Benson, Ginsburg, Grand. The psychology book

By the 1890s, psychology was accepted as a scientific subject separate from its philosophical origins. Laboratories and university departments had been established in Europe and the US, and a second generation of psychologists was emerging.
In the US, psychologists anxious to put the new discipline on an objective, scientific footing reacted against the introspective, philosophical approach taken by William James and others. Introspection, they felt, was by definition subjective, and theories based on it could be neither proved nor disproved; if psychology was to be treated as a science, it would have to be based on observable and measurable phenomena. Their solution was to study the manifestation of the workings of the mind —behavior—under strictly controlled laboratory conditions. As John B. Watson put it, psychology is “that division of Natural Science which takes human behavior— the doings and sayings, both learned and unlearned—as its subject matter.” Early “behaviorists,” including Edward Thorndike, Edward Tolman, and Edwin Guthrie, designed experiments to observe the behavior of animals in carefully devised situations, and from these tests inferred theories about how humans interact with their environment, as well as about learning, memory, and conditioning.
Conditioning responses
Behaviorist experiments were influenced by similar experiments devised by physiologists studying physical processes, and it was a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, who unwittingly provided a basis for the emergent behaviorist psychology. In his now famous study of salivation in dogs, Pavlov described how an animal responds to a stimulus in the process of conditioning, and gave psychologists the foundation on which to build the central idea of behaviorism. The notion of conditioning, often referred to as “stimulus—response” (S—R) psychology, shaped the form behaviorism was to take.
The behaviorist approach concentrated on observing responses to external stimuli, ignoring inner mental states and processes, which were thought to be impossible to examine scientifically and therefore could not be included in any analysis of behavior. The shift from “mind” to “behavior” as a basis for the study of psychology was revolutionary, and was even accompanied by a “behaviorist manifesto”—the paper Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It, delivered in 1913 by Watson.
In the US, which was leading the field in psychology, behaviorism became the dominant approach for the next 40 years. Evolving from the idea of Pavlovian or classical conditioning came Watson’s assertion that environmental stimuli alone shape behavior; innate or inherited factors are not involved. The next generation included the “radical behaviorist” B.F. Skinner, who proposed a rethink of the stimulus—response notion in his theory of “operant conditioning” —which stated that behavior was shaped by consequences, not by a preceding stimulus. Although the concept was similar to ideas proposed by William James, it radically altered the course of behaviorism, taking into account genetic factors and explaining mental states as a result (rather than as a cause) of behavior.
The cognitive revolution
By the mid-20th century, however, psychologists were questioning the behaviorist approach. Ethology, the study of animal behavior, showed the importance of instinctive as well as learned behavior—a finding that sat uncomfortably with strict ideas of conditioning. A reaction to Skinner’s ideas also sparked the “cognitive revolution,” which turned attention once again from behavior back to the mind and mental processes. A key figure at this time was Edward Tolman, a behaviorist whose theories had not dismissed the importance of perception and cognition, due to his interest in German-based Gestalt psychology. Advances in neuroscience, explored by another behaviorist, Karl Lashley, also played a part in shifting the emphasis from behavior to the brain and its workings.
Behaviorism had now run its course, and was superseded by the various branches of cognitive psychology. However, its legacy, particularly in establishing a scientific methodology for the subject, and in providing models that could be used in psychological experimentation, was a lasting one. Behavioral therapy is also still in use today, as an essential part of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Classical conditioning
Early 12th century Arab physician Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr) performs experiments on animals in order to test surgical procedures.
1890 In Principles of Psychology, William James states that in animals “the feeling of having executed one impulsive step is an indispensable part of the stimulus of the next one.”
1920 John B. Watson’s “Little Albert” experiment demonstrates classical conditioning in humans.
1930s B.F. Skinner shows that rats can be “conditioned” to behave in a specific way.
1950s Psychotherapists employ “conditioning” as part of behavior therapy.
Many of the key discoveries made when modern psychology was still in its infancy were the result of research by scientists working in other fields. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, is one of the best known of these early pioneers, whose investigations into the secretion of saliva during digestion in dogs led him to some unexpected conclusions.
During the 1890s, Pavlov carried out a series of experiments on dogs, using various surgically implanted devices to measure the flow of saliva when these animals were being fed. He noted that the dogs salivated not only when they were actually eating, but also whenever they could just smell or see some appetizing food. The dogs would even salivate, in anticipation of food being produced, when they were simply being approached by one of their keepers.
Pavlov’s observations led him to investigate the links between various stimuli and the responses they elicited. In one experiment, he set off a clicking metronome just before offering food to the dogs, repeating this process until the animals always associated the sound with a good meal. This “conditioning” eventually resulted in the dogs salivating in response to the click of the metronome alone.
In further experiments, Pavlov replaced the metronome with a bell or buzzer, a flashing light, and whistles of different pitches. However, regardless of the nature of the stimulus used, the result was the always same: once an association between the neutral stimulus (bell, buzzer, or light) and food had been established, the dogs would respond to the stimulus by salivating.
«Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise.»
Ivan Pavlov
Pavlov’s dogs would salivate simply at the sight of someone in a white lab coat. They had become “conditioned” to associate the coat with eating, as whoever fed them always wore one.
Conditioned response
Pavlov concluded that the food offered to the dogs was an “unconditioned stimulus” (US), because it led to an unlearned, or “unconditioned” response (UR)—in this case, salivation. The click of the metronome, however, only became a stimulus to salivation after its association with food had been learned. Pavlov then called this a “conditioned stimulus” (CS). The salivation in response to the metronome was also learned, so was a “conditioned response” (CR).
In later experiments, Pavlov showed that conditioned responses could be repressed, or “unlearned,” if the conditioned stimulus was given repeatedly without being followed by food. He also demonstrated that a conditioned response could be mental as well as physical, by carrying out experiments in which various stimuli were associated with pain or some form of threat and began to elicit a conditioned response of fear or anxiety.
The principle of what is now known as classical or Pavlovian conditioning, as well as Pavlov’s experimental method, marked a groundbreaking step in the emergence of psychology as a truly scientific, rather than philosophical, discipline. Pavlov’s work was to be hugely influential, particularly on US behaviorist psychologists, such as John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner.
Ivan Pavlov, the eldest son of a village priest in Ryazan, Russia, was initially destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he quickly abandoned his training at a local seminary, transferring to the University of St. Petersburg to study natural science. After graduation in 1875, he enrolled at the Academy of Medical Surgery, where he gained a doctorate and later a fellowship. In 1890, Pavlov became a professor at the Military Medical Academy, and was also made director of the physiology department at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. It was here that he carried out his famous research into the digestive secretions of dogs, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1904. Pavlov retired officially in 1925, but continued his experiments until his death from pneumonia in February 1936.
Key works
1897 Lectures on the Work of the Principal Digestive Glands
1928 Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes
1941 Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry
See also: William James • John B. Watson • B.F. Skinner • Stanley Schachter
1885 In his book On Memory, Hermann Ebbinghaus describes the “forgetting curve”—the rate at which human memories fade.
1890s Ivan Pavlov establishes the principle of classical conditioning.
1918 John B. Watson’s “Little Albert” experiments apply conditioning to a human baby.
1923 English psychologist Charles Spearman proposes a single general factor—the “g factor”—in measurements of human intelligence.
1930s B.F. Skinner develops a theory of conditioning from consequences—“operant conditioning.”
At much the same time as Pavlov was conducting his experiments on dogs in Russia, Edward Thorndike began researching animal behavior for his doctoral thesis in the US. He was perhaps the first true “behaviorist” psychologist, although his research took place long before the term was adopted.
Scientific psychology was emerging as a fresh field of study in universities when Thorndike graduated in the 1890s, and he was attracted by the prospect of applying this new science to his interest in education and learning. Thorndike’s original intention had been to study learning in humans, but when he was unable to obtain a suitable subject for his research, he turned his attention to animals, with the aim of examining the processes of intelligence and learning through observation in a series of controlled experiments. Thorndike’s results went much further than this, however, laying down the foundations of behaviorist psychology.
«Psychology helps to measure the probability that an aim is attainable.»
Edward Thorndike
Learning environments
Thorndike’s first studies were of chicks learning to negotiate mazes that he designed and built specifically for his experiments. This later became a hallmark of behaviorist experimental technique—the use of a specially created environment in which a subject is given specific stimuli or tasks, now known as “instrumental conditioning” or “instrumental learning.” As his research progressed, Thorndike turned his attention to cats, inventing “puzzle boxes” to observe their ability to learn mechanisms for escape.
A hungry cat was locked inside a puzzle box, and by exploring its environment would come across various devices, such as a loop of string, or a ring, or a button or panel to be pressed, only one of which would be connected to the latch that would open the door of the box. In time, the cat would discover the device, which would allow it to escape and receive a reward of food. The process was repeated and it was noted how long it took for the cat to open the puzzle box each time; this indicated how quickly the animal was learning about its environment.
The experiment was carried out using several different cats, placing each one in a series of puzzle boxes that were opened by different devices. What Thorndike noticed was that although the cats had all discovered the escape mechanism by trial and error in their first attempt, on successive occasions the amount of trial and error gradually decreased as the cats learned which actions were going to be fruitless and which would lead to a reward.
The Law of Effect
As a result of these experiments Thorndike proposed his Law of Effect, which states that a response to a situation that results in a satisfying outcome is more likely to occur again in the future; and conversely, that a response to a situation that results in an unsatisfying outcome is less likely to occur again. This was the first formal statement of an idea that lies behind all behavourist psychology, the connection between stimulus and response and its relevance to the process of learning and behavior. Thorndike proposed that when a connection is made between a stimulus (S) and a response (R), a corresponding neural connection is made in the brain. He referred to his brand of S-R learning as “connectionism,” asserting that the connections made during learning are “stamped in” the circuitry of the brain.
What Thorndike proposed was that it is the outcome of an action that determines how strongly or weakly the stimulus-response connection is stamped in; in the case of the puzzle boxes, whether pulling a string or pushing a panel resulted in escape or frustration. In other words, when particular stimulus-response sequences are followed by a satisfying or pleasant state of affairs (such as escape or a reward), those responses tend to become “more firmly connected with the situation, so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur.” They become “stamped in” as a neural connection. When stimulus-response sequences are followed by an annoying or unpleasant state of affairs (such as continued imprisonment or punishment), the neural connections between the situation and response are weakened, until eventually “profitless acts are stamped out.”
This focus on the outcome of a stimulus and its response, and the idea that the outcome could work back to strengthen the stimulus-response connection, is an example of what would later be called a reinforcement theory of learning. Reinforcement, and the importance of outcomes, was virtually ignored by psychologists in the next generation of behaviorists, such as John B. Watson, but the Law of Effect brilliantly anticipated the work of B.F. Skinner and his theory of “operant conditioning.”
In later research, Thorndike refined the Law of Effect to take into account other variables, such as the delay between response and reward, the effect of repetition of a task, and how quickly a task was forgotten when it was not repeated. From this, he derived his Law of Exercise, which states that stimulus-response connections that are repeated are strengthened, while those that are not used again are weakened. Moreover, the rate at which connections strengthen or weaken can vary. According to Thorndike, “the greater the satisfaction or discomfort, the greater the strengthening or weakening of the bond.”
Interestingly, although Thorndike was studying animal behavior using what were to become standard behaviorist methods—and authoring a book, Animal Intelligence (1911), which was to become a classic of early behaviorism—he considered himself primarily an educational psychologist. He had originally intended to examine animal intelligence, not behavior. He wanted to show, for example, that animals learned by simple trial and error rather than by using a faculty of insight, an idea that was prevalent in psychology at the time: “In the first place, most of the books do not give us a psychology, but rather a eulogy of animals. They have all been about animal intelligence, never about animal stupidity,” he wrote. The fact that his cats in puzzle boxes learned gradually, rather than suddenly gaining an insight into how to escape, confirmed his theories. The animals were forced to learn by trial and error, because they were unable to use reason to work out the link between the door and the operating handle.
The Law of Effect, proposed by Thorndike, forms the foundation of all behaviorist psychology. He demonstrated that animals learn by forging links between actions and results, remembering more positive outcomes and forgetting negative ones.
Human intelligence
After the publication of Animal Intelligence, Thorndike turned his attention to human intelligence. In his opinion, the most basic intelligence is characterized by simple stimulus and response association, resulting in a neural connection. The more intelligent an animal, the more capable it will be of making such connections. Therefore, intelligence can be defined in terms of the ability to form neural bonds, which is dependent not only on genetic factors, but also on experience.
To find a measurement of human intelligence, Thorndike devised his CAVD (Completion, Arithmetic, Vocabulary, and Directions) test. It became the model for all modern intelligence tests, and assessed mechanical intelligence (understanding of how things work), as well as abstract intelligence (creative ability) and social intelligence (interpersonal skills). Thorndike was especially interested in how age might affect learning, and also proposed a theory of learning that remains at the heart of educational psychology to this day, a contribution that is perhaps what Thorndike would have wished more than anything else to be remembered for. However, it is for his enormous influence on the behaviorist movement that Thorndike is most often lauded.
«The intellect, character, and skill possessed by any man are the product of certain original tendencies and the training which they have received.»
Edward Thorndike
Adult learners were once thought to be less capable of retaining information than children. Thorndike showed that the only significant difference was in speed of learning, not memory.
The son of a Methodist minister, Edward Thorndike was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, USA, in 1874. He graduated in sciences from Wesleyan University in 1895, proceeding to Harvard to study psychology under William James. In 1897, Thorndike moved to Columbia University in New York City, where he completed his doctorate thesis in 1898.
Thorndike’s interest in educational psychology led to a teaching post at the College for Women of Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, but he returned to Columbia just a year later, in 1899, teaching there until his retirement in 1939. In 1912, his peers elected him President of the American Psychological Association. Thorndike continued to research and write until his death, aged 74, in Montrose, New York.
Key works
1905 The Elements of Psychology
1910 The Contribution of Psychology to Education
1911 Animal Intelligence
1927 The Measurement of Intelligence
See also: Hermann Ebbinghaus • Ivan Pavlov • John B. Watson • Edward Tolman • B.F. Skinner • Donald Hebb • Hans Eysenck
Classical behaviorism
1890s German-born biologist Jacques Loeb (one of Watson’s professors) explains animal behavior in purely physical-chemical terms.
1890s The principle of classical conditioning is established by Ivan Pavlov using experiments on dogs.
1905 Edward Thorndike shows that animals learn through achieving successful outcomes from their behavior.
1932 Edward Tolman adds cognition into behaviorism in his theory of latent learning.
1950s Cognitive psychologists focus on understanding the mental processes that both lie behind and produce human behavior.
By the beginning of the 20th century, many psychologists had concluded that the human mind could not be adequately studied through introspective methods, and were advocating a switch to the study of the mind through the evidence of behavior in controlled laboratory experiments.
John Watson was not the first advocate of this thoroughgoing behaviorist approach, but he was certainly the most conspicuous. In a career cut short by his marital infidelity, he became one of the most influential and controversial psychologists of the 20th century. Through his work on the stimulus—response learning theory that had been pioneered by Thorndike, he became regarded as the “founding father” of behaviorism, and he did much to popularize the use of the term. His 1913 lecture, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It, put forward the revolutionary idea that “a truly scientific psychology would abandon talk of mental states… and instead focus on prediction and control of behavior.” This lecture became known to later psychologists as the “behaviorist manifesto.” Before Watson’s research at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, the majority of experiments on behavior had concentrated on animal behavior, with the results extrapolated to human behavior. Watson himself studied rats and monkeys for his doctorate but (perhaps influenced by his experience working with the military during World War I) was keen to conduct experiments using human subjects. He wanted to study the stimulus—response model of classical conditioning and how it applied to the prediction and control of human behavior. He believed that people have three fundamental emotions—fear, rage, and love—and he wanted to find out whether a person could be conditioned into feeling these in response to a stimulus.
«Psychology, as the behaviorist views it, is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science.»
John B. Watson
Little Albert
With his research assistant, Rosalie Rayner, Watson began a series of experiments involving “Albert B,” a nine-month-old baby chosen from a local children’s hospital. The tests were designed to see whether it is possible to teach an infant to fear an animal by repeatedly presenting it at the same time as a loud, frightening noise. Watson also wanted to find out whether such a fear would transfer to other animals or objects; and how long this fear would persist. Today, his methods would be considered unethical and even cruel, but at the time they were seen as a logical and natural progression from previous animal studies.
In the now famous “Little Albert experiment,” Watson placed the healthy but “on the whole stolid and unemotional” baby Albert on a mattress and then observed his reactions when introduced to a dog, a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, and some inanimate objects, including human masks and burning paper. Albert showed no fear of any of these animals or objects and even reached out to touch them. In this way, Watson established a baseline from which he could measure any change in the child’s behavior toward the objects.
On a separate occasion, while Albert was sitting on the mattress, Watson struck a metal bar with a hammer to make a sudden loud noise; unsurprisingly, Albert became frightened and distressed, bursting into tears. Watson now had an unconditioned stimulus (the loud noise) that he knew elicited a response of fear in the child. By pairing this with the sight of the rat, he hypothesized that he would be able to condition little Albert to become afraid of the animal.
When Albert was just over 11 months old, Watson carried out the experiment. The white rat was placed on the mattress with Albert, then Watson hit the hammer on the steel bar when the child touched the rat. The child burst into tears. This procedure was repeated seven times over two sessions, one week apart, after which Albert became distressed as soon as the rat was brought into the room, even when it was not accompanied by the noise.
By repeatedly pairing the rat with the loud noise, Watson was applying the same kind of classical conditioning as Pavlov had in his experiments with dogs. The child’s natural response to the noise—fear and distress—had now become associated with the rat. The child had become conditioned to respond to the rat with fear. In terms of classical conditioning, the rat was initially a neutral stimulus eliciting no particular response; the loud noise was an “unconditioned stimulus” (US) that elicited an “unconditioned response” (UR) of fear. After conditioning, the rat had become a “conditioned stimulus” (CS), eliciting the “conditioned response” (CR) of fear.
However, this conditioning seemed to go deeper than simply a fear of the white rat, and appeared to be far from temporary. In order to test whether Albert’s fear had “generalized,” or spread to other, similar objects, he was reintroduced to white furry things—including a rabbit, a dog, and a sheepskin coat—five days after the original conditioning. Albert showed the same distressed and fearful response to these as to the rat.
In these experiments, Watson demonstrated that human emotions are susceptible to classical conditioning. This was a new finding, because previous stimulus—response experiments had focused on testing the learning of physical behaviors. Watson had discovered that not only can human behavior be predicted—given certain stimuli and conditions—it can also be controlled and modified. A further check of Albert’s reactions to the rat, rabbit, and dog one month later suggested that the effects of this conditioning were long-lasting, but this could not be proven as Albert was soon after removed from the hospital by his mother. It has been suggested that this was a sign of the mother’s distress, but according to Watson and Rayner’s own account, it occurred on a prearranged date.
«I shall never be satisfied until I have a laboratory in which I can bring up children… under constant observation.»
John B. Watson
Infinitely malleable
Watson’s career was abruptly brought to an end shortly after the Little Albert experiments when he was forced to resign his professorship amid the scandal of his affair with his researcher, Rosalie Rayner. Despite the incompleteness of his research, Watson felt vindicated in his belief in behaviorism, and more particularly the application of classical stimulus—response conditioning to humans. Perhaps because of his forced ejection from the academic world (into advertising, where he was hugely successful) he developed a tendency to overstate the scope of his findings, and with a natural gift for self-publicity continued to publish books on the subject of psychology.
Not content, for example, to claim that it is possible to condition emotional responses, he boasted that on the same principle it would be possible to control or modify almost any aspect of human behavior, no matter how complex. Just as Little Albert had been conditioned to fear certain white furry objects against his natural inclination, Watson believed that “Anyone, regardless of their nature, can be trained to be anything.” He even boasted in his 1924 book Behaviorism: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” In the “nature versus nurture” debate, Watson was firmly on the side of nurture.
Watson saw the child as the ultimate “blank slate.” He claimed that behaviorist principles could be used to mold children into any kind of specialist, from artist to doctor, regardless of nature.
Unemotional parenting
Unable to continue his university research, Watson popularized his ideas on behaviorism by turning his attention to the business of childcare. It was in this that his views proved to be most publicly influential, and eventually most controversial. Predictably, he advocated a strictly behaviorist approach to bringing up children, and throughout the 1920s and 30s his many books on childcare became immensely popular. In retrospect, it is easy to see that his approach, based on extreme emotional detachment, was at best misguided and potentially damaging, but his methods were adopted by millions of parents, including Watson and Rosalie Rayner themselves.
The child, Watson believed, is shaped by its environment, and that environment is controlled by the parents. In essence, he saw child-raising as an objective exercise in behavior modification, especially of the emotions of fear, rage, and love. Perhaps understandably, given his own unhappy childhood, he dismissed affection as sentimental, leading to over-dependence of the child on the parent. But he also advised against the opposite emotional extreme and was an opponent of physical punishment.
Watson’s questionable application of stimulus—response conditioning to childcare eventually drew criticism. Later generations viewed the approach as manipulative and uncaring, with an emphasis on efficiency and results rather than on the wellbeing of the child. The long-term damage to children brought up according to Watson’s behaviorist model became apparent only gradually, but was significant. The popularity of his books as childcare “bibles” meant that a whole generation was affected by what can now be seen as a dysfunctional upbringing. Even Watson’s own family suffered: Rosalie eventually saw the flaws in her husband’s child-rearing theories and wrote a critical article for Parents’ Magazine entitled “I Am the Mother of a Behaviorist’s Sons,” and Watson’s granddaughter, the actor Mariette Hartley, gave an account of her disturbed family background in her autobiographical book Breaking the Silence.
Alternative approaches to childcare soon appeared, even among committed behaviorists. While accepting the basic principle of conditioning established by Watson (despite the dubious ethics of the Little Albert experiment), and using that as a starting point for his own “radical behaviorism,” the psychologist B.F. Skinner was to apply behaviorism to the business of childcare in a much more benign (if eccentric) manner.
«Watsonism has become gospel and catechism in the nurseries and drawing rooms of America.»
Mortimer Adler
Watson applied his understanding of human behavior to advertising in the 1920s, demonstrating that people can be influenced into buying products through their image, not content.
Born into a poor family in South Carolina, John Broadus Watson’s childhood was unhappy; his father was an alcoholic womanizer who left when Watson was 13, and his mother was devoutly religious. Watson became a rebellious and violent teenager, but was a brilliant scholar, attending nearby Furman University at the age of 16. After gaining a PhD from the University of Chicago, he became associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, where his 1913 lecture became known as the “behaviorist manifesto.” He worked briefly for the military during World War I, then returned to Johns Hopkins. Forced to resign after an affair with his research assistant, Rosalie Rayner, he turned to a career in advertising while still publishing books on psychology. After Rayner’s death in 1935 aged 37, he became a recluse.
Key works
1913 Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It
1920 Conditioned Emotional Reactions (with Rosalie Rayner)
1924 Behaviorism
See also: Ivan Pavlov • Edward Thorndike • Edward Tolman • B.F. Skinner • Joseph Wolpe • Kenneth Clark • Albert Bandura
Cognitive (“purposive”) behaviorism
1890s Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with dogs establish the theory of classical conditioning.
1920 John B. Watson conducts behaviorist experiments on humans, notably “Little Albert.”
1938 B.F. Skinner’s research into operant conditioning uses pigeons in place of rats, and becomes more sophisticated.
1950s Cognitive psychology replaces behaviorism as the dominant movement in psychology.
1980s Joseph Wolpe’s behavioral therapy and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy merge into cognitive behavioral therapy.
Although considered one of the leading figures of US behaviorist psychology, Edward Tolman took a very different approach from that of Thorndike and Watson. He agreed with the basic methodology of behaviorism—that psychology could only be studied by objective, scientific experiments—but was also interested in ideas about mental processes, including perception, cognition, and motivation, which he had encountered while studying Gestalt psychology in Germany. By bridging these two previously separate approaches, he developed a new theory about the role of conditioning, and created what he called “purposive behaviorism,” now called cognitive behaviorism. Tolman questioned the basic premise of conditioned learning (that behavior was learned simply by an automatic response to a stimulus). He believed that animals could learn about the world around them without the reinforcement of a reward, and later use that knowledge in decision-making.
He designed a series of experiments using rats in mazes to examine the role of reinforcement in learning. Comparing a group of rats that were rewarded with food daily for successfully negotiating the maze, with another group who were only rewarded after six days, and a third group rewarded after two days, Tolman’s ideas were confirmed. The second and third groups made fewer errors when running the maze the day after they had been rewarded with food, demonstrating that they already “knew” their way around the maze, having learned it prior to receiving rewards. Once rewards were on offer, they were able to use the “cognitive map” they had built in order to negotiate the maze faster.
«There is more than one kind of learning.»
Edward Tolman
Latent learning
Tolman referred to the rats’ initial learning period, where there was no obvious reward, as “latent learning.” He believed that as all animals, including humans, go about their daily lives, they build up a cognitive map of the world around them—the “God-given maze”—which they can apply to locate specific goals. He gave the example of how we learn the locations of various landmarks on our daily journeys, but only realize what we have learned when we need to find somewhere along the route. Further experiments showed that the rats learned a sense of location rather than merely the turns required to reach a particular place.
In Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men, Tolman outlined his theory of latent learning and cognitive maps, bringing together the methodology of behaviorism with Gestalt psychology, and introducing the element of cognition.
A cognitive map of our surroundings develops in the course of our daily lives. We may not be aware of this until we need to find somewhere that we have passed without noticing.
Edward Chace Tolman was born into a well-to-do family in West Newton, Massachusetts. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in electrochemistry in 1911, but after reading works by William James opted for a postgraduate degree at Harvard in philosophy and psychology. While studying, he traveled to Germany and was introduced to Gestalt psychology. After gaining his doctorate, he taught at Northwestern University, but his pacifist views lost him his job, and he moved to the University of California at Berkeley. It was here that he experimented with rats in mazes. During the McCarthy period, he was threatened with dismissal for not signing a loyalty oath that he felt restricted academic freedom. The case was overturned in 1955. He died in Berkeley, aged 73, in 1959.
Key works
1932 Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men
1942 Drives Toward War
1948 Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men
See also: Ivan Pavlov • Edward Thorndike • John B. Watson • B.F. Skinner • Joseph Wolpe • Wolfgang Köhler • Daniel Kahneman
Learning theory
1890s Ivan Pavlov shows “classical conditioning” in dogs.
1890s Edward Thorndike designs the “puzzle box” for his experiments on cats.
1920s Edward Tolman queries the role of reinforcement in conditioning.
1938 B.F. Skinner’s The Behavior of Organisms presents the idea of operant conditioning, emphasizing the role of consequences in behavior.
1940s Jean Piaget develops a theory of learning that claims children are naturally driven to explore and acquire knowledge.
1977 Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory states that behavior is learned from observing and copying the behavior of others.
By the 1920s, when American philosopher Edwin Guthrie turned his attention to psychology, the stimulus—response model of learning formed the basis of almost all behaviorist theories. Derived from Ivan Pavlov’s idea of “classical conditioning,” it claimed that repeatedly exposing subjects to particular stimuli combinations (such as being given food and ringing a bell) could eventually provoke conditioned responses (such as salivating when a bell is rung).
Although Guthrie was a strict behaviorist, he did not agree that conditioning needed reinforcement to be successful. He believed that a full association between a specific stimulus and response is made in their very first pairing. Guthrie’s theory of one-trial learning was based on a study in which he observed cats trapped in “puzzle boxes.” The cats, once they had discovered the mechanism for escape, made the association between escape and their action, which they would then repeat on subsequent occasions. In the same way, Guthrie said, once a rat has discovered a source of food, it knows where to come when it is hungry.
Guthrie expanded his idea into a theory of “contiguity,” stating that “a combination of stimuli, which has accompanied a movement, will on its reoccurrence tend to be followed by that movement.” A movement, not behavior, is learned from stimulus—response association. Related movements combine to form an act; repetition does not reinforce the association but leads to the formation of acts, which combine to form behavior.
«We expect one quarrel to change attitudes.»
Edwin Guthrie
See also: Ivan Pavlov • Edward Thorndike • Edward Tolman • B.F. Skinner • Jean Piaget • Albert Bandura
Behavioral epigenetics
1874 Francis Galton addresses the nature–nurture controversy in English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture.
1924 John B. Watson makes his famous “dozen infants” boast that anyone, regardless of their basic nature, can be trained to be anything.
1938 B.F. Skinner in The Behavior of Organisms explains his radical behaviorist ideas, claiming that circumstances, not instinct, govern behavior.
1942 Edward Tolman publishes Drives Toward War, which examines whether aggression is conditioned or instinctive.
1966 Konrad Lorenz publishes On Aggression, explaining aggressive behavior as an innate response.
In the 1920s, behaviorist John B. Watson was claiming that even innate behavior could be altered by conditioning. But it was the Chinese psychologist Zing-Yang Kuo who took the behaviorist idea to its extreme, denying the existence of instinct as an explanation for behavior.
Kuo felt that instinct was just a convenient way for psychologists to explain behavior that did not fit current theory: “Our behavior researches in the past have been in the wrong direction, because, instead of finding how we could build nature into the animal, we have tried to find nature in the animal.” Kuo’s most well-known experiments involved rearing kittens—some raised from birth in cages with rats, others introduced to rats at later stages. He found that “if a kitten was raised in the same cage with a rat since it was very young, it, when grown-up, became tolerant of rats: not only would it never attack a rat, but it adopted the rat as its ‘mate’, played with it, and even became attached to it.” Kuo’s work was cut short by political events in China, which forced him to flee first to the US, then Hong Kong. His ideas only became known in the West as behaviorism was beginning to wane and cognitive psychology was in the ascendant. However, his theory of ongoing development without innate mechanisms was influential as a counter to the instinct-based psychology of Konrad Lorenz.
Harmonious relationships, Kuo proved, can exist between animals that are traditionally regarded as enemies. He concluded that there is no “innate mechanism” driving them to fight.
See also: Francis Galton • John B. Watson • Edward Tolman • Konrad Lorenz • B.F. Skinner
1861 French anatomist Paul Broca locates the area of the brain responsible for speech.
1880s Spanish pathologist and neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal develops the theory that the body’s nervous system is made up of cells, which German anatomist Heinrich Waldeyer-Hartz later calls “neurons.”
1949 Donald Hebb describes the formation of cell assemblies and phase sequences in the process of associative learning.
From 1980 Modern brain-imaging techniques such as CT, fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scanning allow neuroscientists to map specific brain functions.
American physiologist-turned-psychologist Karl Lashley was interested in what happens physically in the brain during the learning process. Pavlov and other behaviorists had suggested that conditioning causes chemical or electrical changes in the brain, and Lashley wanted to pinpoint exactly what these were.
In particular, Lashley wanted to locate the memory trace, or “engram,” the specific place in the brain responsible for memory. Like many behaviorists, he used rats in mazes as the basis of a learning experiment. First, the rats learned to find their way through the maze to reach a food reward. Then, Lashley performed surgery on them to remove specific but different parts of the cerebral cortex from each one. After this, the rats were replaced in the maze to test their memory and learning abilities.
«There is no great excess of cells which can be reserved as the seat of special memories.»
Karl Lashley
No place for memory
What Lashley found was that no matter which part of the brain he removed, the rats’ memory of the task remained. Their learning and retention of new tasks was impaired, but the amount of impairment depended on the extent, not the location, of the damage. He came to the conclusion that the memory trace is not localized in a particular place, but distributed evenly throughout the cerebral cortex; each part of the brain is therefore equally important, or equipotential. Decades later, he said that his experiment had led him to “sometimes feel…that the necessary conclusion is that learning is just not possible.”
See also: John B. Watson • Donald Hebb • George Armitage Miller • Daniel Schacter • Roger Brown
1859 English biologist Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, describing the theory of natural selection.
1898 Lorenz’s mentor, German biologist Oskar Heinroth, begins his study of duck and goose behavior, and describes the phenomenon of imprinting.
1959 Experiments by the German psychologist Eckhard Hess show that in imprinting, what has been learned first is remembered best; whereas in association learning, recent learning is remembered best.
1969 John Bowlby argues that the attachment of newborn babies to their mothers is a genetic predisposition.
The Austrian zoologist and doctor Konrad Lorenz was one of the founding fathers of ethology—the comparative study of animal behavior in the natural environment. He began his work observing geese and ducks at his family’s summer house in Altenberg, Austria. He noticed that the young birds rapidly made a bond with their mother after hatching, but could also form the same attachment to a foster parent if the mother was absent. This phenomenon, which Lorenz called “imprinting,” had been observed before, but he was the first to study it systematically. Famously, he even persuaded young geese and ducks to accept him (by imprinting his Wellington boots) as a foster parent.
What distinguishes imprinting from learning, Lorenz discovered, is that it happens only at a specific stage in an animal’s development, which he called the «critical period.» Unlike learning, it is rapid, operates independently of behavior, and appears to be irreversible; imprinting cannot be forgotten.
Lorenz went on to observe many other stage-linked, instinctive behaviors, such as courtship behavior, and described them as «fixed-action patterns.» These remain dormant until triggered by a specific stimulus at a particular critical period. Fixed-action patterns, he emphasized, are not learned but genetically programed, and as such have evolved through the process of natural selection.
Lorenz discovered that geese and other birds follow and become attached to the first moving object they encounter after emerging from their eggs—in this case, his boots.
See also: Francis Galton • Ivan Pavlov • Edward Thorndike • Karl Lashley • John Bowlby
Radical behaviorism
1890 William James outlines the theories of behaviorism in The Principles of Psychology.
1890s Ivan Pavlov develops the concept of conditioned stimulus and response.
1924 John B. Watson lays the foundations for the modern behaviorist movement.
1930s Zing-Yang Kuo claims that behavior is continually being modified throughout life, and that even so-called innate behavior is influenced by “experiences” as an embryo.
1950s Joseph Wolpe pioneers systematic desensitization as part of behavior therapy.
1960s Albert Bandura’s social learning theory is influenced by radical behaviorism.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner, better known as B.F. Skinner, is possibly the most widely known and influential behaviorist psychologist. He was not, however, a pioneer in the field, but developed the ideas of his predecessors, such as Ivan Pavlov and John B. Watson, by subjecting theories of behaviorism to rigorous experimental scrutiny in order to arrive at his controversial stance of “radical behaviorism.”
Skinner proved to be an ideal advocate of behaviorism. Not only were his arguments based on the results of scrupulous scientific methodology (so they could be proved), but his experiments tended to involve the use of novel contraptions that the general public found fascinating. Skinner was an inveterate “gadget man” and a provocative self-publicist. But behind the showman image was a serious scientist, whose work helped to finally sever psychology from its introspective philosophical roots and establish it as a scientific discipline in its own right.
Skinner had once contemplated a career as an author, but he had little time for the philosophical theorizing of many of the early psychologists. Works by Pavlov and Watson were his main influence; he saw psychology as following in the scientific tradition, and anything that could not been seen, measured, and repeated in a rigorously controlled experiment was of no interest to him.
Processes purely of the mind, therefore, were outside Skinner’s interest and scope. In fact, he reached the conclusion that they must be utterly subjective, and did not exist at all separately from the body. In Skinner’s opinion, the way to carry out psychological research was through observable behavior, rather than through unobservable thoughts.
Although a strict behaviorist from the outset of his career, Skinner differed from earlier behaviorists in his interpretation of conditioning—in particular, the principle of “classical conditioning” as described by Pavlov. While not disagreeing that a conditioned response could be elicited by repeated training, Skinner felt that this was something of a special case, involving the deliberate, artificial introduction of a conditioning stimulus.
To Skinner, it seemed that the consequences of an action were more important in shaping behavior than any stimulus that had preceded or coincided with it. He concluded from his experiments that behavior is primarily learned from the results of actions. As with so many great insights, this may appear to be self-evident, but it marked a major turning point in behaviorist psychology.
«The objection to inner states is not that they do not exist, but that they are not relevant in a functional analysis.»
B.F. Skinner
Skinner boxes
While working as a research fellow at Harvard, Skinner carried out a series of experiments on rats, using an invention that later became known as a “Skinner box.” A rat was placed in one of these boxes, which had a special bar fitted on the inside. Every time the rat pressed this bar, it was presented with a food pellet. The rate of bar-pressing was automatically recorded. Initially, the rat might press the bar accidentally, or simply out of curiosity, and as a consequence receive some food. Over time, the rat learned that food appeared whenever the bar was pressed, and began to press it purposefully in order to be fed. Comparing results from rats given the “positive reinforcement” of food for their bar-pressing behavior with those that were not, or were presented with food at different rates, it became clear that when food appeared as a consequence of the rat’s actions, this influenced its future behavior.
Skinner concluded that animals are conditioned by the responses they receive from their actions and environment. As the rats explored the world around them, some of their actions had a positive consequence (Skinner was careful to avoid the word “reward” with its connotations of being given for “good” behavior), which in turn encouraged them to repeat that behavior. In Skinner’s terms, an “organism” operates on its environment, and encounters a stimulus (a food pellet), which reinforces its operant behavior (pressing on the bar). In order to distinguish this from classical conditioning, he coined the term “operant conditioning;” the major distinction being that operant conditioning depends not on a preceding stimulus, but on what follows as a consequence of a particular type of behavior. It is also different in that it represents a two-way process, in which an action, or behavior, is operating on the environment just as much as the environment is shaping that behavior.
In the course of his experiments, Skinner began to run short of food pellets, forcing him to reschedule the rate at which they were being given to the rats. Some rats now received a food pellet only after they had pressed the bar a number of times repeatedly, either at fixed intervals or randomly. The results of this variation reinforced Skinner’s original findings, but they also led to a further discovery: that while a reinforcing stimulus led to a greater probability of a behavior occurring, if the reinforcing stimulus was then stopped, there was a decrease in the likelihood of that behavior occurring.
Skinner continued making his experiments ever more varied and sophisticated, including changes of schedule to establish whether the rats could distinguish and respond to differences in the rate of delivery of food pellets. As he suspected, the rats adapted very quickly to the new schedules.
«The ideal of behaviorism is to eliminate coercion, to apply controls by changing the environment.»
B.F. Skinner
Skinner boxes were one of many ingenious devices that the psychologist created, giving him total control over the environment of the animals whose behavior he was observing.
Negative reinforcement
In later experiments, the floors of the Skinner boxes were each fitted with an electric grid, which would give the rats an unpleasant shock whenever they were activated. This allowed for the investigation of the effect of negative reinforcement on behavior. Again, just as Skinner avoided the word “reward,” he was careful not to describe the electric shock as “punishment,” a distinction that became increasingly important as he examined the implications of his research.
Negative reinforcement was not a new concept in psychology. As early as 1890, William James had written in Principles of Psychology: “Animals, for example, awaken in a child the opposite impulses of fearing and fondling. But if a child, in his first attempts to pat a dog, gets snapped at or bitten, so that the impulse of fear is strongly aroused, it may be that for years to come no dog will excite in him the impulse to fondle again.” Skinner was to provide the experimental evidence for this idea.
Winning at gambling often boosts the compulsion to try again, while losing lessens it, just as changes in the rate at which Skinner’s rats were fed made them modify their behavior.
Positive reinforcement
As expected, Skinner found that whenever a behavior resulted in the negative consequence of an electric shock, there was a decrease in that behavior. He went on to redesign the Skinner boxes used in the experiment, so that the rats inside were able to switch off the electrified grid by pressing a bar, which provided a form of positive reinforcement arising from the removal of a negative stimulus. The results that followed confirmed Skinner’s theory—if a behavior leads to the removal of a negative stimulus, that behavior increases.
However, the results also revealed an interesting distinction between behavior learned by positive reinforcement and behavior elicited by negative stimuli. The rats responded better and more quickly to the positive stimuli (as well as the removal of negative stimuli), than when their behavior resulted in a negative response. While still careful to avoid the notions of “reward” and “punishment,” Skinner concluded that behavior was shaped much more efficiently by a program of positive reinforcement. In fact, he came to believe that negative reinforcement could even be counter-productive, with the subject continuing to seek positive responses for a specific behavior, despite this leading to a negative response in the majority of cases.
This has implications in various areas of human behavior too; for example, in the use of disciplinary measures to teach children. If a boy is continually being punished for something he finds enjoyable, such as picking his nose, he is likely to avoid doing so when adults are around. The child may modify his behavior, but only so far as it enables him to avoid punishment. Skinner himself believed that ultimately all forms of punishment were unsuitable for controlling children’s behavior.
Positive reinforcement can stimulate particular patterns of behavior, as Skinner demonstrated by placing a rat in one of his specially designed boxes, fitted with a lever or bar. Pellets of food appeared every time the animal pressed the bar, encouraging it to perform this action again and again.
Genetic predisposition
The “shaping” of behavior by operant conditioning has striking parallels with Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection—in essence, that only organisms suited by their genetic make-up to a particular environment will survive to reproduce, ensuring the “success” of their species. The likelihood of a rat behaving in a way that will result in a reinforcing stimulus, triggering the process of operant conditioning, is dependent on the level of its curiosity and intelligence, both of which are determined by genetic make-up. It was this combination of predisposition and conditioning that led Skinner to conclude that “a person’s behavior is controlled by his genetic and environmental histories” —an idea that he explored further in his article The Selection by Consequences, written for the journal Science in 1981.
In 1936, Skinner took up a post at the University of Minnesota, where he continued to refine his experimental research in operant conditioning and to explore practical applications for his ideas, this time using pigeons instead of rats. With the pigeons, Skinner found that he was able to devise more subtle experiments. Using what he described as a “method of successive approximations”, he could elicit and investigate more complex patterns of behavior.
Skinner gave the pigeons positive reinforcement for any behavior that was similar to that he was trying to elicit. For example, if he was trying to train a pigeon to fly in a circle clockwise, food would be given for any movement the pigeon made to the right, however small. Once this behavior had been established, the food was only given for longer flights to the right, and the process was repeated until the pigeon had to fly a full circle in order to receive some food.
Skinner’s pigeon experiments proved that the positive reinforcement of being fed on the achievement of a task helped to speed up and reinforce the learning of new behavior patterns.
Teaching program
Skinner’s research led him to question teaching methods used in schools. In the 1950s, when his own children were involved in formal education, students were often given long tasks that involved several stages, and usually had to wait until the teacher had graded work carried out over the entire project before finding out how well they had done. This approach ran contrary to Skinner’s findings about the process of learning and, in his opinion, was holding back progress. In response, Skinner developed a teaching program that gave incremental feedback at every stage of a project—a process that was later incorporated into a number of educational systems. He also invented a “teaching machine” that gave a student encouraging feedback for correct answers given at every stage of a long series of test questions, rather than just at the end. Although it only achieved limited approval at the time, the principles embodied in Skinner’s teaching machine resurfaced decades later in self-education computer programs.
It has to be said that many of Skinner’s inventions were misunderstood at the time, and gained him a reputation as an eccentric. His “baby tender,” for example, was designed as a crib alternative to keep his infant daughter in a controlled, warm, and draft-free environment. However, the public confused it with a Skinner box, and it was dubbed the “heir conditioner” by the press, amid rumors that Skinner was experimenting on his own children. Nevertheless, the baby tender attracted publicity, and Skinner was never shy of the limelight.
Praise or encouragement given at frequent intervals during the progress of a piece of work, rather than one large reward at the end, has been shown to boost the rate at which children learn.
War effort
Yet another famous experiment called “Project Pigeon” was met with skepticism and some derision. This practical application of Skinner’s work with pigeons was intended as a serious contribution to the war effort in 1944. Missile guidance systems were yet to be invented, so Skinner devised a nose cone that could be attached to a bomb and steered by three pigeons placed inside it. The birds had been trained, using operant conditioning, to peck at an image of the bomb’s target, which was projected into the nose cone via a lens at the front. This pecking controlled the flight-path of the missile. The National Defense Research Committee helped fund the project, but it was never used in combat, because it was considered too eccentric and impractical. The suspicion was that Skinner, with his passion for gadgets, was more interested in the invention than in its application. When asked if he thought it right to involve animals in warfare, he replied that he thought it was wrong to involve humans.
In later life as an academic at Harvard, Skinner also expanded on the implications of his findings in numerous articles and books. Walden Two (1948) describes a utopian society based on behavior learned with operant conditioning. The book’s vision of social control achieved by positive reinforcement caused controversy, and despite its benign intent was criticized by many as totalitarian. This was not a surprising reaction, given the political climate in the aftermath of World War II.
Radical behaviorism
Skinner remained true to his behaviorist approach, coining the term “radical behaviorism” for the branch of psychology he espoused. Although he did not deny the existence of thought processes and mental states, he believed that psychology should be concerned solely with the study of physical responses to prevailing conditions or situations.
In his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner took the concept of shaping behavior even further, resurrecting the philosophical debate between free will and determinism. For the radical behaviorist Skinner, free will is an illusion; selection by consequences controls all of our behavior, and hence our lives. Attempts to escape this notion are doomed to failure and chaos. As he put it: “When Milton’s Satan falls from heaven, he ends in hell. And what does he say to reassure himself? ‘Here, at least, we shall be free.’ And that, I think, is the fate of the old-fashioned liberal. He’s going to be free, but he’s going to find himself in hell.”
Views such as these gained him notoriety, and prompted some of his fiercest critics. In particular, the application of his behaviorist ideas to the learning of language in Verbal Behavior in 1957 received a scathing review from Noam Chomsky, which is often credited as launching the movement known as cognitive psychology.
Some criticism of Skinner’s work, however, has been based on misunderstanding the principles of operant conditioning. Radical behaviorism has often been linked erroneously to the European philosophical movement of logical positivism, which holds the view that statements or ideas are only meaningful if they can be verified by actual experience. But it has in fact much more in common with American pragmatism, which measures the importance or value of actions according to their consequences. It has also been misinterpreted as presenting all living beings as the passive subjects of conditioning, whereas to Skinner operant conditioning was a two-way process, in which an organism operates on its environment and that environment responds, with the consequence often shaping future behavior.
In the 1960s, the focus in psychology swung away from the study of behavior to the study of mental processes, and for a time Skinner’s ideas were discredited, or at least ignored. A reappraisal of behaviorism soon followed, however, and his work found an appreciative audience in many areas of applied psychology, especially among educationalists and clinical psychologists—the approach of cognitive behavioral therapy owes much to his ideas.
«Skinner has an unbounded love for the idea that there are no individuals, no agents—there are only organisms.»
Thomas Szasz
Classical conditioning creates an automatic behavioral response to a neutral stimulus, such as salivating in expectation of food when a bell is rung.
Operant conditioning creates a higher probability of repeated behavior through positive reinforcement, such as releasing food by pulling a lever.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He studied English at Hamilton College, New York, intending to be a writer, but soon realized that the literary life was not for him. Influenced by the works of Ivan Pavlov and John B. Watson, he studied psychology at Harvard, gaining his doctorate in 1931 and becoming a junior fellow. He moved to the University of Minnesota in 1936, and from 1946 to 1947 ran the psychology department at Indiana University. In 1948, Skinner returned to Harvard, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with leukemia in the 1980s, but continued to work, finishing an article from his final lecture on the day he died, August 18, 1990.
Key works
1938 The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis
1948 Walden Two
1953 Science and Human Behavior
1957 Verbal Behavior
1971 Beyond Freedom and Dignity
See also: William James • Ivan Pavlov • John B. Watson • Zing-Yang Kuo • Joseph Wolpe • Albert Bandura • Noam Chomsky
Reciprocal inhibition
1906 Ivan Pavlov publishes the first studies on stimulus-response techniques, showing that behavior can be learned through conditioning.
1913 John B. Watson publishes Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It, establishing the basic tenets of behavioral psychology.
1920 John B. Watson’s Little Albert experiments demonstrate that emotions can be classically conditioned.
1938 B.F. Skinner publishes The Behavior of Organisms, presenting his theories on how human behavior relates to biology and the environment.
1961 Wolpe introduces the concept of systematic desensitization.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, psychotherapy was dominated by Freudian psychoanalysis, which assumes that anxiety results from conflicting forces deep within the psyche. This conflict can only be alleviated through a lengthy, introspective analysis of both the individual’s conscious and subconscious thoughts, including their formative experiences. But South African-born psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe had treated soldiers for anxiety brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder (then known as “war neurosis”) during World War II, and had found these psychotherapeutic practices ineffective in helping his patients. Talking to these men about their experiences did not stop their flashbacks to the original trauma, nor did it end their anxiety.
«Behavior depends upon the paths that neural excitation takes.»
Joseph Wolpe
Unlearning fear
Wolpe believed that there must be a simpler and quicker way than psychoanalysis to address the problem of deep anxiety. He was aware of the work of behaviorists such as Ivan Pavlov and John Watson, who had successfully taught animals and children new behavioral patterns through stimulus-response training, or classical conditioning. They had been able to make a previously unfelt emotional response to an object or event become automatic. Wolpe reasoned that if behavior could be learned in this way, it could also be unlearned, and he proposed to find a method of using this to help disturbed war veterans.
Wolpe had discovered that a human being is not capable of experiencing two contradictory states of emotion at the same time. It is not possible, for example, to feel great anxiety of any kind, when you are feeling very relaxed. This inspired him to teach his patients deep-muscle relaxation techniques, which he went on to pair with simultaneous exposure to some form of anxiety-inducing stimuli—a technique that became known as reciprocal inhibition.
Wolpe’s patients were asked to imagine the thing or event that they found disturbing. If they started to become anxious, they would be encouraged to “stop imagining the scene and relax.” This approach gradually blocked out a patient’s feelings of fear. Just as the patient had previously been conditioned by his experiences to become anxious when recalling certain particularly harrowing memories, he now became conditioned—within a very short time—to block out his anxiety response, by focusing on the directly contradictory feeling of being totally relaxed.
Wolpe’s reciprocal inhibition succeeded in reconditioning the brain by focusing solely on symptoms and current behavior, without any analysis of a patient’s past. It was also effective and brought fast results, and led to many important new techniques in the field of behavioral therapy. Wolpe himself used it to develop a systematic desensitization program to cure phobias, such as fear of mice or flying, which is still widely used.
Phobias such as fear of mice have been treated successfully using methods developed from Wolpe’s idea of reciprocal inhibition: the pairing of deep relaxation with exposure to the feared object.
Joseph Wolpe was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He studied medicine at the University of Witwatersrand, then served in the South African Army, where he treated people for “war neurosis.” Returning to the university to develop his desensitization technique, he was ridiculed by the psychoanalytic establishment for attempting to treat neuroses without first identifying their cause. Wolpe relocated to the US in 1960, taking US citizenship. Initially, he taught at the University of Virginia, then became a professor of psychiatry at Temple University, Philadelphia, where he set up a respected behavioral therapy institute. Renowned as a brilliant teacher, Wolpe continued to teach until he died of lung cancer, aged 82.
Key works
1958 Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition
1969 Practice of Behavioral Therapy
1988 Life Without Fear
See also: Ivan Pavlov • John B. Watson • B.F. Skinner • Aaron Beck • W.H.R. Rivers
At the turn of the 20th century, behaviorism was becoming the dominant approach to psychology in the US; psychologists in Europe, however, were taking a different direction. This was largely due to the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories focused on psychopathology and treatment rather than the study of mental processes and behavior. Unlike behaviorism, his ideas were based on observation and case histories rather than experimental evidence.
Freud had worked with the French neurologist Jean Martin Charcot, and was much influenced by the latter’s use of hypnosis for the treatment of hysteria. From his time with Charcot, Freud realized the importance of the unconscious, an area of nonconscious thought that he felt was key to our behavior. Freud believed that accessing the unconscious by talking to his patients would bring painful, hidden memories into conscious awareness where the patient could make sense of them, and so gain relief from their symptoms.
New psychotherapies
Freud’s ideas spread across Europe and the US. He attracted a circle at his Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which included Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. However, both these men came to disagree with elements of Freud’s theories, going on to develop their own distinct psychodynamic approaches based on Freud’s groundwork. Well-known therapists Melanie Klein and Karen Horney, and even Freud’s daughter Anna, also broke away from Freud. Despite these differences of opinion, however, Freud’s basic ideas were modified rather than rejected by the next generation of psychoanalysts, and subsequent theories place the emphasis on different areas. Erik Erikson, for example, took a more social and developmental approach, while Jung was to formulate the idea of a collective unconscious.
For the first half of the 20th century, psychoanalysis in its various forms remained the main alternative to behaviorism, and it faced no serious challenges until after World War II. In the 1950s, Freudian psychotherapy was still practiced by therapists, especially in France by Jacques Lacan and his followers, but new therapies appeared that sought to bring about genuine change in patients’ lives. The somewhat eclectic Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz and Laura Perls and Paul Goodman, while existential philosophy inspired psychologists such as Viktor Frankl and Erich Fromm, who gave therapy a more sociopolitical agenda.
Most importantly, a group of psychologists keen to explore a more humanistic approach held a series of meetings in the US in the late 1950s, setting out a framework for an association known as “the third force,” which was dedicated to exploring themes such as self-actualization, creativity, and personal freedom. Its founders—including Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May—stressed the importance of mental health as much as the treatment of mental disorders.
Perhaps the most significant threat to psychoanalysis at this time came from cognitive psychology, which criticized psychoanalysis for its lack of objective evidence—either for its theories or its efficacy as treatment. In contrast, cognitive psychology provided scientifically proven theories and, later, clinically effective therapeutic practices.
Cognitive psychotherapy
Cognitive psychologists dismissed psychoanalysis as unscientific and its theories as unprovable. One of the key concepts of Freudian analysis—repressed memory—was questioned by Paul Watzlawick, and the validity of all forms of memory was shown to be unstable by Elizabeth Loftus. Cognitive psychology instead offered evidence-based psychotherapies such as Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy. Freud’s emphasis on childhood development and personal history inspired much developmental and social psychology, and in the late 20th century psychotherapists such as Guy Corneau, Virginia Satir, and Donald Winnicott turned their attention to the family environment; while others, including Timothy Leary and Dorothy Rowe, focused on social pressures.
Though Freud’s original ideas have often been questioned over the years, the evolution from Freudian psychoanalysis to cognitive therapy and humanistic psychotherapy has led to huge improvements in mental health treatments, and has provided a model for the unconscious, our drives, and behavior.
2500–600 BCE The Hindu Vedas describe consciousness as “an abstract, silent, completely unified field of consciousness.”
1567 Swiss physician Paracelsus provides the first medical description of the unconscious.
1880s French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot uses hypnotism to treat hysteria and other abnormal mental conditions.
1913 John B. Watson criticizes Freud’s ideas of the unconscious as unscientific and not provable.
1944 Carl Jung claims that the presence of universal archetypes proves the existence of the unconscious.
The unconscious is one of the most intriguing concepts in psychology. It seems to contain all of our experience of reality, although it appears to be beyond our awareness or control. It is the place where we retain all our memories, thoughts, and feelings. The notion fascinated Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who wanted to find out if it was possible to explain things that seemed to lie beyond the confines of psychology at the time. Those who had begun to examine the unconscious feared that it might be filled with psychic activity that was too powerful, too frightening, or too incomprehensible for our conscious mind to be able to incorporate. Freud’s work on the subject was pioneering. He described the structure of the mind as formed of the conscious, the unconscious, and the preconscious, and he popularized the idea of the unconscious, introducing the notion that it is the part of the mind that defines and explains the workings behind our ability to think and experience.
Hypnosis and hysteria
Freud’s introduction to the world of the unconscious came in 1885 when he came across the work of the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who seemed to be successfully treating patients for symptoms of mental illness using hypnosis. Charcot’s view was that hysteria was a neurological disorder caused by abnormalities of the nervous system, and this idea provided important new possibilities for treatments. Freud returned to Vienna, eager to use this new knowledge, but struggled to find a workable technique.
He then encountered Joseph Breuer, a well-respected physician, who had found that he could greatly reduce the severity of one of his patient’s symptoms of mental illness simply by asking her to describe her fantasies and hallucinations. Breuer began using hypnosis to facilitate her access to memories of a traumatic event, and after twice-weekly hypnosis sessions all her symptoms had been alleviated. Breuer concluded that her symptoms had been the result of disturbing memories buried in her unconscious mind, and that voicing the thoughts brought them to consciousness, allowing the symptoms to disappear. This is the case of Anna O, and is the first instance of intensive psychotherapy as a treatment for mental illness.
Breuer became Freud’s friend and colleague, and together the two developed and popularized a method of psychological treatment based on the idea that many forms of mental illness (irrational fears, anxiety, hysteria, imagined paralyses and pains, and certain types of paranoia) were the results of traumatic experiences that had occurred in the patient’s past and were now hidden away from consciousness. Through Freud and Breuer’s technique, outlined in the jointly published Studies in Hysteria (1895), they claimed to have found a way to release the repressed memory from the unconscious, allowing the patient to consciously recall the memory and confront the experience, both emotionally and intellectually. The process set free the trapped emotion, and the symptoms disappeared. Breuer disagreed with what he felt was Freud’s eventual overemphasis on the sexual origins and content of neuroses (problems caused by psychological conflicts), and the two parted; Freud to continue developing the ideas and techniques of psychoanalysis.
Anna O, actually Bertha Pappenheim, was diagnosed with paralysis and hysteria. She was treated successfully, with what she described as a “talking cure,” by physician Josef Breuer.
Our everyday mind
It is easy to take for granted the reality of the conscious, and naively believe that what we think, feel, remember, and experience make up the entirety of the human mind. But Freud says that the active state of consciousness—that is, the operational mind of which we are directly aware in our everyday experience—is just a fraction of the total psychological forces at work in our psychical reality. The conscious exists at the superficial level, to which we have easy and immediate access. Beneath the conscious lies the powerful dimensions of the unconscious, the warehouse from which our active cognitive state and behavior are dictated. The conscious is effectively the puppet in the hands of the unconscious. The conscious mind is merely the surface of a complex psychic realm.
Since the unconscious is all-encompassing, Freud says, it contains within it the smaller spheres of the conscious and an area called the “preconscious.” Everything that is conscious—that we actively know—has at one time been unconscious before rising to consciousness. However, not everything becomes consciously known; much of what is unconscious remains there. Memories that are not in our everyday working memory, but which have not been repressed, reside in a part of the conscious mind that Freud called the preconscious. We are able to bring these memories into conscious awareness at any time.
The unconscious acts as a receptacle for ideas or memories that are too powerful, too painful, or otherwise too much for the conscious mind to process. Freud believed that when certain ideas or memories (and their associated emotions) threaten to overwhelm the psyche, they are split apart from a memory that can be accessed by the conscious mind, and stored in the unconscious instead.
«The mind is like an iceberg; it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.»
Sigmund Freud
Our psyche, according to Freud, resembles an iceberg, with the area of primitive drives, the id, lying hidden in the unconscious. The ego deals with conscious thoughts and regulates both the id and the superego—our critical, judging voice.
Dynamic thought
Freud was also influenced by the physiologist Ernst Brücke, who was one of the founders of the 19th-century’s “new physiology,” which looked for mechanistic explanations for all organic phenomena. Brücke claimed that like every other living organism, the human being is essentially an energy system, and so must abide by the Principle of the Conservation of Energy. This law states that the total amount of energy in a system stays constant over time; it cannot be destroyed, only moved or transformed. Freud applied this thinking to mental processes, resulting in the idea of “psychic energy.” This energy, he said, can undergo modification, transmission, and conversion, but cannot be destroyed. So if we have a thought that the conscious mind finds unacceptable, the mind redirects it away from conscious thought into the unconscious, in a process Freud called “repression.” We may repress the memory of a childhood trauma (such as abuse or witnessing an accident), a desire we have judged as unacceptable (perhaps for your best friend’s partner), or ideas that otherwise threaten our wellbeing or way of life.
«Like the physical, the psychical is not necessarily in reality what it appears to be.»
Sigmund Freud
Motivating drives
The unconscious is also the place where our instinctual biological drives reside. The drives govern our behavior, directing us toward choices that promise to satisfy our basic needs. The drives ensure our survival: the need for food and water; the desire for sex to ensure the continuation of our species; and the necessity to find warmth, shelter, and companionship. But Freud claims the unconscious also holds a contrasting drive, the death drive, which is present from birth. This drive is self-destructive and impels us forward, though as we do so we are moving closer to our death.
In his later works, Freud moved away from the idea that the mind was structured by the conscious, unconscious, and preconscious to propose a new controlling structure: the id, ego, and superego. The id (formed of primitive impulses) obeys the Pleasure Principle, which says that every wishful impulse must be immediately gratified: it wants everything now. However, another part of the mental structure, the ego, recognizes the Reality Principle, which says we can’t have everything we desire, but must take account of the world we live in. The ego negotiates with the id, trying to find reasonable ways to help it get what it wants, without resulting in damage or other terrible consequences. The ego itself is controlled by the superego—the internalized voice of parents and society’s moral codes. The superego is a judging force, and the source of our conscience, guilt, and shame.
In fact, Freud proposes, the unconscious holds a vast amount of conflicting forces. In addition to the drives of the life and death forces, it encompasses the intensity of repressed memories and emotions, as well as the contradictions inherent in our views of conscious reality alongside our repressed reality. According to Freud, the conflict that arises from these contrasting forces is the psychological conflict that underlies human suffering. Is it any wonder that humans exist in states of anxiety, depression, neurosis, and other forms of discontent?
«A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.»
Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalytical treatment
Since the unconscious remains inaccessible, the only way the conflicts can be recognized is through the symptoms that are present in the conscious. Emotional suffering, Freud claims, is the result of unconscious conflict. We cannot continually fight against ourselves, against the uprising of repressed material, and against the force of death, without emotional turmoil.
Freud’s unique approach to the treatment of psychological ailments involved working with the conflicts that existed in the unconscious. He sought to free the patient from repressed memories and so alleviate their mental pain. His approach to treatment is called psychoanalytic psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis. This process is not easy or quick. Psychoanalysis is only performed by a therapist trained in Freud’s specific approach, and it is his therapy that encourages a patient to lie on a couch and talk. From Freud’s first treatments, psychoanalysis has been practiced in sessions that can sometimes last for hours, take place several times per week, and continue for many years.
While unconscious thoughts cannot be retrieved through normal introspection, the unconscious can communicate with the conscious in some ways. It quietly communicates via our preferences, the frames of reference in which we tend to understand things, and the symbols that we are drawn to or create.
During analysis, the analyst acts as a mediator, trying to allow unspoken thoughts or unbearable feelings to come to light. Messages arising from a conflict between the conscious and the unconscious are likely to be disguised, or encoded, and it is the psychoanalyst’s job to interpret the messages using the tools of psychoanalysis.
There are several techniques that allow the unconscious to emerge. One of the first to be discussed by Freud at length was dream analysis; he famously studied his own dreams in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams. He claimed that every dream enacts a wish fulfilment, and the more unpalatable the wish is to our conscious mind, the more hidden or distorted the desire becomes in our dreams. So the unconscious, he says, sends messages to our conscious mind in code. For instance, Freud discusses dreams where the dreamer is naked—the primary source for these dreams in most people is memories from early childhood, when nakedness was not frowned upon and there was no sense of shame. In dreams where the dreamer feels embarrassment, the other people in the dream generally seem oblivious, lending support to a wish-fulfilment interpretation where the dreamer wants to leave behind shame and restriction. Even buildings and structures have coded meanings; stairwells, mine shafts, locked doors, or a small building in a narrow recess all represent repressed sexual feelings, according to Freud.
«The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.»
Sigmund Freud
Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory (1931) is a surrealist vision of time passing, leading to decay and death. Its fantastical quality suggests the Freudian process of dream analysis.
Accessing the unconscious
Other well-known ways in which the unconscious reveals itself are through Freudian slips and the process of free association. A Freudian slip is a verbal error, or “slip of the tongue,” and it is said to reveal a repressed belief, thought, or emotion. It is an involuntary substitution of one word for another that sounds similar but inadvertently reveals something the person really feels. For instance, a man might thank a woman he finds desirable for making “the breast dinner ever,” the slip revealing his true thoughts. Freud used the free-association technique (developed by Carl Jung), whereby patients heard a word and were then invited to say the first word that came into their mind. He believed that this process allowed the unconscious to break through because our mind uses automatic associations, so “hidden” thoughts are voiced before the conscious mind has a chance to interrupt.
In order to help an individual emerge from a repressed state and begin to consciously deal with the real issues that are affecting him or her, Freud believed that it is necessary to access repressed feelings. For example, if a man finds it difficult to confront others, he will choose to repress his feelings rather than deal with the confrontation. Over time, however, these repressed emotions build up and reveal themselves in other ways. Anger, anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, or eating disorders may all be the result of struggling to fend off feelings that have been repressed instead of being addressed. Unprocessed emotions, Freud asserts, are constantly threatening to break through, generating an increasingly uncomfortable tension and inciting more and more extreme measures to keep them down.
Analysis allows trapped memories and feelings to emerge, and the patient is often surprised to feel the emotion that has been buried. It is not uncommon for patients to find themselves moved to tears by an issue from many years ago that they felt they had long since “got over.” This response demonstrates that the event and the emotion are still alive—still holding emotional energy—and have been repressed rather than dealt with. In Freudian terms, “catharsis” describes the act of releasing and feeling the deep emotions associated with repressed memories. If the significant event—such as the death of a parent—was not fully experienced at the time because it was too overwhelming, the difficulty and the energy remain, to be released at the moment of catharsis.
«The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious; what I discovered was the scientific method by which it could be studied.»
Sigmund Freud
School of psychoanalysis
Freud founded the prominent Psychoanalytic Society in Vienna, from which he exerted his powerful influence on the mental health community of the time, training others in his methods and acting as the authority on what was acceptable practice. Over time, his students and other professionals modified his ideas, eventually splitting the Society into three: the Freudians (who remained true to Freud’s original thoughts), the Kleinians (who followed the ideas of Melanie Klein), and the Neo-Freudians (a later group who incorporated Freud’s ideas into their broader practice). Modern psychoanalysis encompasses at least 22 different schools of thought, though Freud’s ideas continue to remain influential for all contemporary practitioners.
Freud’s patients would recline on this couch in his treatment room while they talked. Freud would sit out of sight while he listened for clues to the source of the patient’s internal conflicts.
Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in Freiberg, Moravia, Freud was openly his mother’s favorite child; she called him “Golden Siggie.” When Freud was four years old, the family moved to Vienna and Sigismund became Sigmund. Sigmund completed a medical degree and in 1886 he opened a medical practice specializing in neurology, and married Martha Bernays. Eventually, he developed the “talking cure” that was to become an entirely new psychological approach: psychoanalysis.
In 1908, Freud established the Psychoanalytic Society, which ensured the future of his school of thought. During World War II, the Nazis publicly burned his work, and Freud moved to London. He died by assisted suicide, after enduring mouth cancer.
Key works
1900 The Interpretation of Dreams
1904 The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
1905 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
1930 Civilization and Its Discontents
See also: Johann Friedrich Herbart • Jean-Martin Charcot • Carl Jung • Melanie Klein • Anna Freud • Jacques Lacan • Paul Watzlawick • Aaron Beck • Elizabeth Loftus
Individual psychology
1896 William James says that self-esteem is about a ratio of “goals satisfied” to “goals unmet” and can be raised by lowering expectations as well as through achievements.
1902 Charles Horton Cooley describes the “looking glass self;” the way we view ourselves is based on how we imagine other people view us.
1943 Abraham Maslow says that to feel both necessary and good about ourselves we need achievements as well as respect from others.
1960s British psychologist Michael Argyle states that comparison shapes self-esteem; we feel better when we feel more successful than others, and worse when we feel less successful than others.
Freudian thinking dominated psychotherapy in the late 19th century, but Freud’s approach was limited to addressing unconscious drives and the legacy of an individual’s past. Alfred Adler was the first psychoanalyst to expand psychological theory beyond the Freudian viewpoint, suggesting that a person’s psychology was also influenced by present and conscious forces, and that the influence of the social realm and environment was equally vital. Adler founded his own approach, individual psychology, based on these ideas.
Adler’s particular interest in inferiority and the positive and negative effects of self-esteem began early in his career, when he worked with patients who had physical disabilities. Looking at the effects that disability had on achievement and sense of self, he found huge differences between his patients. Some people with disabilities were able to reach high levels of athletic success, and Adler noted that in these personalities, the disability served as a strong motivational force. At the other extreme, he witnessed patients who felt defeated by their disability and who made little effort to improve their situation. Adler realized that the differences came down to how these individuals viewed themselves: in other words, their self-esteem.
A paralympic athlete may be driven by a powerful desire to overcome her disabilities and reach greater levels of physical achievement. Adler described this trait as “compensation.”
The inferiority complex
According to Adler, feeling inferior is a universal human experience that is rooted in childhood. Children naturally feel inferior because they are constantly surrounded by stronger, more powerful people with greater abilities. A child generally seeks to emulate and achieve the abilities of its elders, motivated by the surrounding forces that propel him toward his own development and accomplishments.
Children and adults with a healthy and balanced personality gain confidence each time they realize that they are capable of meeting external goals. Feelings of inferiority dissipate until the next challenge presents itself and is overcome; this process of psychic growth is continual. However, an individual with a physical inferiority may develop more generalized feelings of inferiority—leading to an unbalanced personality and what Adler termed an “inferiority complex,” where the feelings of inferiority are never relieved.
Adler also recognized the equally unbalanced “superiority complex,” manifested in a constant need to strive toward goals. When attained, these goals do not instil confidence in the individual, but merely prompt him to continually seek further external recognition and achievements.
«To be human is to feel inferior.»
Alfred Adler
After coming close to death from pneumonia at the age of five, Alfred Adler expressed a wish to become a physician. Growing up in Vienna, he went on to study medicine, branching into ophthalmology before finally settling with psychology. In 1897, he married Raissa Epstein, a Russian intellectual and social activist, and they had four children.
Adler was one of the original members of the Freudian-based Vienna Psychoanalytical Society and the first to depart from it, asserting that individuals are affected by social factors as well as the unconscious drives that Freud identified. After this split in 1911, Adler flourished professionally, establishing his own school of psychotherapy and developing many of psychology’s prominent concepts. He left Austria in 1932 for the US. He died of a heart attack while lecturing at Aberdeen University, Scotland.
Key works
1912 The Neurotic Character
1927 The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology
1927 Understanding Human Nature
See also: Karen Horney • Eric Fromm • Abraham Maslow • Rollo May • Albert Ellis
1899 Sigmund Freud explores the nature of the unconscious and dream symbolism in The Interpretation of Dreams.
1903 Pierre Janet suggests that traumatic incidents generate emotionally charged beliefs, which influence an individual’s emotions and behaviors for many years.
1949 Jungian scholar Joseph Campbell publishes Hero With a Thousand Faces, detailing archetypal themes in literature from many different cultures throughout history.
1969 British psychologist John Bowlby states that human instinct is expressed as patterned action and thought in social exchanges.
Sigmund Freud introduced the idea that rather than being guided by forces outside ourselves, such as God or fate, we are motivated and controlled by the inner workings of our own minds, specifically, the unconscious. He claimed that our experiences are affected by primal drives contained in the unconscious. His protégé, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, took this idea further, delving into the elements that make up the unconscious and its workings.
Jung was fascinated by the way that societies around the world share certain striking similarities, despite being culturally very different. They share an uncanny commonality in their myths and symbols, and have for thousands of years. He thought that this must be due to something larger than the individual experience of man; the symbols, he decided, must exist as part of the human psyche.
It seemed to Jung that the existence of these shared myths proved that part of the human psyche contains ideas that are held in a timeless structure, which acts as a form of “collective memory.” Jung introduced the notion that one distinct and separate part of the unconscious exists within each of us, which is not based on any of our own individual experiences—this is the “collective unconscious.”
The commonly found myths and symbols are, for Jung, part of this universally shared collective unconscious. He believed that the symbols exist as part of hereditary memories that are passed on from generation to generation, changing only slightly in their attributes across different cultures and time periods. These inherited memories emerge within the psyche in the language of symbols, which Jung calls “archetypes.”
The tale of Snow White can be found all over the world with minor variations. Jung attributed the universal popularity of fairy tales and myths to their use of archetypal characters.
Ancient memories
Jung believes that the archetypes are layers of inherited memory, and they constitute the entirety of the human experience. The Latin word archetypum translates as “first-molded,” and Jung believed that archetypes are memories from the experiences of our first ancestors. They act as templates within the psyche that we use unconsciously to organize and understand our own experience. We may fill out the gaps with details from our individual lives, but it is this preexisting substructure in the unconscious that is the framework that allows us to make sense of our experience.
Archetypes can be thought of as inherited emotional or behavioral patterns. They allow us to recognize a particular set of behaviors or emotional expressions as a unified pattern that has meaning. It seems that we do this instinctively, but Jung says that what seems to be instinct is actually the unconscious use of archetypes.
Jung suggests that the psyche is composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego, he says, represents the conscious mind or self, while the personal unconscious contains the individual’s own memories, including those that have been suppressed. The collective unconscious is the part of the psyche that houses the archetypes.
«The personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer… I call the collective unconscious.»
Carl Jung
The archetypes
There are many archetypes, and though they can blend and mold into each other in different cultures, each of us contains within us the model of each archetype. Since we use these symbolic forms to make sense of the world and our experiences, they appear in all human forms of expression, such as art, literature, and drama.
The nature of an archetype is such that we recognize it instantly and are able to attach to it a specific, emotional meaning. Archetypes can be associated with many kinds of behavioral and emotional patterns, but there are certain prominent ones that are highly recognizable, such as The Wise Old Man, The Goddess, The Madonna, the Great Mother, and The Hero.
The Persona is one of the most important archetypes described by Jung. He recognized early in his own life that he had a tendency to share only a certain part of his personality with the outside world. He also recognized this trait in other people, and noted that human beings divide their personalities into components, selectively sharing only certain components of their selves according to the environment and situation. The self that we present to the world—our public image—is an archetype, which Jung calls the “Persona.”
Jung believes that the self has both masculine and feminine parts, and is molded into becoming fully male or female by society as much as biology. When we become wholly male or female we turn our backs on half of our potential, though we can still access this part of the self through an archetype. The Animus exists as the masculine component of the female personality, and the Anima as the feminine attributes of the male psyche. This is the “other half”, the half that was taken from us as we grew into a girl or boy. These archetypes help us to understand the nature of the opposite sex, and because they contain “deposits of all the impressions ever made” by a man or woman, so they necessarily reflect the traditional ideas of masculine and feminine.
The Animus is represented in our culture as the “real man;” he is the muscle man, the commander of soldiers, the cool logician, and the romantic seducer. The Anima appears as a wood nymph, a virgin, a seductress. She can be close to nature, intuitive, and spontaneous. She appears in paintings and stories as Eve, or Helen of Troy, or a personality such as Marilyn Monroe, bewitching men or sucking the life from them. As these archetypes exist in our unconscious, they can affect our moods and reactions, and can manifest themselves as prophetic statements (Anima) or unbending rationality (Animus).
Jung defines one archetype as representing the part of ourselves we do not want the world to see. He calls it the Shadow, and it is the opposite of the Persona, representing all our secret or repressed thoughts and the shameful aspects of our character. It appears in the Bible as the devil, and in literature as Dr Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde. The Shadow is the “bad” side of ourselves that we project onto others, and yet it is not entirely negative; it may represent aspects that we choose to suppress only because they are unacceptable in a particular situation.
Of all the archetypes, the most important is the True Self. This is a central, organizing archetype that attempts to harmonize all other aspects into a unified, whole self. According to Jung, the real goal of human existence is to achieve an advanced, enlightened psychological state of being that he refers to as “self-realization,” and the route to this lies in the archetype of the True Self. When fully realized, this archetype is the source of wisdom and truth, and is able to connect the self to the spiritual. Jung stressed that self-realization does not happen automatically, it must be consciously sought.
Eve is one representation of the Anima, the female part of a man’s unconscious. Jung says she is “full of snares and traps, in order that man should fall… and life should be lived.”
Dr. Jekyll transforms into the evil Mr. Hyde in a story by Robert Louis Stevenson that explores the idea of the “darker self,” through a character that embodies Jung’s Shadow archetype.
Archetypes in dreams
The archetypes are of significant importance in the interpretation of dreams. Jung believed that dreams are a dialogue between the conscious self and the eternal (the ego and the collective unconscious), and that the archetypes operate as symbols within the dream, facilitating the dialogue.
The archetypes have specific meanings in the context of dreams. For instance, the archetype of The Wise Old Man or Woman may be represented in a dream by a spiritual leader, parent, teacher, or doctor—it indicates those who offer guidance, direction, and wisdom. The Great Mother, an archetype who might appear as the dreamer’s own mother or grandmother, represents the nurturer. She provides reassurance, comfort, and validation. The Divine Child, the archetype that represents your True Self in its purest form, symbolizing innocence or vulnerability, would appear as a baby or child in dreams, suggesting openness or potential. And lest the ego grow too large, it is kept in check by the appearance of the Trickster, a playful archetype that exposes the dreamer’s vulnerabilities and plays jokes, preventing the individual from taking himself and his desires too seriously. The Trickster also appears as the Norse half-god Loki, the Greek god Pan, the African spider god Anansi, or simply a magician or clown.
«All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes.»
Carl Jung
Using the archetypes
The archetypes exist in our minds before conscious thought, and can therefore have an immensely powerful impact on our perception of experience. Whatever we may consciously think is happening, what we choose to perceive—and therefore experience—is governed by these preformed ideas within the unconscious. In this way, the collective unconscious and its contents affect the conscious state. According to Jung, much of what we generally attribute to deliberate, reasoned, conscious thinking is actually already being guided by unconscious activity, especially the organizing forms of the archetypes.
In addition to his ideas of the collective unconscious and the archetypes, Jung was the first to explore the practice of word association, and he also introduced the concepts of the extrovert and introvert personality types. These ultimately inspired widely used personality tests such as the Myers—Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Jung’s work was influential in the fields of psychology, anthropology, and spirituality, and his archetypes are so widespread that they can easily be identified in film, literature, and other cultural forms that attempt to portray universal characters.
«By understanding the unconscious we free ourselves from its domination.»
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was born in a small Swiss village to an educated family with a fair share of eccentrics. He was close to his mother, though she suffered from bouts of depression. A talented linguist, Jung mastered many European languages as well as several ancient ones, including Sanskrit. He married Emma Rauschenbach in 1903 and they had five children.
Jung trained in psychiatry, but after meeting Sigmund Freud in 1907, he became a psychoanalyst and Freud’s heir apparent. However, the pair grew estranged over theoretical differences and never met again. In the years following World War I, Jung traveled widely through Africa, America, and India, studying native people and taking part in anthropological and archaeological expeditions. He became a professor at the University of Zurich in 1935, but gave up teaching to concentrate on research.
Key works
1912 Symbols of Transformation
1934 The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
1945 On the Nature of Dreams
See also: Pierre Janet • Sigmund Freud • Jaques Lacan • Steven Pinker
1818 German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer states that existence is driven by the will to live, which is constantly being opposed by an equally forceful death drive.
1910 Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel suggests that social suppression of the sexual instinct is paralleled by the growth of a death instinct.
1932 Sigmund Freud claims that the most basic drive for satisfaction is in fact a striving toward death.
2002 American psychologist Julie K. Norem introduces the idea of “defensive pessimism,” suggesting that being pessimistic may in fact better prepare people to cope with the demands and stresses of modern life.
The theme of opposing forces has always intrigued writers, philosophers, and scientists. Literature, religion, and art are filled with tales of good and evil, of friend and foe. Newtonian physics states that stability or balance is achieved through one force being countered by an equal and opposite force. Such opposing forces appear to be an essential part of existence, and perhaps the most powerful of them are the instinctive drives we have for life and death.
Sigmund Freud said that to avoid being destroyed by our own death instinct, we employ our narcissistic or self-regarding life instinct (libido) to force the death instinct outward, directing it against other objects. Melanie Klein expanded on this, saying that even as we redirect the death force outwards, we still sense the danger of being destroyed by “this instinct of aggression;” we acknowledge the huge task of “mobilizing the libido” against it. Living with these opposing forces is an inherent psychological conflict that is central to human experience. Klein claimed that our tendencies toward growth and creation—from procreation to creativity—are forced to run constantly against an equally powerful and destructive force, and that this ongoing psychic tension underlies all suffering.
Klein also stated that this psychic tension explains our innate tendency toward aggression and violence. It creates a related struggle between love and hate, present even in a newborn baby. This constant battle between our life and death instincts—between pleasure and pain, renewal and destruction—results in confusion within our psyches. Anger or “bad” feelings may then become directed toward every situation, whether they are good or bad.
Drama’s power lies in its reflection of real emotions and feelings. Great plays, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, show not only love’s life-affirming force, but also its deadly, toxic aspects.
Constant conflict
Klein believed that we never shed these primitive impulses. We maintain them throughout life, never reaching a safe, mature state, but living with an unconscious that simmers with “primitive fantasies” of violence. Given the permeating influence of such a psychic conflict, Klein thought that traditional notions of happiness are impossible to attain, and that living is about finding a way to tolerate the conflict; it is not about achieving nirvana.
As this state of tolerance is the best that we can hope for, Klein found it unsurprising that life falls short of what people desire or believe they deserve, resulting in depression and disappointment. Human experience, to Klein, is inevitably filled with anxiety, pain, loss, and destruction. People must, therefore, learn to work within the extremes of life and death.
One of four children, Melanie Klein was born in Austria. Her parents, who later divorced, were cold and unaffectionate. At 17, she became engaged to Arthur Klein, an industrial chemist, casting aside her plans to study medicine.
Klein decided to become a psychoanalyst after reading a book by Sigmund Freud in 1910. She suffered from depression herself, and was haunted by death: her adored elder sister died when Klein was four; her older brother died in a suspected suicide; and her son was killed in a climbing accident in 1933. Although Klein did not have any formal academic qualifications, she was a major influence in the field of psychoanalysis, and is particularly revered for her work with children, and for her use of play as a form of therapy.
Key works
1932 The Psychoanalysis of Children
1935 A Contribution to The Psychogenesis of Manic Depressive States
1961 Narrative of a Child Analysis
See also: Sigmund Freud • Anna Freud • Jacques Lacan
1889 In L’Automatism Psychologique, Pierre Janet describes “splitting,” where a personality branches into distinct, separate parts.
1950s Melanie Klein says that people split off parts of their personalities to cope with otherwise unmanageable, conflicting feelings.
1970s Austrian psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut claims that when a child’s needs are not met, a fragmented self emerges, consisting of the narcissistic self and the grandiose self.
1970s Albert Ellis develops Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy to free people from internalized “musts.”
Social environments—from the family to schools, workplaces, and the wider community—develop cultural “norms” upheld by certain beliefs. The German-born psychoanalyst Karen Horney said that unhealthy, or “toxic,” social environments are likely to create unhealthy belief systems in individuals, hindering people from realizing their highest potential.
Horney said that it is essential to recognize when we are not operating from self-determined beliefs, but from those internalized from a toxic environment. These play out as internalized messages, especially in the form of “shoulds,” such as “I should be recognized and powerful” or “I should be thin.” She taught her patients to become aware of two influences in their psyche: the “real self” with authentic desires, and the “ideal self” that strives to fulfil all the demands of the “shoulds.” The ideal self fills the mind with ideas that are unrealistic and inappropriate to the journey of the real self, and generates negative feedback based on the “failures” of the real self to achieve the expectations of the ideal self. This leads to the development of a third, unhappy self—the “despised self.”
Horney says the “shoulds” are the basis of our “bargain with fate;” if we obey them, we believe we can magically control external realities, though in reality they lead to deep unhappiness and neurosis. Horney’s views were particularly relevant in her own social environment, early 20th-century Germany, which leaned heavily toward conformity.
«Forget about the disgraceful creature you actually are; this is how you should be.»
Karen Horney
See also: Pierre Janet • Sigmund Freud • Melanie Klein • Carl Rogers • Abraham Maslow • Albert Ellis
1920 Sigmund Freud first uses the concepts of the ego, id, and superego in his essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
1950s Melanie Klein disagrees that actual parental influence is involved in the formation of the superego.
1961 Eric Berne presents the idea that we retain child, adult, and parental ego states throughout our lives, and says that these can be explored through analysis.
1976 American psychologist Jane Loevinger says that the ego develops in stages throughout a person’s life, as a result of an interaction between the inner self and the outer environment.
According to the Bible, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden are decision-makers, faced with the choice between temptation and righteousness. In his structural model of the psyche, Sigmund Freud describes a similar model within the human unconscious, proposing a psychic apparatus of three parts: the id, the superego, and the ego.
The id, like a sneaky serpent, whispers to us to do what feels good. It is driven entirely by desire, seeking pleasure and the fulfilment of basic drives (such as food, comfort, warmth, and sex). The superego, like a righteous presence, calls us to follow the higher path. It imposes parental and societal values and tells us what we should and should not do. Lastly, the ego—like a decision-making adult—controls impulses and forms judgments on how to act; it is the moderator, suspended between the id and the superego.
Austrian psychoanalyst Anna Freud expanded upon her father’s ideas, drawing attention to the formation of the superego and its effects upon the ego. The ego takes account of the realities of the world, and is also simultaneously engaged with the id and relegated to an inferior position by the superego. The superego speaks through the language of guilt and shame, like a kind of internalized critical parent. We hear the superego when we berate ourselves for thinking or acting a certain way; the superego becomes clear (or “speaks out”) only when it confronts the ego with hostility.
Ego defense mechanisms
The critical voice of the superego leads to anxiety, and this is when, according to Anna Freud, we bring ego defenses into play. These are the myriad methods that the mind uses to prevent anxiety from becoming overwhelming. Freud described the many and creative defense mechanisms we employ, from humor and sublimation to denial and displacement. Her theory of ego defenses was to prove a rich seam of thought within the humanist therapies of the 20th century.
See also: Sigmund Freud • Melanie Klein • Eric Berne
Gestalt therapy
1920s Carl Jung says that people need to connect with their inner selves.
1943 Max Wertheimer explains the Gestalt idea of “productive thinking”, which is distinctive for using personal insight.
1950 In Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney identifies the need to reject the “shoulds” imposed by others.
1961 Carl Rogers says that it is the client, not the therapist, who knows what form and direction therapy should take.
1973 American self-help author Richard Bandler, one of the founders of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), uses many of the Gestalt therapy techniques in his new therapy.
In the 18th century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant revolutionized our thinking about the world by pointing out that we can never really know what is “out there” beyond ourselves, because our knowledge is limited to the constraints of our minds and senses. We don’t know how things are “in themselves”, but only as we experience them. This view forms the basis of Gestalt therapy, which says that it is vitally important to remember that the complexity of the human experience—with its tragedies and traumas, inspirations and passions, and its nearly infinite range of possibilities—is coded by the individual “lenses” through which we view it. We do not automatically absorb all the sounds, feelings, and pictures of the world; we scan and select just a few.
Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt therapy, pointed out that this means our personal sense of reality is created through our perception; through the ways in which we view our experiences, not the events themselves. However, it is easy to forget this, or even fail to recognize it. He says we tend to mistake our viewpoint of the world for the absolute, objective truth, rather than acknowledging the role of perception and its influence in creating our perspective, together with all the ideas, actions, and beliefs that stem from it. For Perls, the only truth one can ever have is one’s own personal truth.
«Learning is the discovery that something is possible.»
Fritz Perls
Accepting responsibility
Perls developed his theories in the 1940s, when the dominant psychoanalytical view was that the human mind could be reduced to a series of biological drives seeking fulfilment. This approach was far too rigid, structured, simplified, and generalized for Perls; it did not allow for individual experience, which Perls held paramount. Nor did its analysts enable their patients to recognize and take responsibility for the creation of their experience. The psychoanalytical model operates on the understanding that patients are at the mercy of their unconscious conflicts until an analyst enters to save them from their unconscious drives. Perls, on the other hand, feels it is essential for people to understand the power of their own roles in creation. He wants to make us aware that we can change our realities, and in fact are responsible for doing so. No one else can do it for us. Once we realize that perception is the backbone of reality, each of us is forced to take responsibility for the life we create and the way we choose to view the world.
The Gestalt prayer was written by Fritz Perls to encapsulate Gestalt therapy. It emphasizes the importance of living according to our own needs, and not seeking fulfilment through others.
Acknowledging power
Gestalt theory uses the tenets of individual experience, perception, and responsibility—both for one’s thoughts and feelings—to encourage personal growth by establishing a sense of internal control. Perls insists that we can learn to control our inner experience, regardless of our external environment. Once we understand that our perception shapes our experience, we can see how the roles we play and the actions we take are tools, which we can then use consciously for changing reality. Control of our own inner psychic environment gives us power through two layers of choice: in how to interpret the environment, and how to react to it. The adage, “no one can make you angry other than yourself,” perfectly exemplifies this philosophy, and its truth can be seen played out in the different ways that people react to traffic jams, bad news, or personal criticism, for example.
In Gestalt therapy, a person is forced to take direct responsibility for how he or she acts and reacts, regardless of what may seem to be happening. Perls refers to this ability to maintain emotional stability regardless of the environment as “homeostasis,” using a biological term normally used to describe the maintenance of a stable physical environment within the body. It implies a fine balancing of many systems, and this is how Gestalt therapy views the mind. It looks for ways of balancing the mind through the many thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that make up the whole human experience. It views a person holistically and places the focus firmly on the whole, not the parts.
Perls saw his task as helping his patients to cultivate an awareness of the power of their perceptions, and how they shape reality (or what we describe as “reality”). In this way, his patients became able to take control of shaping their interior landscape. In taking responsibility for their perceived sense of reality, they could create the reality they wanted.
Perls helped his patients achieve this through teaching them the integral processes of Gestalt therapy. The first and most important process is learning to cultivate awareness and to focus that awareness on the feelings of the present moment. This allows the individual to directly experience his or her feelings and perceived reality in the present moment. This ability, to “be here now” is critical to the Gestalt process; it is an acute emotional awareness, and one that forms the foundation for understanding how each of us creates and reacts to our own environment. It also offers a pathway for learning how to change the ways we experience ourselves and our environment.
As a tool for personal growth, the ability to get in touch with authentic feelings—true thoughts and emotions—is more important to Perls than the psychological explanations or analytic feedback of other forms of therapy. The “why” behind behavior holds little significance for Perls; what is important is the “how” and “what.” This devaluing of the need to find out “why” and the shift of responsibility for meaning from analyst to patient brought with it a profound change in the therapist—patient hierarchy. Where previous approaches in therapy generally involved a therapist manipulating the patient toward the therapeutic goal, the Gestalt approach is characterized by a warm, empathic relationship between therapist and patient, who work together as partners toward the goal. The therapist is dynamic but does not lead the patient; the Gestalt approach of Perls would later form the basis of Carl Rogers’ humanistic, person-centerd approach.
«Lose your mind and come to your senses.»
Fritz Perls
A denial of fate
Another component in the Gestalt method involves the use of language. One critical tool patients are given for increasing self-awareness is the instruction to notice and change the use of the word “I” within speech. Perls says that to take responsibility for our reality, we must recognize how we use language to give the illusion that we have no control when this is not the case. By simply rephrasing “I can’t do that” to “I won’t do that,” it becomes clear that I am making a choice. This also helps to establish ownership of feeling; emotions arise in and belong to me; I cannot blame someone or something else for my feelings.
Other examples of language change include replacing the word “should” with “want,” changing, for example, ”I should leave now” to “I want to leave now.” This also acts to reveal the element of choice. As we learn to take responsibility for our experience, Perls says, we develop authentic selves that are free from society’s influence. We also experience self-empowerment as we realize that we are not at the mercy of things that “just happen.” Feelings of victimization dissolve once we understand that what we accept for ourselves in our lives—what we selectively perceive and experience—is a choice; we are not powerless.
With this personal responsibility comes the obligation to refuse to experience events, relationships, or circumstances that we know to be wrong for our authentic selves. Gestalt theory also asks us to look closely at what we choose to accept among our society’s norms. We may have acted under the assumption of their truth for so long that we automatically accept them. Perls says we need instead to adopt beliefs that best inspire and develop our authentic self. The ability to write our own personal rules, determine our own opinions, philosophies, desires, and interests is of the essence. As we increase our awareness of self-accountability, self-reliance, and self-insight, we understand that we are building our own world, or truth. The lives we are living become easier to bear, because “truth can be tolerated only if you discover it yourself.”
The 1960s hippie culture chimed with the Gestalt idea of finding oneself, but Perls warned against the “peddlers of instant joy” and the “so-called easy road of sensory liberation.”
The possibility of intimacy
Gestalt therapy’s emphasis on “being in the present” and finding one’s own path and one’s own ideas fitted perfectly within the 1960s counter-culture revolution of the Western world. But this focus on individualism was seen by some psychologists and analysts as a weakness within the therapy, especially by those who view human beings as, above all, social beings. They claim that a life lived along Gestalt principles would exclude the possibility of intimacy with another, and that it focuses too much on the individual at the expense of the community. In response, supporters of Gestalt therapy have claimed that without the development of an authentic self, it would not be possible to develop an authentic relationship with another.
In 1964, Perls became a regular lecturer at the Esalen Institute in California, becoming a lasting influence on this renowned center for spiritual and psychological development. After an explosion of popularity in the 1970s, Gestalt therapy fell out of favor, but its tenets were accepted into the roots of other forms of therapy. Gestalt is today recognized as one of many “standard” approaches to therapy.
«If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.»
Fritz Perls
Like Buddhism, Gestalt therapy encourages the development of mindful awareness and the acceptance of change as inevitable. Perls called change “the study of creative adjustments.”
Frederick “Fritz” Salomon Perls was born in Berlin at the end of the 19th century. He studied medicine, and after a short time in the German army during World War I, graduated as a doctor. He then trained as a psychiatrist, and after marrying the psychologist Laura Posner in 1930, emigrated to South Africa, where he and Laura set up a psychoanalytic institute. Becoming disenchanted with the over-intellectualism of the psychoanalytic approach, they moved to New York City in the late 1940s and became immersed in a thriving culture of progressive thought. In the late 1960s, they separated, and Perls moved to California, where he continued to change the landscape of psychotherapy. He left the US to start a therapy center in Canada in 1969, but died one year later of heart failure while conducting a workshop.
Key works
1946 Ego Hunger and Aggression
1969 Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
1973 The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy
See also: Søren Kierkegaard • Carl Jung • Karen Horney • Erich Fromm • Carl Rogers • Abraham Maslow • Roger Shepard • Jon Kabat-Zinn • Max Wertheimer
1900s Sigmund Freud suggests that neurotic conflicts (and the superego) arise in the Oedipal period—between ages three and six.
1930s Melanie Klein claims that a primitive form of the superego develops during the first year of life, and that love and hate are inherently linked.
1947 Psychologist and play therapist Virginia Axline develops her eight principles of play therapy, which include: “Accept the child as she or he is.”
1979 Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller says in The Drama of the Gifted Child that we are encouraged to “develop the art of not experiencing feelings.”
Many people believe that if a child has suffered an upbringing that was lacking in love and support, he or she will be able to settle and flourish with a new family that provides what is needed. However, while stability and acceptance help to give a foundation in which a child can grow and find a healthy state of being, these qualities make up only one part of what is required.
As the first pediatrician in England to train as a psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott had a unique insight into the mother-infant relationship and the developmental process of children. He was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud but also by the writings of Melanie Klein, particularly regarding the unconscious feelings of the mother or carer for the infant. Winnicott began his career by working with children displaced by World War II and he examined the difficulties faced by children who are trying to adapt to a new home.
As Winnicott notes in his paper, Hate in the Countertransference: “It is notoriously inadequate to take an adopted child into one’s home and love him.” In fact, the parents must be able to take the adopted child into their home and be able to tolerate hating him. Winnicott states that a child can believe he or she is loved only after being hated; he stresses that the role that “tolerance of hate” plays in healing cannot be underestimated.
Winnicott explains that when a child has been deprived of proper parental nurturing, and is then granted a chance of this in a healthy family environment, such as with an adoptive or foster family, the child begins to develop unconscious hope. But fear is associated with this hope. When a child has been so devastatingly disappointed in the past, with even basic emotional or physical needs unsatisfied, defenses arise. These are unconscious forces that protect the child against the hope that may lead to disappointment. The defenses, maintains Winnicott, explain the presence of hatred. The child will “act out” in an outburst of anger against the new parental figure, expressing hatred and, in turn, invoking hatred from the carer. He termed the behavior an “antisocial tendency.”
According to Winnicott, for a child who has suffered, the need to hate and be hated is deeper even than the need for rebellion, and the importance of the carer tolerating the hate is an essential factor in the healing of the child. Winnicott says that the child must be allowed to express the hatred, and the parent must be able to tolerate both the child’s and their own hatred as well.
The idea may be shocking, and people may struggle with the notion that they feel hatred rising within them. They may feel guilty, because the child has been through such difficulties already. Yet the child is actively behaving hatefully toward the parent, projecting past experiences of being neglected and ignored onto present-day reality.
The child of a broken home or without parents, Winnicott says, “spends his time unconsciously looking for his parents” and so feelings from past relationships are displaced onto another adult. The child has internalized the hate, and sees it even when it is no longer present. In his new situation, the child needs to see what happens when hatred is in the air. Winnicott explains: “What happens is that after a while a child so adopted gains hope, and then he starts to test out the environment he has found, and to seek proof of his guardian’s ability to hate objectively.”
There are many ways for a child to express hatred and prove that he or she is indeed not worthy of being loved. This worthlessness is the message that was imparted by earlier, negative parental experiences. From the child’s point of view, he is attempting to protect himself from the risk of ever having to feel love or to be loved because of the potential disappointment that accompanies that state of being.
«It seems that an adopted child can believe in being loved only after reaching being hated.»
Donald Winnicott
The “antisocial tendency” in children is a way they express anxieties about their world, testing out their caregivers who must continue to provide a supportive and caring home.
Dealing with the hatred
The emotions that the child’s hatred invokes in the parents, as well as in the child’s teachers and other authority figures, are very real. Winnicott believes that it is essential that adults acknowledge these feelings, rather than deny them, which might seem easier. They also need to understand that the child’s hatred is not personal; the child is expressing anxiety about his previous unhappy situation with the person who is now at hand.
What the authority figure does with their own hatred, of course, is of critical importance. The child’s belief that he or she is “bad” and unworthy of being loved must not be reinforced by the response from the adult; the adult must simply tolerate the feelings of hatred and realize that these feelings are part of the relationship. This is the only way the child will feel secure and be able to form an attachment.
No matter how loving a new environment may be, it does not erase the past for the child; there will still be residual feelings as a result of their past experience. Winnicott sees no short cuts to a resolution. The child is expecting that the adult’s feelings of hatred will lead to rejection, because that is what has happened before; when the hatred does not lead to rejection and is tolerated instead, it can begin to dissipate.
Despite feeling the unconscious and natural negative feelings provoked by the child, a parent must provide an environment that “holds” the child, making him or her feel secure.
Healthy hatred
Even in psychologically healthy families with children who have not been displaced, Winnicott believes unconscious hatred is a natural, essential part of the parenting experience and speaks of “hating appropriately.” Melanie Klein had suggested that a baby feels hatred for its mother, but Winnicott proposes that this is preceded by the mother hating the baby—and that even before this, there is an extraordinary primitive or “ruthless” love. The baby’s existence places huge demands on the mother psychologically and physically and these evoke feelings of hatred in the mother. Winnicott’s list of 18 reasons why the mother hates the baby include: that the pregnancy and birth have endangered her life; that the baby is an interference with her private life; that the baby hurts her when nursing, even biting her; and that the baby “treats her as scum, an unpaid servant, a slave.” Despite all of this she also loves him, “excretions and all”, says Winnicott, with a hugely powerful, primitive love, and has to learn how to tolerate hating her baby without in any way acting on it. If she cannot hate appropriately, he claims, she turns the feelings of hatred toward herself, in a way that is masochistic and unhealthy.
Therapeutic relationship
Winnicott also used the relationship between the parent and child as an analogy for the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client. The feelings that arise in a therapist during analysis are part of a phenomenon known as “countertransference.” Feelings that are aroused in the client during therapy—usually feelings about parents or siblings—are transferred onto the therapist. In his paper, Winnicott described how as part of the analysis, the therapist feels hate toward the client, though this hate was generated by the patient as a necessary part of testing that the therapist can bear it. The patient needs to know that the therapist is strong and reliable enough to withstand this onslaught.
A realistic approach
While some of Winnicott’s ideas may appear shocking, he believes we should be realistic about bringing up children, avoiding sentimentality in favor of honesty. This enables us as children, and later as adults, to acknowledge and deal with natural, unavoidable negative feelings. Winnicott is a realist and pragmatist; he refuses to believe in the mythical idea of “the perfect family” or in a world where a few kind words wipe away all of the horrors that may have preceded it. He prefers to see the real environment and mental states of our experience, and asks us to do likewise, with courageous honesty. His ideas did not fit neatly into one school of thought, though they were hugely influential, and continue to impact on social work, education, developmental psychology, and psychoanalysis around the world.
«Sentimentality in a mother is no good at all from the infant’s point of view.»
Donald Winnicott
The English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott was the youngest child and only son born to a prominent, prosperous family living in Plymouth, England. His father, Sir John Frederick Winnicott, was an encouraging influence, although his mother suffered from depression. Winnicott first trained as a physician and pediatrician, completing psychoanalytic training later, in the 1930s.
Winnicott married twice, meeting his second wife Clare Britton, a psychiatric social worker, while working with disturbed children who had been evacuated during World War II. He continued to work as a pediatrician for more than 40 years and this gave his ideas a unique perspective. He twice served as president of the British Psychoanalytical Society, and sought to widen public knowledge through his many lectures and broadcasts.
Key works
1947 Hate in the Countertransference
1951 Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena
1960 The Theory of the Parent—Infant Relationship
See also: Sigmund Freud • Melanie Klein • Virginia Satir • John Bowlby
1807 German philosopher Georg Hegel states that consciousness of self depends on the presence of the Other.
1818 German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer claims that there can be no object without a subject to observe it, and that perception of the object is limited by personal vision and experience.
1890 William James in The Principles of Psychology distinguishes between the self as the knower, or “I,” and the self as the known, or “me.”
1943 French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre states that our perception of the world around us, or the Other, alters when another person appears; we absorb his or her concept of the Other into our own.
Psychoanalysts explain the unconscious as the place where all the memories that we wish to push aside are stored, and cannot be retrieved consciously. The unconscious sometimes speaks to the conscious self in limited ways: Carl Jung believed that the unconscious presents itself to the waking self through dreams, symbols, and in the language of archetypes, while Freud saw it as expressing itself through motivational behavior and accidental “slips of the tongue.” The one thing that the various psychoanalytical schools do agree on is that the unconscious holds a bigger picture than that retained by the conscious self. For French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, however, the language of the unconscious is not that of the self, but of the “Other.”
A sense of self
We easily take for granted the notion of the self—that each of us exists as a separate, individual being, who views the world through our own eyes, is familiar with the boundaries that separate us from others and from the world around us, and assumes a separateness in thinking and in the way we interact with our environment. But what if there was nothing out there that we could recognize as being separate from ourselves? We would then be unable to conceptualize our sense of self, because there would be no delineated being to think about. The only way we have of determining that as individuals we are distinct from the world all around us is our ability to recognize the separateness of ourselves from our environment, or from the Other, which allows us to become the subject “I.” Lacan therefore concluded that each of us is a “self” only because we have a concept of the Other.
For Lacan, the Other is the absolute otherness that lies beyond the self; it is the environment into which we are born, and which we have to “translate” or make sense of, in order to survive and thrive. An infant must learn to assemble sensations into concepts and categories in order to function in the world, and he or she does this through gradually acquiring an awareness and understanding of a series of signifiers—signs or codes. But these signifiers can only come to us from the external world that lies beyond the self, therefore they must have been formed from the language—or what Lacan prefers to call the “discourse”—of the Other.
We are only able to think or to express our ideas and emotions through language, and the only language we have, according to Lacan, is that of the Other. The sensations and images that translate into the thoughts of our unconscious must therefore be constructed from this language of the Other, or, as Lacan stated, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.” This idea has had a wide influence on the practice of psychoanalysis, leading to a more objective and open interpretation of the unconscious.
«The I is always in the field of the Other.»
Jacques Lacan
Our sense of self is shaped by our awareness of the “Other,” or the world outside ourselves. However, Lacan stated, it is the language of the Other that forms our deepest thoughts.
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was born in Paris, where he was educated at the Collège Stanislas. He went on to study medicine, specializing in psychiatry. Lacan remained in occupied Paris during World War II, working at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital.
After the war, psychoanalysis became the key tool in Lacan’s work. However, he was expelled by the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1953, after an argument over his “deviant” use of shorter length therapy sessions. Lacan then set up La Société Française de Psychanalytique.
Lacan’s writings extend into philosophy, art, literature, and linguistics, and he gave weekly seminars that were attended by eminent thinkers such as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss. A keen Freudian, Lacan formed the École Freudienne de Paris in 1963, and the École de la Cause Freudienne in 1981.
Key works
1966 Écrits
1968 The Language of the Self
1954–80 The Seminars (27 volumes)
See also: William James • Sigmund Freud • Carl Jung • Donald Hebb
Humanistic psychoanalysis
1258–61 The Sufi mystic Rumi says that the longing of the human soul comes from separation from its source.
1950s Rollo May says that the “true religion” consists of facing life’s challenges with purpose and meaning, through accepting responsibility and making choices.
1950 Karen Horney says that the neurotic self is split between an idealized and a real self.
1960s Abraham Maslow defines creativity and thinking of others as characteristics of self-actualized people.
1970s Fritz Perls says that we must find ourselves in order to achieve self-actualization.
The ability to find meaning in our lives is the defining characteristic of humankind. According to the German-American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, it also determines whether we follow a path of joy and fulfilment or tread a road of dissatisfaction and strife. Fromm believed that although life is inherently painful, we can make it bearable by giving it meaning, through pursuing and constructing an authentic self. The ultimate aim of a human life is to develop what Fromm described as “the most precious quality man is endowed with—the love of life.”
Life is inherently fraught with emotional frustration, according to Fromm, because man lives in a state of struggle. He is constantly trying to balance his individual nature—his existence as a separate being—with his need for connection. There is a part of man’s inherent self that only knows how to exist in a united state with others; it lives at one with nature and at one with other people. Yet we see ourselves as separated from nature, and isolated from one another. Worse still, we have the unique capacity to ponder the fact of this separation and think about our isolation. Man, gifted with reason, is life being aware of itself.
Fromm suggests that our separation from nature originated with the growth of intellect, which has made us aware of our separateness. It is our ability to reason and relate that lets us transcend nature. It provides the capabilities for productive living and affords us intellectual superiority, but it also makes us realize that we exist alone in this world. Reason makes us aware of our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. This understanding creates a chronic source of tension and an unbearable loneliness that we are always seeking to overcome; man’s inherent state of being is one of anxiety and hopelessness. But there is hope, Fromm insists, because man can overcome his sense of isolation and alienation through finding his purpose.
However, as we strive to become free, unique individuals, we still feel the need for unity with others, and in trying to balance these needs we may seek out the comfort of conforming to a group or an authority. This is a misguided approach, says Fromm; it is imperative to discover one’s own independent sense of self, and one’s own personal views and value systems, rather than adhering to conventional or authoritarian norms. If we try to hand responsibility for our choices to other people or institutions we become alienated from ourselves, when the very purpose of our lives is to define ourselves through embracing our personal uniqueness, discovering our own ideas and abilities, and embracing that which differentiates each of us from other people. Man’s main task is to give birth to himself. In doing so, he frees himself from confusion, loneliness, and apathy.
«It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group.»
Erich Fromm
The creativity of artists encourages them to interpret the world around them in new ways. The world’s most highly acclaimed artists have always essentially been nonconformist.
Creativity and love
Paradoxically, Fromm believes that the only way we can find the sense of wholeness we seek is through the discovery of our individuality.
We can achieve this by following our own ideas and passions, and through creative purpose, because “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
One of the critical ways in which man delivers himself from isolation is through his capacity to love. Fromm’s concept of love is vastly different from popular understandings of the word. To Fromm, love is not an emotion, nor is it dependent on finding an object to love. It is an interpersonal creative capacity that one must actively develop as part of one’s personality. He says “it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world.”
In terms of personal love for another, Fromm says that the main tenets are care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge—an objective knowledge of what other people truly want and need. Love is only possible through respecting the separateness and uniqueness of ourselves and of another; paradoxically, this is how we develop the ability to create connectedness. Love demands a great amount of respect for the other person as an individual, and it is based on autonomy, not a blending of personalities. In our overwhelming desire to connect and unify, we try to love but our relationships often result in an unloving imbalance. We think we are loving, but in reality we may be seeking another form of conformity. We say “I love you” when really we mean “I see me in you,” “I will become you,” or “I will possess you.” In loving, we try to lose our uniqueness, or steal it from the other person. Our yearning to exist “as one” makes us want to see ourselves reflected in other people, which in turn leads us to artificially impose our own traits onto someone else.
The only way to love, says Fromm, is to love freely, granting the other person their full individuality; to respect the other person’s differing opinions, preferences, and belief systems. Love is not found by fitting one person into another’s mold, and it is not a question of finding the perfect “match.” It is, he says, “union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.”
Many people spend vast amounts of time and money attempting to cultivate the self that they feel is most worthy of acceptance, and most likely to result in being loved or desired. This is futile, because only a person who has a strong sense of self, and can stand firmly within their own understanding of the world, is able to give freely to others and love in an authentic way. Those who tend to orient themselves toward receiving love instead of being loving will fail; they will also seek to establish a receiving relationship in other ways, always wanting to be given things—material or immaterial—rather than to give. These people believe the source of all good things lies outside themselves, and they constantly feel the need to acquire, though this brings no relief.
«‘Know thyself’ is one of the fundamental commands that aim at human strength and happiness.»
Erich Fromm
Personality types
Fromm identified several personality types that he called “nonproductive”, because they enable people to avoid assuming true responsibility for their actions and prevent productive, personal growth. Each of the four main nonproductive types—receptive, exploitative, hoarding, and marketing—have both positive and negative sides. A fifth type, necrophilous, is unremittingly negative, and a sixth type—the productive personality—is Fromm’s ideal. In reality, our personalities are generally drawn from a mix of the four main types.
A person with a “receptive” orientation is said to live passively in the status quo, accepting the lot handed to them. These people follow rather than lead; they have things done to them. In extremes, this is the stance of the victim, but on the positive side, it is rich in devotion and acceptance. Fromm compares this type to the peasants and migrant workers of history.
The “exploitative” orientation thrives on taking from others; exploitative people take what they need instead of earning or creating. However, they show extreme self-confidence and strong initiative. This type is typified by historical aristocracies who took power and wealth from indigenous populations to line their own pockets.
“Hoarders” are always seeking friends in high places and rank even loved ones in terms of their value, seeing them as something owned. Power-hungry and ungenerous, at best they are pragmatic and economical. Historically, these are the middle classes, or bourgeoisie, that rise in great numbers during economic depressions.
The last of the main types is the “marketing” orientation. These people are obsessed with image and with how to successfully advertise and sell themselves. Every choice is evaluated in terms of reflected status, from the clothes, cars, and vacations they buy to marriage into the “right” family. At worst, they are opportunistic, tactless, and shallow; at best, they are highly motivated, purposeful, and energetic. This type is most representative of modern society, in its ever-growing acquisitiveness and self-consciousness.
The most negative personality type—necrophilous—seeks only to destroy. Deeply afraid of the disorderly and uncontrollable nature of life, necrophilous types love to talk about sickness and death, and are obsessed with the need to impose “law and order.” They prefer mechanical objects to other people. In moderation, these people are pessimistic nay-sayers whose glasses are perpetually half empty, never half full.
Fromm’s last personality type, the productive orientation, genuinely seeks and finds a legitimate solution to life through flexibility, learning, and sociability. Aiming to “become one” with the world and so escape the loneliness of separation, productive people respond to the world with rationality and an open mind, willing to change their beliefs in the light of new evidence. A productive person can truly love another for who they are, not as a trophy or safeguard against the world. Fromm calls this brave person “the man without a mask.”
Fromm’s work has a unique perspective, drawing on psychology, sociology, and political thinking, especially the writings of Karl Marx. His writing, aimed at a mainstream audience, influenced the general public more than academia—mainly because of his insistence on the freedom of ideas. He is nonetheless recognized as a leading contributor to humanistic psychology.
«Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived.»
Erich Fromm
Hitler’s fascination with death and destruction marks him out as an example of Fromm’s necrophilous personality type, which is obsessed with control and the imposition of order.
Erich Fromm was the only child of his orthodox Jewish parents, and grew up in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. A thoughtful young man, he was initially influenced by his Talmudic studies, but later turned toward Karl Marx and socialist theory, together with Freud’s psychoanalysis. Driven by the need to understand the hostility he witnessed during World War I, he studied jurisprudence, then sociology (to PhD level), before training in psychoanalysis. After the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, Fromm moved to Switzerland and then New York, where he established a psychoanalytic practice and taught at Columbia University.
Fromm married three times and had a well-documented affair with Karen Horney during the 1930s. In 1951, he left the US to teach in Mexico, returning 11 years later to become professor of psychiatry at New York University. He died in Switzerland at the age of 79.
Key works
1941 The Fear of Freedom
1947 Man for Himself
1956 The Art of Loving
See also: Alfred Adler • Karen Horney • Fritz Perls • Carl Rogers • Abraham Maslow • Rollo May
Person-centerd therapy
1920s Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank proposes that separation from outdated thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is essential for psychological growth and development.
1950s Abraham Maslow says that people must not be viewed as a collection of symptoms but first and foremost as people.
1960s Fritz Perls popularizes the concept of externalizing other people’s expectations to find one’s truest self.
2004 American humanistic psychologist Clark Moustakas explores the uniquely human components of life: hope, love, self, creativity, individuality, and becoming.
During the 19th and into the early 20th century, much of the approach to psychological treatment was based on the idea that mental illness was a fixed pathological malady that needed to be cured. Popular psychoanalytic theory, for example, defined people struggling with their mental health as “neurotic.” Mental illness was seen in a negative light and most psychological practices and theories of the time offered strict definitions with structured explanations of the underlying causes of the mental illness, and fixed methods to cure it.
American psychologist Carl Rogers took a much more esoteric route to mental health, and in so doing expanded the approach of psychotherapy forever. He felt that the philosophies of the time were too structured and rigid to account for something as dynamic as the human experience, and that humanity is much too diverse to be fitted into delineated categories.
«The subjective human being has an important value… that no matter how he may be labeled and evaluated he is a human person first of all.»
Carl Rogers
Achieving mental health
Rogers takes the view that it is absurd to view mental well-being as a specific fixed state; good mental health is not something that is suddenly achieved at the end of a series of steps. Nor is it attained because an individual’s previously neurotic state of tension has been reduced by the satisfaction of biological drives and impulses, as the psychoanalysts insisted. Neither is it cultivated by following a specific program designed to develop and preserve a state of inner impermeable homeostasis, or balance, reducing the effect of the world’s external chaos on the self, as the behaviorists recommended.
Rogers does not believe that anyone exists in a defective state that needs to be fixed in order to provide them with a better state, preferring to view human experience, and our minds and environment, as alive and growing. He talks about the “ongoing process of organismic experience”—seeing life as instantaneous and ongoing; life exists in the experience of every moment.
For Rogers, a healthy self-concept is not a fixed identity but a fluid and changing entity, open to possibilities. Rogers embraces an authentic, unprescribed, free-flowing definition of healthy human experience, with limitless possibilities. Humans are not traveling a road where the destination is to become “adjusted” or “actualized,” as fellow humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow had suggested. Indeed, the purpose of existence is not about reaching any kind of destination, Rogers claims, because existence is less a journey toward an endpoint and more an ongoing process of growth and discovery that does not stop until we die.
«What I will be in the next moment, and what I will do, grows out of the moment, and cannot be predicted.»
Carl Rogers
Living “the good life”
Rogers uses the phrase living “the good life,” to refer to the range of characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors displayed by people who have embraced the foundations of his approach—people who are “fully in the stream of life.” One essential ingredient is the ability to stay wholly present in the moment. Since self and personality emerge out of experience, it is of the utmost importance to stay fully open to the possibilities offered by each moment, and to let experience shape the self. The individual lives in an environment of constant change, yet frequently and all too easily, people deny this fluidity and instead create constructs of how they think things should be. They then try to mold themselves and their idea of reality to fit the constructs they have made. This way of being is the very opposite of the fluid, flowing, and changing organization of self that Rogers believes the nature of our existence requires.
Our preconceptions about how the world is, or should be, and our own role within it, define the limits of our world and reduce our ability to stay present and open to experience. In living the good life and remaining open to experience, Rogers believes we adopt a way of being that prevents us feeling trapped and stuck. The aim, as Rogers sees it, is for experience to be the starting point for the construction of our personalities, rather than trying to fit our experiences into a preconceived notion of our sense of self. If we hold on to our ideas of how things should be, rather than accepting how they really are, we are likely to perceive our needs as “incongruent” or mismatched to what is available.
When the world does not “do what we want,” and we feel unable to change our ideas, conflict arises in the form of defensiveness. Rogers explains defensiveness as the tendency to unconsciously apply strategies to prevent a troubling stimulus from entering consciousness. We either deny (block out) or distort (reinterpret) what is really happening, essentially refusing to accept reality in order to stick with our preconceived ideas. In so doing, we deny ourselves the full range of potential reactions, feelings, and ideas, and we dismiss a wide range of options as wrong or inappropriate. The defensive feelings and thoughts that rise up in us when reality conflicts with our preconceptions create a limited, artificial interpretation of experience. In order to really participate in what Rogers calls the “ongoing process of organismic experience,” we need to be fully open to new experience, and be completely without defensiveness.
«Self and personality emerge from experience, rather than experience being translated… to fit preconceived self-structure.»
Carl Rogers
Unlike a maze with only one route across, Rogers asserts that life is full of possibilities and offers multiple routes —but individuals are often unable or unwilling to see them. To experience “the good life” we need to stay flexible and open to what life brings, by experiencing it fully moment by moment.
Spending time working in a developing country can be a rewarding way to open up to new experiences, challenge fixed ideas about the world, and find out more about ourselves.
A full range of emotions
By tuning in to our full range of emotions, Rogers argues, we allow ourselves a deeper, richer experience in every part of our lives. We may think we can selectively block emotion, and dampen down disturbing or uncomfortable feelings, but when we repress some of our emotions, we inevitably turn down the volume of all our emotions, denying ourselves access to the whole of our nature. If on the other hand, we allow ourselves to be more comfortable with our emotions, including those we have deemed to be negative, the flow of positive feelings emerges more strongly; it is as if by permitting ourselves to feel pain, we allow for a more intense experience of joy.
By always remaining open to everything that occurs, Rogers says that we allow our fullest abilities to function, and in turn we can get the greatest satisfaction from our experiences. We have not raised our defenses to shut off any part of the self, so we are able to experience everything fully. Once we escape from the rut of the preconceptions of the mind, we can allow ourselves to soar. Rather than organizing our experience to suit our idea of the world, we “discover structure in experience.”
This openness is not for the faint-hearted, Rogers states; it requires a level of bravery on the part of the individual. We don’t need to fear any type of feeling, he says—we need only to allow the full flow of cognition and experience. With true access to a fuller range of processing experience, each of us is more able to find the path that truly suits our authentic self—this is the fully functioning individual that Rogers urges us to become. We are always growing, and Rogers emphasizes that the direction in which people move—when there is freedom to move in any direction—is generally the direction they are best suited for, and that is best suited for them.
A fixed view of the world often leads to unhappiness; we can feel like “a square peg in a round hole”, constantly frustrated that our life is not how we expected it to be. Rogers urges us to abandon our preconceived ideas and see the world as it really is.
Unconditional acceptance
In contrast to the views of many of his predecessors in the field of psychotherapy, Rogers believed that people are, in their essence, healthy and good; and that mental and emotional well-being is the natural progression for human nature. These beliefs are the foundation of an approach that regards patients in an entirely positive light, one of absolute, unconditional acceptance. Rogers asked that his patients learn to do the same for themselves and for others. This perspective, grounded in compassion and the recognition of the potential of each and every individual, is famously termed “unconditional positive regard.” Rogers believed that all people, not just his patients, needed to be able to view themselves in this way, as well as those around them and their environment.
Unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional acceptance of others are vital, and when these are lacking, people fail to remain open to experience. Rogers maintained that many of us have very strong, strident, specific conditions that must be met before we will grant approval or acceptance. We also base self-worth and regard for others on achievements or appearance, rather than accepting people as they are.
Parents may inadvertently teach children that they are worthy of affection only if certain requirements are met, offering them rewards and praise when they eat their vegetables or get an A grade in physics, but fail to love them openly just for themselves. Rogers calls these requirements “conditions of worth”, believing that the tendency of humankind to demand that people and things match our arbitrary expectations does all of us a great disservice.
Achievements are to be respected, he says, but they are both separate and secondary to acceptance, which is a basic human need, and does not have to be “earned” through deeds or action. Rogers says that the value of an individual is inherently granted merely by the miracle of existence. Acceptance must never be thought of as conditional; unconditional positive regard is key to how we might all live “the good life.”
As people become more accepting of themselves, they also become more patient with themselves. Acceptance alleviates the pressure to do, see, and acquire, which builds when we live with the mistaken idea that these activities define our worth. We can begin to realize that each of us is a continual work-in-progress; that we are in a process of change, as Rogers says in his seminal work, On Becoming A Person—we are all in a constant “state of becoming.” The irony is that with greater self-acceptance, and with less unhealthy pressure and constant criticism, we can actually become much more productive.
«No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience.»
Carl Rogers
Love that is conditional on an action or situation—for example, on achieving A grades at school or eating the right foods—can leave children feeling unworthy and unaccepted.
Trusting oneself
To live “the good life,” as Rogers sees it, is to learn to trust ourselves. As an individual moves toward openness, he finds that he simultaneously makes progress in his ability to trust himself and his instincts, and begins to rely more comfortably on his decision-making capabilities. With no need to repress any part of himself, he has a greater ability to tune in to all the parts of himself. This gives him access to a variety of perspectives and feelings, and in turn he is better able to evaluate choices that will truly realize his potential. He is able to see more clearly what direction his authentic self wishes to take, and can make choices that are truly in congruence with his needs. No longer at the mercy of what he thinks he should be doing, nor of what society or parents may have conditioned him to think he wants, he can much more easily simply exist in the moment and be truly aware of what he actually wants. And now he can trust himself, “not because he is infallible, but because he can be fully open to the consequences of each of his actions and correct them if they prove to be less than satisfying,” Rogers explains.
In living “the good life” we also have a sense of owning our lives and taking responsibility for ourselves—this is another tenet of Rogers’ philosophy and comes from an existential viewpoint. What we choose to think or do is down to us; there can be no residual resentments when we have truly identified for ourselves what we want and need, and taken the steps to create it. At the same time, there is greater accountability and an increased tendency to truly invest in our lives. It is not uncommon to hear about a doctor who hates medicine but practices because his parents said that being a doctor was the way to earn respect and approval—both from them and from society. In direct contrast, the rates of students who drop out or fail university courses are strikingly low among those who have have received little support but worked to pay for their own tuition.
The ways in which people can influence our desires and how we define ourselves can be intensely complex. Resentment can be buried deep within us when we act in accordance with someone else’s wishes rather than our own. If our actions are free of external influences, we feel more authentic, more solidly in control of creating our own destiny, and more satisfied with the results.
Teaching a child to ride a bicycle requires encouragement and support but ultimately the child must be brave and trust himself. Rogers likened his person-centerd therapy to this process.
Person-centered approach
Rogers’ philosophy became the cornerstone of a new approach called humanistic psychology, which he founded in the 1950s with Abraham Maslow and Rollo May. It was based on a positive view of humanity as basically healthy and capable of growing and realizing its potential. This approach was in contrast to the other main psychological therapies of the time—psychoanalysis and behaviorism—both of which focus on the pathology of the individual and how to fix it.
Rogers initially called his approach “client-centered,” and then changed it to “person-centered,” and it has since been hugely influential in education, parenting, business, and other areas as well as in clinical work. In person-centerd therapy, which Rogers described as “non-directive therapy,” the therapist takes the role of a facilitator who helps the client find his or her own answers, based on the belief that the client knows himself best. In person-centerd therapy, the client identifies his problems and what direction the therapy should take. For example, the client may not wish to focus on his childhood but rather deal with issues he is facing at work and the therapist may help him find what sort of role he would really like to take. Rogers describes the process as “supportive, not reconstructive;” the client must not come to rely on the therapist for support, but instead needs to learn how to become sufficiently self-aware and self-trusting to be independent and able to live “the good life.”
«The process of the good life… means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.»
Carl Rogers
Rogers’ legacy
Rogers was one of the most influential psychotherapists of the 20th century, and his new client-centerd, non-directive therapy marked a turning point in the development of psychotherapy. He was instrumental in the encounter-group philosophy of the 1960s, which encouraged open communication between individuals. He was responsible for the spread of professional counseling into areas such as education and social work, and was a pioneer in attempting to resolve international conflict through more effective communication.
Carl Rogers was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to a strictly Protestant family, and apparently had few friends outside the family before going to college. Initially, Rogers majored in agriculture, but after marrying his childhood sweetheart, Helen Elliott, in 1924, he enrolled at a theological seminary, before withdrawing to pursue a course in psychology. Rogers worked at the universities of Ohio, Chicago, and Wisconsin, developing his client-centerd therapy based on humanistic psychology. He also spent time with the United Service Organizations (USO), offering therapy to returning army personnel during World War II. In 1964, he was awarded “Humanist of the Year” by the American Humanist Association, and devoted the last ten years of his life to working for world peace. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.
Key works
1942 Counseling and Psychotherapy
1951 Client-centered Therapy
1961 On Becoming a Person
See also: Fritz Perls • Erich Fromm • Abraham Maslow • Rollo May • Dorothy Rowe • Martin Seligman
Humanistic psychology
1920s Alfred Adler claims there is only one motivating force behind all our behavior and experience: the striving for perfection.
1935 Henry Murray develops the Thematic Apperception Test, which measures personality and motivation.
1950s Kurt Goldstein defines self-actualization as the tendency to actualize, as much as possible, the organism’s individual capacities, and proclaims that the drive to self-actualize is the only drive that determines the life of an individual.
1974 Fritz Perls says that every living thing “has only one inborn goal—to actualize itself as it is.”
Throughout recorded history, questions have been posed about why we are here, and what the purpose is of our lives. Underlying these questions is a need to identify what will make us truly satisfied, and a confusion about how to find it. Psychoanalysts would claim that the fulfilment of innate biological drives leads toward satisfaction, and behaviorists would describe the importance of meeting physiological needs with food, sleep, and sex, but the new wave of psychotherapeutic thought in the early to mid-20th century believed that the path to inner fulfillment was much more complex.
One of the main proponents of this new approach to the problem was Abraham Maslow, a psychotherapist who is considered one of the founders of the humanist movement in psychology. He examined human experience by looking at the things that are most important to us: love, hope, faith, spirituality, individuality, and existence. One of the most crucial aspects of his theories was that in order to reach the most highly developed state of consciousness and realize the greatest potential, an individual must discover his true purpose in life and pursue it. Maslow refers to this ultimate state of being as self-actualization.
Toward self-actualization
Maslow created a highly structured plan to explain the path of human motivation, defining the steps that humans need to follow as they move toward self-actualization. His famous Hierarchy of Needs, which is often drawn as a pyramid, positions the most basic needs at the base and each of the other essential requirements for a fulfilled life in groups on top.
Maslow’s hierarchy is split into two distinct sections: at the beginning are the four stages that make up the “deficiency needs” and all of these must be met before a person is able to reach for greater intellectual satisfaction through the “growth needs.” The deficiency needs are simple and basic; they include physiological necessities (such as food, water, and sleep), the need for safety (to be safe and out of danger), love and belongingness needs (our need to be close to and accepted by others), and self-esteem requirements (our need to achieve in our lives and be recognized).
At the higher level, the growth needs are cognitive (a need to know and understand), aesthetic (a desire for order and beauty), and lastly, two requirements that define the purpose of life, and lead to intense spiritual and psychological fulfillment: self-actualization and self-transcendence. Self-actualization is the desire for self-fulfillment, and self-transcendence is the need to move beyond the self, and connect to something higher than ourselves—such as God—or to help others realize their potential.
Maslow also proposes that each one of us has an individual purpose to which we are uniquely suited, and part of the path to fulfillment is to identify and pursue that purpose. If someone is not doing what they are best suited to do in life, it will not matter if all their other needs are fulfilled, he or she will be perpetually restless and unsatisfied. Each of us must discover our potential, and seek out experiences that will allow us to fulfil it—“What a man can be, he must be,” proclaims Maslow.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists the qualities he observed in successful individuals who aimed high but kept their feet on the ground.
Abraham Maslow was born the eldest of seven children in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Jewish immigrants who had left Russia for the US to escape the tumultuous political situation there. They had high expectations of Maslow, and forced him to study law—a parental dominance that continued until 1928 when Maslow decided to take control of his life and pursue psychology instead. In the same year he disobeyed his parents by marrying his cousin, Bertha Goodman, with whom he had two children.
Maslow moved to the University of Wisconsin and worked under Harry Harlow, the behavioral psychologist famous for his work with primates. Later, at Columbia University, Maslow found a mentor in psychoanalyst and former colleague of Freud’s, Alfred Adler.
Key works
1943 A Theory of Human Motivation
1954 Motivation and Personality
1962 Toward a Psychology of Being
See also: Alfred Adler • Erich Fromm • Carl Rogers • Rollo May • Martin Seligman
600–500 BCE In India, Gautama Buddha teaches that suffering is caused by desire, and can be alleviated by releasing desire.
458 BCE Ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus explores the idea that “wisdom comes alone through suffering.”
1950s French existentialist philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, say our lives do not have a God-given purpose; we must find it for ourselves.
2003 Martin Seligman says a “full life” encompasses pleasure, engagement (flow), and meaning.
2007 US psychologist Dan Gilbert explains that people are unhappy because of the way they think about happiness.
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl had already begun to specialize in suicide prevention and the treatment of depression when, in 1942, he and his wife, brother, and parents were taken to a concentration camp. He spent three years there and endured many horrors and losses before emerging as the only survivor of the group. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), written after these experiences, Frankl explains that humans have two psychological strengths that allow us to bear painful and possibly devastating situations and to move forward; these are the capacity for decision, and freedom of attitude. Frankl stresses that we are not at the mercy of our environment or events, because we dictate how we allow them to shape us. Even suffering can be seen differently, depending on our interpretation of events.
Frankl cites the case of one of his patients who suffered because he missed his dead wife. Frankl asked how it would have been if the patient had died first, and he replied that his wife would have found it very difficult. Frankl pointed out that the patient has spared her this grief, but must now suffer the grief himself. In giving meaning to the suffering it becomes endurable; “suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
Meaning is something we “discover rather than invent,” according to Frankl, and we must find it for ourselves. We find it through living, and specifically through love, creating things, and the way we choose to see things.
«A man who has nothing else in this world may still know bliss.»
Viktor Frankl
See also: Rollo May • Boris Cyrulnik • Martin Seligman
Existential psychotherapy
1841 Søren Kierkegaard claims that people misinterpret Christian ideology and misuse science to falsely defend against the anxiety inherent in existence.
1942 Swiss physician Ludwig Binswanger combines existential philosophy with psychotherapy in his Basic Forms and the Realization of Human “Being-in-the-World.”
1942 Carl Rogers, a pioneer of humanistic psychology, publishes Counseling and Psychotherapy.
1980 Irvin Yalom discusses in Existential Psychotherapy the four ultimate concerns of life: death, freedom, existential isolation, and meaninglessness.
In the mid-19th century, philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Frederick Nietzsche, and Søren Kierkegaard challenged social dogma and demanded that people expand their ways of thinking to incorporate a fuller understanding of human experience, in a movement now known as existentialism. The notions of free will, personal responsibility, and how we interpret our experience were all of interest to the existentialists, who wanted to ask what it means, fundamentally, for a human to exist.
Psychologist Rollo May’s The Meaning of Anxiety (1950) brought this human-centerd philosophical approach into psychology for the first time, and May is often referred to as the father of existential psychology.
An existential approach
May viewed life as a spectrum of human experience, including suffering as a normal part of life, not as a sign of pathology. It is self-evident that as human beings, we tend to seek experiences that allow us to be comfortable. We enjoy our familiar environments, and favor experiences that keep the mental and physical senses in a state of balance and ease. This tendency, however, leads us to judge and label experiences as “good” or “bad,” depending only on the levels of pleasure or discomfort they may bring. May says that in doing so, we do ourselves a disservice, since we are fighting against processes that lead to immense growth and development if we can accept them as a natural part of life.
May proposes an approach to life that echoes Buddhist thought, where we accept all forms of experience equally, rather than shunning or denying those we judge to be uncomfortable or unpleasant. We also need to accept our “negative” feelings, rather than avoid or repress them. Suffering and sadness are not pathological issues to be “fixed,” he says; they are natural and essential parts of living a human life, and are also important because they lead to psychological growth.
See also: Søren Kierkegaard • Alfred Adler • Carl Rogers • Abraham Maslow • Viktor Frankl • Boris Cyrulnik
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
1927 Alfred Adler says that a person’s behavior springs from his or her ideas.
1940s The role of perception in creating reality is popularized by the Gestalt Therapy movement.
1950 Karen Horney suggests we escape from the “tyranny of the shoulds.”
1960s Aaron Beck says that depression is a result of unrealistic negative views about the world.
1980 American psychiatrist David Burns gives labels to cognitive distortions such as: Jumping to Conclusions, All or Nothing Thinking, Always Being Right, Over Generalizing, and Catastrophizing.
Epictetus, an ancient Greek philosopher, proclaimed in 80 CE, that “men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them.” This principle is the foundation of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), devised by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, which asserts that experiences do not cause any specific emotional reaction; instead it is the individual’s belief system that produces the reaction.
Practicing as a psychoanalyst in the 1940s and 50s, Ellis began to realize that while many of his patients gained an insight into themselves and their childhood, their symptoms unfortunately remained. It seemed that when one problem was resolved, the patient would put another in its place. The issue, Ellis decided, lay in the way the person was thinking (their cognition), and it required more than insight to change it.
Irrational thinking
Ellis began to describe his way of working as Rational Therapy because he believed that the majority of long-standing emotional problems are almost always due to irrational thinking. One of the most common ways in which irrationality occurs, he says, is the tendency to draw extreme conclusions, especially negative ones, about events. For example, if a man who is an irrational thinker loses his job, to him it is not merely unfortunate, but awful. He believes that he is worthless because he was fired, and that he will never find another job. Ellis describes irrational beliefs as illogical, extreme, damaging, and self-sabotaging because they cause unhealthy emotional consequences.
Rational thinking creates the opposite effect. Ellis defines rational thinking as helpful to the self. It is based on tolerance and the ability to bear distress without assuming catastrophic negative conclusions, and is rooted in a belief in positive human potential. This is not to say one turns a blind eye to negative factors in favor of naïve, positive beliefs—rational thinking does acknowledge reasonable feelings of sorrow, guilt, and frustration. The rational thinker may lose her job; it may have even been her fault that she lost the job, but she knows she is not worthless. She may be upset with herself, but she knows that rationally there is the possibility of another job. Rational thinking is balanced and always allows room for optimism and possibilities; it creates healthy emotional consequences.
Ellis’s notion of irrational thinking is influenced by Karen Horney’s idea of the “tyranny of the shoulds”—a preoccupation with the idea that something should (magically) be different from how it is. The struggle to reconcile these thoughts with reality is a painful and unending one. Rational thinking, on the other hand, focuses on acceptance; it maintains the balanced sense that sometimes things happen that we would prefer not to, but they are a part of life.
«People and things do not upset us. Rather, we upset ourselves by believing that they can upset us.»
Albert Ellis
Conditioned response
We become so used to our responses to people and events that they appear to be almost automatic; our reaction becomes inextricably linked to the event itself. However, Ellis aimed to teach people to recognize how an event may contribute to a feeling, but it does not directly cause that feeling. Our emotional response depends on the meaning we put on what took place, which in turn is governed by rational or irrational thinking.
As the name implies, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy examines both the emotional response (a cognitive process) and the behavior. The links between these two flow in both directions: it is possible to change your thinking through changing your behavior, and to change your behavior through changing your thinking. Ellis suggests that the way to change one’s thinking involves being able to recognize and then dispute irrational beliefs, challenging them with rational thoughts.
Challenging beliefs
During REBT, an individual is asked to consider whether they have several overriding beliefs about themselves and their position in life as these contribute to irrational responses. This process is known as “disputing.” For instance, some people hold the belief that “I am the only really dependable person I know” or “I am destined to be always alone in this world.” In therapy, the individual is encouraged to search their personal history to find rationalizations for these belief systems. Someone who has been through the break-up of several relationships may have the delusion that it is their “destiny to be alone” or that they are somehow “unlovable.” REBT encourages people to allow for the pain of loss or loneliness, and to logically evaluate factors that led to the loss; but discourages the practice of believing that one or two instances mean that something will always happen, and therefore being happy is impossible.
One of the difficulties inherent in irrational thinking is that it tends to perpetuate itself, because in thinking, for instance, “nothing good ever happens to me,” there is little or no motivation to seek opportunities where good things might happen. The irrational thinker sees the possibilities of having a good experience as so unlikely that he gives up searching for them. It also makes him blind to the good things that do happen. Many people express the self-perpetuating belief: “Yes, I have tried, and I know that good things never happen,” which rationalizes and reinforces their belief system.
Irrational thinking is “black and white;” it stops an individual from recognizing the full spectrum of possible experiences. If a faulty belief system leads us to always interpret situations negatively, then it prevents the possibility of alternate positive experiences. Though it often appears that “seeing is believing,” the reality is that what we believe is what we see.
«The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own… You realize that you control your own destiny.»
Albert Ellis
If someone has been unlucky in love they may feel sad and rejected. However, there is a difference between feeling these emotions and allowing them to become a belief system.
Constructivist theory
REBT is a constructivist theory, suggesting that although our preferences are influenced by our upbringing and culture, we construct our own beliefs and reality. As a therapy, it attempts to reveal people’s inflexible and absolutist thoughts, feelings, and actions; and helps them see how they are choosing to “disturb themselves,” as Ellis puts it. It suggests how to think of and choose healthier pathways; and how to internalize and habituate new, more beneficial beliefs. In so doing, the therapist becomes obsolete—once the client grasps the idea of becoming self-aware in decision-making, and choosing deliberately (and often differently), the therapist is no longer needed.
REBT identifies the patterns of irrational thinking that lead to unhealthy and entrenched beliefs, and describes how to challenge them.
An active therapy
Albert Ellis’s theories challenged the slow-moving methodology of psychoanalysis and created the first form of cognitive behavioral therapy, an approach that is popular today. He was an active and directive therapist and in place of long-term, passive psychoanalysis, he put the work and power squarely in the hands of the client—an approach that prefigured Carl Rogers. He also emphasized that theorizing was not enough—“you have to back it up with action, action, action,” he said. REBT became one of the most popular therapies of the 1970s and 80s, and was highly influential on the work of Aaron Beck, who described Ellis as an “explorer, revolutionary, therapist, theorist, and teacher.”
Albert Ellis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was often away on business and his mother suffered from bipolar disease; Ellis frequently took care of his three younger siblings. Ellis began a career in business and then became an author, before his writing on sexuality led him to start studying clinical psychology at Columbia University in 1942. Initially, Ellis practiced psychoanalysis and was influenced by Sigmund Freud, Albert Adler, and Erich Fromm. However, his Rational Therapy broke away from psychoanalytic theory and is considered to have led the shift toward cognitive behavioral therapy. He is recognized as one of the most influential psychologists in the US. He wrote more than 70 books, continuing to write and teach until his death at the age of 93.
Key works
1957 How to Live with a Neurotic
1961 A Guide to Rational Living
1962 Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy
1998 Optimal Aging
See also: Alfred Adler • Karen Horney • Erich Fromm • Carl Rogers • Aaron Beck • Martin Seligman
Family therapy
1942 Carl Rogers publishes Counseling and Psychotherapy, emphasizing the role of respect and a nonjudgmental approach in mental health treatment.
1953 US psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan publishes The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, which states that people are products of their environment.
1965 Argentinian-born psychiatrist Salvador Minuchin brings family therapy to prominence at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic.
1980 Italian psychiatrist Mara Selvini Palazzoli and her colleagues publish articles about their “Milan systems” approach to family therapy.
The role that a person assumes in their “family of origin” (the family they grew up in) tends to be the seed from which the adult will grow. American psychologist Virginia Satir recognized the importance that the original family plays in shaping personality, and looked at differences between a healthy, functioning family and one that was dysfunctional. She was especially interested in the roles that people tend to adopt in order to compensate when healthy dynamics are lacking between family members.
A healthy family life involves open and reciprocated displays of affection, and expressions of positive regard and love for one another. More than any previous therapist, Satir emphasized the power that compassionate, nurturing relationships have in developing well-adjusted psyches.
«By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world.»
Virginia Satir
Role playing
When family members lack the ability to openly express emotion and affection, Satir suggested that personality “roles” tend to emerge in place of authentic identities. She noted five commonly played roles that individual family members are likely to adopt, especially in times of stress. These are: the family member who constantly finds fault and criticizes (“the blamer”); the non-affectionate intellectual (“the computer”); the person who stirs things up in order to shift the focus away from emotional issues (“the distractor”); the apologetic people-pleaser (“the placator”); and the open, honest, and direct communicator (“the leveler”).
Only levelers maintain a healthy, congruent position, with their inner feelings matching their communications with the rest of the family. Others adopt their various roles because low self-esteem makes them afraid to show or share their true feelings. Placators are afraid of disapproval; blamers attack others to hide feelings of unworthiness; computers rely on their intellect to stop them acknowledging their feelings; and distracters—often the youngest in the family—believe they will only be loved if they are seen as cute and harmless.
These adopted roles may allow the family to function, but they can overwhelm each individual’s ability to be his or her authentic self. Satir believed that in order to cast aside these false identities, whether as children or as adults, we must accept self-worth as a birthright. Only then will it be possible to start moving toward a truly fulfilling existence. This begins with a commitment to straightforward, open, and honest communication.
The need for basic, positive, emotional connections lies at the root of Satir’s pioneering work. She believed that love and acceptance are the most potent healing forces for any dysfunctional family. By fostering close, compassionate relationships with her patients, she mimicked the dynamic she was encouraging them to adopt.
Five distinct personality roles, according to Satir, are commonly played out by individual family members in order to cover up difficult emotional issues.
Virginia Satir was born on a farm in Wisconsin, and is said to have decided she wanted to be a “detective of people’s parents” at the age of six. Losing her hearing for two years due to an illness helped to make her acutely observant of nonverbal communication, and gave her a sensitive insight into human behavior. Her father was an alcoholic, and she was well aware of the dynamics of caretaking, blaming, and pleasing that went on around her during her own childhood.
Satir trained as a teacher, but her interest in problems of self-esteem in children led her to take a master’s degree in social work. She set up the first formal family therapy training program in the US and the “Satir Model” is still hugely influential in personal and organizational psychology.
Key works
1964 Conjoint Family Therapy
1972 Peoplemaking
See also: Carl Rogers • Lev Vygotsky • Bruno Bettelheim
Experimental psychology
1890s William James says that the self has four layers: the biological, the material, the social, and the spiritual.
1956 Abraham Maslow stresses the importance of “peak experiences” in the route to self-actualization.
1960s British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond coins the term “psychedelic” to describe the emotional effects of the drugs LSD and mescaline.
1962 In his “Good Friday Experiment,” US psychiatrist and theologian Walter Pahnke tests if psychedelic drugs can deepen religious experience.
1972 US psychologist Robert E. Ornstein argues in The Psychology of Consciousness that only personal experience can unlock the unconscious.
Timothy Leary was an American psychologist who became an iconic figure of the 1960s counterculture, coining possibly the most widely used catchphrase linked with that era: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.”
However, the order in which Leary wished us to do these three things is slightly different. He felt that society was polluted by politics, and made up of sterile, generic communities that do not allow the depth of meaning needed by true individuals. The first thing he thought we should do is “Drop Out,” by which he meant that we should detach ourselves from artificial attachments and become self-reliant in thought and deed. Unfortunately, “Drop Out” has been misinterpreted as urging people to halt productivity, which was never his intention.
Next, Leary tells us to “Turn On,” or delve into our unconscious, and “find a sacrament which returns you to the temple of God, your own body.” This is a command to explore deeper layers of reality, as well as the many levels of experience and consciousness. Drugs were one way to do this, and Leary, a Harvard professor, began experimenting with the hallucinogenic drug LSD.
To “Tune In,” Leary asks us to return to society with a new vision, seeking fresh patterns of behavior that reflect our transformation, and to teach others our newfound ways.
The psychedelic movement of the 1960s was heavily influenced by Leary’s call to create a better, more satisfying society by exploring the unconscious to uncover our true emotions and needs.
See also: William James • Abraham Maslow
Brief therapy
1880s Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, emerges. It focuses on unconscious processes as manifested in a person’s present behavior.
1938 B.F. Skinner introduces “radical” behaviorism, which does not accept that thinking, perception, or any other kind of unobservable emotional activity can trigger a particular pattern of behavior.
1958 American psychiatrist Leopold Bellak sets up a brief therapy clinic, where therapy is limited to a maximum of five sessions.
1974 US psychotherapist Jay Haley publishes Uncommon Therapy, describing Milton Erickson’s brief therapy techniques.
Psychotherapy often relies heavily on patients gaining an understanding of themselves, their history, and their behavior. This is based on the belief that to counter emotional pain and change behavior, we need to understand where our emotional patterns are rooted. Austrian-American psychologist Paul Watzlawick described this process as “insight.” For example, a man who grieves for an abnormally long time after his partner leaves him might come to realize that he has deep issues with abandonment, because his mother left him when he was a child. But a number of therapists have concluded that insight may be unnecessary to counter emotional pain, and some, including Watzlawick, have claimed that it can make a patient worse.
Watzlawick famously stated he could not think of a single case in which someone changed as a result of a deepening understanding of self. The belief that understanding past events helps to shed light on present problems is based on a “linear” view of cause and effect. Watzlawick was drawn to the idea of circular causality of human behavior, which shows people tend to return to the same actions again and again.
Insight, Watzlawick suggested may even cause blindness, both to the real problem and its potential solution. He supported the brief therapy approach, which targets and tackles specific problems more directly in order to achieve quicker results. But he also felt that for any therapy to succeed, it must offer the patient a supportive relationship.
«Anybody can be happy, but to make oneself unhappy needs to be learned.»
Paul Watzlawick
See also: B.F. Skinner • Elizabeth Loftus • Milton Erickson
1908 Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coins the term “schizophrenia” to refer to the splitting of mental functions.
1911 Sigmund Freud proposes that schizophrenia is purely psychological, though it cannot be treated with psychoanalysis.
1943 French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre introduces the distinction between the true self and the false self.
1956 Gregory Bateson, British social scientist, defines a “double bind” as an emotionally distressing dilemma in which all the potential resolutions lead to negative consequences.
1978 CT brain scans reveal physical differences between chronic schizophrenics and non-schizophrenics.
At the end of the 19th century, the notion that mental illness was different in degree—rather than in kind—from the psychological suffering of normal people began to gain acceptance. Sigmund Freud suggested that neurosis and normality are part of the same scale, and that anyone is capable of succumbing to mental disturbance in dire circumstances. It was from this context that R.D. Laing emerged as the preeminent icon of a new cultural trend.
Biology and behavior
Like Freud, Laing challenged the fundamental values of psychiatry, rejecting its focus on mental illness as a biological phenomenon and highlighting the significance of the social, cultural, and familial influences that shape personal experience. Although he never denied the grim reality of mental illness, his views were in stark contrast to the accepted medical basis and practice of psychiatry.
Laing’s work calls into question the validity of psychiatric diagnosis on the grounds that the accepted process of diagnosing mental disorders does not follow the traditional medical model. Doctors perform examinations and tests to diagnose physical illness, whereas psychiatric diagnosis is based on behavior. According to Laing, there is also an inherent problem in diagnosing mental illness based on conduct, but treating it biologically with drugs. If a diagnosis is based on behavior, then so too should be the treatment. He argues that drugs also hinder the ability to think, and as a result interfere with the natural process of true recovery.
Shakespeare’s King Lear is an iconic example of a man driven mad by difficult circumstances. In Laing’s view, Lear’s madness is an attempt to return to his natural, healthy, state.
Approach to schizophrenia
Laing’s main work centers on the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia—a serious mental disorder characterized by severe disruptions in psychological functioning—and on explaining it to ordinary people. Schizophrenia, he says, is not inherited, but is an understandable reaction to unlivable situations. He applies social scientist Gregory Bateson’s theory of the “double bind,” in which a person is put into situations where he or she faces conflicting expectations, and every action leads to negative consequences, resulting in extreme mental distress.
Illness as breakthrough
Laing was revolutionary in viewing the abnormal behavior and confused speech of schizophrenics as valid expressions of distress. For him, psychotic episodes represent attempts to communicate concerns, and should be seen as cathartic and transformative experiences that could lead to important personal insights. Laing accepts that these expressions are difficult to comprehend, but he explains that this is merely because they are wrapped in the language of personal symbolism, which is only meaningful from within. Laing’s drug-free psychotherapy tries to make sense of a patient’s symbolism by listening in an attentive and empathetic spirit. This is based on the belief that people are healthy in their natural state, and that so-called mental illness is an attempt to return to it.
Ronald David Laing was born in Glasgow, Scotland. After studying medicine at Glasgow University, he became a psychiatrist in the British Army, developing an interest in working with the mentally distressed. He later trained at the Tavistock Clinic, London, England. In 1965, Laing and a group of colleagues created the Philadelphia Association and started a radical psychiatric project at Kingsley Hall, London, where patients and therapists lived together.
Laing’s erratic behavior and spiritual preoccupations in later life led to a decline in his reputation. As he was unable to develop a workable alternative to conventional medical treatment, his ideas are not generally accepted by the psychiatric establishment. Yet his contributions to the anti-psychiatry movement, particularly in family therapy, have had a lasting impact. He died of a heart attack in 1989.
Key works
1960 The Divided Self
1961 The Self and Others
1964 Sanity, Madness and the Family
1967 The Politics of Experience
See also: Emil Kraepelin • Sigmund Freud • David Rosenhan
Positive psychology
1920s Freud says that early trauma negatively impacts an infant’s brain and can override any genetic, social, or psychological resilience factor.
1955–95 A longitudinal study by psychologist Emmy Werner following traumatized children into adulthood suggests that one-third of the population tends toward resilience.
1988 John Bowlby asks for a study of resilience.
2007 The UK government starts the UK Resilience Programme in schools.
2012 The American Psychological Association forms a task force on psychological resilience.
When tragedy strikes, some people are devastated. Unable to summon their coping mechanisms, they fall into deep depression or despondency, sometimes losing hope and even the will to carry on. They may become entirely preoccupied with the disaster and suffer nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety attacks. Other people, however, react differently. They seem to manage not only the normal ups and downs of their lives, but also potentially overwhelming losses and traumas. Instead of becoming depressed and unable to cope, somehow they are able to deal with painful circumstances and move on.
Boris Cyrulnik is interested in this difference of reaction. To find out why some people are so deeply affected, while others are seemingly able to “bounce back,” he has devoted his career to the study of psychological resilience.
Resilience is not a quality inherent within a person, Cyrulnik found, but one that builds through a natural process. He says that “alone, a child has no resilience… it is an interaction, a relationship.” We build resilience from developing relationships. We are constantly “knitting” ourselves from people and situations that we encounter, through the words we exchange and the feelings that arise. We might feel that if one “stitch” is dropped, our lives will unravel. In fact, “if just one stitch holds, we can start all over again.”
Positive emotions and humor are key factors in resilience. Cyrulnik’s research has shown that people who are better able to cope with life’s difficulties or traumas are able to find meaning in hardship, seeing it as a useful and enlightening experience, and even to find ways to laugh. Resilient people always remain able to see how things may turn out for the better in future, even if the present is painful.
«Resilience is a person’s ability to grow in the face of terrible problems.»
Boris Cyrulnik
After disasters such as tsunamis psychologists have witnessed the formation of resilient communities, characterized by the residents’ determination to overcome adversity.
Meeting the challenge
It had previously been thought that people who show more resilience are less emotional in general, but Cyrulnik believed that the pain is no less for resilient people than it is for others; it is a matter of how they choose to use it. The pain may continue, even over a whole lifetime, but for these people it raises a challenge that they decide to meet. The challenge is to overcome what has happened, to find strength in the experience instead of letting it defeat them, and to use the strength to move defiantly forward. Given the right support, children are especially capable of complete recovery from trauma. Cyrulnik has shown that the human brain is malleable and will recover if allowed. The brain of a traumatized child shows shrinkage of the ventricles and cortex, but where the child is well supported and loved after the trauma, brain scans have shown the brain to be capable of returning to normal within a year.
Cyrulnik stresses the importance of not labeling children who have suffered a trauma, thereby sidelining them to a seemingly hopeless future. Trauma consists of the injury and the representation of that injury. Enduring humiliating adult interpretations of events can be the most traumatic experience. Labels, he says, can be more damaging and damning than the experience.
Boris Cyrulnik was born to Jewish parents in Bordeaux, France, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. In 1944, when the Vichy regime controlled unoccupied southern France by arrangement with Germany, his home was raided and his parents were taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. His parents had placed him with a foster family for safety, but within days they turned him over to the authorities for a small reward. He escaped while awaiting transfer to a concentration camp and worked on farms until the age of ten, when he was taken into care. He grew up in France, without any relatives. Largely self-taught, Cyrulnik eventually studied medicine at the University of Paris. Realizing he wanted to reevaluate his own life, he began to study psychoanalysis and later neuropsychiatry. He has devoted his career to working with traumatized children.
Key works
1992 The Dawn of Meaning
2004 The Whispering of Ghosts
2009 Resilience
See also: Sigmund Freud • John Bowlby • Charlotte Bühler • George Kelly • Jerome Kagan
Personal construct theory
1940s Gestalt therapy is founded, introducing the notion that perception influences meaning.
1955 George Kelly publishes The Psychology of Personal Constructs, outlining the theory that everyone has a set of constructs (beliefs) about the world and the people in it.
1960 Psychologist and statistician Max Hamilton constructs the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), a tool used to measure clinical depression.
1980 Psychologist Melvin Lerner publishes The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion, explaining how we wrongly believe that people get what they deserve.
If people could stop blaming themselves for things that have happened in their lives, the rate of depression would decrease dramatically. This premise is the foundation of Dorothy Rowe’s success in treating the problem.
We are generally brought up to believe that the world is a fair and rational place; that if we are good, good things will happen to us. But if things go well when we are good, what does that say about us when things go wrong? Our belief in a “Just World”—where the good are rewarded and the bad punished—makes us blame ourselves for the bad things that happen to us.
When we are wronged or hurt in some way, there is a tendency to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” People look back to see what they did to cause the situation, even in the case of a natural disaster. Self-blame, guilt, helplessness, and shame irrationally arise when bad things happen, and these can lead to depression.
Rowe explained that we create and choose our beliefs. Once we understand this, we can let go of the idea of a Just World and think more rationally about negative experiences. We might suffer from bad parenting, job loss, or even a devastating tornado, but these things did not happen because we are doomed to misfortune, nor do we deserve to be treated badly. To recover from these setbacks, we need to stop personalizing events, start externalizing them, and realize that sometimes bad things just happen.
«To turn natural sadness into depression, all you have to do is blame yourself for the disaster that has befallen you.»
Dorothy Rowe
See also: Fritz Perls • Carl Rogers • Albert Ellis • Melvin Lerner • George Kelly
Masculine psychology
1900s Freudian analysts describe the Oedipus complex, which states that sons feel naturally competitive with their father.
1950s French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan argues that the son sees the father as embodying the law.
1991 In Iron John: A Book About Men, American author Robert Bly says that fathers fail to give their sons what they need to become men, and suggests that they need to reawaken the “Wild Man” within.
1990s American writers Douglas Gillette and Robert L. Moore publish five books exploring Jungian archetypes and the male psyche.
Before French-Canadian analyst Guy Corneau published Absent Fathers, Lost Sons in 1991, psychology had given little attention to emotional communication between men. Corneau’s book examined the difficulties of intimate conversations between the male generations. He recounts his attempts to make an emotional connection with his own father: reaching out, seeking approval, but receiving only silence.
Communication between fathers and sons is often characterized by silences. While sons long for recognition and approval from their fathers, fathers are reluctant to give this approval freely.
Withholding approval
Corneau recognizes that this sequence of events is a familiar pattern in men, who are often unable to shower their sons with the praise, affection, or recognition craved by their offspring. When the son experiences this silence, he may try harder to impress, or he might withdraw, but the silence remains irrevocably imprinted in his mind, according to Corneau. The phenomenon may stem from a competitive interplay of male egos; a man who showers his son with praise would somehow be compromising his own power, making it less valuable. From the son’s point of view, if approval is given too easily, without some degree of withholding, the father is then no longer worthy of impressing. It appears that in most forms of society there is a belief that men cannot be both strong and open.
Corneau says that this behavior does a disservice to men. They are denied the opportunity to express affection toward their sons—and the sons are forced to go without that affection.