The Human Science orientation of the doctoral clinical program at Pacifica offers an alternative to the Natural Science model that dominates much of main stream psychology. The notion of Human Science as distinct from Natural Science can be traced back the late 19th century, German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) (Coppin and Nelson, 2005). Natural Science endeavors to explain (German, erklarüng) facts by way of experimental demonstration of quantifiable causes—a powerful and completely reasonable approach to the natural world including, to an extent, human beings.

While recognizing the validity of Natural Science on its own terms, Human Science argues that distinctive features of human beings elude causal explanation but nonetheless can be understood in a rigorous and methodical, that is, scientific manner (Giorgi, 1970). Human Science seeks to understanding (German, verstehen) meanings by way of qualitative methods of description and interpretation. Human Science research embraces an array of empirical and theoretical approaches that share a qualitative orientation and this concern for meaning. Empirical methods include phenomenological, case study, heuristic, grounded-theory, and narrative. Theoretical research employs methods arising from hermeneutic, depth psychological, critical, feminist, and cultural theory orientations.

For the Human Sciences, “meaning” refers to how things matter, their significance and import which is neither private nor merely subjective. The meanings that inform our individual experience, while uniquely “ours,” are in the first place public and shared, appearing within the context of our culture and history (Gergen and Gergen, 2003). It is such concrete meanings that we individually take-up as we fashion the psychological reality of our lives. In place of the Natural Science endeavor of quantification and causal explanation, Human Science generates careful, qualitative descriptions leading to the recognition of structures or configurations of meaning that inform human experience, the articulation of which provide insight into individual behaviors and cognitions.

In the response to the mounting pressure to conform to the instrumental dictates of STEM disciplines, a Human Science orientation preserves psychology’s essential relationship to the humanities. Human Science psychologies give credence to the evidence about psychological life provided by the humanities —from contemporary philosophy and literature to art and music. “The humanities offer a rich, multi-voiced, ongoing dialogue about the human condition. The traditions of liberal learning offer both a canon of legitimate knowledge and a source of critical reflection on the realities that define, confine, and transcend that condition” (Sipiora, 2012, p. 233). They offer an invaluable perspective on contemporary enticements to the self-centered, celebrity patterned, individualism that erodes community and incubates the loneliness and fear that is epidemic in society.

“A Human Science relational understanding of the person, which is allied with the humanities and liberal arts, is needed to recognize our psychological life as visible in and through the cultural–historical world. Further, the interpretative, qualitative evaluations of our psychological life provided by Human Science are both beyond the exclusive scope of psychology as a STEM discipline and absolutely essential to the issues of justice and ethical responsibility that demand psychology’s attention” (Sipiora, 2012, p. 233).

  • Coppin, J. & Nelson, E. (2005) The art of Inquiry: A depth psychological perspective. Second, revised edition. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc.
  • Gergen, K. & Gergen, M. (2003). Narratives of the gendered body in popular autobiography. In J. Holstein & J. Gubrium (Eds.) Inner lives and social worlds: Readings in social psychology (pp. 304-316). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science: A phenomenologically based approach. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.
  • Sipiora, M. (2012). Introduction, “Special section: Psychology as a STEM discipline and as the logos of the soul.” The Humanistic Psychologist, 40: 232–233.