arthurPsychology desperately needs a comprehensive, accurate, internally consistent frame of reference on which the majority of the profession can agree and from which its various divisions can build their thinking, practice, and research.  The field approach to psychology…is my attempt to provide an initial step toward the development of such a unifying frame of reference.  (Combs, 1999, p. 231)

…the universe and all its organizations are characterized by…a process of being and becoming.  This fundamental drive is a given, a fact of life.  There is not much we can do to change it.  We can only ignore it, impede its function, or facilitate its expression.  It is a constant motivating force, characteristic of the universe itself.

The nature of persons and how they behave or misbehave is a product of the interaction of our basic need for being and becoming and our personal fields of awareness.  The basic need of human beings is a given.  The nature and extent of awareness is another matter.  The existence of awareness is also a given for human beings but infinitely more open to change and influence than the drive for being and becoming.  There is much we can understand about awareness and much we can do with that understanding to help ourselves and our societies achieve ever higher levels of fulfillment.  (Combs, 1999, p. 15)

Behavior, from the perceptual psychology point of view, is only a symptom. It represents the externally observable manifestation of what is going on inside a person.  To attempt an understanding of persons exclusively in behavioral terms, therefore, can provide us with only partial answers to questions about what people are like and why they behave as they do.  Persons do not only behave; they also feel, think, believe, like, dislike, seek, understand, value, love, fear, hate, and aspire.  A truly adequate psychology must provide insights regarding these important human qualities in order for us to more fully understand human functioning and behavior.  To attempt an understanding of persons exclusively in terms of their perceptions or meanings is, however, similarly one-sided.  Such internal experiences do not exist in “purity” or isolation unrelated to a behaving human being.  (Combs, Richards & Richards, 1976, p. x)

Next to our beliefs about ourselves, perhaps no others are more important than those we hold about what people are like and why they behave as they do. These beliefs provide the bases for every human interaction. What we do in dealing with other people is always predicated on some conception of what they are like and what we think they are trying to do….Becoming a true professional requires much more than the acquisition of knowledge and methods; the growth of helpers is a process of personal becoming.  It calls for the very personal construction of a complex system of beliefs capable of providing trustworthy guidelines to professional thought and practice.  It calls for commitment of self to the process.  (Combs & Gonzalez, 1994, pp. 55, 203)

The search for new ways to explore and understand the inner life and organization of persons has led to a whole new branch of psychological research, variously known as qualitative, subjective, person-centered, experiential, or perceptual field research….In general, understanding other people’s meanings is accomplished by a process of observation, inference making, and testing of inferences….In addition, there already exist in the literature hundreds of studies on the effects of attitudes, values, and beliefs, as these relate to human behavior, which are clearly pertinent to understanding the perceptual field and its bearing on behavior.  (Combs, 1999, pp. 241-242, 247)

…effective helping is not a simple question of learning how to teach, counsel, nurse, administer, or whatever.  Rather, effective helping must be understood as the development in the helper of a kind of personal theory; a system of beliefs that serve as guidelines for practice: a stable, trustworthy frame of reference for long-term goals or moment-to-moment decisions that helpers are required to make….research must be designed to explore what is happening experientially for all parties involved.  In particular, research on helping processes must concentrate on the exploration of helper and helpee perceptions and on the dynamics of perceptual change in the helping relationship….(Combs & Gonzalez, 1994, pp. 27-28)

Each of us knows that our own behavior is a direct result of how things seem to us at the moment of acting….When dealing with other persons, however, we nearly always revert to external explanations.  We assume that other people are acting in response to the forces observable to us.  We seek answers to social problems in the forces acting on people now or in the past.  For example, the juvenile delinquent is described as a product of poverty, a broken home, bad companions, drugs, school failure, unemployment, or any of a hundred other facts in the adolescent’s environment….the things orientation is so ingrained in each of us that we employ the manipulation-of-forces approach in all our relationships automatically.  We may even apply it to ourselves as we try to explain our own behavior.  We say we behaved the way we did because of what others said or did, because the situation called for it, because it was the right thing to do, and so forth….(Combs, 1999, pp. 235-236)

Behavior….is not cause; it is result or symptom.  The behavior of a person at any moment is only a symptom of what is going on inside as the person interacts with…events in his or her environment.  Preoccupation with symptoms in understanding…professions is likely to be no more satisfying than consulting a physician who does nothing but deal with a patient’s symptoms. (Combs & Gonzalez, 1994, pp.17-18)

People behave in terms of their beliefs and counselors are no exception. Counseling is an instantaneous, creative, problem solving activity.  And it is the therapist’s belief system that determines the goals to be sought, the methods employed, the relationships established, and the success or failure of the process. The therapist’s belief system thus acts as a personal theory of counseling, the frame of reference…which determines counselor choices, goals, and the ways in which the therapist’s self is employed from moment to moment….The effect on the client, likewise, is determined, not by the methods used by the therapist, but by what the client perceives about the event….To get a true picture of what goes on in the counseling hour we must understand on one hand what the counselor believes and is trying to do, and on the other what the client experiences and how the experiences are viewed. (Combs, 1989, p. 97)

Currently, our system of education in the United States is being castigated for its failure to adapt to modern needs.  There is disappointment nationwide with the outcomes of education and increasing demands for “accountability” – insistence that schools and teachers clearly demonstrate that money poured into the system is getting real results.  Much of what goes on in our schools is increasingly regarded as irrelevant by the public, teachers, and students alike.  In response, massive efforts are being mounted by state and federal agencies to encourage innovations….A vast ferment is occurring with hundreds of solutions being loudly proclaimed by their inventors or practitioners. Out of such ferment good things can happen; important innovations may spring into being.  But much of this effort is doomed to failure because the basic myths which got education into trouble in the first place have not been questioned….A mature and responsible…profession cannot be grounded in mythology.  What distinguishes a profession from more mechanical occupations is the operation of the professional worker as a thinking, problem-solving human being. Whatever educators do must be for some good and sufficient reason, defensible in terms more rational than custom, tradition, or convenience. (Combs, 1979, pp.6-7)

The decisions we make about education in general or reform in particular are…dependent upon the assumptions from which we begin.  The dilemma we currently face, however, is not from wrong assumptions.  Wrong assumptions lead to disastrous results [and]…are quickly given up.  A much bigger problem exists when the assumptions from which we begin are partly right….The trouble with partly right assumptions is that they get partly right results.  Partially right outcomes turn people’s attention away from examining basic assumptions.  Instead, they encourage us to keep on trying in the same directions in the vain hope that if we can only do the thing more often, with greater energy or more determination, in time we will achieve the success we so ardently hope for….Our American education effort is saddled with dozens of partly right assumptions that impede our operations. (Combs, 1991, p. 5)

Every day, educational leaders confront problems with both things and people.  Few leaders fail because they are unable to cope with things.  When leaders blunder, it usually is because they have dealt ineffectively with people….A major problem for educational reform is the gap between current practice and the best modern thinking about what people are like and how they learn.  (Combs, Miser & Whitaker, 1999, pp.7-9)

The most pressing problems people face today are human ones – how to grow satisfactorily as individuals, on one hand, and how to interact successfully with others in an ever-shrinking world, on the other.  We live in the most interdependent, cooperative society the world has ever known.  We depend on the goodwill and cooperation of millions of other people….some of the greatest problems we face as individuals are those of human relationships at home, school, and work or as we are caught up in the dynamic forces of our complex social order….the world into which we are moving will…[require] cooperative, responsible citizens who are knowledgeable about themselves and human interrelationships and who are ready, willing, and able to put such knowledge to work.  (Combs & Gonzalez, 1994, pp. 1-2)


  Combs, A.W. (1979). Myths in education.  Beliefs that hinder progress and their alternatives.  Boston, MA:  Allyn and Bacon.

Combs, A.W. (1989). A theory of therapy. Guidelines for counseling practice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Combs, A.W. (1991). The schools we need.  New assumptions for educational reform.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Combs, A.W. (1999). Being and becoming.  A field approach to psychology. New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Combs, A.W. & Gonzalez, D.M. (1994).  Helping relationships.  Basic concepts for the helping professions.  (4th ed.).  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Combs, A.W., Miser, A.B, & Whitaker, K.S. (1999).  On becoming a school leader.  A person-centered challenge.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Combs, A.W., Richards, A.C., & Richards, F. (1976).  Perceptual psychology. A humanistic approach to the study of persons.  New York: Harper & Row.