The Humanistic and Cognitive Behavioral Applications of Psychology

Psychology as a scientific discipline can be divided into four major historical forces. The first historical force being psychoanalysis, the second force behaviorism, the third force humanistic, and the fourth force multicultural. Each historical force represents the zeitgeist or prevailing school of thought for its historical time, and each school of thought brought about the development of different theoretical applications and ideological approaches. This paper will focus on theorists and theoretical applications of the second and third historical forces. Behaviorism is the school of thought founded by John B. Watson and is the second historical force in psychology. The basis of behavioral psychology suggests that all behaviors are learned and therefore can be unlearned and changed. Watson, like most other behaviorists were of the mindset that only observable, or overt behaviors, should be studied because concepts such as emotion and cognition were too subjective (Cherry, K. 2011).

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Cognitive applications of behavioral psychology known as Cognitive Behavioral psychology or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) differs from the orientation of Behaviorism in that it focuses on the mental processes, perceptions, and interpretations of the mind, as well as how information is retrieved. Cognitive Theorists believe emotions are triggered by thoughts and beliefs. It is in this mindset that Cognitive Behavioral psychotherapy was developed as a type of “talk therapy” which is clinically proven to be more effective than medication for treating insomnia, depression and several other psychological issues. One of the most notable Cognitive Behavioral theorists of modern day psychology is Dr, Albert Ellis. I focus on Albert Ellis and his theoretical applications because of their similarities to the foundations of Buddhist psychology.

Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy can be viewed as a philosophy of living, as well as a form of psychotherapy. Dr. Ellis also believed that unhappiness could be alleviated by learning to identify 4 types of irrational thinking and cultivating “Universal Self-Acceptance” ( USA ) which overlaps Buddhism’s “three marks of existence” ( annicca, anatta, dukha ) (Tsering, 2006). Dr. Ellis believed that “self-esteem” was an irrational and harmful concept for reasons similarly found in Buddhism. Many psychologists believe that self-esteem issues help or exacerbate most mental health issues. Dr. Ellis advocated replacing the concept of “self-esteem” with “Universal Self-Acceptance” (USA) (M.G.T. Kwee, 2006) Rational-emotive behavior therapy, or REBT, can perhaps be summarized by understanding the A-B-C model for psychotherapy. (Ellis, 1994) REBT says that the most common mistake people make is in assuming that adversity (A) is responsible, or causes, emotional consequences (C).

For example, one might believe that doing poorly on a project at work (the adversity, or A) is what causes them severe anxiety and stress (the consequence, or C). The REBT therapist, however, argues that it is not the adversity (A) which causes the anxiety and stress (C), but rather it is the individual’s perception–their unrealistic and over generalized beliefs (B) about the adversity that causes the anxiety and stress. It was not that a person did poorly on the project, but rather her belief that she must do well on everything she does. This unrealistic belief that she must do well all the time led her to tell herself how “awful” it was that she did not do well. Thus, it was her perception that she did not do what must be done, and that it is awful that she did not do what must be done, that resulted in her feelings of stress and anxiety. While most people believe that A=C, the REBT therapist shows them that, in reality, A x B = C. If the therapist can adjust the clients thinking by making her realize that she doesn’t always have to do well, or that it’s not really that “awful” that she didn’t do as well as she would have liked, then her feelings of anxiety and stress may be lessened. (Ellis,1994)

As a cognitive-behavioral mode of treatment REBT postulates that emotional and psychological disorders are largely the result of thinking irrationally, dysfunctionally, negatively, absolutely, or illogically. Furthermore, REBT theorizes that rational and irrational thoughts are incompatible. (Tsering, 2006) Humans are able to get rid of most of their emotional and mental unhappiness, inefficacy, or disturbance if they learn to maximize rational and minimize irrational ideation REBT holds that sustained negative feelings, such as intense depression, anxiety, anger, and guilt, are almost always unnecessary to human living. (Ellis, 1994) After researching different aspects of Buddhist psychology it is my opinion that Dr. Ellis’ (REBT ) transcends multi-cultural borders and values. I find this approach to psychotherapy to be very beneficial and important in American psychology which historically has failed in many aspects to encompass other cultures and ideological approaches in psychotherapies and treatments. Many similarities also exist between the ways that Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and the self-actualization theories of Rogers and Maslow. Both Maslow and Rogers described the self-actualizing person as one who has personal autonomy and who is free to make choices. The actions of the self-actualizing person are not determined solely by the physical and social environment, because a person has access to personal resources that are, in turn, growth promoting.

According to Maslow (Maslow, 1968) ) the self-actualizing person does not avoid facing or acting on feelings or thoughts that are experienced. The self-actualized person of Maslow, Rogers, Zen Buddhism, and Lao Tzu feels a kinship with all human beings. These people care about others with a caring that is gentle and not moralistic. The humanistic approach of the third historical force in psychology reflects the self –actualization ideologies put forth in Buddhism and Taoism and suggested by Maslow and Rogers. Carl Rogers, created client-centered therapy, and designated unconditional positive regard (UPR) as one of the three conditions were necessary for positive change, along with empathy and genuineness (congruence). According to the Rogers’s theory, mental illness is often caused by the absence of love or by a defective kind of love that the client received as a child. By showing the client unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the therapist is providing the best possible conditions for personal growth to the client. (Campbell, 1985) One regards ‘each aspect of the client’s experience as being part of that client . (Bozarth, 2001)

While all four of the historical forces have contributed to the development of American psychology and psychological theories, I believe it is the cognitive behavorial and existentialistic ideologies such as the theories of Ellis’ (REBT) and Rogers’(UPR) that have had the greatest impact on psychotherapy and its multi-cultural applications . I can honestly say that my views and opinions have been changed by the knowledge I have gained from the History and Systems class also known as psychology 308. From a cultural perspective I have always felt I belonged to two different worlds. I was born in Kentucky and raised in a very conservative , narrow-minded community. The predominant school of thought was very racist. My ethnic heritage is Scotch-Irish and I was taught as a child to have a dislike for those who were not like me. Imagine, if you will, the conflict I felt as a child who played with dolls, hated baseball, and had an attraction to members of my sex. Researching the different theoritical orientations in psychology has been an extremely enlightening experience. While I do not profess to be of any religious or spiritual mindset, I have developed an interest in the Buddhist approach of self-acceptance to life. I am almost 46 years old and I have made my share of mistakes along the way.

Self acceptance has always been something I have struggled with. Dr. Ellis’ REBT and Buddhist psychological approaches have given me the tools to take a greater look at myself and to be okay with what I see. I intend to be an advocate for those people like myself who have felt cheated by the cultural values or norms put forth by American psychological culture. Times may be changing, but in my opinion not fast enough. As we move to a more culturally diverse nation I hope that the plight of gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons will be considered in the greater development of multi-cultural psychology. Brook, J. S., & Whiteman, M. (2008). Onset of adolescent drinking: a longitudinal study of intrapersonal and interpersonal antecedents.

Bozarth, J. (2001). Unconditional Positive Regard (Rogers Therapeutic Conditions Evolution Theory & Practice. Pccs Books. Campbell, P. A. (1985). Bio-spirituality: focusing as a way to grow. Loyola University Press. Ellis, A. (1994). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy . Birch Lane . Hanh, T. N. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation . Broadway Books. M.G.T. Kwee, K. G. (2006). Horizons in Buddhist Psychology: Practice, Research & Theory,. Chagrin Falls : Taos Institute Publications. maslow, A. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Princeton. Tsering, G. T. ( 2006). Buddhist Psychology: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought.

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