Abstract - Optimal Control Theory: The New Self-Actualization

  Traditionally, humanists conceived of self-actualization to help direct behavior toward healthier functioning. Recently, a new paradigm known as optimality offers promise for facilitating self-actualization. Optimality can be understood and implemented using a practical set of mathematical tools that have been in use for over half a century, known as optimal control theory. These tools have been applied successfully to model human sensory-motor movement, learning, decision-making and perception. They can also be adapted for therapy to explain, predict, and even assist in living a more optimal life. For example, a teenager who is always late to class might be better understood by recognizing that she is engaged in a decision-making process motivated not by choosing the shortest path to her classroom but rather by avoiding a particular person.  The therapist can determine the appropriate treatment paradigm to guide the client’s psychological state from one where she is not functioning well to one that brings improved cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functionality by helping to establish a more optimal state.  In general, this approach considers a governing system based upon some form of optimality. If therapists understand the concepts behind optimal control theory, they can apply it with or without the mathematical component, to help clients achieve self-actualization.  The key is the notion of a cost or reward function that determines decisions.  Then, an explicit plan can be created from a dynamic representation of what is important within the context of the problem at hand.  This paradigm helps therapists to bring about change that allows them to draw from a flexible framework that can utilize multiple therapeutic approaches when needed and address the source of the problem more directly. The presentation explores this tool using several examples from the conceptual and mathematical point of view at a comprehensible level.