider his ideas as also 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 coined the phrase "Human Potential Movement" during a brainstorming session with Murphy, and popularized it in his 1972 book "The Transformation: A Guide to the Inevitable Changes in Mankind". Leonard worked closely with the Esalen Institute afteward, and in 2005 served as its president.

Notable proponents

  • William James (1842–1910), an early proponent
  • Fritz Perls (1893–1970)
  • Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
  • Carl Rogers (1902–1987)
  • Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)
  • Viola Spolin (1906-1994)
  • Joshua Loth Liebman (1907–1948)
  • Abraham Maslow (1908–1970)
  • Alan Watts (1915–1973)
  • Harvey Jackins (1916–1999)
  • Alexander Everett (1921–2005)
  • George Leonard (1923–2010)
  • Stan Dale (1929–2007)
  • Michael Murphy (author)|Michael Murphy (b. 1930)
  • Werner Erhard (b. 1935)
  • Marilyn Ferguson (1938–2008)
  • Jean Houston (b. 1937)
  • Fernando Flores (b. 1943)
  • Anthony Robbins (b. 1960)

See also

  • Personal development


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


  1. Wilber, Ken (16 September 2010). "The Shot Heard 'Round the World: A Brief History of the Human Potential Movement". Ken Wilber. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  2. Carolyn, Carolyn (07 January 2010). "Human potential pioneer George Leonard dies". SFGate. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  3. 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 magazine|Harper's, October 1975, page 48.

{The original text of this page was extracted from Wikipedia on 8-13-11.}