<––– Part 1 Psycho-Social Approach to Integrative Psychotherapy
In this section, I present an integrative approach I developed in the course of 27 years of psychological research and 17 years of psychotherapeutic practice in the United States. At the foundation of my approach to integrating the developmental, psycho-social, and transpersonal dynamics of the suffering individual, as well as of their effective, cognitive, behavioral and physiological expression, is my research on the ontogenesis of consciousness. This research is described in my book Critical Consciousness: Study of Morality in Global Historical Context.
From the point of view of integrative psychotherapy, to meet a suffering individual means to meet the wholeness of their life, since healing can only happen in the context of an authentic meeting. The focus is not predominantly on the particular psychopathology, but at least as much on the overall configuration of resilience, cultural and social resources, life path and worldview of the individual. Such a holistic lens allows a clearer appreciation of the unique psycho-spiritual strengths of the individual to make meaning of and redefine his or her suffering in the direction of creative solutions. Psychotherapeutic encounters seek to identify and name these psychological and spiritual resources, and to open a holding space for their more comprehensive expression.
In order to understand the person whom we seek to meet therapeutically, we need to grasp their social-cognitive and motivational profiles. Social-cognitive adult development theories uncover deep structural transformations in the ways that adults construct meaning as the evolving self re-constructs at each next developmental level the meaning of the three central spheres of adult life – love, professional calling, and friendship (Kegan, R., 1982; Wade, J., 1996). With each next level of differentiation and integration of the self, these spheres acquire new meaning, and lead to qualitatively different approaches to life and relationships. Various adult developmental theories differentiate anywhere between four and nine stages of restructuring of the adult self and his or her relationships with the object.
My award-winning research began with the question why some adults undergo so much more significant developmental transformations in the course of the adult lifespan than others do. Typical of the suffering adult is insufficient differentiation and integration of the self which leads to difficulties in the encounters with the object. My comparative cross-cultural study of lives (sponsored by the McArthur Foundation and the Dissertation Award of Radcliffe College, Harvard) showed that it is the dynamic motivational profile of the individual that accounts for the extent to which the individual continues to undergo developmental transformations in adulthood, as well as how they make sense of their health and their suffering.
The nature and role of human motivation has long been debated in psychology and psychotherapy. From a biological perspective on human personality, Freud claims that if we were to subject a few highly differentiated individuals to the same degree of hunger, their individual differences would disappear, and in their place we would observe a universal expression of an unsatisfied instinct (Bryson, A., 1999, p. 29). In contrast, the well-known psychiatrist and writer Victor Frankl, describes the very opposite dynamic which he witnessed as a prisoner in Auschwitz: faced with the same inhuman conditions, some people degenerate while others meet their torment with dignity. Further, Frankl suggests that the gas chambers of Auschwitz are not simply the result of Nazism, but above all the fruit of nihilistic science which describes a human being as dominated by its animal nature, genetics and social conditioning. Frankl’s logotherapy, developed after he survived Auschwitz, identifies meaning-making as the most fundamental human function, and the path to wholeness (Frankl, V., 1961).
My dissertational research identified four deep motivational dimensions of meaning, each of which is a developmental continuum between predominantly morally constructed and predominantly pragmatically constructed motives; and all four of which are dynamically interdependent.
The first dimension concerns the central values around which a person structures their sense of identity. The tension of this motivational continuum is between primarily social roles and constructs on one end, and universal values on the other. The more a person is attracted to universal human values and seeks to construct their sense of identity around such values, the stronger and more stable they feel. Conversely, the more one’s sense of identity centers around social roles and pragmatic constructs, the personality feels a greater pressure to prove and defend its right of membership in particular social groupings, and therefore struggles with greater insecurity and sense of vulnerability – a condition for psychopathology. The psychotherapeutic exploration of deeper meaning may thus lead to reconstructing one’s sense of identity. Jungian depth therapeutic approaches have proven suitable for work on this dimension of personality as they encourage exploring archetypal and intergenerational heritage. Additionally, mindfulness-based approaches go far in awakening the individual’s awareness of the deep mindsets that shape their moment by moment perceptions and experience.
The second motivational dimension centers around figures of authority in the life of the child and the adult. It depends on how much these figures of authority are morally constructed or arbitrary, or completely absent from one’s life. To the extent that figures of authentic moral authority are present in an individual’s life (parents, teachers, or spiritual exemplars), their example is gradually and unconsciously internalized as one’s personal sense of responsibility, which in turn tends to strengthen one’s agency. The more empowered an individual, the less likely that life crises will lead to psychological collapse. Conversely, individuals with deep psychological suffering often reveal lives either populated by authoritarian figures and violence or characterized by deprivation from any figures of meaningful authority. In such cases, psychotherapeutic reconstructing seeks to support the individual in constructing new and authentic sources of moral authority, leading to individual empowerment. Humanistic and transpersonal approaches can be particularly helpful with these aspects of therapy.
The third dimension centers around one’s sense of interrelatedness. Growing up in the context of random and tangential pragmatic contacts, lacking deep connections, impoverishes the individual psyche and makes it more vulnerable. As interpersonal neurobiology shows (Siegel, D., 2010), our ability to feel close to nature or another human being awakens in us life forces which unlock deep sources of resilience even in circumstances of severe suffering.
The fourth dimension centers around the individual’s quest for meaning. As we saw above in Frankl’s work, the quest for meaning is a fundamental and defining human function. Early traumas, and/or growing up in emotionally impoverished environments, often suppress the natural human aspiration for meaning and lead to a narrowed engagement with life, increased anxiety, and depressive tendencies. Existential and transpersonal psychotherapeutic approaches can be particularly helpful in revisiting and bringing to full awareness previously unrecognized personal, spiritual, historical and cultural aspects of meaning.
Overall, this psycho-social developmental approach to integrative psychotherapy, enriched by strategic neuro-psychological understanding of the dynamics of mindfulness, allows the therapist to meet the motivational reality of the client, and to build a dynamic therapeutic alliance in the direction of physiological and affective stabilization, cognitive expansion and behavioral optimization of the client’s relationships with the social world.
We described some common elements and aspects of integrative approaches to psychotherapy, which are now undergoing rapid expansion. From the point of view of the author’s particular integrative approach, discussed above, it appears important to recognize that contemporary conditions of dynamic global change have led to a massive loss of meaning in ordinary people. Increasingly, people share difficulties in forming a stable sense of identity. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for both young people and adults to find authentic sources of moral authority in the age of “alternative facts”. Global mobility tends to tear familiar bonds of interdependence and creates conditions for extreme competitiveness for individual material success. Meaningful frames of reference get lost in the context of daily competition and give way to fragmented consciousness. The psycho-social crisis in the world runs deep, and along with it, deep is the need for new forms of integrative treatment that address socio-historical and global realities and does not reduce human suffering solely to its intrapsychic dimensions. Enriching the development of integrative approaches to psychotherapy with spiritual solutions opens new horizons of possibility to transform human suffering into growth.
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 The Bulgarian translation of the book was published by Sofia University Press “Sv. Kliment Ochridsky” in 2005; the original U.S. Publication came out in 2003.