A century of psychology and psychotherapy: Is an understanding of control the missing link between theory, research, and practice?
Article first published online: 24 DEC 2010
2009 The British Psychological Society
Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Volume 82, Issue 3, pages 337–353, September 2009
How to Cite
Mansell, W. and Carey, T. A. (2009), A century of psychology and psychotherapy: Is an understanding of control the missing link between theory, research, and practice?. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theo, Res, Pra, 82: 337–353. doi: 10.1348/147608309X432526
- Issue published online: 24 DEC 2010
- Article first published online: 24 DEC 2010
- Received 10 June 2008; revised version received 14 November 2008
‘Control’ can be defined as the maintenance of a variable within fixed limits despite external disturbances. There is substantial evidence that the experience of loss of control characterizes psychological disorders. Therefore, we take a historical perspective on how modern psychology as a science has attempted to explain the process of control over the last century, beginning with William James's (1890) proposal of the ‘pursuance of fixed ends by variable means’ as the essence of mentality. We conclude that, after a long diversion from this perspective during the 20th century, recent approaches within psychology are again considering the importance of understanding control. We propose that Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) presents the most focused and applicable account, as characterized by its relevance for psychological therapy in the form of the Method of Levels (MOL). This is a therapeutic technique directed at guiding the client's awareness to the higher level (or meta-) control processes that maintain their current problem of conflict between their personal goals. We cover the emerging evidence base for PCT and MOL and propose that an understanding of control through PCT has the capacity to link theory, research, and practice within the field of psychotherapy.