Given at IAHIP Annual General Meeting 7 March 1992
Integration (The implications of Wilber’s Theory)
John Rowan opened his speech with an amusing and thought-provoking comparison between the platypus and the sphinx. The first descriptions by white men of the platy pus were denounced as fakes, since scientists in Europe found it hard to believe in an egg-laying mammal which had a beak and suckled its young. However, the living proof finally convinced them that this integration was not only possible but actual. On the other hand, the sphinx is merely a theoretical integration, a mythical combination of woman’s head and breasts with a lion’s body, and even in myth was never able to repro duce. Similarly, Rowan suggested, in psychotherapy, some combinations may be viable and others impossible.
He then outlined the psycho-spiritual journey as described by Ken Wilber (see book- list), showing how each step along the way must necessarily be abandoned as the traveller moves on: from a symbiotic relationship with the mother through the body ego and the mental ego, with role-playing and emphasis on individuality and on to the integration of the persona and the shadow…Each time it feels like losing something; but the levels remain “nested” and thus available via regressions, whether healthy ones or not. Rowan said that society took an interest in the stages up to and including the “Mental Ego” which entailed making an individual responsible, legal – “well-adjusted”.
The therapies which were effective up to this stage were listed by Rowan, including psychoanalysis, chemotherapy, hospital treatment, directive counselling, behaviour modification and cognitive/behavioural therapy, some transactional analysis, crisis therapy and rational-emotive therapy.
After this, each stage of the journey is a matter of choice for the traveller, who must choose to move on to the Centaur stage, the real, existential self. Here the work of therapy is “recovering the real self” (Winnicott). There is an interest in authenticity rather than role-playing, and in taking responsibility for one’s own actions. For this stage, Rowan suggested that such therapies as gestalt, open encounter, T-group, psychodra ma, bodywork, regression, person-centred and co-counselling were appropriate. In this stage, language becomes less useful and symbolic imagery more so and the key issues are autonomy and authenticity. Rowan suggested that all these therapies, suitable to the same stage, would be possible to integrate with each other as a living, not a mythical, practice.
Just as with the second stage, the entry to the third stage is a choice, but by now there will be little support from society to proceed and the next stage, the Subtle Self or soul, means giving up the stage of the real self and its skin boundary. The stage of the subtle self needs no strong boundaries and again language decreases in usefulness while sym bols increase. This is the stage of Assagioli’s “super consciousness” and moves beyond empathy towards the transpersonal. The therapies appropriate for this stage would be psychosynthesis, some Jungian and pagan, transpersonal, voice dialogue, wicca/magic, kabbalah and some astrology and tantra. Here work on the transpersonal by Stanislav Grof finds its place, and work on resonance by John Watkins, Mahrer’s “experiential lis tening” where the therapist may “fuse” with the client, and analyst Benjamin Walker’s “proto-consciousness” as well as the Jungian Andrew Samuels’ “embodied counter- transference”. All these different therapists from completely different disciplines are finding similar things, and Rowan told us that the “subtle level is within the reach of all of us.
“ The fourth and last stage in Wilber’s theory is the Causal self, which Rowan refers to as the spirit, where the traveller may give up symbols and myths and strike into the deeper waters of spirituality. Here the methods Rowan lists are Zen, Raja Yoga, Tao, Monasticism, Da Free John. Christian mysticism, Sufi, Goddess mysticism and some forms of Judaism.
Glue and Solvent
It is possible to integrate appropriate therapies within any one stage, but not really to do so between the stages. However, because of the “nesting” effect where traces of earlier stages remain “nested” within later ones, it is quite easy to move from a later stage to an earlier one; this cannot be done vice versa. Thus the therapist would need to be at a later stage of the journey than the client Rowan suggested that women, who are “wounded” in the current state of society, are likely to need work in the first stage, where the wounding was inflicted. At that first stage, it is important to have support, which Rowan called “glue” during the period of disorientation in therapy, but in the second stage, for instance, the work was more like “solvent”! At this stage if the therapist has not worked at all in the third stage, the “breakthrough” of the client could be mistaken for “breakdown” and consequently denied by the therapist Rowan said that the work in the fourth stage has very little to do with psychotherapy, whose chief tasks were still in the first stage, through brief therapy and so on.
Rowan pointed out that the therapies in the first stage have been combined, for ex ample in the Brussels model, and that the work in the second stage tends to be incompatible with the medical model which still has its uses in the first stage. He emphasised that the integrating of the different therapeutic approaches is not at all the same as merely alternating one with another. There should be genuine complementarity between the various approaches for integrations to be viable. He concluded by saying that a platypus would be possible from the therapies in any given stage, but warning us that the likely outcome of mixing the therapies in different stages would be a sphinx.
In response to questions, Rowan told us that of course he did not talk in these terms to his clients – he aptly described this highly-theoretical work as “my business”, perhaps an example of the way in which the therapist does need to be a stage further on than the client? He did say, however, that he occasionally recommends a book to a client if he senses a “spiritual emergency” coming. Of course, the audience wanted to know which books he would recommend and the answer was Barry Stevens’ “Don’t Push the River”, which he considers to be the “least harmful” book in such crises, and he also recom mends the work of Emma Bragden.
The audience were plainly delighted with this talk. It was stimulating and challeng ing at the same time as being extremely informative and full of food for thought. Rowan’s delightfully understated manner made his sense of humour all the more enjoyable, and yet the tone of the talk was highly professional and serious. I think that we all felt rather privileged to have been there and very challenged in our practice and ideas as well. Certainly I have viewed platypuses and sphinxes quite differently ever since!
Booklist appended by M. Montaut
Wilber, Ken: The Atman Project – A Transpersonal View of Human Development, 1980, Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House.
Mahrer, A.L: Experiential Psychotherapy, 1983, New York Brunner/Mazel
Watkins, J.: The Therapeutic Self, 1978, New York Human Sciences Press.