Humanities and Science: A Necessary Unity for the Counseling Profession


concerning this article should be addressed to Jeffrey T. Guterman, Counseling Department, Adrian Dominican School of Education, Barry University, Powers Building, Room 277, 11300 NE Second Avenue, Miami Shores, FL 33161 (e-mail:


This article is a reply to Hansen's (2012) call for the counseling profession to embrace a purely humanistic ideology for counseling. The authors suggest the relationship between humanities and science set forth by Hansen does not emphasize the both-and aspects of these ideologies. An integrative framework is considered for counseling.

In an article in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling (JHC), Hansen (2012) has suggested that the counseling profession is suffering due to an existential conflict between the humanistic and scientific paradigms. Hansen has suggested that the scientific paradigm, which he described as a reductive and dehumanizing force, is an unfitting ideology for the counseling profession. Furthermore, Hansen champions the idea of defining the counseling profession along purely humanistic parameters, and he argues that only a humanistic paradigm addresses the complex and subjective experiences of clients. Hansen contends that although there is value in scientific methods within counseling's humanistic ideology, mixing these ideologies prevents each from reaching their full potential. Accordingly, Hansen has recommended that counseling redefine itself through “a fully articulated vision of a profession grounded in the humanities” (p. 134).

We suggest that Hansen's (2012) position regarding the relationship between humanities and science in counseling is too either-or and does not emphasize enough the both-and aspects of these ideologies. Indeed, differences between humanities and science present challenges to counseling as well as other disciplines. We suggest, however, that instead of trying to solve the dialectic between science and humanities through separation, the counseling profession should see itself up to the challenge of developing an integrative framework. Hansen has offered an analogy of mixing two colors to argue for separating humanities and science when he suggests that “because the colors are mixed, the full aesthetic potential of each of the individual colors is lost” (p. 134). Staying with this analogy, we suggest that the visual derived from mixing these two colors is quite appealing and, moreover, provides hues that each of the individual colors does not offer.

In this article, we posit that it is not only preferable to integrate science and humanities, it is essential. We see Hansen's (2012) call to redefine counseling from a purely humanistic perspective as being fraught with philosophical problems, namely, logical contradictions and mind–body dualism, that make such a proposition untenable. First, we suggest that humanities and science are complementary elements of each other and attempts at separating the two leads to inevitable contradiction. As we show in due course, science is always required to articulate and evaluate any idea that is taken as knowledge, including ideas set forth in humanistic inquiry. Conversely, science is not value free and always involves subjective elements, such as epistemic and cultural variables that are hallmarks of humanities. Second, we see attempts at separating humanities and science as reflective of a form of mind–body dualism that does not take into account the necessary connection between mind and matter. In recent years, a nexus of scientific disciplines has emerged (e.g., evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and sociobiology) that provides substantial insights for the humanities.

Science should not be relegated to a mere tool in the humanities woodshed but rather understood as a necessary part of an integrative framework for the counseling profession. Because humanities and science each play an integral role for the other, the reciprocal influences of these ideologies make up a two-way street. Hansen (2012) has suggested that integrating science and the humanities robs each of their respective strengths. In contrast, we hold that a marriage between these two ideologies is mutually beneficial and results in a potentially harmonious perspective for counseling. Hansen seems to support our position when he states that “arguably, counseling should comprise a mixture of relational intuition and scientific accountability” (p. 133).

The purpose of this article is to offer reasons why we think it is beneficial to integrate humanities and science in counseling. First, we discuss the reasons an integrative framework is preferable to a purely humanistic ideology in counseling. Next, we discuss significant implications of an integrative framework for the field.


Hansen (2012) has noted that the relationship between humanities and science in counseling “can be characterized as a complex dialectical interplay, with each of the forces offsetting and progressively defining the other” (p. 136). The complex relationship between humanities and science has been discussed extensively in various intellectual disciplines (e.g., Hofmann & Weinberger, 2007; Snow, 1998; Stempsey, 1999; Westley & Miller, 1998; Wilson, 1998), and comprehensively reviewing such literature is beyond the scope of this article. Moreover, there is so much controversy and debate about this topic that, to date, there does not seem to be an elegant solution on the horizon. Nevertheless, we recommend working toward an integrative framework rather than attempts at separating these ideologies. In this section, we discuss reasons that working toward an integrative framework is favored over a purely humanistic ideology in counseling. In particular, we identify and propose resolutions to two philosophical problems that we contend arise from separating humanities and science: (a) logical contradictions and (b) mind—body dualism.

Resolving Logical Contradictions

Various theorists have pointed out that some subjectivist epistemological formulations (e.g., particular variants of humanistic and postmodern ideologies) endorsed in counseling, family therapy, and psychotherapy are burdened by logical contradictions. Specifically, the epistemological contention that one cannot attain an objective (i.e., independent of the observer) view of reality is itself a truth claim pertaining to the real nature of knowledge (Held, 1990, 1995; Held & Pols, 1985; Mahoney, 1991). When such epistemological claims are made, contradiction arises because, on the one hand, it is being held that it is not possible to attain objective knowledge and, on the other hand, such a contention is set forth as the ontological truth about the real nature of knowledge. Contradictions also arise when proponents of such subjectivist epistemological formulations go on to claim that particular clinical theories and techniques are more effective than others. Which approaches work better is an empirical question that carries with it a reality claim (Held, 1990). We propose that Hansen's (2012) suggestion that the field adopt a purely humanistic ideology is at risk for the very same contradictions we have identified.

We do not mean to suggest that all humanistic and postmodern formulations are necessarily burdened by contradiction. For example, we endorse a modest form of postmodernism (cf. Held, 1995) that accounts for both the limits of human knowledge and the recognition that it is necessary to always account for a hypothetical realism on philosophical grounds. Hansen's (2012) article, however, is replete with reality claims that are burdened by contradiction unless science is part of a fully integrative ideological framework. For example, Hansen's claim that it is preferable to identify multiple perspectives as an end in itself, rather than a singular truth, is a reality claim about the best way to generate knowledge in the field. It is important to underscore that we think science, or at least good science, does not aim to attain singular truth. This may be a straw man argument. Although science uses objective methods (i.e., techniques aimed at removing subjective biases of the researcher), except for the realm of very abstract tautology (e.g., mathematics), science is always flexible; it does not seek to prove anything but rather to improve hypotheses (Bateson, 2002). Scientific claims are always posited tentatively and are subject to ongoing revision when new evidence becomes available.

A solution to the contradiction lies in permitting science to stand shoulder to shoulder with humanities. Rather than accept the contradiction, the counseling profession should seek to embrace an integrative paradigm. Again, science is more than an additive tool; it is a necessary and integral aspect of virtually any type of inquiry, including a humanistic approach to counseling.

Collapsing Mind–Body Dualism

Attempting to separate science and humanities is also reflective of mind–body dualism, which dubiously holds that there are two types of phenomena in the world'mind and matter'that operate according to distinct principles (Ahlstrom, 2010; Hacker & Bennett, 2003; Pinker, 1997). Attempts to separate science and humanities correspond to a view that humanities studies products of the mind (e.g., art, literature, human interaction) and uses subjective ways of knowing, whereas science studies matter (e.g., physics) and is governed by objective methods of inquiry (Snow, 1998). Hansen's (2012) call for a purely humanistic ideology seems to perpetuate the mind–body segregation.

Although Hansen (2012) contends that science merely sets constraints on the counseling profession, we believe that counseling is enriched and clarified by scientific methods. We posit that some degree of reductionism is an inevitable aspect of humanistic inquiry. For example, when a humanistic counselor recommends a task or homework assignment for a client, he or she is conducting a scientific experiment. Although we are not negating or underemphasizing the humanistic aspects of the task, we believe it is necessary to always use some form of scientific inquiry to guide the selection of the task and evaluate its outcome effectiveness. By rejecting mind–body dualism, we are able to bring the human mind into contact with the material world and thereby reorient humanities with a pragmatic model of verification.

Hansen (2012) has suggested that “counselors should adopt a humanities mind-set, which embraces multiple perspectives” (p. 141). We agree. It follows that the profession should endorse an inclusive pluralistic perspective that includes both humanities and science. By calling for a purely humanistic ideology that de-emphasizes science, Hansen seems to be doing precisely what he is arguing against.


We suggest the field of counseling consider an integrative framework that holds that humanity is coextensive with nature (Capra, 2002; Snow, 1998; Tapp, 2002; Westley & Miller, 1998; Wilson, 1998). Such an integrative framework suggests that the boundary between humanities and science would not be viewed as a territorial line but rather as an unexplored terrain that provides opportunities for cooperative participation from each side that would, in turn, benefit both humanities and science (Wilson, 1998). From this perspective, science would account for the influences of subjective human experience, and humanities would recognize the effects that scientific disciplines have on culture. A new area of inquiry would emerge that investigates how science and humanities interact and reciprocally influence each other. We suggest that an integrative framework could resolve the confusions (e.g., logical contradictions, mind–body dualism) that arise when counselors attempt to adhere to a purely humanistic or a purely scientific ideology.

We agree with Hansen (2012) that the counseling profession should pay the utmost respect to the complexities of clients. We contend, however, that Hansen's descriptions of humanities, as well as his descriptions of science, are at risk for being one dimensional. Science is often about seeking to understand reality in the simplest terms possible, but it is also a complex, evolving endeavor that constantly revises and adapts itself to suit the needs of the immediate moment. For example, physicists using the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics study matter and energy, yet the theories of each of these areas of physics operate under a separate set of assumptions. As a result, each of these theories is effective at describing reality from a different perspective. Rather than trying to stamp each other out in the service of singular truth, many contemporary physicists seek to understand how each of these theories can be understood in context, how they define one another, and how they might be unified under an improved framework. An integrative approach calls for humanists to consider if their explanations are compatible with scientific disciplines (e.g., neuroscience, psychology) and to be motivated to explore and try to resolve any discrepancies. Conversely, science would be enriched by incorporating humanistic values such as complexity, multiple realities, and subjectivity.

Contrary to Hansen's (2012) assertion that science aims for singular truth, we understand science as an endeavor in which a multiplicity of perspectives flourishes. Scientific theories compete with and enlighten each other, even when they sometimes overlap and are in conflict. This is true within the parameters of counseling. When a counselor implements an empirically supported treatment that proves unhelpful for a client, the next step is not to do more of the same. This is counter to the ideals of both humanistic and scientific ideologies. Rather, the next step would be to reboot the line of scientific inquiry by asking questions along the lines of “Why did this intervention not work for my client?”“What can I learn from this process that might lead me to develop a more helpful intervention?” and “How might the failure of this intervention be relevant to current research?”


Hansen (2012) has conceptualized a purely humanistic vision of counseling in the context of what he suggests are two polarities that exemplify differences between humanities and science: (a) human complexity versus simplicity and (b) multiplicity of perspectives versus singular truth. An integrative approach for counseling blurs the lines between these polarities that we hold to be specious. In this section, we discuss significant implications of following an integrative framework for counseling in relation to each of the polarities identified by Hansen.

Human Complexity Versus Simplicity

We agree with Hansen's (2012) contention that people are complex. We also largely agree with Hansen's view that “the locus of human complexity resides in the subjective meaning systems that people construct” (p. 137). Hansen has provided the following quote by Carl Rogers (1980) to support this view:

The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment. The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you perceive and experience it at this moment. And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different. (p. 102)

According to Hansen (2012), it is an “undeniable truth” (p. 137) that each human being has unique inner subjective experiences. But this conclusion amounts to an irrefutable reality claim and hence a contradiction when considered in the context of Hansen's recommendation that science be rejected in favor of a purely humanistic ideology. We also question whether Rogers's (1980) description is true. Although it may not yet be possible to have direct access to another person's inner subjective experiences (Rudes & Guterman, 2007), it may be feasible, albeit not verifiable, that two or more people have the same inner subjective experiences. We simply do not know.

There are numerous ways of understanding what it means to be human, some of which we find compelling and diametrically opposed to the positions set forth by Rogers (1980) and Hansen (2012). Consider, for example, that some proponents of social constructionism understand the self as a cultural phenomenon that is created and maintained through social interchange (Bruner, 2004; Gergen, 1997). Developments in neuroscience have also contributed to new understandings of human experience that have direct implications for counseling. In particular, “The Astonishing Hypothesis,” articulated by Crick (1995), places the dubious mind–body split in critical relief:

The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: “You're nothing but a pack of neurons.” (p. 3)

What is particularly astonishing about Crick's (1995) hypothesis is that it may be true. Scientific evidence supports the theory that changes to the structures or processes of the brain (e.g., the effects of psychoactive drugs, brain surgery, and concussion) directly cause changes in behavior, experience, and personality. Brain science should be of great concern to counselors, including humanistic counselors, because these findings support the theory that social interaction, including that which transpires between clients and counselors, has a direct effect on the brain and hence the entire human being. The relevance of neuroscience has only recently been considered in counseling. For example, Ivey, Ivey, Zalaquett, and Quirk (2009) have suggested that “neuroscience research provides an important biological foundation for understanding the impact of our work as counselors” (p. 48). Ivey et al. have also recommended that neuroscience is entirely compatible with the humanistic goals of counseling:

Brain research is not in opposition to the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and meaning emphasis of interviewing and counseling. Rather, it can help us pinpoint types of interventions that are most helpful to the client. In fact, one of the clearest findings is that the brain needs environmental stimulation to grow and develop. We can offer a healthy atmosphere for client growth and development. We advocate the integration of counseling, psychotherapy, neuroscience, molecular biology and neuroimaging, and the infusion of knowledge from such integrated fields of study, into practice, training and research. (p. 48)

Hansen (2012) suggests that “the counseling profession should be founded upon a humanities ideology, which fosters human complexity, rather than a scientific ideology, which attempts to reduce phenomena to the simplest elements” (p. 138). Again, we think Hansen's view here is too either-or. We think the vision of counseling will be best served by using both objective and subjective data. Quantitative methods allow counselors to evaluate outcome effectiveness and use standardized measurement, but they may overlook contextual details. In contrast, qualitative methods of inquiry allow counselors to obtain subjective descriptions that are not available through quantitative means. There is also an important place for mixed research methods that use both quantitative and qualitative forms of investigation.

Hansen (2012), in keeping with his call for the field to embrace a purely humanistic ideology, also suggests that counselors model themselves after literary scholars:

The literary scholar may spend the better part of an academic career devoted to a particular author, novel, or even a single character. The goal of this humanities professional is to complicate, “dimensionalize,” and enrich the subject matter, not simplify it. (p. 137)

Although the intention behind this comparison is noble, the correlation falls apart due to one simple fact: It is impractical. Although some literary scholars devote their entire careers to the study of one author, or even one character, the notion of counselors enjoying such a luxury with clients is fantasy. Although rich descriptions have a place in qualitative research, the preference for brief counseling approaches by managed care organizations makes Hansen's analogy seem inapplicable. Counselors who do not embrace scientific methodology and instead dedicate themselves mainly to analysis of their clients' inner subjective experiences will likely face frustration.

We agree with Hansen (2012) that counselors should think critically about the medical model. Moreover, we suggest counselors should practice irreverence concerning all perspectives (Cecchin, Lane, & Ray, 1993). Discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of the medical model should remain an integral part of counselor education. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000) provides thin descriptions of problems, we recognize that there are benefits to using its diagnostic nomenclature. For example, a diagnosis can be liberating to some clients, because putting a name to the problem resolves the mystery of experiencing distressing symptoms and the concomitant anxiety that results from not knowing. The DSM-IV-TR is also invaluable because it allows clinicians from different disciplines and orientations to use a common language for discussing cases (APA, 2000).

Multiplicity of Perspectives Versus Singular Truth

Hansen (2012) suggests that the counseling profession resembles scientific ideological assumptions insofar as it views multiple perspectives as a problem to be solved rather than an end in itself, which is the aim of humanities. Hansen has provided various examples that he contends are evidence of this trend, including dogmatic adherence to single orientations, lack of debate regarding ideological assumptions in the field, the proliferation of standardized treatment plans, and the promotion of a unified professional identity. According to Hansen, “nowadays, to become a counselor one must agree to don an ideological straightjacket” (p. 140). We disagree. Establishing guidelines in the field is necessary to maintain a minimum degree of accountability. Furthermore, counselors have a wide assortment to choose from for their ideological wardrobe. We do not see that creating parameters is necessarily incompatible with identifying and working with multiple perspectives. Civil debate surrounding the issues espoused by Hansen, such as the debate that is occurring in this issue of the JHC, is much needed in our field.

Hansen (2012) has suggested that counseling's acceptance of oversight from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is evidence of the field's emphasis on singular truth. According to Hansen, CACREP “dictates the proper topics to teach and suitable perspectives to adopt. Widespread acceptance of this ideological police force is compelling evidence that counseling culture has become increasingly intolerant of multiple perspectives” (p. 140). We think, however, that some degree of oversight is needed to maintain a trustworthy professional identity. Without clear standards, the counseling profession may become indistinguishable from other less rigorous fields, such as life coaching (Norcross, 2000). We also believe it is dubious to think of the standards set forth by CACREP as a singular truth because such standards are subject to revision. We encourage counselor educators and students to provide input to CACREP and other accrediting, certifying, and licensing bodies. We also call for CACREP to provide more flexibility within its guidelines. Although CACREP recently revised its guidelines and thereby addressed much-needed changes, revisions are still essential (Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010).

We also disagree with Hansen's (2012) recommendation that continuing education not be professionally mandated. We agree that steps can be taken to provide more choice for which continuing education programs may be selected. But we are concerned that only by mandating continuing education will some practitioners pursue it. We also agree that counselors should be free to develop their own, unique professional identities. But we also question if there is such a thing as a unified identity for counselors and the counseling profession. The field has a multitude of counseling functions, orientations, and subtypes, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to articulate a unified professional identity. The diverse identity of our profession has resulted in an ongoing identity crisis, which we consider the field's strength, not its weakness. There is no consensus of counselor identity, although we acknowledge that in some professional circles attempts are made to articulate one.


We reaffirm that the purely humanistic ideology proposed by Hansen (2012) results in philosophical confusions. If one accepts our call for an integrative ideology, then questions arise about precisely how to go about developing such a framework. The task is also complicated because there is no clear agreement in the field regarding precisely what is (and is not) a humanistic ideology. Consider, for example, that Ellis (1973) described rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) as the most humanistic of all models because it views human beings as they really are: thinking, feeling, and behaving creatures that have tendencies to work both toward and against their best interests. According to Ellis, science plays an integral role in REBT and is entirely compatible with its humanistic ideology.

One thing that appears certain about counseling is that the profession is a diverse field that has accommodated many new ideas and practices in response to developments in various disciplines. As a result, the field has come to value comprehensiveness, inclusiveness, and plurality (Rudes & Guterman, 2007). Accordingly, it is important for the field to continue adapting to change, challenging itself to improve, and remaining open to possibilities that may not have been considered before. Although we have expressed disagreements with points that have been made by Hansen (2012), our reply is offered in the spirit of contributing to a meaningful dialogue about the future and possibilities of counseling. We thank Hansen for promoting much-needed dialogue in the JHC about the relationship between humanities and science in counseling.