The Unified Theory of Cognitive Psychology (UTCP) is a meta-theory that attempts to unearth the cognitive basis of all cognition, attention, behaviour, affect and mood (CABAM). It achieves this by identifying the core common…
This article will first outline the four elements that constitute the base of UTCP. It will then draw on evidentiary supported concepts from psychodynamic, behavioural, humanistic, and cognitive psychology to explain why these elements exist and support their relationships. After explaining and supporting the foundation theory, it will explain how this theory is the foundation for all BAM. After that, it will propose new treatment protocols based on the foundations of UTCP and then introce an alternative classification system for psychopathology based on this new treatment protocol.
Before that, it will briefly address why it is important to identify the foundations of CABAM.
1. Why this is important
CABAM is the basis of all mental health. Well-adapted cognition, attention, and behaviour, and positive affect and mood have all been identified as the cornerstones of flourishing (CITE – Flourish, Seligman). Alternatively, maladaptive CABAM are the foundations of all psychopathology.
List cognitive, attentional, and behavioural disorders. On top of this, psychological distress, characterised by negative affect and mood, is the common core throughout all psychopathology.
Therefore, finding ways to change maladaptive to well-adapted CABAM is of the upmost of importance.
In order to do that, it’s important to identify why these maladaptive CABAM occur. If we don’t, we continue the trend of treatment processes with low efficacy rates.
Because psychology is too complex with overlapping and often contradictory theories that provide treatment protocols with low efficacy rates.
Treatments aren’t effective because they treat symptoms, not causes. This is due to the fact that disorders are currently classified by symptoms in the DSM, rather than causes, so that any treatment for any disorder can only target the symptoms of the condition (because that is the only way a condition is identified).
2. The Theory
The Unified Theory of Cognitive Psychology contains four core elements: The Cause, The Desire, The Problem, and The Solution.
2.1. The Cause
Except in rare cases of genetic dysfunction, cognition, attention, behaviour, affect, and mood are not random accidents or the output from misfiring genes. They’re a product of a fully and normally functioning cognitive process: desire fulfilment.
People want to move towards things they desire and away from things they don’t desire and things they desire.
Break down how moving towards a desire influences CABAM otherwise the breakdown in 2.3 The Problem won’t make sense.
2.2 The Desire
The thing that people want is to fulfil their psychological needs. There are 13 psychological needs identified within UTCP. They are, in no particular order:
- Freedom From
- Freedom To
- Freedom of
The pursuit of these 13 psychological needs is the foundation of all cognition, attention, behaviour, affect, and mood.
2.3 The Problem
The problem that people face is not caused by the psychological need that they’re attempting to fulfil, but the pathway through which they’re attempting to fulfil it.
The process of fulfilling a psychological consists of the identification of a conscious or unconscious goal, a strategy for achieving that goal, and then taking the actions necessary to execute that strategy, achieve the goal, and fulfil the need.
While people cannot choose which psychological need is their highest priority in any moment, there are many different goals that can lead to the fulfillment of a psychological need and many different strategies for achieving a goal. The goal and strategy, and the combination of goals and strategies necessary to fulfil each step of a goal to fulfil a primary goal (ie. the pathway), determines the challenges a person will face, the resources they will need to achieve that goal, the skills they will need to achieve that goal, the amount of resistance they will encounter as they attempt to acheive that goal, and the level of control they have over whether or not they will fulfil that goal.
As the goal and strategy determines the challenges and required skills and resources, it determines a person’s cognitions, attention, and behaviour. As the goal and strategy derermines the amount of resistance they will encounter and the level of control over where or not they fulfil their psychological needs, it determines their affect.
2.4 The Solution
The solution to all cognitive, attentional, behavioural, affective, and mood disorders is to identify and follow more effective, efficient, sustainable, and independent (EESI) pathways for fulfilling psychological needs.
EESI pathways reduce the difficulty of the challenges faced, lower the requirements of skills and resources, remove resistance, and provides a higher degree of control over whether or not the individual fulfils their psychological needs.
This reduction in difficulty and resistance and increased likelihood of fulfilling psychological needs means that people get what they want more often.
It’s not to medicate away the affect, as that’s not the problem. Affect is a communication tool.
3. The Cause (of CABAM)
As stated previously, the pathways (goals and strategies) that people follow to fulfil their psychological needs (as the tools necessary to achieve the goal of psychostasis) give rise to their CABAM.
Here are the specific cognitive mechanisms that facilitate that process.
NOTE: This breakdown will focus on attention first as attention determines the information available about which a person can form cognition and then take actions upon.
3.1 The Cause of Attention
80% of the neuronal connections that link to the thalamus bring information into the thalamus leaving only 20% of the connections to take information from the thalamus. That means that in any given moment, the brain can only process at most, 25% of the information that it receives. Which information does it selectively process? Information related specifically to its goals. The vanishing Gorilla is the best example of this. Attentional blindness means that people only see what is important to them. Split attention audio tests where there are two streams of audio, one in each ear, and people have to listen to one, are also another good example. People can only pay attention to one stream and can’t process the other.
People pay attention to things related to their goals.
The outcome orientation at the core of UTCP means that people orient towards the things they want. This has been demonstrated by
3.2 The Cause of Cognition
The outcome-orientation at the core of UTCP means that people think about how to get the things they want.
3.3 The Cause of Behaviour
The outcome orientation at the core of UTCP means that people orient towards the thigns they want.
This has been supported by behaviouralist psychological tests. Need to look some up.
3.4 The Cause of Affect
The process through which the pursuit of psychological needs causes affect requires an understanding of the nature of psychological needs, schemata, and of affect itself.
3.4.1 The Nature of Psychological Needs
Psychological Needs are perceptual states. They’re how a person sees their relationship to and capacity within their external environment.
Power is the perception that the individual has the capacity to create meaningful change within their external environment. Control is the perception that the individual has the capacity to manipulate meaningful variables. Achievement is the perception that the individual has the capacity to complete an important goal. Connection is the perception that the individual is not the only person who is on their path; that others are, or already have, walked their path.
These perceptions are not processed as part of the logical, conscious mind, they’re elements within a cognitive map, also known as a schema.
3.4.2 The Nature of Schemata
Schemata are the cognitive maps that people have of how the world fits together. They’re perceptions of the relationships between the unique components that make up the world.
Psychological needs are part of a schema because they’re a perception of an individual’s relationship to and capacity within their world.
Schemata are part of the information processing system within the brain known in Dual Process Thinking as System 1. System 1 thinks in something and does something. This is in contrast to System 2 which does this and this.
The reason that it is necessary to understand that psychological needs are part of a schema and that schema is part of System 1, is that while System 2 commuicates in thoughts and words, System 1 communicates in Affect. Affect is the way that System 1 communicates the current state of the self-world interaction schema to System 2.
There are three categories of affect that System 1 uses to communicate to System 2: anticipatory, present-moment, and reactionary.
Anticipatory affective responses are those created by System 1 when it anticipates that the individual does not have the skills or resources necessary to overcome the anticipated challenges, and include stress, anxiety, hope, doubt, desire
Present-moment affective responses are those created by System 1 when it encounters a real-time situation and includes fear, flow
Reactionary affects are those created by System 1 in response to the outcome of an event or action, and include anger, sadness,
So this is how the pursuit of psychological needs creates affect. Affect is the communication tool used by System 1 to alert System 2 as to the anticipated or present-moment challenges, or the outcome of the actions.
The fact that affect is the communication tool of System 1 means that medicating away affective problems is just as effective as treating a broken arm with a pain killer. Yes, it can alleviate the symptoms and provide a space where the underlying problem can heal, but as it doesn’t actually address the underlying problem that creates the symptoms in the first place, it doesn’t solve the problem. Provide stats about relapse rates when people take anti-anxiety meds.
3.5 The Cause of Mood
Affect is task-specific communication from System 1 to System 2. Mood is bigger picture communication from System 1 to System 2. It’s the communication of the long term forcast for the individual’s ability to fulfil their psychological needs.
Positive moods are System 1’s way ot communicating that the long term forecast looks good. Happiness indicates that there are proven and viable pathways for fulfilling psychological needs. Hope indicates that there are unproven, but apparently viable pathways for fulfilling psychological needs.
Negative moods are System 1’s way of communicating that the long-term forecast is not favourable. Bad moods indicate that…
Depression specifically relates to a peception that there is no hope for fulfilling psychological needs. This is supported by Beck’s Hopelessness Theory. Mild depression typically indicates that some psychological needs can be fulfilled but that there are no apparent viable pathways for fulfilling psychological needs. Major depression is there are no viable pathways for fulfilling psychological needs.
The fact that mood is also a communication tool for System 1 means that medicating away the phenomenological experience of depression isn’t a great idea. Once again, it treats the symptoms and can provide a space through which the problem can be solved, but as it odesn’t actually directly address the real problem (the schematic perception), it doesn’t guarantee that things will improve. It’s nothing more than affective panadol.
4. The Support
As the name suggests, UTCP is a unified theory of psychology. It has broad theoretical and evidential support from the major schools of psychological thought.
4.1 Support for The Cause
There is broad theoretical support for the foundation that desire orientation is the cause of all CABAM from psychoanalytic, behavioural, humanistic, positive psychology, and evolutionary psychology. While they all identified different elements as the desire that drives cognition, attention, and behaviour (with psychoanalytic focussed on unconscious desires, behaviouralism focussed on the unknown black box, humanistic focus on the hierarchy of needs, positive psychology focussed on flourishment, and evolutionary focussed on survival and replication), they all identify desire fulfilment as the driving force.
The most robust evidentiary support comes from the investigations conducted by behaviouralist psychologists.
4.2 Support for The Desire
Theoretical and evidential support for the fulfilment of psychological needs as core driver of all CABAM
Demasio identified that feelings, and not logical goals were the basis of decision making.
Seligman identified them as the core elements of Flourishing in his PERMA model. Positive Emotion is the outcome of achieving goals, Engagement is the outcome of undertaking an intrinsically significant goal and at a challenging but achievable level, Positive Relationships align with resource needs, Meaning aligns with the psychological need of Contribution, and Achievement is one of the psychological needs.
Self-Determination Theory coined the term psycholgical needs. Their categories of autonomy, agency, and relatedness align with the challenge, skill, and resource categories within UTCP.
Psychoanalytic psychology identified unconscious desires as the driver of all CABAM.
Psychological needs appear within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The ‘Safety’ need is broadly the same as Freedom From challenges that are too challenging to overcome. Love/Belonging needs are essentially resources. Esteem needs are essentially the perception of psychostasis: that the individual can overcome challenges and move towards their intrinsically signficant goals. Self-actualisation relates to the needs of power, achievement, progression, and contribution.
As discussed previously, Flow is aligned with psychostasis.
4.3 Support for The Problem
4.4 Support for The Solution
Best demonstrated by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
5. The Application
The cause of maladaptive cognition, attention, and behaviour as well as affect and mood disorders are maladaptive and dysfunctional pathways for fulfilling psychological needs. Therefore, the way to overcome maladaptive cognitions, attention, and behaviour, as well as affective and mood disorders, is to develop more effective, efficient sustainable, and independent (EESI – pronounced ‘easy’) pathways for fulfilling psychological needs. Doing so allows the client to not only get what they want, but also be in control of getting what they want.
But these new pathways are not an end in themselves. They will help people reconstruct their schemata so that they can achieve psychostasis.
But it’s not just to develop these pathways, it’s to reconstruct their schemata so that they perceive
NOTE: This is a high-level overview of the application of UTCP theory to the treatment of psychological disorders and distress. You can read a full breakdown of all the elements on the Application page.
5.1 The Protocol
The process for assisting clients in developing more effective, efficient, sustainable, and independent pathways for fulfilling their psychological needs, in it’s purest form, is helping the client answer one question: What is an EESIr (pronounced ‘easier’) way to fulfil my psychological needs?
In practice, it has four steps: Identification, Assessment, Selection, and Implementation.
These steps are designed to help the client fulfil their psychological needs in a way that allows them to fulfil their needs more often as well as be in charge of when they do fulfil them.
This is a brief overview. The detailed breakdown can be found on the treatment page.
The goal of this step is to help them client identify their script: what need were they trying to fulfil and how were they trying to fulfil it?
A full breakdown of how to complete the identification step are on the Identification page.
Is that an effective, efficient, sustainable, and independent way to fulfil that need?
- Effective: does that pathway work? Are your psychological needs fulfilled?
- Efficient: does it work with a minimum of effort and energy?
- Sustainable: can you continue to follow this path for the rest of your life?
- Independent: can you fulfil your need regardless of what is going on around you?
What problems will they face if they continue following that pathway?
A full breakdown of how to complete an the assessment step are on the Assessment page.
What’s a more efficient, effective, sustainable, and independent pathway to fulfill that need?
Have you used a more effective pathway in the past (think of a time when you fulfiled your need the most consistently)?
Do you use a more effective pathway in other areas of your life?
Maybe suggest a more effective pathway and see if that sounds like it would work to them.
A full breakdown of how to complete the selection step are on the Selection page.
Strategy for applying this new pathway.
A full breakdown of how to complete the implementation step are on the Implementation page.
5.2 The Process
‘How’ you apply the treatment protocol. Ask questions. Don’t tell. Empower them to solve their problems.
The clinician has one primary role within the theraputic session: to help the client implement EESIr pathways for fulfilling their psychological needs.
5.3 The Characteristics
There are five characteristics of this treatment protocol that increase its efficacy rate.
5.3.1 Structured Process
Every session contains the same four steps, which means it’s very reliable, both within a specific therapeutic relationship and across different practices
5.3.2 Simple Process
The process is simple. It can be taught to the client, either explicitly or implicitly and they can operate it themselves.
But also, the concepts are simple in that you don’t need a degree to understand them. They are accessible to each person.
5.3.3 Diminished Dependence
The UTCP protocol diminishes the dependence of the client on the clinician.
The simplicity of it means that the client can learn this themselves. And the process of asking questions instead of telling them answers assists in them realising that they can come up with their own answers.
One of the big problems that people face is Dependence. Telling people the answers to questions just increases their dependence on the person providing advice. By asking questions, it reduces the dependence on the clinician and shifts the mindset from needing support and advice to being able to solve problems on thier own.
5.3.4 Increased Therapeutic Alliance
The primary focus of the UTCP treatment protocol is help people get what they want from life. This is the whole point. Due to this, the entire session is built around discovering what the client wants and helping them get more of it. This perspective within the therapeutic session positions the clinician not as a controlling or judgemental adversary, but as a mentor who is on the client’s team. This positioning of being in alliance, rather than being an adversary means that a strong alliance is formed.
This positioning also makes it a highly effective parenting protocol.
5.3.5 Fostering Ownership
Ownership is… This is fostered through UTCP because the treatment protocol focusses only on the contributions of the individual without any regard for the contributions of others.
5.4 Protocol Application (to disorders)
5.4.1 Personality Disorders
Personality, as seen through the lens of UTCP, is not a characteristic inherent to a person. It’s seen as a tool used by that individual to fill their needs. It aligns with the ‘personality as problem-solving’ model introduced by SOMEONE in SOME TIME. This means that personality disorders are not inherent characteristics that can only be managed, but simply maladaptive pathways for fulfilling psychological needs.
This perspective on personality disorders allows the treatment of personality disorders through the same process as the treatment of any other disorders.
One important note is that the pursuit of any specific psychological need does not lead to the development of a personality disorder, the mediator of all personality disorders is a high level of dependence and a lack of ownership within the pathways. This high level of dependence within the pathway means the individual does not have control over whether they fulfil their psychological needs. Those people who are effective at fulfilling their needs through dependent pathways with experience positive affect and mood, though it will typically be unstable. Those people who are ineffective at fulfilling their psychological needs through highly dependent pathways will experience significant negative affect.
Typically, the difference between those who are effective at fulfilling their psychological needs through dependent pathways and those who aren’t is Ownership. Ownership describes the placement of a person’s focus on their contributions to the challenges they face, rather than the contributions of others. Full details about Ownership are available here: Ownership Essentials.
A high level of dependence within a pathway does not guarantee the development of a personality disorder, but a high level of dependence is the common theme through all personality disorders.
18.104.22.168 Odd and Eccentric Cluster
Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder
22.214.171.124 Drama or Erratic Cluster
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is typically a maladaptive pathway for fulfilling the psychological need of significance, where the individual lacks the skills, talents, or characteristics yet expects others to make them feel significant. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is also typically a maladaptive pathway for fulfilling the psychological need of significance, where the individual has skills, talents, or characteristics to perform at a high level in some domains and expects others to make them feel significant. Histrionic Personality Disorder is typically a maladaptive pathway for fulfilling the psychological need for desirability. The individual relies on their looks and the surrounding emotional experiences to get others to make them feel significant. Antisocial Personality Disorder is typically a maladaptive pathway for fulfilling the psychological need for power, where the individual fulfils their need by physical threats and strength to control other people.
126.96.36.199 Anxious or Fearful
Avoidant Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
5.4.2 Autism-Spectrum Disorders
Can’t solve the problem, but can solve the distress related to the problem.
6. The Classification
Classify problems by psychological need rather than by symptoms because solutions for people with maladaptive pathways for each psychological need are typically very similar.
Someone who needs