The affliction of affluence
Bertalanffy (1972) argued that rising affluence in American society had created an “unprecedented number of mentally ill” who live meaningless lives. Rather than being a stepping-stone toward higher-order needs and self-transformation, affluence enables a society of neurotic whiners who seem incapable of handling reality.
Bertalanffy said that the organismic perspectives were replacing the “robot psychology” of behaviorist philosophy. Goldstein’s organismic theory (Hall & Lindzey, 1959), the humanist framework proposed by Maslow, Rogers, and May (Maslow, 1968), and Gestalt psychology were changing perspectives from that of the human as a passive robot or a load-bearing structure to that of an “an active personality system” that dynamically changes and grows through interaction with self and environment (Bertalanffy, 1972, p. 207).
Bertalanffy argued that the systems perspective represented by organismic psychology would provide a “more adequate perceptual framework” than mechanical perspectives for understanding human behavior and promoting human wellness. This is because the systems perspective allows an understanding of the interacting causes affecting the system, rather than isolating symptoms while allowing the disease to fester. For example, cognition is a function of the brain; however, physiology, perceptions, experience, context, motivation, and other factors might impair cognition.
Understanding that disturbances to the system can cause mental dysfunction can lead to therapies that treat the patient, not the symptom. Applied to stress, this implies that dealing with stress is not a matter of merely reducing or eliminating stressors, but helping the system to interact with and handle stressors on psychological and physiological levels.