Humanistic Psychology

• THE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY MOVEMENT • (Sometimes called the "human strengths" movement) • In agreement with humanistic psychology, positive psychologists argued that psychology has tended to:
– Examine individuals suffering from distress – Use those experiences as their foundation for theorizing about people – End up with theories that emphasize the negative while overlooking human strengths

• To rectify this, positive psychologists have tried to portray the nature of human strengths and virtues • Their methods are not primarily phenomenological, but are nomothetic and psychometrically based.

Positive Emotions
• The Virtues of Positive Emotions • Psychologists commonly have studied emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger • Have devoted lesser attention to the role of positive emotions – pride, love, happiness – in personality development and functioning • There are dozens of theories of depression, but hardly a word, until recently, about happiness.

Positive Emotions
• Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2001)
– Positive emotions “broaden” thought and action tendencies by widening the range of
• Ideas that come to mind • Actions that individuals pursue
– Interest leads people to pursue novel activities – Pride motivates one to continue activities

– Positive emotions can further build human competencies and achievements – In short, positive emotions don’t lead to contentment and idleness, but rather motivate thought and actions.

• Developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; describes a feature of conscious experience characterized by:

Flow: Congruence between skills and activities
– A perceived match between personal skills and environmental challenge – A high level of focused attention – Involvement in an activity such that time seems to fly by and irrelevant thoughts and distractions do not enter into consciousness – A sense of intrinsic enjoyment in the activity – A temporary loss of self-consciousness such that the self is not aware of functioning or regulating activity – If skills are much higher than demands: boredom – If skills much lower than demands: frustration/aggression

Existential Psychology
• The Darker Side of the Third Force • Most existential psychologists/therapists were influenced by Heidegger’s existential phenomenology. • Europeans: Ludwig Binswanger (Daseinanalysis), Viktor Frankl • Americans: Rollo May (founder), Irving Yalom, Ernest Becker • Each has distinctive emphasis, but some common themes.

Existentialist Themes
• Freedom and Responsibility • Phenomenologically, we are free. • Because we are free, we are responsible for our lives (at least for our attitudes toward what befalls us). • Many people deny or relinquish their freedom (it’s my genes, it’s my parents, it’s my environment).

Existentialist Themes
• Thrownness and the search for meaning • Here I am. What now? What does it all mean? What shall I do? • All existential psychologists emphasize the importance of finding a meaning in life as a primary human motivation. • Without meaning, people will even give up their lives.

Viktor Frankl
• Man’s Search for Meaning (1946)
– Formerly: From Death Camp to Existentialism – In camps from 1942-1945: Both parents, brother, and wife died in camps. – In his books, Frankl describes his insights into human nature that grew out of his observations of his fellow camp prisoners (and even the Nazi guards, etc). – What did he observe about human motivation?

• In camps, physiological, safety, belongingness, and self-esteem needs threatened every day. • Many people lost the will to live (suicides common), or became selfish, greedy, & ruthless as Maslow might have predicted. • Yet many endured, were kind and dignified through it all, and even gave up many physiological and safety needs for the sake of others. • In such cases, these actualized people had a deep spiritual and philosophical life, some “eternal” meaning was driving them. • The “will to meaning:” People will sacrifice lowerlevel needs for the sake of something higher.

Viktor Frankl

Existential Themes
• Existential Anxiety
– Anxiety produced by the “burden of freedom”. When we contemplate our possibilities and the necessity of choice. – Not a bad thing: existential anxiety can motivate change.

• Existential Guilt
– A dull guilty feeling that we have squandered our freedom, that we have wasted our lives. – Not guilt over a specific action (e.g., cursed my mother), but over ones whole existence.

Existential Themes
• Death

Existential Themes
• Heidegger described human beings (Dasein) as “beings-towards-death", in that our finitude is a horizon continually before us. • Human awareness of death can be a stimulus for a deep search for meaning—and no time to waste. • But the anxiety created by reflection on death can also lead us to throw ourselves into “everydayness” and “busyness” in an attempt to distract ourselves from reflection.

Beware of existential meltdown

Becker’s Thesis:
• “The main thesis of this book is that the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity - activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to over come it by denying in someway that it is the final destiny for man.”

• All animals experience fear and anxiety when immediately threatened by death. • Humans are self-conscious, symbol-using animals who are capable of being aware of death at every moment. • Such awareness, if constantly present before the mind, would lead to paralyzing anxiety and fear.
• “This fear is actually an expression of the instinct of selfpreservation, which functions as a constant drive to maintain life and to master the dangers that threaten it. The fear of death must be present behind all our normal functioning, in order for the organism to be armed toward self-preservation. But the fear of death cannot be present constantly in one’s mental functioning, else the organism could not function.”

How do we avoid paralysis?
• We simply repress the fear of death, or use defenses like intellectualization (understand it abstractly, but keep the emotions from surfacing). • More generally, we adopt world-views (“herosystems,” “Immortality Projects”) that give us a sense of permanence and elevate our selfesteem. Culture provides a kind of symbolic immortality.

Becker and Freud
• For Freud, the primary repressions are sexual and destructive drives.
– Culture and civilization are sublimations of these drives.

• For Becker, the primary repression is the fear of death.
– Culture and civilization are attempts to create something of lasting value, something that transcends our personal mortality.

How is personality formed in the existential view?
• Broadly, personality is shaped by what we invest with meaning and pursue as an ultimate end. • Becker: “fetishization” – whatever we elevate to ultimate importance in creating meaning for our lives.
– A fetish “is a segment of the world which ‘has to bear the full load of life meaning’. – “The individual has to protect himself against the world, and he can do this only as any other animal would: by narrowing down the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and to his own anxieties.” – “Character is the restrictive shaping of possibility.”

Most men spare themselves this trouble [of the terrors of death] by keeping their minds on the small problems of their lives just as their society maps these problems out for them. These are what Kierkegaard called the "immediate" men…They "tranquilize themselves with the trivial" - and so they can lead normal lives."

Søren Kierkegaard Enten-Eller [Either-Or] (1842)
Each person faces a choice between three broad “modes of existence:” The aesthetic mode The ethical mode The religious mode

ierkegaard reflected on what people fetishized,” where they put ultimate mportance in their lives

Aesthetic Mode (Living for Oneself)
– Beauty & Health – Wealth, status, and fame – Talent and genius – Crude hedonism (Eat, drink, & be merry; sex, drugs, & rock-n-roll) – Refined Hedonism:
• Romanticism: Ironic detachment from life; avoid serious attachments and commitments. • Sophisticated amusements, life as “interesting,” “charming,” “poetic.”

Ethical Mode (Living for others)

• A life of reason, duty, and social responsibility • Firm commitments to
– Community and institutions – Political Causes – Social Welfare – Family and Children – Work and the future – Life as serious; actions judged by right or wrong, not amusing vs. dreary.

Are these satisfactory?
• Kierkegaard presented the best of both modes of existence. He believed that neither was satisfactory, both ended in despair. – Ethical Mode: Life of duty and social roles can end in feelings of being smothered, trapped, questioning what “might have been.” (existential guilt) – Aesthetic Mode: Life of detachment and hedonism can end in emptiness, boredom, lack of selfhood. Pleasures do not last (satiation); one can grow perverse, needing more shocks to the nervous sytsem to feel alive. Aestheitic aims are ultimately outside your freedom and control. • “We have looked at neurosis as a problem of character and have seen that it can be apprehended in two ways: as a problem of too much narrowness toward the world or too much openness. There are those who are too narrowly built-into their world, and there are those who are floating too freely apart from it.”--Becker

Religious Mode
• Commitment to God (The Eternal) • Only religious existing can conquer dread; all worldly activities must be placed in an eternal perspective. • From the religious perspective, one can be ethical and one can be detached, but these are relative, not ultimate, values. • “Fetishizing” anything other than God is idolotry (Thou shalt have no other gods….)

• “Experimental Existentialism” • Terror management theory (TMT) of Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski examines the consequences of the combination of two factors:
– 1. People’s desire to live (which people share with all other animals) – 2. People’s awareness of the inevitability of death (an awareness that is uniquely human) – Social and cultural institutions protect against terror by furnishing – 1) meaning in life and – 2) a way to achieve self-esteem (living up to the standards and values of the culture)

Terror Management Theory

• TMT’s implications:
– If cultural beliefs buffer against fear of death, and if people are induced to think about death, then they should display a stronger-than-usual need to posses and to defend their cultural beliefs – Over 200 studies have shown that this is so.

Terror Management Theory
• The Mortality Salience Paradigm
– Two groups of participants, randomly assigned to conditions: – One group is asked to write about what they think will happen when they die and their feelings about it
• This is done to activate, or “warm up” the concept of death. • This is called the “Mortality Salience” condition

– The other group (control group) writes about something unrelated (e.g., favorite TV show) – Later, both groups rate their degree of commitment to various values and belief systems, or – Rate their liking or disliking of people who support or oppose their values or beliefs.

Terror Management
• Those in mortality salience conditions, compared to controls, show more attachment to their culture and previously held ideas.
– More nationalism – More liking for “ingroup” members; more hostility to “outgroup” members – More donations to charities – Harsher sentences for criminals – Liberals become more liberal, conservatives more conservative – Among young people, more attachment to youth culture – Among religious people, more attachment to religious faith; among non-religious, more attachment to materialism.

Existential Approaches to Therapy Much variability among different existential •
– Most existential therapists are not technique-oriented. Freely draw techniques from other orientations. – Some existential therapists resemble psychoanalysts, using interpretations, offering insights, pointing out defenses. – But the insights are based on philosophical views about the nature of human existence.

Common to Existential Therapies
• Understand the client’s subjective world • Challenged clients to take responsibility for how they choose to be, decide how they want to be different, and take actions. • Major themes in therapy sessions are anxiety, freedom, isolation, death, and the search for meaning. • Assist client in facing life with courage, hope, and a willingness to find meaning in life.

• A type of existential therapy that focuses on challenging clients to search for meaning in their lives. • Dereflection: Too much self-attention and rumination can intensify anxiety and symptoms. Hyper-selfconsciousness can interfere with spontaneous activity.
– Dereflection is an attempt to move clients focus away from their fears, obsessions, and troubles to other, external issues.

Frankl’s Logotherapy: Techniques

• Paradoxical intention: A therapeutic strategy in which clients are instructed to engage in and exaggerate behaviors they seek to change, often to the point of laughter.
– By prescribing the symptom, therapists help clients achieve distance from symptoms.

Commonalities of Existential and Humanistic Approaches
• Both influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology. • Both view the conscious self as the primary psychological structure. • Both emphasize the integrity of the person as a whole (rather than a collection of mechanisms) • Both emphasize the present and the future rather than dwelling on the past. • Both emphasize the therapeutic relationship as a key factor in treatment.

Differences between Existential and Humanistic Approaches
Humanistic Human nature is basically good. Personality depends primarily on the social environment (unconditional regard, empathy, genuineness, etc.) Existential Human nature contains the possibility of good or evil. Personality depends upon choices and commitments freely made by the person.

The “true self” must be discovered The self must be created (finding oneself) (making oneself) Therapist is entirely non-directive, Therapist can sometimes challenge reflecting back what the client clients assertions (e.g., about expresses. whether they have choices in a given situation, or whether their behavior is a defensive response to existential anxiety).

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