Humanistic and Integrative
 Psychotherapy from an
 Ecological Perspective

Susan Lindsay

An ecological perspective to psychotherapy must view
 the person as a living system of inter-related parts -
 psyche and soma – living in the context of a network of 
relationships with which she or he is intimately involved
 and connected. It must also be recognised that this 
social system is part of a whole culture and environment
 that is the context for the individual’s life and the issues
 she or he faces therein.

This systemic approach to psychotherapy has been the province of family
 therapists whose awareness of the need to see the individual in context led them to
 work with family systems and to the realisation that the individual’s difficulties play a
part in both maintaining the family system and in drawing attention to the needs of 
that system for change. Families may be desperate about the symptoms an individual
 presents but, as we equally know to be true with individuals, change can be even more 
threatening than the present pain which at least has the virtue of being familiar.

Humanistic psychology is essentially systemic in orientation in that, as Stanislaus
 Grof puts it, “The humanistic approach is holistic; it studies individuals as unified 
organisms, rather than as merely a sum total of separate parts.” (1) Grof describes the
 development of humanistic psychology as a reaction to “the reductionist orientation 
of American psychology and psychotherapy” in which psychotherapy was dominated 
by “two influential theories, psychoanalysis and behaviourism.” Humanistic
 psychology and, later, transpersonal approaches counteracted the reductionist view
 that was dominating psychology at the time. Both behaviourism and classical 
psychoanalysis share a difficulty that limits their usefulness as systems of
 psychotherapy today. I emphasise limits, because it does not exclude, and in fact the
 wisdom of both should be integrated into any comprehensive framework for
 psychotherapy. The difficulty is that both are using a scientific paradigm based on
 Cartesian-Newtonian physics which does not allow for the changes that have taken 
place in the new physics of this century. As Fritjof Capra says, “The systems view of 
living organisms is difficult to grasp from the perspective of classical science because 
it requires significant modifications of many classical concepts and ideas.” (2) I have seen the real communication dilemma which can occur when analyst with 
a causative linear framework are trying to entertain what in their view appears to be
 the woolly concepts of the Jungian Analytical Psychologists who are using a much 
more complementary and systemic (although not usually acknowledged as such)

Behaviourists claim that psychotherapy can only be scientifically based when it 
stems from research of observable behaviour with sufficient control of the variables 
involved. The trouble with this view is that in order to get sufficient control of the 
variables one really needs to study human beings as nearly as possible in laboratory
 conditions. By the time these conditions are established it is arguable as to whether 
one is still studying the behaviour one set out to research because it seldom if ever 
takes place in those kind of circumstances ordinarily and so many of the variables
 excluded may be an essential part of the behaviour under research. So it is 
questionable how meaningful the results really are. It is very much an approach that 
studies a part rather than makes any attempt to look at the whole.

Behaviourists study human beings by observing their behaviour. Medicine studies 
human beings from a biological perspective, concentrating on their physiology. An 
ecological view must place both these perspectives in the context of human 
consciousness and the relation of the individual to both social systems and their

Humanistic psychologists consider that any objective study of human beings
 which fails to take account of the subjective stance of the investigator and the subject
 is ultimately doomed to failure. Such studies will give us valuable information and 
should not be ignored, but their limitations must always be recognised and the 
information garnered by such research should never be regarded as conclusive or as
 portraying more than a small part of the truth.

Challenging the World View

At times humanistic psychology has been criticised for being short on theory. In 
fact is it not short on theory, but in the past its practitioners placed more emphasis on 
process and learning by experience than on discussing theory. This was, and is, hard
 for others to understand. In the truest sense of the phrase, it was counter-cultural. Humanistic psychology was not only not preoccupied with presenting itself as
 scientific, when other psychologies were urgently seeking scientific validation, but it
 was implicitly challenging the world view that pertained at the time. It challenges the 
whole notion of objectivity as the exclusive path to knowledge. It comes closer to 
social psychology in arguing that people’s behaviour has to be understood in context. 
”What is more, most of the natural sciences try to represent the results of their
 investigations as though these had come into existence without man’s intervention, in 
such a way that the collaboration of the psyche – an indispensible factor – remains 
invisible. (An exception to this is modern physics which recognises that the observed
 is not independent of the observer.)” C.J.Jung. (3)

Humanistic psychology practitioners were busy exploring the world of experience, 
from the innate wisdom of the body through followers of Wilhelm Reich, to the 
healing experiences of the here and now through Gestalt therapy. The discoveries
 emphasising knowledge from experience and counter-balancing the over-emphasis on
 intellect and objectivity were summed up by Fritz Perls (co-founder of Gestalt 
therapy) in the extreme statement, “Lose your head and come into your senses.”
While humanistic psychologists were not always as interested as they could have 
been in communicating their understandings to other psychologists, it is equally true 
that on the other side, their ideas were not always welcome however well they were
 communicated. Whilst Carl Rogers’ views of psychotherapy became widely accepted
 and taught on psychology courses, when he was interviewed on RTE television in
 1986 and asked why, having consistently researched his practice and demonstrated 
beyond possible doubt that his ideas about therapy and education were effective, they
 were so little used, he replied that he had somewhat reluctantly come to the 
conclusion that they were too threatening and that too many people had too much of
 a stake in keeping things the way they are. People do not want to facilitate learning in 
a holistic way, they prefer to impart information. It enhances their own ego and does 
not threaten the status quo in the way it could be threatened if people were really to 
become interested in self-actualisation and thinking truly for themselves.

The Unified Whole

Humanistic psychology views the human organism as a unified whole. It is the
 only approach that manages to take the physical aspects of the psyche into account.
 For this we are indebted to Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, Alexander Lowen and many 

“Reich’s speculations, although unconventional and at times undisciplined, are in 
their essence frequently compatible with modern developments in science. In his 
understanding of nature, he came close to the world view suggested by quantum-
relativistic physics, emphasising the underlying unity, focusing on process and
 movement rather than substance and solid structure, and acknowledging the active 
role of the observer.” Grof (4) ‘This ability to focus on process and movement rather
 than on substance and solid structure is a particular strength of the humanistic
 therapies through which many experiential approaches have been developed which 
can facilitate the process of Therapy.

No discussion of humanistic therapy would be complete without mentioning the
 extensive work that has been done in relation to peri-natal experiences. Following on 
Rank, Arthur Janov, Frank Lake and Stanislaus Grof have done extensive work on the 
perinatal realms of the unconscious. Grof, in particular, has developed a cartography
 of the psyche (which, with Jung, he takes to include both the personal and the 
collective unconscious) based on four peri-natal matrices relating unconscious 
material to four stages of life in the womb; before, during and after birth. Perhaps he
 would see his work as going beyond the field of humanistic psychology, he is certainly 
a transpersonal psychologist of immense stature. However his theories offer a framework that transcends the traditional boundaries between therapies in that he 
suggests the appropriateness of different psychologies for understanding different
 stages of human development.

Integrative means much more than acknowledging that other theories have also
 something to offer. Real integration is part of the individuation process. It means 
humanistic psychotherapy finding more of itself – learning from other approaches,
 not being afraid to keep an open mind, integrating that which fits to form a new 
synthesis and discarding that which is superfluous.

Humanistic psychotherapy recognises the innate tendency for the human
 organism to move towards wholeness and the aim is to facilitate self-healing “for 
individual growth or self-actualisation rather than adjustment.” (5) The individual
 organism is part of an ecosystem – a network of social relationships. However an
 ecological perspective must also recognise that the journey to wholeness is an inner 
journey – a journey to the centre of one’s self. And that, paradoxically, it is on 
reaching the centre – the world of the individuated self, rooted and grounded in the 
body, that the universe is discovered. It is through the self that we become aware of 
ourselves as part of the pattern that connects.


(1) Stanislaus Grof, “Beyond the Brain”, 1985, State University of New York Press.

(2) Fritjoj Capra, “The Turning Point”

(3) C.J. Jung, “The Undiscovered Self”.
(4) Grof op. cit. (5) Ibid.