CBT and Existentialism

Matthew Hutson writes in Psychology Today:

CBT = Existentialism?

"I've recently come to the conclusion that cognitive behavioral therapy, the empirically-demonstrated gold standard for treating depression and a host of other problems, necessitates a belief in existentialism, a philosophy holding that we live in a meaningless universe.

How can happiness derive from appreciating the fundamental pointlessness of existence?

Existentialism (at least atheistic existentialism) does not argue that meaning does not exist, only that it does not exist out there in the real world. All meaning is human-constructed. You have complete freedom to interpret events however you like (a freedom that some find nauseating.)

CBT similarly places interpretive control in the hands of the individual. The premise is that thoughts lead to emotions (which lead to behaviors), and we can learn to control our thoughts--even if they've become habit. We're not at the mercy of an emotional system automatically placing valuation on experiences.

I suppose my connection between CBT and existentialism comes from a conversation I had several years ago with a girlfriend who was studying philosophy. I'd said that because of my depression I was an existentialist--I had trouble finding meaning in things. On the contrary, she said, I was *too* depressed to be an existentialist. I was fatalistic. I instinctively saw everything as bad."

Read the complete article at Psychology Today.


Mackers said…
Don't agree with his conclusion. Still in agreement with the oft-repeated phrase- ignorance is bliss. That also helps explains why the lower stratas of society are generally more religious. Belief, in a divine scheme by a benevolent creator, inspires hope-for better days. Optimism, for an existentialist, appears to be self-delusion, where the evidence for it is lacking. I think what does work, for me at least, is distraction. Mulling over problems (us pakis have more than most)is the recipe to deeper recesses of depression.
Alec Lindsay said…
I don't disagree with the ideas in this article, but might question the idea (if it's what the author is saying) that the purpose of CBT is to create happiness, although it might be a by-product of understanding and controlling depression. And behaviour might be habitual and/or instinctive as well as the result of thought. That doesn't seem at variance with the idea that meaning is a human construct. As the author might say 'that just is'.
Mulling over problems can take you in either direction, up or down. Trite I know, but ultimately you have to be able to face them and understand where your reaction to them comes from.