The Unified Theory: A Blog Tour
A tour of the unified approach based on three years of blogging.
Posted Dec 13, 2014
Many folks wonder about whether a more unified approach to psychology is possible. My answer is that yes, it is possible and valuable. For those interested in this big question and are curious about my system, I offer this lengthy blog entry to serve as a sort of guided tour to the unified approach. What follows started as a note to my first year doctoral students in which I was trying to provide them with the most accessible way to understand the unified approach and its various elements. My note got longer and longer, and what started to emerge felt like a helpful tour of my ideas via my blog, so I have decided to turn it into a post which can serve then as a reference for individuals who are interested in seeing psychology via this lens.
What follows are nine sections, kind of like mini-chapters of key elements of the unified theory. Each has links to blogs I have written on the topic. This way folks can see how the unified approach connects to many different domains in the field. Section I introduces the tour by highlighting what I call the problem of psychology, which points to the need for a unified view. Section II provides an overview of the central ingredients that make up the unified theory. Section III articulates the implications the unified approach has for our identity as psychologists and the institutional arrangement of psychology. Section IV articulates how the unified theory defines and characterizes foundational psychological constructs such as mind, cognition, self, and consciousness. Section V articulates the unified view applied to character functioning and well-being. Section VI articulates how the perspective maps relationships and gender. Section VII reviews the contributions and perspectives on psychopathology. Section VIII articulates how we can now move toward a unified view of psychotherapy. The final section articulates the broad implications of the system beyond the field of psychology, into philosophy and the future of humankind.
Section I: Introduction: The Problem of Psychology and the Need for a More Unified View
The most basic point I make is that psychology lacks an effective meta-perspective of the field and that the lack of such a view greatly limits the field’s power. If an effective meta-perspective could be developed, psychology would be in a much better position to positively impact society.
The reason is that currently, psychology exists as a confusing mass of information. If you doubt this, consider that the famed scholar of psychology, Sigmund Koch, was literally given the charge by APA in the late 1950s to conduct a “study of the science” and to define it. After years of study, he concluded that the field of psychology was NOT a conceptually coherent entity and IT COULD NOT BE ONE. Instead it was really a loosely overlapping confederation of sub-disciplines (what he called a “collection of studies”) that more often than not were concerned with different subject matters from different perspectives and advocated different methods.
The current state of the field largely validates Koch’s “finding”. In the introductory chapter of his popular text How to Think Straight About Psychology (2012; 10th Edition), Keith Stanovich notes that many students come to psychology hoping for a grand perspective that clearly defines the field and offers a unified view of human behavior. He notes that unfortunately such “hopes are often disappointed because psychology contains not one grand theory but many different theories, each covering a limited aspect of behavior” (p. 4). The book tells the disappointed students not to despair. Although psychologists don’t have a unified theory, they do have the scientific method and it is their commitment to the scientific method that defines the character of psychology. The rest of the book offers students excellent guidance on how to think scientifically about human behavior.
Unfortunately, though, unifying psychology via the commitment to research methodology fails for a host of reasons. For starters, it fails as the level of specificity. There are many other disciplines that employ the scientific method to explain some aspect of human behavior (e.g., economists, anthropologists, biologists, kinesiologists, sociologists, neuroscientists, and political scientists). Second, it fails at the level of sensitivity. There are many psychologists who are not research scientists, but are professional practitioners. A final reason is that the facts derived from the scientific method must be interpreted by conceptual frameworks in order to have meaning and applicability. The bottom line is that the scientific method is not an end itself, but is rather a means to an end. Psychologists employ the scientific method because it supposedly leads to new and more accurate knowledge, or better and better maps. To the extent we can’t generate a map we have failed in our ultimate goal. From my perspective, it is a grave limitation of the field that it cannot specify what its subject matter is, nor organize its findings into a coherent framework. The students Stanovich references have every right to be disappointed.
Even though it is blatantly apparent when one looks for it, most psychologists are not deeply aware of just how confusing the field of psychology is at the conceptual level. Many find the science or study of “behavior and mental processes” to be a “good enough” conception and have a sense of what it means. And for those who are aware of psychology’s paradigmatic problems, only some theorists and deep conceptual thinkers consider it a “crisis”. Most psychologists, academic researchers and professional practitioners alike, are fine (or are relatively unconcerned) with this arrangement. Researchers have questions about phenomena and they don’t necessarily need to be concerned with what appears to be broad, institutional identity questions. Likewise, professional practitioners need to manage their client’s suffering, not wonder if they are really doing psychology.
And yet, to the extent that there is an absence of a broad overarching frame and each researcher comes with their own question and own operational definitions, what will happen—indeed what HAS happened—is a proliferation of interesting findings that, in the end, add up to a mass of confusing information. Likewise take a glance across the profession and related mental health disciplines and what you will see is a similar mass of confusion. What is mental illness? What are the best approaches? What represents the most scientific approach? The most humanistic? What I am introducing here is what I call “The Problem of Psychology”. This is the fact that although people act as though psychology is a singular entity, it is not. Indeed, no one knows how to clearly the define field and that results in deep conceptual problems
Here are four blogs that articulate the various aspects of the Problem of Psychology, specifying why the field is stuck in a “fragmentation trap” and why its conceptual definitional problems require attention and cannot be resolved simply by running better designed studies:
Section II: The Key Ideas that Make Up the Unified Approach
In this section, I introduce the key pieces of the unified approach. As my perspective matured in graduate school I realized that what I sought was a cumulative understanding of the human condition, and thus what I wanted from the science of human psychology was a workable theory of the person. As the blogs from the previous section detail, I did not find this in mainstream psychological science. Instead, I found an endless array of interesting facts and isolated theories that together did not leave me with the deep understanding I sought. That is the gap that I am seeking to fill. And, via an intellectual journey that stretches back to the mid-1990s, I believe I have built the outlines of a workable theory of persons that assimilates and integrates key insights from major perspectives in psychology and psychiatry.
In fact what I believe I have stumbled on is a new way to look at all of human knowledge, which is why the overall title of my blog is Theory of Knowledge. However, my primary focus here is on the map the system lays out for human and professional psychology.
To get oriented to the unified approach, we can start with this blog which provides a quick overview of “ten key insights”, each of which we will be delving into in some detail in subsequent sections:
In regard to terms, note that “unified theory” and “unified approach” are essentially synonymous. I tend to use the former term when I am trying to detail the specifics of the system I built. In contrast, I use the latter when I am talking about applying it in a more practical, user friendly way. It also worth noting that there are now a group of scholars who explicitly identify as adopting a unified approach to psychotherapy (called Unified Psychotherapy), and I am part of that group.
In the last part of this section, I provide you with a basic overview of “the four parts” that together make up the unified theory. The four pieces are: 1) the Tree of Knowledge System; 2) the Justification Hypothesis; 3) the Influence Matrix and 4) Behavioral Investment Theory. These four ideas can be arranged as follows:
Starting with the Tree of Knowledge, a good place to start is the description of the system on Wiki here:
In addition, several years ago, with the help of a student I created the Tree of Knowledge System home page, which you can check out here.
Here are blogs on each of these four pieces:
Another note about terminology. As suggested by these links, it used to be the case that I referred to my overall system as the Tree of Knowledge System. It then morphed into “the unified theory of psychology”, so that my 2011 book was A New Unified Theory of Psychology. Now I am more often than note referring to it as the unified approach (and even occasionally the unified system).
Section III: The Identity of Psychologists and the Three Great Branches of the Field
This section concerns the implications the unified theory has for our identity as psychologists. It also spells out how, if we use the unified approach, we can clearly define the field.
The first and most basic point is that the ToK System, along with Behavioral Investment Theory and the Justification Hypothesis, offers a new way to clearly define the field. Specifically, it defines psychology as being the science of “mental behavior”, which is the third dimension of complexity on the ToK System. My first two academic papers (Henriques, 2003; 2004) on the unified system focused on this issue.
What is very interesting about the way the unified theory works is that it argues that we should have some very clear “branches” of psychology. Specifically, there should be a split between “basic psychology”, which is concerned with mental behavior in general and includes the behavior of all animals, from insects to primates (including humans). However, because humans exist also on the fourth dimension of complexity, Culture on the ToK, they represent a unique and special subset of animals. As such, for conceptual clarity, human psychology must be thought of as a different branch of the field.
There is another important distinction to be made regarding the definition of psychology, which has to do with the field’s identity. This is the difference between the science and the profession. The science has, as its role and goal the description and explanation of animal and human behavior. The profession has, as its role and goal, the enhancement of mental health and well-being of humans. Although related, these are two different roles and goals. Psychology has been very confused in the past about whether or not it is primarily a science or is simultaneously both a science and a profession.
Ultimately, the view offered here is that there are two branches of psychological science (basic and human), and there is a separate branch of professional psychology. The task of psychological scientists is to describe and explain animal and human behavior (at the individual and small group level). The task of the professional psychologist (or what the APA is now calling a Health Service Psychologist) is to treat mental illness and promote mental health.
With that frame offered, here are two blogs that delineate how the unified approach defines the field:
It is worth pointing out here that there is more interest than ever in unification. Indeed, I have seen a proliferation of fledging approaches to unify the field in the last several years. I often wonder if folks who are claiming unification have a deep understanding of the issues, so I developed a blog that outlines what unification entails:
Here is a three part blog series that walks the reader through the issues in a stepwise fashion, ending on why the unified approach does succeed in offering a workable conceptual solution:
One especially relevant note about identity is that there is a strong branch of clinical psychologists who see the only viable role and identity of psychologists being that of a research scientist. They view the application of the science as carried about by technicians. There is a very large difference in the implications this view has for the future of clinical-professional psychology and its identity, which are described in these two blogs.
One key point needs to be made here in relationship to this debate about the clinical science traning model and that has to do with science. I am hugely pro-science and am in large agreement that there is a lot of “quackery” out there that a staunch scientific approach can “defend” against. For example, I am somewhat critical of the counseling profession because it is not effectively grounded in science. The problem is not with science. The problem is with how the clinical scientist folks conceptualize science and the idea that one can fully reduce the practice of psychology to the science. From my perspective, that conception is way off base and threatens our field. What is needed first is a coherent conception of human psychology, from which practitioners use to apply it in skillful ways and learn from the research and applications to adjust the picture.
In this next section, we turn to how the unified approach maps key constructs in basic and human psychology.
Section IV: Mapping Mind, Behavior, Consciousness and the Self
One of my most central points is that the relationship between the science and the profession in psychology has been muddled largely because the science of human psychology has been so confused. In other words, if early students of psychology were shown a unified view of the human condition, they would be much more clear on how to apply it in the real world. In this section I will share with you how the unified approach conceptualizes some foundational aspects of psychology, namely, the mind, mental behavior, consciousness and the self.
One of the most important concepts to wrap our minds around is the concept of “mind” and the relationship between related constructs like the brain, behavior, cognition, consciousness, and the self. Mind with a capital ‘M’ in my system refers to the third dimension of complexity on the ToK System and consists of the set of “mental behaviors”. Mental behaviors are behaviors mediated by the nervous system and include both actions and cognitive and conscious processes. The distinction here is the same as by Skinner who referred to overt and covert behaviors. Thus, my concept of mental behavior (and Mind) overlaps directly with what Skinner termed behaviors. In writing this, I realize that I need to do a blog on mental behavior.
If Mind is the set of mental behaviors, what is ‘the mind’? Here is a blog on that followed by a blog on the relationship between the mind and the brain.
We now need to consider consciousness, which was touched on in the above blogs. Consciousness is a very complicated construct, with many elements to it. From the unified theory perspective there are a couple of key pieces. The first is that this perspective adopts a naturalist perspective on consciousness, which means that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon that arises out of neurocognitive behaviors. Indeed, conscious is a type or subset of cognitive process. This is a big and important assumption to make. I believe it is justified, but many would differ with that opinion. If it is the case that consciousness has a different relationship to the universe, then the unified system is either wrong or incomplete. We should be open to this possibility. However, we should also be critical thinkers and appropriately skeptical as well. Here are two blogs on the relationship between consciousness and one’s worldviews.
Consciousness relates to our experience of reality and is also deeply related to our fundamental ‘theory of knowledge’. This next blog ties the unified perspective to Karl Popper’s interesting angle on human reality consisting of three separate but related worlds.
One of the most central points the unified theory makes about consciousness is the need to differentiate consciousness into two separate streams. The first is the experiential stream. This is the first person (or first animal) experience of being. The second stream is the self-consciousness system. It is more highly developed in humans than any other animal because of the role language plays in the human mind. From the unified theory perspective, it is language and justification that are keys for understanding the human self-consciousness system and the filtering that takes place between the domains of consciousness. Here is a blog on how the unified approach maps human consciousness:
Here is a blog that makes a similar point, followed by a blog that connects the model of consciousness to the three memory systems:
Here is a blog tying this conception of consciousness to work by the Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman:
We now want to dive into “experiential” consciousness, which refers to your experience of sensations, drives, emotions and images. These are all “feelings”. As noted in previous blogs, how the matter of the brain gives rise to the experience of life remains something of a mystery, although I do feel progress is being made. Also, it should be clear that experiential consciousness is something we share with other animals, certainly mammals and birds, probably fish and reptiles and probably not insects and worms, but we don’t know. If plants ‘feel’ anything without a nervous system, then this conception of conscious experience is wrong.
The unified approach conceptualizes experiential consciousness via the ‘control theory equation’ of P – M => E, which claims that Perceptions relate to Motives which give rise to Emotions. Here is a blog on how we perceive our environment via the intersection of bottom up and top down processes.
Here is a blog on how we form perceptions that are referenced against our motives that lead to emotions:
According to the unified approach, the experience of pain and pleasure are foundational to experiential consciousness. Here are two blogs on how to think about pain:
Whereas experiential consciousness is key, it is not the only domain of consciousness. We humans have an explicit self-consciousness system that fundamentally alters the equation. One remarkable thing about explicit self-consciousness is that, because it is language-based, it can be directly shared with others. As I type this I am directly sharing with you my self-conscious thoughts. In contrast, I can never directly share with you my experiential consciousness. (This is why reflective kids ask questions like, "How do I know if your experience of blue is the same as my experience of blue?").
Here is a blog on how the unified approach conceptualizes the self, with reference to both experiential and self-conscious elements:
The self-consciousness system is largely synonymous with a modern conception of the “ego”. It is just that the “ego” is more of a technical, clinical term. Here is a blog on assessing ego functioning (or the functioning of the self-consciousness system).
Central to the unified approach is that the self-consciousness system is organized as a system of justification. Here are two blogs that clarify that point in more detail:
Closely related to the fact that the self-consciousness system is a justification system is the fact that folks will filter their thoughts both between the experiential and self-consciousness system (the Freudian Filter) and between the private and public. Here are two blogs on that issue.
Finally, one of the most perplexing issues associated with self-consciousness in the fields of both human psychology and philosophy is the issue of free will versus determinism. I am what is called a “compatibilist” on this issue and this next blog outlines why.
Section V: Character and Well-Being
The above section offers a general perspective on the architecture of the human mind from the vantage point of the unified approach. It lays the ground work for this next section on human character and well-being. Character is largely synonymous with what most psychologists refer to as personality. Psychologists moved away from “character” in the early to mid-twentieth century because they wanted a more objective sounding language. But I want to move back because my perspective is that the language of human psychology is already value laden. Why? Because, as the blog below on ADHD makes clear, human psychology confronts the problem of the double hermeneutic, which is that the concepts that human psychologists develop, no matter how objective sounding, will be coopted by the public and used for their purposes. The consequence of this means that we can not escape to the land of pure objectivity in our concepts, but we must confront the problem of value head on in human psychology.
Here is another blog on the need to be thinking about values when it comes to personality:
One of the most important insights for me is highlighted in this next blog. As noted below in the blogs on a unified approach to psychotherapy, I developed a way to tie together key insights from major approaches in psychotherapy in terms of different systems of adaptation. I then discovered that the way I was conceptualizing those insights directly tied to some key developments in modern personality theory, namely the distinction between traits and character adaptations. I realized that the way I tied together the key insights from the major paradigms in psychotherapy offered a way to organized character adaptations into “a new big five”, as detailed in this next blog:
The framing of the five systems of adaptation has been central to my work and to how I train my students to conceptualize folks in psychotherapy. It has grown and become richer over the last two years I have seen how it can be filled in with other personality constructs, like traits, abilities, and pathologies. This has given rise to the "Character Wheel", spelled out in this blog:
Once one starts thinking about personality in terms of character, the concept of wellness and well-being begins to emerge as relevant. Specifically, healthy character functioning in good situations should be essentially synonymous with psychological well-being. And yet, what, exactly is well-being? It turns out that well-being is both a very central and a very complicated construct, with different psychologists having different conceptions of it. Some emphasize things like subjective feelings of happiness and life satisfaction, whereas others emphasize things like good character and optimal psychological functioning.
Here are two blogs on the different conceptions of well-being:
I made it a scholarly focus to get to the heart of what well-being is and here are two blogs that provide an overview of my "Nested Model" of well-being:
I should note that character or personality functioning refers explicitly to the psychological subdomain of Domain II on the Nested Model.
Section VI: Mapping Human Relationships and Understanding Gender Differences
From womb to tomb, humans are intensely social creatures. The unified approach uses the map of the five systems of character adaptation, with a particular focus on the relationship system to understand the intra-psychic processes that guide folks in their relationships. It then places individuals in the interpersonal field, and examines how relationships feedback on one another. It especially emphasizes the key needs that organize folks in relationships and the ways in which they relate (i.e., the process dimensions of power, love and freedom). Finally, the unified approach places individuals in socio-cultural contexts of justification that provide the broad meaning making structures that legitimize roles, action, values, laws, religions, policies, and shared or deviating narratives.
The Influence Matrix is the map of the mental architecture that guides the human relationship system. As articulated in these two blogs, the unified approach posits that the core psychosocial need is the need to be known and valued by self and important others. This is seen as the central variable associated with human well-being and psychological health.
The ways we attempt to get our core need for relational value met is one of the most central aspects of our character. Broadly speaking, folks can adopt a more agreeable, other oriented style or a more agentic self-focused style. Here are two blogs that articulate aspects of these styles:
Sometimes folks claim humans are fundamentally selfish. This is an error from a unified perspective. Humans have potentials to be very selfish and they have the potential to be very altruistic. Here is a blog on why this is so:
The unified theory posits that the relationship system of character adaptation is an extension of the experiential system. As such, there is a very close connection between emotions and relational needs and styles. Indeed, emotions such as pride, anger, guilt and shame are fundamentally relational in nature. Here are some blogs looking at these emotions via the lens of the relationship system:
As everyone knows (or should know!), our intra-psychic relational world is heavily impacted by our interpersonal world and vice versa. Here are four blogs that offer insights into how intra-psychic and interpersonal processes feedback on one another:
Gender has been one of my longest standing interests. Looking out at the field of mainstream psychology, we still see battles between evolutionary psychologists and social role theorists. This occurs because there is a lack of the necessary meta-perspective to understand and sort out the key issues in a clear way. It is appropriate to address the issue of gender in this section because one of the ways in which men and women tend to differ for both biological and social role reasons is that men tend to be more self-oriented and instrumental and agentic and women more other-oriented and relational and the Matrix can help us map that out.
Here is a blog on “stereotypic” gender differences in relational styles:
This blog explores some of the reasons men have a hard time talking about their needs and feelings of vulnerability:
This blog articulates some of the problems in mainstream psychology splitting evolutionary and social role explanations for gender differences in sexual tendencies:
In the psychology of religion, one of the most robust but largely unexplained findings is the fact that women tend to be more religious than men. These two blogs review the research and then interpret it from the lens of the unified approach.
Our relational schema are deeply related to our systems of justification. Republicans and Democrats, for example, emphasize different relational values (the former more agentic, individualistic approaches, the latter more communal, egalitarian ones). This blog highlights some of the connections between the architecture of the Influence Matrix and the way justification narratives emerge and take on relational flavors.
Women have increased enormously in their political relational power over the past 50 years in the West. However, the emergence of technology has brought new issues for both men and women. This blog explores how social media and the internet has resulted in some new forms of threatening behavior and examines how some folks attempt to justify their actions.
Section VII: Personality Problems and Psychopathology
With the foundation of the broad issues like mind, self and consciousness laid out, and a framework for understanding human character, well-being and relationships, we can now move into the domain of psychopathology. We have already touched on this some with an overview of maladaptive shame, the problematic filtering of thoughts, and about how vicious relational cycles can cause much distress and dysfunction. It is also worth noting that we are now moving from the domains of pure human psychology (i.e., personality, social and developmental psychology) into the domain of clinical psychology. According to the unified approach, clinical psychology exists in between and bridges the domains of human psychology and professional psychology. Clinical researchers scientifically explore psychopathology and psychological assessments and interventions.
One of the most central questions that the field of psychology, psychiatry and the allied mental health professions must contend with is the working conception of mental illness. Currently, there is a massive push at the NIMH to develop a strategic plan that commits the institution to looking for biological disorders as the root cause of psychosocial disorders. This is a big mistake from the vantage point of the unified theory. Although all psycho-social processes are mediated by bio-physiological processes, there is no reason to assume that all “clinically” significant levels of psycho-social distress and dysfunction will have broken biology at their root. Thus we are witnessing a category error being committed by the NIMH. I would argue that this is happening because we lack the appropriate meta-perspective that effectively articulates the relationship between physical, biological, psychological, and social dimensions of existence. If the unified approach were more widely adopted, this error would be easily avoided.
I have written a series of blogs on this issue. First, I offer an overview of broad models. Then I articulate my view on defining what a mental disorder is. I follow that up with a clearer explication of why we can and should differentiate between mental disorders and mental diseases. I then review the conception of the famous “anti-psychiatrist” Thomas Szasz and relate his arguments to my position. Finally, I offer a picture of why the disease model of mental health is flawed from the vantage point of the clinic room.
My specialties as clinical psychologist are working with adults in the areas of depression, suicide and the personality disorders. As such, I have spent much time analyzing the concept of depression, in part because I have worked with folks who run the gamut from being understandably discouraged about their very difficult lives (and meeting criteria for depressive disorders) to folks whose depressed mood was completely all encompassing and they were hospitalized for months or even years. Depression is a very complicated construct. I deconstruct it here. I start with two blogs that try to get at exactly what depression is, or how we should think about depression from the vantage point of the unified approach.
I then offer some commentary on the nature of depression from this perspective and its implications for diagnosis, confusions in the academy and public, and the disaster that is a simplistic disease-pill model of mental illness in general and depression in particular.
In these final two blogs, I offer what I think should be a general conception of problematic negative affect among clinical-professional psychologists, that of Negative Affect Syndrome. This general level is where we should start. It does not mean that we should not differentiate between Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety, for example. But it does mean that we should be very clear on why anxiety and depressive conditions are so often co-morbid and largely overlap in the clinic. The next two blogs then provide examples for thinking about negative affect and “neurotic” tendencies in the clinic room and in everyday life.
I have also done much work on the personality disorders. The first blog here offers a new, reconfigured analysis of six major personality disorders through the lens of the Influence Matrix. It highlights are how many of the personality disorders are polar opposites in their archetypal relational system presentation. Specifically, histrionic and schizoid, narcissistic and avoidant, and anti-social and dependent personalities are depicted as opposites via using the three relational process dimensions of the Influence Matrix. The next two blogs articulate the domains of personality dysfunction on a continuum and how to articulate feedback about personality functioning to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Last year, in the context of reviewing the functioning of the Counseling Center at JMU (which is doing quite well overall), I became even more cognizant than I had been previously of the rising tide of mental health difficulties in college students. Indeed, upon reviewing the situation I have come to label the phenomenon as the College Student Mental Health Crisis. In the first blog I review the evidence for the CSMHC and then I explore its possible causes. I then outline some basics that are needed to address and follow that by articulating a vision psychological check-ups that I am now in the process of developing with my doctoral students. Finally, I respond to a critic who argued I was exaggerating the need for professional alarm.
Section VIII: A Unified Approach to Psychotherapy
The intellectual spark that began my quest for a more unified view started in an integrative psychotherapy class. Prior to that, I was basically CBT in my orientation. But that class taught me that the other approaches had many key insights to offer. I then began to explore more integrative approaches to psychotherapy and joined the Society for the Exploration of PsychotherapyIntegration in the mid1990s. Although I found a lot of good work being done there by integrationists, it was still the case that there was no over-arching conception. Instead, there were a multitude of different approaches to integration that sort of overlapped and sort of competed. I also found that many of the founding members were still largely committed to single schools like CBT or psychodynamic theory. They benefited from sharing ideas, but it seemed they were more interested in “exploring” psychotherapy integration than actually finding a truly integrative view. Indeed, I found it was only a subset of individuals that were really interested in a truly unified view. We ended up getting together and started the Unified Psychotherapy Projected, headed by Jeffrey Magnavita.
The unified theory offers a unique and powerful contribution to this issue. It makes the key point that to the extent that psychology is a fragmented intellectual empire that offers many different paradigms from which to try and see the whole, then psychotherapy will be similarly fragmented. In contrast, to the extent that we can develop a coherent meta-perspective on human psychology, one that actually provides a workable theory of persons, then we can build psychological assessments and interventions off of that formulation. My hope is that this blog tour up has provided you with the outline of the vision of a unified human psychology and shown that it can be readily applied to many different domains.
Here I share a series of blogs that articulate my unified approach to psychological therapy. I come originally from a CBT perspective and I worked for four years with Beck so I am most familiar with that approach. As such, I start here with a blog sharing Beck’s vision for the future, which, lo and behold, is of a “unified theory”.
Although Beck was trained as a psychoanalyst, he ended up moving very far away from psychoanalysis. In some ways this was a good move and the first blog here articulates that we need to separate out the psychodynamic baby from the psychoanalytic bathwater. However, CBT ended up getting defined against a modern psychodynamic view and that is very problematic from the vantage point of a unified approach and the second blog articulates why.
With all of this background context, we are now in a position to begin to articulate a truly unified approach to psychotherapy. The unified theory offers a way to theoretically unify the major approaches to the field of psychotherapy (e.g., modern psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral) into a coherent whole. It achieves this synthesis via the theoretical unification of the science of human psychology, which grounds and then is applied to the art and practice of psychological therapy.
According to the unified approach, psychotherapy is a formal relationship established with a professional trained in the values, knowledge base, and skills in applying the science of human psychology with the purpose of assisting the individual toward what the participants deem to be more valued and adaptive ways of being. As suggested by this definition, adaptive living is central to Henriques’ approach to psychotherapy. Living adaptively is when, given one’s capacities, needs, and situation, one is maximizing one’s valued states of being. Related to living adaptively, are the five systems of character adaptation (the habit system; the experiential system; the relationship system; the defensive system; and the justification system), which are the unique and specific ways that people adjust and respond to situations in their lives. These systems of character adaptation correspond the major systems of psychotherapy. Specifically, the behavioral tradition corresponds to the habit system, the experiential and emotion focused traditions correspond to the experiential system, the psychodynamic tradition corresponds to the relational and defensive systems, and the justification system corresponds to the cognitive and existential traditions.
Here are a series of blogs that outline how I conceive the unified approach to therapy.
Section IX: The Implications of the Unified Approach for the Future of Psychology and Beyond
This blog is getting long and so I will keep this final section brief. The point I hope is now made that the unified approach offers students a credible alternative to consider the field of psychology. Instead of being committed fully to the traditional positivist view that a psychologist gets out of the armchair and measures things, there are other kinds of work to be done. Specifically, there is much conceptual and theoretical work that needs to be done. This work is every bit as essential as traditional basic research because if the field is going to reach its potential that can only come when we have a basic shared general understanding. Surely such an understanding is better than nothing.
My future goal is to show the utility of adopting the unified approach to real world problems. Specifically, my next career goal is to address the aforementioned College Student Mental Health Crisis with a program that is grounded in the unified approach. If successful, it was demonstrate that the system is more than just good to consolidating and fostering understanding across a wide range of the field but leads to systems that can address major societal issues in an effective manner.
Finally, it is worth noting that the unified approach points to our time being a very important one. Namely, it seems we may be in the midst of another phase transition, given the emergence of electronic computing and the internet. If so, it will be essential to consolidate our knowledge in a way that allows us a deep and clear understanding of the human condition and our needs. This final blogs offers some reflections on this point.