Problems and Solutions: Two Concepts of Mankind in Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

By Wagner, Rudolph Friedrich; Reinecker, Hans | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Problems and Solutions: Two Concepts of Mankind in Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

Wagner, Rudolph Friedrich, Reinecker, Hans, American Journal of Psychotherapy

Scientific theories that are concerned with experience and behavior of human beings, always include anthropological core assumptions. This applies in particular to psychotherapeutic theories. These anthropological core assumptions (i.e., concepts of mankind) affect techniques that are derived from these theories but they also have a great influence on acceptance and spreading of psychotherapeutic methods. This article examines the concept of mankind in cognitive-behavior therapy. In this connection two highly differing conceptions of the human being are identified: the early behavioristic black-box model and the conception of the human being as an actively performing subject ("man the scientist") in the framework of the self-management approach and in cognitive therapy. The image problem of today's behavior therapy, the lack of application of efficient methods of behavior therapy and problems in finding a professional identity as a behavior therapist can be seen as stemmingfrom the differing concepts of mankind. To solve these problems we propose: an integrative concept of mankind, an increased emphasis of a cooperative therapist-patient relationship, and the taking into account of unconscious processes.


Scientific theories of mankind are-in most cases implicitly-based on certain anthropological concepts, i.e. concepts of mankind. In the framework of the analytic theory of science this fact was explicated under the perspective of the so-called nonstatement view. Accordingly, theories do not consist of a system of statements (as postulated by the classic concept of statement view of scientific theories) but are, in their core, rather conceptual entities and as such immune to experience and thus to falsification (1). Basic assumptions of the human being are at the core of this theory and consequently cannot be empirically controlled directly. That is the reason why these assumptions of the human being affect methodology and methods and thus also techniques that are derived from these theories. This correlation, which was reconstructed in the framework of critical theory, above all by Habermas (2), is discussed in the theory of science in form of the concept of subject-method interaction (3).

In the field of psychotherapy, concepts of mankind gain a special relevancy, namely, that description and treatment of mental diseases imply a notion of how a human being "functions" and how he/she can be influenced (by others or by himself/herself). Concepts of mankind on which all psychotherapeutic theories are based, at least implicitly, influence, indeed, the perception, and thus, diagnosis and treatment of certain disorders, empirically supported for instance, by Faller et al. (4), as well as they influence the construction of reality (5). All the more surprising is that in science the discussion on concepts of mankind of the different psychotherapeutic approaches gain only little attention. One reason for this might be the fact that concepts of mankind are only rarely formulated explicitly. This is, however, a situation that impedes further scientific theory formation because it is much more difficult to criticize and change implicit assumptions than explicit concepts on which scientific theories are based.

Moreover, the consideration of psychotherapeutic schools under the perspective of the basic concepts of mankind has the great advantage that different therapeutic approaches can be reflected under a metatheoretical perspective. Only by such a principal consideration one-sidedness and limitations of the different therapeutic schools can be discovered (6).


If one considers different therapeutic schools under the perspective of their underlying concepts of mankind, then it is remarkable that the present form of behavior therapy, the so-called cognitive-behavior therapy, implies two quite different notions of the human being.

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