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Goal Setting: The Shift from Desensitization of the Negative to the Self-Actualization of the Positive

Aaron T. Beck, MD

In our work with individuals who have schizophrenia, we have been shifting away from a component analysis and systematic desensitization. This standard approach is geared toward the removal of the negative variables such as inhibition that stand in the way of an individual achieving his/her objectives.

The new emphasis is directed towards the discussion and visualization of the objectives themselves, thus the emphasis is away from removing the blocks to a positive motivation and to the increase of the motivation itself. This emphasis on the broad-reaching motivation is similar to the self-actualization theory of Abraham Maslow (see citation below).

The new approach can be helpful to individuals with a variety of problems and conditions. It is illustrated by a roleplay I did with a participant who was attending a workshop at the Beck Institute. She played a student who found it “impossible” to ask questions or respond to questions in class. I asked the student what she would like to do as a career and the student mentioned she would like to be a counselor for young students. I then guided her in an imaginary rehearsal of what it would look and feel like to have achieved this goal. The distressed student reported that she felt empowered, proud of herself and good that she was helping other people. I then asked her to help me out since I did not know what the counseling procedures were and she quite fluently was able to do this. This was, in essence, a behavioral experiment. We then went back to the question of her speaking up in class. Significantly, she responded that she realized right now whether she appeared to be stupid or not was irrelevant, the main thing was to achieve her aspiration by learning as much as she could, and she no longer felt inhibited in speaking.

This case illustrates that the emphasis on the aspiration with the full experience of positive emotion around achieving the aspiration is an important alternative to systematic desensitization involved in the standard disinhibition techniques.


Abraham H. (1954). Maslow, Motivation and Personality. 2nd ed., Chapter 11 "Self-Actualizing People: A Study of Psychological Health".