The Functional Self; The Existential Self

Assignment – Discussion – Personality Theory & Research: Behaviorism is generally considered to be most at odds with a humanistic/existential approach to understanding the person. Why is that? Do you agree? Even if you are inclined toward a different approach, discuss at least two concepts from the readings that you think could be helpful to apply in your personal or clinical life.

The Functional Self; The Existential Self

Over the years, there have been numerous concepts from behaviorism that I have found and continue to find extremely helpful in comprehending and developing both my client’s and my own personality and behavior. As a competitive athlete, schemas, tasks, and strategies, as described by Cantor (1990), have been essential in developing the ability to perform at a high level. Both as an athlete and in my personal life, I have used classical and operant conditioning techniques to manage emotional states and develop specific skills. Additionally, when I served in the military I experienced how punishment was used to reduce certain undesirable behaviors and reinforcement to initiate or maintain certain required behaviors, all in accordance with Funder’s (2016) description of how to use reward and punishment to control or inspire various behaviors.

I gradually developed a “functional self” that was able to perform well in a variety of life situations. Then, one day, life, or the “conditioned I,” began to put me in situations that my functional self was unprepared to handle. In short, emotional pain and an existential quest “forced” me to seek guidance and answers within. After years of developing my functional self, it was time to learn a new “inner language” and strengthen my connection to my spirituality, existential self, or Soul, which also led me to transpersonal and humanistic psychology.

To conclude, just as I am grateful today for having a functional and an existential self that mostly collaborate to overcome daily obstacles, I believe that both behaviorism and humanistic psychology contribute critical pieces to the puzzle of understanding personality and the human experience. Interdisciplinary research and the integration of various schools of thought within psychology are things that I welcome and believe will become more common in the future (and Saybrook appears to be playing an important role in all this).


Cantor, N. (1990). From thought to behavior: “Having” and “doing” in the study of personality and cognition. American Psychologist, 45(6), 735-750.

Funder, D. (2016). The personality puzzle (7th ed.). Norton & Company.

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