Phenomenological Psychology

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Theories of Personality – Maslow, Fromm, Rogers, May, Bandura, Skinner, Rotter, Mischel – Questions and Answers

June 18th, 2009 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

QUESTION: Tony, a 56 year old male, has come to see you for therapy. He is depressed about his marriage. He has made an effort to be open, understanding and loving towards his wife, but he wants to experience more from life. “My wife just wants to play it safe,” he says. “She never wants to go anywhere, spend any money, have any fun. I feel stuck! Why is she like that?” he asks. “What can I do to help? What can she do for herself so we can enjoy life more?” As you listen to your client you reflect on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wonder to yourself if this husband and wife could be at different levels of that hierarchy. What are those levels from lowest to highest?

ANSWER: (1) physiological; (2) safety; (3) love/belonging; (4) esteem; (5) self-actualization.

QUESTION: Tony wants to experience more from life. Maslow might say he yearns for “b-values.” What is a B-value according to Maslow?

ANSWER: A “b-value” is a “being” value or a “meta-value.”

QUESTION: What are some examples of “b-values”?

ANSWER: There are 14 of them altogether. Some are: truth, justice, goodness, autonomy, playfulness and beauty.

QUESTION: Maslow and Rogers both describe characteristics of mature individuals. What are some of these characteristics?

ANSWER: harmonious relations with others; flexibility/adaptability; openness to new experiences; living in the moment; integrated and whole personality; greater richness in life; trust in human nature.

QUESTION: At what level of Maslow’s hierarchy would you guess Tony’s wife is?

ANSWER: Safety. Each stage is a condition precedent to its successor and she clearly is not experiencing “love.”

QUESTION: Asking your client what happened to make him crave more from life, he tells you about an amazing experience that changed his life. According to Maslow what are some ways a person might describe having had such a “peak experience”?

ANSWER: “Peak experience” is a transcendent moment of awareness that forever changes one’s relationship to people, projects and things. As expressed by the poet William Blake, one “sees a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower; one holds infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” It reorganizes your life.

QUESTION: As you listen to Tony, Carl Rogers come to mind. According to Rogers, what are three therapeutic qualities you would want to offer your client?

ANSWER: (1) counselor congruence; (2) unconditional positive regard; (3) empathetic listening.

QUESTION: What did Carl Rogers call his therapeutic method?

ANSWER: “person-centered therapy” (was “client-centered therapy”).

QUESTION: Rogers developed his therapeutic method based on his assumption that human beings experience two consistent tendencies. What are they?

ANSWER: (1) formative tendency; (2) actualizing tendency.

QUESTION: Your next appointment is with your client’s wife Maria. You notice immediately how anxious she seems. You ponder Eric Fromm’s concept of the “burden of freedom.” What did Fromm mean by that phrase?

ANSWER: We are born into a milieu of social and cultural expectations. We are subject to real-world constraints such as race, gender and socio-economic status. Yet one has the capacity to deploy free will and to choose one’s destiny in an authentic manner.

QUESTION: What is the emotional consequence of the burden of freedom?

ANSWER: Despair and anxiety – a tension between necessity and possibility that can be resolved only by authentic action.

QUESTION: According to Fromm, what are three possible means to escape the burden of freedom?

ANSWER: (1) authoritarianism; (2) destructiveness; (3) conformity.

QUESTION: For Fromm, what are the five essential human needs?

ANSWER: (1) rootedness; (2) transcendence; (3) sense of identity; (4) relatedness; (5) frame of reference – a schematic to organize one’s experience.

QUESTION: You wonder if you are hearing voices! In your imagination Rollo May asks, “how do you know if this woman’s anxiety is neurotic or ontological”? What is “ontological anxiety”?

ANSWER: It is: (1) proportional to the situation; (2) does not involve repression; and (3) can be resolved cognitively/consciously by examining and analyzing the situation.

QUESTION: What is “ontological guilt”?

ANSWER: (1) concern about/guilt over things one has done, but regrets or feels one shouldn’t have done; (2) concern about/guilt over things one could have done but hasn’t/didn’t.

QUESTION: For better or worse, Bandura’s voice now floats about in your head. You hear him say, “What’s all this existential nonsense? This woman needs to work on her self-efficacy.” What is self-efficacy?

ANSWER: Self-efficacy is the feeling one can respond to the situation and deploy the necessary skills and techniques to accomplish the desired outcome – the physical feeling of “I can do it.”

QUESTION: What are four ways in which self-efficacy is acquired?

ANSWER: (1) mastery of the situation; (2) social modeling; (3) social persuasion; (4) a state of physical/physiological readiness.

QUESTION: What would B.F. Skinner probably use to help Maria with her anxiety?

ANSWER: Operant conditioning.

QUESTION: Skinner might recommend that you attempt to “shape” Maria’s ability to be more assertive. What are the reinforcement strategies he could use?

ANSWER: (1) positive reinforcement = something added, given or delivered, usually pleasant, that will cause the target behavior to increase. (2) positive punishment = something added, given or delivered, usually aversive, that will cause the target behavior to decrease. (3) extinction = removal of a previously-delivered reinforcer that will cause the target behavior to decrease. (4) negative reinforcement = removal of a previously-delivered punishment that will cause the target behavior to increase.

QUESTION: Julian Rotter might want to argue that people are less easy to “condition” than Skinner imagines. For Rotter, what are four important variables in predicting human behavior?

ANSWER: (1) behavior potential (“BP”); expectations (“E”); reinforcement value (“RV”); (4) psychological situation (“PS”). A simple version of his formula for their interaction is BP = E + RV + PS.

QUESTION: Rotter also discussed the concept of “internal locus of control.” What does that mean?

ANSWER: “Internal locus of control” means that one’s interpretation of a situation is the most important factor in determining its effectiveness as a reinforcer.

QUESTION: In what ways would that concept be relevant to Maria’s condition?

ANSWER: For Maria no amount of cognitive or behavioral therapy will be effective until she accepts the therapeutic goals and agrees that her subjective mental attitude, orientation and outlook will be the critical determiners of whether any form of intervention will be effective.

QUESTION: If Walter Mischel suggested that Maria’s behaviors fit a typical “cognitive-affective personality system” or “behavioral signature of personality,” what would he mean?

ANSWER: Mischel held that behaviors are stable within a pattern of variation. Here, Maria has a repertoire of several possible behaviors which she is likely to display/implement, but they all can be understood/interpreted with the framework of her cognitive-affective personality system – a kind of schema that organizes her world and gives it meaning.

QUESTION: Use Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning to explain why Maria might be anxious. What are the key concepts associated with this perspective and why do you think this theory provides good insight into her symptoms?

ANSWER: Maria is anxious because she has learned dysfunctional behaviors that inhibit her ability to lead a productive life and that cause her subjective distress. By modifying her existing behavior and rehearsing/reinforcing new behaviors, Maria will relieve many of her symptoms.

Skinner proposed four types of reinforcement: (1) positive reinforcement (R+) = something added, given or delivered, usually pleasant, that makes the target behavior go up. (2) positive punishment = something added, given or delivered, usually aversive, that makes the target behavior go down. (3) extinction = the removal of a previously-administered R+, which will cause the target behavior to go down. (4) negative reinforcement = the removal of a previously-administered punishment, which will cause the target behavior to go up. The process of deploying these four types of reinforcement through successive approximations is called “shaping.”

QUESTION: What goals and methods would be good to use in her therapy?

ANSWER: Here are a few techniques Maria might find helpful: (1) what are the social contexts/situations in which Maria has been unable to be “assertive”? (2) what are the elements of those situations that reinforce her shyness (R+) – e.g. at a party, she attracts more male attention by being demure. (3) This can work the other way around – what are the situations in which being more assertive has had a bad outcome (positive punishment) – e.g. people thinking she was drunk or boorish. (4) develop a “SUDS” scale (“subjective units of distress”) – and then devise imaginal situations in which she is able to relax and be herself in social contexts despite the presence of threatening stimuli. (5) implement in vivo application of the same relaxation/accommodation techniques to give her more confidence in her ability to navigate social situations without committing embarrassing faux pas.

QUESTION: If you were depressed and decided to see an existential therapist like Rollo May, what would he believe about the origin of your symptoms? In other words what would May believe about human nature that would form the basis of your treatment?

ANSWER: Existentialism begins with the realization that we essentially are “thrown” into this world and that the institutions we have devised to cope with this facticity (e.g. culture, religion) are arbitrary. We reside in a matrix of contradictions – possibility (contingency) versus necessity; freedom to choose versus the pressure of social roles and cultural conventions; the desire for eternal, transcendent love coupled with the realization that one’s beloved – the object of one’s love – is a frail mortal, and will perish. The “human dilemma” is to hold these antinomies in balance yet at the same time find meaning in life – as the fin de siècle Viennese novelist Robert Musil put it, “to live with uncertainty, yet not be caught in hesitation.” The contradictions of life never will be resolved but rather must constantly be held in a state of equipoise or equilibrium as one makes deliberate, conscientious choices about how to proceed and what to do – that reflect who one is (authenticity) without succumbing to social roles/conventions or lapsing into despair.

QUESTION: What goals and strategies do you imagine May might emphasize in this type of therapy that would help you in your recovery?

ANSWER: May would emphasize the following goals and strategies. (1) Who are you? What are the circumstances of your life, and what are the variables you can change versus those you can’t? (2) What strategies have you deployed in the past to confront the tensions inherent in the human dilemma – e.g. conformity, flailing ineffectively, dissociating? (3) Where do your interests lie? – What are the core elements of your personality, those traits and characteristics that uniquely define you as a person? (4) How are they reflected in the choices you make? Do you ignore them, try to acknowledge them, do something about them? (5) What steps can you take to be a more authentic person – finding wholeness and meaning in life by emphasizing the unique aspects of who you are as you move confidently into the possibilities the future temporally presents.