Directionality: A framework for integrating psychological and social theory and practice

Activity: Talk or presentation for an academic audienceInvited talk for an academic audience


Psychological theories of human being and development--and the practices associated with them—can often be very isolated from theories and practices in the wider social and political realms. Moreover, with over 450 different forms of psychotherapy available, the field of psychological intervention, itself, can be fragmented and cacophonic; and isolated from the wider body of psychological research. This lecture introduces a new framework for thinking about integration: both within the psychological field and with other disciplines. The approach is grounded in an existential/humanistic ontology but draws on psychological research from such fields as motivational psychology, as well as clinical understandings of human functioning and dysfunction. Articulated in Mick Cooper’s recent book, Integrating counselling and psychotherapy: Directionality, synergy, and social change (Sage, 2019), the approach starts from the assumption that human beings are directional—agentic, future-oriented, and towards-their-world—and that psychological difficulties emerge when people are unable to ‘actualise’ their highest-order directions (such as the desires for pleasure, relatedness, or self-worth). From this perspective, different psychological practices can be seen as different ways of helping people ‘get back on track’: for instance, through overcoming internal directional conflicts (psychodynamic therapies), through re-prioritising longer term objectives (cognitive therapies), or through developing skills to be better able to actualise their directions (behavioural therapies). As directions, however, are always intentional (i.e., towards-the-world), this framework also integrates an understanding of the role that social and political factors can play in inhibiting people from actualising their directions. Furthermore, by transposing the concept of directionality to the interpersonal plane, it becomes possible to integrate into a unified psycho-social model understandings of interpersonal conflict, change, and wellbeing. In this keynote lecture, Mick Cooper will introduce the concept of directionality; and show how it can be used to draw together a wide range of psychological, social, and political understandings and practices.

Estimated audience numbers (if applicable)

Period30 Nov 2011
Held atPsychological Society of Ireland (PSI), Ireland
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • directionality
  • motivation
  • drives