The main aim of the psychological treatment for clients is to improve the situations affecting them currently, to offer the new ways of solving or handling these problems, while maintaining a good relationship with them (Therapist). This creates trust between the therapist and the client aiding the latter to bring out the problem in a more confident and independent way. This is achieved by utilizing the behaviorism and existential theories.
Behaviorism is a theory that explains that human behaviors can be analyzed through conditioning without appealing to their feelings and thoughts. This theory recommends that psychological discards will be best solved by changing the behavior patterns of the client. Existential therapy, as suggested by Victor Frankl and Rollo, is a therapy that will solve the current life problems in a nondirective, cooperative and flexible way (Hoffman, et al., 2009). Through the above combination the clients will gain independence and deeper insight of their current problems and help the therapist to indentify the symptoms of the problem in order to address the matter in a correct way. The main goal of this paper is to critique behaviorism and existential theories. The paper will provide an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of these models, as well as their major contributions and the methods of inquiry used.
Behaviorism theory is a theory that explains that human behaviors are shaped by circumstances within their environment, which are beyond their control. When behavioral principles are applied, human behaviors can be changed systematically. Psychologists believe that through conditioning process (behavior therapy), such human behaviors as depression, phobias, compulsive disorders and other neurotic forms, can be changed.
Behaviorism was first introduced by Ivan Pavlov through the principle of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning tries to examine the impacts of environmental influences on the human behaviors and their relationships. Classical conditioned behaviors are involuntary behaviors, where a client responds to them automatically, since they are beyond his or her control (Perez-Alvarez, Sass, 2008). A good example of classical conditioning is when a student becomes agitated, when asked to compose a paper. Likewise, when students are requested by their teachers to write papers, their anxiety is increased. This anxiety creates tension for written assignments, and when they are requested to compose one, their eyes widen, headache may emerge and also their palms may sweat.
B. F. Skinner suggested this principle by explaining that behaviors can be changed by consequences following them (Ryback, 2012). An action is repeated, when its consequences have promoted or reinforced it. Again, an action or response recurs when a person is reinforced or rewarded. For instance, when a student has studied and scored an “A” in an exam, he or she will end up repeating the same studying behavior. This is called a positive reinforcement, because one is presented with pleasant results (an “A” in exam) following that studying behavior. A negative reinforcement behavior entails moving away (escape) from bad consequences presented by the stimulus. For instance, a student, who has not fully completed the assignment, will tend not to attend a class lesson (escape) in order to avoid a punishment from the teacher (Stimulus) (Schneider & Langle, 2012).
Classical conditioning basically states that we develop certain responses to certain stimuli that are not naturally occurring. An example of this would be when you get sick after eating chicken that was not fully cooked. The first time it happens may not affect you, but if it happens again, it could cause you to not want chicken anymore, because you believe that it will make you sick. The second tool used in behaviorism is known as operant conditioning. This comes from the environmental influences; hence, responding with influence to these forces (Perez-Alvarez & Sass, 2008). This type of conditioning can be best explained as learning from your mistakes. When a child touches the hot glass of the fire place and gets burned, he or she learns that if you don’t want to get burned, then will not touch a hot glass.
This theory is extremely helpful in both determining what’s wrong with a client and in helping them to get better. For instance, a young child, who has been beaten by his/her drunk father for years, has been classically conditioned to respond in fear to the smell of alcohol and adult hands. As a therapist, it would be an obvious sign of abuse if, when you try to shake a child’s hand, he/she flinches away from you. This theory could also be used to help the beaten child to learn not to fear adult’s touch. To do this, you would need to start with the small gestures like giving the child a piece of candy. This first step lets the child make the first move and would show them that the hand isn’t going to hurt them by touching it. The next thing you could do once the child is used to that step is touching the child on the arm. Once you touch their arm, if the child doesn’t flinch, you give them a piece of candy. By slowly moving up steps in this process, the child will eventually stop fearing all forms of touch.
The strength of behaviorism is the idea of rewards and punishments (Ryback, 2012). This idea would be incredibly helpful when you are trying to shape a certain behavior into someone. This idea is like the child mentioned above. In the second step you only give a piece of candy if the child does not flinch at you touch. Giving the candy would be considered a reward for not flinching, and not giving the candy is a punishment for flinching. A weakness of behaviorism is that it tries to explain every action a person makes through only visible phenomena. It doesn’t take into account a person’s mental activity (Ryback, 2012).
This theory can be used to help to change maladaptive or harmful behaviors, such as avoidance, substance abuse, withdrawing and converting anxiety to anger (Schneider & Langle, 2012). It can also be helpful to those, who are abused, both mentally and physically. This theory can easily be used to help anyone of any population. It can be used to help anyone from abused children to substance abusing adults.
The main advantage of behaviorism principle is that it aims at changing the behavior from an inappropriate behavior and may be used on children and adults alike (Ryback, 2012). The weakness is that it does not get to the cause of why issue is happening first. It is strictly focused on changing the behavior but not dealing with the issues deeply. This means that behaviorism can be effectively used in changing a behavior, but not really in coming up with solutions for long term issues. It aims at promoting desirable (wanted) behaviors and remediates the unwanted ones. For instance, when a child is taken for a therapy because of cutting himself, he learns to do other things rather than cutting himself. This problem comes about because behaviorism (behavior therapy) will not ask a lot of questions on why the child cuts himself at the first place. It is possible that the child’s behavior will change, but also possible that the child will end up hiding and repeating the same behavior or finding the worse one of dealing with the pain bothering him/her.
In my opinion, behaviorism will effectively work with other forms of therapeutic programs. It has an ability to actually change the behavior, but one should remember that the behavior itself is only a symptom of the deeper psychological issues.
The second theory is existential therapy theory, where the therapist tries to investigate the present situations affecting the client and determines an appropriate action for the client to take in order to live a more promising or fulfilling life. The main aim of existential therapy is to prepare the client to live with little fears and face the reality of life (Keddy, 2011). It addresses the life’s cores, such as anxiety, anomie, love and feelings, loneliness, despair, grief, creativity and freedom (Keddy, 2011; Kondratyuk & Perakyla, 2011). It also helps the client to go beyond the anxiety and face the reality of the current situation. This makes the client to live authentically and to overcome anxieties like death of a loved one. Existential theory will address the three components, which are the client’s view about the world. First is the biological world, which consists of the client’s internal drives, needs and instincts. Second is the personal community that deals with interpersonal relationships. Third deals with relationships of one’s self, such as self-relatedness and awareness. These components help the client to discover the origin of his or her life anxiety (Garcia-Montes & Perez-Alvarez, 2010).
Existential therapy is a methodology that supports individual creativity ability and choice, while helping him or her to recognize the limitations of his or her life. It focuses on finding the individual choices in the process of molding his or her life. In this therapy, the therapist tries to help his or her client to see the individual choices that he or she possesses, in order to see possibilities that lie in future, as the therapist deals with the present time and the future of the client. For instance, when a lady in an abusive relationship goes for the existential therapy, the existentialist’s position is that though being abused in a relationship, it is not her destiny to continue remaining in that relationship. The therapist will emphasize her ability to make individual decisions, so that her life can be better than it is now.
In this therapy, a client has the responsibility to control his or her life and being more concerned or responsible for the events happening in his/her life (Hoffman, et al., 2009). Existential therapy helps the clients to face the anxiety and choose for themselves by accepting the reality of the current situations happening in their lives in order to make wise decisions. This helps the client to recognize the reality of the problem and to make better choices that will enable him/her to live more authentically (Schneider & Langle, 2012). It also helps the client to come with better choices when dealing with his or her life.
Existential therapy may be less effective, since it does not deal with the past, which might be the initial cause of the current problem. For instance, the lady in the abusive relationship may have been brought up by a father, who was abusive, when she was young; hence, she ended up tolerating everything in that relationship. This means that the problem was not solved but continued. Since her past was not discussed during the therapy, as she tolerated her father, she may think that it was all right with that abusive relationship. Existential therapy does not make connection of the past with the current situation affecting the client (Present) (Keddy, 2011).
Existential therapy is “a powerful approach to therapy which takes seriously the human condition. It is an optimistic approach in that it embraces human potential, while remaining a realistic approach through its recognition of human limitation” (Hoffman, et al., 2009). This therapy addresses the problems of human existence and the human condition. The key people to develop this theory/therapy were Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, Rollo May, Soren Kierkegaard, Viktor Frankl and Fredrich Nietzsche (Keddy, 2011).
The key tool in this therapy is the therapist. To help their clients they use advocacy, empathy, concern, sincere personal interest, reflection, action, environmental modification or/and support (Kondratyuk & Perakyla, 2011). The relationship between the client and the therapist is one of the most important relationships, which exist for someone seeking help. You need to develop a trusting relationship between the two, so that you can help your client. If there is no trust, then how can you know that your client is being honest with you. On the other side, if your client does not trust you, then he/she will not open up to you about what is troubling him/her. It takes longer to establish trust with some clients because of the situations they have been in, like a woman who has been abused, or a child, who has parents that hurt him/her.
For existential therapy to be effective the therapist must identify the client’s anxieties and develop therapeutics solutions, which will help the client to overcome the current life anxieties affecting his or her life. This will greatly help the client to be aware that his or her future life is pure; hence, the therapist can create the awareness to the client’s decision on the issue affecting him or her currently by making well informed individual choices (Keddy, 2011).
In my opinion, existential therapy is a more active therapy because it will help the client to know his or her concerns, choices, anxieties, responsibilities, limitations, his or her purpose in life and will help to overcome the core life anxieties and live a better life.
By combining these two theories, I believe I could deal with most of the situations. By using existential theory, I can show the client that I am on his/her side and that I understand what they have gone or are currently going through, and that would help them to learn to trust me. Existential therapy is a more active therapy because it will help the client to know his or her concerns, choices, anxieties, responsibilities, limitations, his or her purpose in life and be able to overcome the core life anxieties and live a better life. Existential therapy helps the clients to face the anxiety and choose for themselves by accepting the reality of the current situations happening in their lives in order to make wise decisions. This helps the client to recognize the reality of the problem and to make better choices that will enable them to live more authentically. It also helps the client to come with better choices, when dealing with his or her life.
Again, behaviorism principle can be effectively used in order to change the behavior currently affecting the client to a more appropriate one. Behaviorism can be effectively used in changing a behavior but not really coming up with solutions for long term issues. It aims at promoting the desirable behaviors and remediating the unwanted ones. Behaviorism will effectively work with other forms of therapeutic programs. It is able to actually change the behavior, but one should remember that the behavior itself is only a symptom of the deeper psychological issues. A weakness of behaviorism is that it tries to explain every action a person makes through only visible phenomena. It doesn’t take into account a person’s mental activity.
Through the above described combination the clients will gain independence and deeper insight of their current problems and help the therapist to indentify the symptoms of the problem in order to address the matter correctly.