The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
Integral psychotherapy: personal encounters
A thief walked into my clinic one day.
“You know, I have such a lot of professional stress that my performance suffers. The very thought of burglar alarms or barking Alsatians builds up a lot of anxiety even before I embark to rob.”
Clearly, he was having a lot of anticipatory anxiety. Still the moralist in me tried to avoid him: “Every job has its own stressors. Why not pick up more expertise? Nowadays, one needs to be a technocrat to be a good thief!”
“No sir”, he replied, “I have more reasons for my stress. I have a pretty daughter and I am in search of a suitable match for her marriage while camouflaging my profession.”
I wondered what was the difference between him and a client with a type-A personality profile suffering from executive stress. As a therapist, I was bound to treat him. I taught him stress-management and helped him to relax. He was happy and relieved to think that from now onwards he would be able to execute his professional skills with calm and equipoise.
But the incident set me thinking. Why was I teaching my clients to relax and cope with their stresses? If the end-result of my endeavour is that one client can now steal without fears tormenting him or another client can become a more confident swindler at the stock market and if yet another client can feel no anxiety in designing tax evasions, then what do I gain by my expertise? My colleague warns me that my scope is limited and I am no better than the grocer who need not bother about the identity of his customer. He reminds me that my clients do not come to me for sadhana.
The actual problem is with myself. I want to practise counselling as my sadhana. This changes my approach to even a simple problem like anxiety. I cannot be satisfied by merely applying a stress-management program for I feel that pari passu techniques which help in the growth of consciousness are also needed. Of course, it is common sense that such a program of psychological growth is not every client's cup of tea. A great number of clients would be satisfied with conventional relaxation techniques and may panic at the idea of a growth in consciousness unless they are prepared for it. A premature enforcement of such a concept could have a destructive effect triggering off a fresh stress. However, there will also be a group of clients who might be seeking for a meaning in a life threatened by the inevitability of death. There will be some who will suffer from stress because they struggle to live courageously in a world ruled by doom and fate. There will be others whose suffering might rise from the laborious endeavour to find a way out of the perceived meaninglessness of the world. Their existential crisis is best portrayed in Tolstoy's anguish, “Why should I live? Why should I wish for anything? Why should I do anything?”
A client's presenting complaint is an index of a greater existential problem that might be acknowledged, unknown or rejected or subconscient but nevertheless exists. My problem is that my training as an analyst does not suffice to unlock the riddle of existence. While I believe that the Freudian subconscious is the source of our atavistic and biological drives, I cannot also ignore the mystic's description of the superconscious as the source of our highly evolved impulses. This means that one suffers not only from repression of one's biological drives but also can suffer from suppression of the sublime. (Reddy, 1988) This also means that to increase my repertory of counselling skills, I need a framework of reference where the subconscious and the superconscious are both accommodated in their proper places. This pursuit leads me to a search for a model of Integral Psychotherapy.
A model of integral psychotherapy needs to be preceded by a model of integral psychology which is a paradigm of psychology that emerges from a consciousness perspective. The seer-wisdom of ancient India considered consciousness to be the essence of all existence—a concept to which Sri Aurobindo, in recent times, has given an evolutionary perspective. He states that consciousness is essentially the same throughout but variable in status, condition and operation (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga , p. 235) and formulates different planes of existence at different points of a graded universe. Thus, at one plane, consciousness formulates the material base of existence the physical plane). At a higher level, consciousness formulates the life-base (the vital plane) and at a yet higher level, manifests the mind the mental plane). This is not the culmination of evolution. Sri Aurobindo postulates that higher than models of man can still evolve, surpassing the mental plane of consciousness if an inner evolution in consciousness can be zealously followed.
In Sri Aurobindo's thought, consciousness is a pluridimensional reality. The individual who is a particular formation of consciousness can be studied along several perspectives. Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga , p. 220) One such perspective is to view the individual as a series of concentric rings in sheaths arranged as the outer being, inner being and inmost being. Another way is to view the individual along a vertical hierarchy which ranges from the “superconscience” to the “subconscious” which in turn sinks into an “inconscience”. (See Fig. 1.)
The superconscious is the source of higher inspirations which impels man to exceed his limitations. While the subconscious supports our ordinary nature, the superconscious supports our spiritual possibilities and nature. The “inconscience” is not an absence of consciousness but the nethermost level where consciousness is fully involved and suppressed and from which evolution starts with the manifestation of matter.
Fig. 1. The Individual: Vertical Perspective
The “outer being” is what is known as “personality” in psychology and is made up of the physical, vital and mental planes of consciousness intermingled with each other in spite of having distinctive characteristics. The outer being revolves around the ego. The ego or “I” is a temporary construction drawn up from components of our nature—mind, life-energy vital) and body (physical). Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga , p. 279) The inner being cannot be organised around the ego but needs the support of a “beyond ego” principle.
The inner or subliminal being is actually an intermediary plane of consciousness that stands behind the surface personality and consists of an inner mental, inner vital and inner physical. The inner mind can directly know things by suprarational faculties like intuition. Unlike the ordinary memory which knows the past in fragments and has no inkling of the future, this mind has a memory which holds an active and involved past as well as a future that is ready to evolve. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine , p. 513) The inner vital can hold the life-energy free from the habitual clutches of the body and mind. This can utilise the body for dynamic action by making the will of the mind effective. It can also work on the organs of the body and make their actions more supple and subtle. Sri Aurobindo, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga , p. 529) The inner physical has subtle senses Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine , pp. 425-26) that lead mystics and yogis to have “visions”, hear “inner voices” and feel “auras”. The inner being is the meeting ground of the individual and universal consciousness. Though only a little of it enters the outer being, that little is the best part of ourselves and is responsible for art, poetry, philosophy, ideals and high aspirations.
The inner being is supported by the inmost being. The inmost being or true being is represented by the true mental being at the mental plane, the true vital being at the vital plane, the true physical being at the physical plane and supporting all these is the psychic being. In Sri Aurobindo's parlance, the real individuality emerges when the ego is replaced by the psychic being or soul-element. One then starts living at a deeper level of consciousness and experiences a sense of wholeness, integrality, peace, unity, collaboration and unalloyed joy. See Fig.2)
The psychic being in turn is a projection of the Jivatman—the unevolving self that stands above the manifested being. It is superior to birth and death and is the eternal true being of the individual. The psychic being is the Jivatman in its evolving form while the ego is only a dark shadow of this true integrating principle. The psychic being grows through life-experiences from birth to birth. If it comes forward, it governs the instincts and can transform the nature. Usually, one is ruled by the outer personality of the physical, vital and mental consciousness held loosely together by the false soul of ego and desire. Ordinarily, we are not aware of the psychic being except at certain moments of life when it does influence us strongly and we spontaneously feel an inner happiness, wholeness, joy and goodwill. The state is not dependent on outer conditions and may even appear in unfavourable conditions. Such a psychic consciousness is free from psychological disturbances and helps one build up an integrated personality. It is also free from the subconscient and egocentric disturbances. The realization of the Psychic Being brings bhakti, self-giving, surrender, turning of all movements Godward, discrimination and choice of all that belongs to the Divine: Truth, Good, Beauty, rejection of all that is false, evil, ugly, discordant, union through love and sympathy with all existence, openness to the truths of the Self and the Divine. The realization of the Jivatman brings silence, freedom, wideness, mastery, purity, a sense of universality in the individual as one centre of this Divine universality. (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga , p. 272)
|Inmost Being||Inner Being||Outer Being1|
|True Mental Being||Inner Mind||Outer Mind|
|Psychic Being2||True Vital Being||Inner Vital||Outer Vital||Ego3|
|True Physical Being||Inner Physical||Outer Physical|
|1 Known as “personality” in psychology.|
|2 The psychic being is a projection of the jivatman. It is the soul-element in evolution.|
|3 The ego is a formation of the outer being and is known as the “self” in psychology.|
Figure 2. The Individual: The Perspective of Beings
To develop a model of Integral Psychotherapy based on Integral Psychology, one needs to understand the origin of different psychopathologies at different planes of consciousness viz. physical, vital, mental, subconscious. I personally use such a private classification along with the conventional public classificatory systems like the ICD-10 and DSM IV. Individuals who have the same diagnosis according to conventional ICD or DSM classifications might have important differences when assessed along the consciousness perspective necessitating different therapeutic approaches. Thus a person in whom the capacity to contact his psychic being is more spontaneous needs a very sensitive handling if he is depressed. Such a person responds to a low dose of medication and counselling in such a situation need only be an encouragement to look inwards—the rest follows automatically. In contrast, a depressed subject with a dominant vital needs a different type of handling as he has more chance for a swing towards a manic state. A depressed client with a strong intellectual ego can pose a queer resistance to therapeutic intervention which needs to be worked through at the level of the ego.
When psychologists talk about the “self”, they are usually referring to a formation of the outer being which again needs to be examined in the context of one's socio-cultural gestalt. While the outer self is more individualised in the Western world, it is more in the nature of an extended social self in the Indian subcontinent and can include not only one's immediate social group but also one's Istadevata. While dealing with such subjects, one has to be sensitive not only to the client's individual needs but also to the sensitivities, desires and resistances of the client's immediate social group.
While planning a therapeutic program, it is also necessary to consider whether parts of the inner being are developed in an individual. Even if such a person suffers from a psychotic episode, he still can produce works of art that are beyond the psychoanalyst's canvas (of course, the state of the outer mind will colour and distort the influences of the inner mind but this is true not only for the psychotic but also for the “normal” individual!) If an individual has a developed inner being expressing through creativity, spontaneity or a vitality that is not stifled by constraints of the body and mind, then we need an innovative therapeutic approach that allows the outer being to withstand the pressure of the inner being. In fact, in certain geniuses who develop psychiatric problems, it might be that the outer being, improperly integrated around the ego, could not withstand the pressure of the inner being. In individuals practising spirituality, the inner being can progress much faster than the outer being and the resulting mismatch may precipitate imbalance, diseases and may even facilitate death.
Counselling programs have also to be sensitive to the presence in the individual of the inmost being, the psychic being. The psychic being can radiate peace, joy and spontaneity even in the most adverse situations. In our clinical practice we often come across people who, in spite of being chronically ill or demented or in terminal states awaiting death, can yet retain a poise of calm and equanimity and can radiate peace and joy. They still can progress spiritually despite their physical suffering. This is possible because the psychic being is unaffected by external conditions and if given a chance to flower, will still enliven an individual suffering from a chronic degenerative disease. (Basu, 2000) The quintessence of Integral Psychotherapy lies in a shift to this inner essence of an individual. The possibility of such a shift is a valid reason why a counselling program is even necessary for people who seem to be “lost” because they are either chronically or terminally ill.
The consciousness paradigm cannot ignore the myriad approaches to mental health that have been in use in different cultures. This brings us to the interesting phenomenon of possession states. What can be the thing that “possesses”? Well, it might be negative formations arising from one's own mind that can become so powerful that an individual can be possessed by his or her own psychological forces. This reminds me of a lady doctor who was suffering from depression, pessimism and meaninglessness in life for a long time. One day she turned up and told me, “I am constantly visualising my own corpse hanging over my head.” After I relieved her by giving her an ECT electro-convulsive therapy), she told me, “If you had not done such a drastic intervention, I would have been driven to commit suicide.” In this case, her negative thoughts, nurtured over a period of years, had become an organised formation which in turn was “possessing” her. Basu, 1995a) However psychological forces emanating from external sources can also affect susceptible subjects. These are the “classical possession states” which are “exorcised” by occultists. A few weeks back I had to examine a lady who was brought to me because she had jumped into a pond to commit suicide. She has an 8 months old baby and had shown no evidence of post partum depression before her misventure. Her relatives revealed that a ceiling fan which was hung in her room very recently had an interesting anecdote. A 12 years old boy (a nephew of the patient's husband) had committed suicide by hanging himself from that fan some months back (This incident had occurred in a separate house). Whether it was her own psychological fears (she knew about the incident associated with the fan and had disapproved of her father-in-law placing it in her room) or whether it was a vital fragment of the dead boy that led to the suicide attempt is another matter, but what is important to note is that one who is vulnerable can get influenced or “possessed” by psychological forces primarily emanating from outside oneself.
The scope of integral psychotherapy
An emergent psychology and psychotherapy that bases itself on a perspective of consciousness which is simultaneously “integral” and “pluridimensional” can be used in two ways:
a) It can be pursued as a framework for psychological growth, personality development and psychotherapy, and b) it can be used to enlarge the repertoire of any existing psychotherapeutic system by allowing different partial truths represented in different systems to fall along a continuum of consciousness. Thus the psychoanalyst can enlarge the scope of therapy by extending from the unconscious to the superconscious. Jungian analysis can enrich itself by acknowledging the psychic being as the centre of integration of personality and by supplementing the concept of the collective unconscious by the concept of the inner being which is in communion with the universal consciousness. The gestalt therapists can acknowledge that an integral vision accommodates both the “wholes” and the “parts”. Behaviour therapy can supplement relaxation techniques by exercises that help in widening one's consciousness. Basu, 1995b) Subjects suffering from stress can be taught to match their outer dynamism with an inner poise of stability and equanimity. Basu, 1997) In this way, any school of psychology or psychotherapy can widen its scope of action by enriching itself from the truths inherent in Integral Psychology. The human mind likes variations and will always opt for different therapeutic approaches. A consciousness paradigm can permit diverse therapeutic modalities at different planes of consciousness and can also simultaneously provide an integral framework that can be independently used in psychotherapy, counselling, personality development and psychological growth.
Basu, S., 1995a, “Case Study”, NAMAH , Vol. 3, no. 1, p. 80-82.
Basu, S., 1995b, “The synthesis of eastern and western psychological paradigms in the light of Sri Aurobindo”, The Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry , II 1): 35-39.
Basu, S., 1997, “Time and Health”, NAMAH , Vol. 4, no. 2, p. 28-36.
Basu, S., 2000, Integral Health , Pondicherry, SAIIIHR, p. 129-31.
Reddy, V.M., 1988, Integral Yoga Psychology , p. iv, Hyderabad; Institute of Human Study.