Archetypal Defenses & the Demons Within


‘Let your heart break & drop the story’

Pema Chodron


Last night I went along to a talk given by Donald Kalsched who is a Jungian psychoanalyst. The talk he gave was called ‘Transformation of Innocence the Psychotherapy of Early Trauma’. The term trauma is used here as anything that happens to us as children that we can’t process and therefore have to relegate to the unconscious realms.

I’ve been interested in Kalsched’s work for a little while now and how he uses his model the ‘Self care system’  when working with clients. This self care system is described by Kalsched as ‘the defence that protects the client’s trauma or wounding’ and come’s in the form of a demonic archetype that will protect the inner child from having to re-experience the pain. Kalsched talks about this demonic archetypal entity as the force that keeps us from our life-force and may present as depression and a disassociation with innocence. These powerful psychic defences have the one and only task of protecting us from the pain of ‘letting our hearts break and dropping the story’.

The Good and Evil Angels 1795-?c. 1805 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

Kalsched spoke at length about how he has worked with these archetypes and found different levels that must be held in mind as we make the journey as clients or as therapists. The ‘Devil’ or as Kalsched call’s him ‘Dis’ (a reference from the Dante’s Inferno) becomes the guardian of the divine child, but there is another child in his ward, the dark child who holds the wounding. The journey we are being asked to make to reach the divine child is first about reaching the the dark child and breaking the identification, this then unveils the illusion and allows us back to the original innocence and the healing can occur.

Dis will do anything in his power to stop the journey being made, and as clients we may not understand why we have come to therapy? All we know is something within us is being held, imprisoned or not expressed. Dis doesn’t want us to feel he wants us to Dis-associate so he will tell us that ‘this is all a waste of time’ or ‘what’s the point, this is all fake?’ As therapists we may get frightened by our client’s seemingly lack of improvement and try and offer false reassurance which just plays in to his hands. Kalsched states that we as therapists must travel through the discomfort of our own ‘dark children’ in order to allow the clients dark child to be acknowledged and then we can truly share the release of pain when we reach our imprisoned innocence.

 ‘In every adult lurks a child, an eternal child, something that is becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention and education. That is the part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole’

Carl Jung

Read more about Donald Kalsched here

The will to become free from addiction

Deepening his understanding of the will from a psychosynthesis perspective has given Paul Henry a clearer insight into his experience of being an alcoholic in recovery.

Finding work, initiating a new relationship, asking for a loan, and introducing ourselves to someone who can help us, are all examples of the will at work.(1) The will is an affirmation of our self employed in many everyday activities and in each of these activities a different aspect of will may be utilised. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, describes these aspects of will as: strong will, skillful will, good will and transpersonal will. He says, in order to gain a complete picture of the will, and a grasp on how to train it, we first need to understand these aspects and qualities of the will.(2)

Four qualities of will

When we make a determined physical or mental effort to withstand a force or overcome a hurdle, we experience ourselves ‘willing’.(1) In this instance, we use strong will. Misunderstandings about the will arise from the misconception that strong will represents the whole will.(2) However, will requires reflection, observation and discernment in its expression.(3)

Erikson describes a more subtle aspect of will when he says: ‘To will does not mean to be willful but rather to gain gradually the power of increased judgement and decision in the application of drive.’ (4) Assagioli calls this skillful will, which relies more on aptitude to obtain the desired result, with least possible expenditure of energy.(2) These two aspects of the will can be illustrated in different approaches to the simple task of moving a car from point A to B. Using strong will, the car might be pushed from one point to the other. However, using skillful will, the ignition key may be located and the car driven.

To extend the analogy further, if, on the journey, a hitchhiker is picked up, this could be considered an illustration of good will. Good will is endowed with strength and skill and characterised by qualities like compassion, selflessness, surrender and service to others.(2) Good will draws on a palette of psychological resources to achieve a chosen and balanced outcome, in a similar way to the way in which a film director pools the diverse individual characters and resources available in a production team. In both cases, to achieve the desired outcome, a directive energy, with the qualities of humanity, strength and skill, guides the process, using effective, healthy communication. Some directors rule through fear and achieve their end using a dictatorial approach, imposing their strong will through force and manipulation. Perhaps this is what Assagioli alludes to when he cautions: ‘…learning to choose the right goals is an essential aspect of training the will’.(2)

Strong, skillful and good will all concern personal self. Transpersonal will is different because it’s an expression of the higher or transpersonal self. Experiences of transpersonal will are widely reported in the psychotherapy community. Carl Jung, Maurice Bucke and William James all refer to religious experiences involving a ‘call’ from God or a ‘pull’ from some Higher Power.2 A central theme in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-step programme is this connection with a Higher Power: ‘We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.’(5)

Love and will

The various aspects of will have different qualities and characteristics that can be placed along a spectrum between two polarities: love and will. These qualities exist in us all, although they’re not necessarily obvious to others. The quality expressed in the AA quote above is surrender, one of the qualities of good will: compassion, selflessness and surrender. These qualities appear at the love polarity,(2) whereas energy, mastery and determination appear at the will end.

People often develop one quality of the will at the expense of another. This can lead to certain qualities always being called upon and others overlooked, causing an imbalance to develop and leading to distortion. Assagioli advocates a healthy balance of love and will, and observes that ‘one of the principal causes of today’s disorders is the lack of love on the part of those who have will and the lack of will in those who are good and loving’.(2)

Stages of will

Evolution of will is experienced in a cycle of stages: ‘no will’, ‘will exists’, ‘I have will’, and ‘I am will’. Whenever our will is suppressed, violated or ignored, pain and illness arise, and the hurt goes all the way to the core, causing the connection between I and self to become fractured.6 Ferrucci tells us will is the faculty closest to the self,(6) and the absence of will, or no will, ‘makes our life tiring, bitter, sometimes impossible’.(1) At any stage you can go back to no will in a cycle that begins again.(3)

Deepening my understanding of the will has given me a clearer insight into my alcoholism and the impact of this illness on the will. Alcoholism leads to a state of no will, where pain and illness, arising in the form of grave psychological and physical disturbances, go all the way to the core and erode human freedom and personal power.(6) And when will is missing, the psychological space it should occupy is taken over by anguish, depression, resentment and confusion.(6)

AA recognises that by the time the sufferer becomes aware of the grip of alcoholism and its compulsive nature, it’s too powerful to conquer with willpower alone: ‘Remember we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.’(5) My will had been supplanted by survival needs. All I could think about was the next drink. I had an uncontrollable physical craving for alcohol, a mental obsession for oblivion, and a spiritual malady.(7)

Initially engaged in resisting the urge to drink, my will had distorted and was fully engaged in acquiring the next drink. For me, many will qualities became limited or unavailable: choice and freedom associated with mastery had distorted into inertia and procrastination; courage and daring associated with initiative had become fearfulness and introspection. Alcoholism also distorted my subpersonalities. The inner critic that may have formerly cautioned moderation, now continuously scolded me. And the inner judge, who once weighed the consequences, now constantly condemned me. These harsh taskmasters gave rise to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and failure, and brought me to my knees – to no will.

Positive desire or wish(8) had been supplanted by survival instinct and the I-Self connection had become weakened or fractured.6 Firman and Gila describe the I-Self connection as ‘ultimately a spiritual connection’,(9) which, if disturbed by nonempathic unifying centres, may result in splitting. The example that follows describes my alcoholic reasoning perfectly: ‘I use alcohol not only to overcome my feelings of anxiety and emptiness (lower unconcious) but in order to feel connected to other people (higher unconcious). This higher-lower splitting is largely repressed but has a profound and pervasive effect, causing painful inner conflicts.’(9)

The AA literature states that the sufferer ‘will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping off place. He will wish for the end.’(5) Here, the bridge between ‘desire and action’10 has been destroyed. There is no will ‘muscle’(11) to work with, and an absence of what Rollo May describes as ‘wish’: ‘Will gives the self-direction the maturity to “wish”… but without “wish”, “will” loses its life blood and tends to expire.’(8)

A higher power

The psychotherapy community and AA seem to largely agree that, at the point of no will, something significant must happen to help the will evolve – leading to recovery and rebuilding of the I-Self connection: ‘After hitting bottom and recognising the wounded layers in the recognition phase, we are ready to move into acceptance.’(9) Bonnie and Richard Schaub say that in this realisation, and in the act of surrender and acceptance, the sufferer becomes a recoverer: ‘…if the person accepts guidance he literally begins to build a new subpersonality – a “sober” person… he accepts that he must imitate the thinking and behaviours of a sober person in order to save his life.’(12)

Surrender enabled me to move away from no will and spiritually reconnect with others. My experience is echoed in the psychosynthesis concept of universal will: ‘…the relation between a drop of water and all the waters existing in our planet.’(2) The drop of water may not understand how it is related to ice, snow and steam, but it will inherently know it has the same chemical compound.

The process of cultivating will, beyond realising that ‘will exists’, appears to have Assagioli and Firman and Gila at odds. Assagioli claims ‘If it is weak, it can be trained by regular exercise, in the same way muscles are developed by gymnastics.’(11) Whereas Firman and Gila argue: ‘…just as “I” does not develop but rather emerges, so will does not develop but instead emerges.’(13)

This apparent difference of opinion may be more a question of chronology. Looking at the phases laid out in the psychosynthesis model, ‘Evolution of the Will’, may make it clearer. Pauline Hancock describes the evolution of will as ‘a cyclical process’; ‘no will’ leads to ‘will exists’, leads to ‘I have will’, leads to ‘I am will’.(3) My experience is that the will must emerge from ‘no will’ to ‘the will exists’ before it can be developed as Assagioli describes it.(2)

When I was at the stage of no will I had to undergo a spiritual awakening in order for my will to emerge. This happened through a process of complete surrender to a power greater than myself: a Higher Power.(2) In AA, this surrender is also to a Higher Power: ‘…may I do thy will always’.(5)

Hancock also emphasises that the state of ‘no will’ may return again if the I-Self connection is disrupted by a non-empathic influence. For example, the ‘alcoholic self’ subpersonality may be in conflict with the newly formed ‘sober self’. However, if the individual can identify and experience the conflicting subpersonalities, this knowledge can change that person’s ‘self-awareness and his whole attitude to himself, other people and the world’.(2)

Working with subpersonalities and disidentification exercises, the will moves from shadow to purpose, from no will to recognition that the will exists. My first experience of this was losing the compulsion to drink, one day at a time. This experience was fragile at first, but as days were added together, my will was devloping and emerging. However, as Yalom says, ‘…awareness of responsibility in itself is not synonymous with change; it is only the first step in the process of change’.(10)

My experience in AA

In the second phase, the realisation of having a will, Assagioli talks about the will being like a muscle that requires constant exercise in order to become healthy and remain healthy.2 AA step work performs a similar function for the will. Ferrucci suggests ‘the simplest of all ways we can discover or intensify our will is by using it’.(6) He suggests the client completes rudimentary illustrative exercises, like undertaking a task that requires courage, making a plan and following it through, or doing something very slowly – all of these being expressions of will or wish.

This mirrors my AA experience. My will grew stronger by following simple suggestions: daily prayers, writing an evening journal, phoning another alcoholic daily, reading AA literature each morning, and getting to three meetings a week. I reached out and connected with other members of AA, which brought me a dimension of transpersonal will, and I embarked on the 12-step recovery programme, which is like an act of faith or universal will – constantly taking inventory of ourselves, good and bad, and ‘where we are wrong, promptly admitting it’.(5)

The fact we are able to apologise and make amends for our actions or words reflects Firman and Gila’s assertion that, as our will emerges and takes us away from our place of annihilation, it also means we are free to accept adversity when it arises.(9) The main purpose of phase two is forming a bridge between having a will and phase three: being a will.

Remaining clean and sober for 18 years has required continued and rigorous work. I see the willingness to do this as ‘being a will’. I will always be an alcoholic physically. However, remaining sober ‘is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of [my] spiritual condition’.(5) Maintaining the will to do the work has been hardest when I don’t pray and I lose my transpersonal connection with my Higher Power. When I pray, I listen for my Higher Power’s will for me. Sharing experience with other alcoholics in AA meetings and helping newcomers to find courage, are examples of transpersonal and universal will at work.

Will work with clients

In clinical work, understanding the condition of the client’s will is central to any psychosynthesis strategy. Clients with addiction issues will often be driven by distorted will. One addictive behaviour will typically give way to another: bulimia may be followed by anorexic restriction, anorexic restriction by alcoholic bingeing when the ‘physical pain, distress and misery associated with starvation’(14) becomes too much. Contrasting extremes of distorted will succeed one another – absolute control following complete abandonment and vice versa. Understanding the nature of a client’s will is central to the long-term strategy for therapeutic work. For a client who appears positive about change, a simple act, such as making daily entries in an evening journal, might begin the process of rekindling healthy will, which may be developed and strengthened.

Beyond creating an empathic relationship with clients, acknowledging and exploring their subpersonalities using visualisation, guided imagery and chair work will help them get to know these parts of themselves and enable them to disidentify; understanding that they are more than these parts – allowing the rebuilding of the I-Self connection on which will depends. Long term, I will hold my client bifocally, mindful of will and listening for emerging purpose, week by week, and adjusting my strategy accordingly.

Paul Henry

With thirty years experience in creative businesses and twenty years of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, Paul’s work focuses on performance anxieties in creative, professional and parental roles, addiction and substance misuse, and the everyday sufferings of life in an increasingly frantic world. His practice is based at London Bridge, Clapham Junction and Pinewood Studios.


1. Ferrucci P. Your inner will. New York: Penguin Group; 2014.
2. Assagioli, R. The act of will: self-actualisation through psychosynthesis. Winnipeg, MB: Turnstone Press; 1973.
3. Hancock P. Cultivation of the will seminar. London: Psychosynthesis Trust; 2013.
4. Erikson E. Insight and responsibility. New York: Norton; 1964.
5. Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous (third edition). York, UK: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services; 1976.
6. Ferrucci R. What we may be. New York: Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin; 1982.
7. Anonymous. Step one: the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of alcoholism. [Online.] (accessed 16 May 2016).
8. May R. Love and will. New York: Dell Publishing; 2013.
9. Firman J, Gila A. Psychosynthesis: a psychology of the spirit. Albany, NY: Suny Press; 2002.
10. Yalom ID. Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books; 1980.
11. Assagioli R. The golden mean of Roberto Assagioli – Sam Keen interview. Psychology Today; December 1974. [Online.] (accessed 16 May 2016).
12. Schaub B, Schaub R. Advanced recovery: emotional strength and spiritual discovery. New York: New York Psychosynthesis Institute; 2014.
13. Firman J, Gila A. Assagioli’s seven core concepts for psychosynthesis training. Palo Alto, CA: Psychosynthesis Palo Alto; 2007.
14. Treasure J. Anorexia nervosa: a survival guide for families, friends and sufferers. London: Psychology Press; 1997

21 Tips for Clients in Psychotherapy What should you talk about in therapy?

ClientsClients & Therapists.

Here are a few pointers to help clients level the playing field. Therapists have a big advantage in the therapy office. We’ve read a stack of books and spent thousands of hours learning what to do in session. Clients have to learn as they go, costing them valuable time and money.

Tips for Clients in Therapy

Take the Whole Hour: We call it a therapy hour but it’s only 50 minutes. Get your money’s worth by arriving 10 minutes early to catch your breath, collect your thoughts and prepare for your session.

Forget the Clock: Show up early, but let the therapist be in charge of ending the session on time. You’ve got enough to think about during the session, the therapist can be responsible for wrapping up.

Make it Part of Your Life: Therapy works best when you take what you’ve learned and apply it to the rest of your week. Between sessions, notice areas in your life you’d like to explore. Maybe you’d find it helpful to engage in…

Journalysis: Use a journal to reflect on your sessions and jot down things you notice about yourself during the week. It doesn’t have to be the “Dear Diary” of your youth, just a place to record a few thoughts or feelings. It may help to bring it to session with you.

Business First: Take care of scheduling and insurance questions at the start of the session. Nothing’s more awkward than ending a session with a big revelation or emotional breakthrough followed by three minutes of  calendar navigation. Get all those logistical issues out of the way at the beginning.

Relationship Next: Following those business items, issues regarding the relationship with your therapist (if there are any) come next. This could be anything – you’re thinking about termination, you felt angry after the last session, you’re worried what she thinks of you, you had a dream about him, etc. These relationship issues take top priority because they will impact all other areas of your therapy.

What do I Want? How do I Feel? These two questions are home base for clients who feel stuck. If you find yourself lost and don’t know what to talk about, revisit these questions and you’re bound to find material to discuss.

Ask Anything: Clients sometimes censor their questions because they believe asking is against the rules. You’re allowed to ask whatever you want, let the therapist explain their boundaries. Want to know a personal detail, professional opinion or an explanation for something she said or did? Go ahead and ask. You might not get a straight answer, but you should get a reason why not, and you might learn something about yourself in the process.

State of the Union: Check on your status any time during your therapy. How are the two of you working together? How well do you understand each other? Is therapy helping or hurting at this point? This is ideally a two-way discussion, with both of you sharing your thoughts.

Try New Things: Therapy is a great place for thinkers to try feeling, listeners to practice talking, passive people to be assertive, etc. Want to rehearse confrontation? Practice asking someone out? Let yourself cry in front of someone? Therapy is a great place for this.

Learn to Fish: A lot of people want advice from their therapist. Therapy is more about helping you come to your own conclusions than having the therapist make decisions for you. This benefits you in the long run but may seem disappointing at the time.

Ask Why: Let your inner 3-year old out and ask why you behave/think/feel as you do. Why do I hate my boss so much? Why am I so anxious before sessions? Why does the therapist’s shirt bother me?

Challenge Jargon: Some therapists have been doing this work so long they assume everyone knows what they’re talking about. If the therapist says some gibberish you don’t understand (“this boundary violation exacerbates your abandonment issues and fixated Oedipal complex”), ask him what he means.

Say the Odd Thought: Therapy is one place where strange thoughts are acceptable. In fact, the odder the better. Have a sudden impulse? Say it. Flash to a certain memory? Talk about it. The phrase some things are better left unsaid doesn’t apply here so speak freely and you might learn something interesting.

Be Aware of Your Therapist: Not just who she is, but who you imagine her to be. And how you imagine she feels about you. Talk about your relationship in detail to see how your projections influence this and other relationships.

Go Deeper: If you find yourself running through mundane details of your week or hitting awkward silences, maybe there’s a deeper issue you’re avoiding. Ask what it is you’re not talking about and talk about it. Discuss what you’re discovering about yourself. Take the time to explore who you are, what you feel and why you do what you do. Push beyond it is what it is (link is external) or whatever and tackle some deeper questions. Try: “I wonder why I ___” or: “Deep down, I really feel ___”.

Don’t Fear the End: From the beginning, talk about when you’ll know you’re ready to leave therapy. Rather than cut and run, let therapy be one experience of a truly good ending.

Dream On: Bring in dreams, daydreams and fantasies, especially those about therapy. People often have more of this material when they’re in therapy. This can be incredibly rich to explore.

Keep the Energy in the Room: Thoughts, feelings and questions about the therapy are best discussed first with the therapist. When you run everything by your friends first, it diffuses the energy of the encounter and sidesteps an opportunity for the therapist to understand you better.

Allow Change: Some people ask for change but feel uncomfortable when it actually happens. Accept that if you’re seeking change, things will probably change, and it might require more change than you thought. An eating disorder, a sexual problem, interpersonal conflicts, an addiction – these may require a major life overhaul, not just a little tweak.

Engage and Enjoy: Therapy is like enrolling in a course where you are the subject matter. If you’re curious, teachable and motivated to do some work, it can be one of the most challenging and rewarding courses you ever take.

© 2010 Ryan Howes, Ph.D.

Assagioli on Jung & Psychosynthesis



Assagioli writes:

Help in achieving interpersonal and group psychosynthesis (also called interindividual and social psychosynthesis) forms an important, indeed an indispensable part of psychosynthetic therapy and education. It can be justly maintained that our civilization is neurotic and ill-balanced, and that there exist real group neuroses and psychoses; for instance, national glorification and ideological fanaticism. Therefore psychotherapy should include and undertake these more comprehensive tasks, for which it is well equipped. Every sick individual who is helped to establish right human relations becomes an element of balance and health in his com- munity; and inversely, every effort aimed at adjusting unbalance and collective psychoses makes it easier for the single individual to reach and maintain his personal health.

Thus the tasks and activity of therapists, educators and all who, in different fields and ways, devote themselves to the healing of social ills converge and unite in a double purpose. The first and urgent one is to safeguard humanity from the dangers its blindness and folly have created for itself. The second, to promote the coming of a new and better civilization, in which the individual can, in freedom and for the good of all, give expression to and make the most of the wonderful potentialities inherent in each human being.

Thus the tasks and activity of therapists, educators and all who, in different fields and ways, devote themselves to the healing of social ills converge and unite in a double purpose. The first and urgent one is to safeguard humanity from the dangers its blindness and folly have created for itself. The second, to promote the coming of a new and better civilization, in which the individual can, in freedom and for the good of all, give expression to and make the most of the wonderful potentialities inherent in each human being.

Read more here – The Psychosynthesis Trust



Promises & Pitfalls: The Spiritual and the Therapeutic Path

Diana Whitmore

This article was taken from a talk given at a conference on ‘Souland Psyche’ at the Findhorn Foundation.

The spiritual path and the therapeutic path do not contradict each other, in fact they complement each other beautifully. We could say that these two fundamental streams are both necessary for the full and ripe evolution of our consciousness.

The therapeutic path often begins with pain, the prime motivating factor that drives people to begin to work on their personal development. We don’t seek therapy when we are happy and fulfilled, but rather when we hurt inside; when perhaps in spite of outer success, our inner world is suffering. Unconsciously, something vaguely beckons us. It is a promise that speaks to the impulse in us to differentiate ourselves from others and to experience our unique individuality. The therapeutic path promises independence, individuality, and autonomy. It promises potency and the experience of creating one’s own life. This promise and the pain bring us to the therapeutic path.

Most psychotherapy tends to work with the psychological content of our personality – our neuroses, our low self image and self esteem which have very often been damaged when we are children, our anger and our ability to assert ourselves – and all the other childhood experiences that have caused life to be less than we would want it to be.

The spiritual path promises something very different. It promises unity. It offers a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. It promises meaning and purpose and offers us the possibility of transcendence -the experience of being greater than the day-to-day identity that we have worked so hard to create. The spiritual path promises to alleviate our divine homesickness -the longing for some kind of goodness, truth, rightness or beauty. The spiritual path promises to speak to that deep homesickness, to heal that longing. It promises to liberate our suffering and provide us with inner freedom. It makes order out of disorder and sense out of the chaos and disintegration that we see around us in the world. It heals our wounded soul.

Pitfalls of the Therapeutic Path

If we work on ourselves with psychotherapy alone, we frame our existential reality as limited,neurotic, pathological. We see ourselves as ‘someone who is damaged and needs to be fixed’. A therapist’s task then is to help clients relieve the symptoms and get rid of their problems. The therapeutic path has a vision, sometimes bordering on dogma, of how healthy fully functioning human beings should be -’everyone should be open and honest’, ‘everyone should work on their relationship to their mother’, ‘everyone should be able to express their anger and deal with it’.

In this way the very context of the therapeutic path is also its pitfall. Anyone who has been in psychotherapy as a client for any period of time has most likely experienced that they can work and work on their personality, finding more and more limitations, more that is wrong and then becoming lost in their pathology. This was my personal experience doing primal psychotherapeutic work on myself at the Esalen Institute. I became more and more conscious – of every limitation in my entire personality – until I became lost in my awareness of what was wrong with me. It was only when after four years, I left Esalen and went back into the world that I discovered to my surprise, how much I had really grown – an experience that was unavailable to me when I was identified only with my pain and suffering.

If we stay on the therapeutic path for too long, eventually we encounter the largest pitfall, that which in psychosynthesis we call the existential crisis or crisis of meaning. It is the ‘so what’ crisis -what’s it all for? What is life really about? What am I living for? The philosopher Kierkegaard gave us a vivid description of the existential crisis when he said that it didn’t make any difference whether he was writing a symphony or getting drunk. It is the feeling that says, ‘there must be more to life than this’. Life can become gray, empty and meaningless. This can be a time of suicide and death for many people -either psychologically or physically.

What is happening in the existential crisis is that the transpersonal is beginning to call us. The missing ingredient to our life is the spiritual dimension. For some, this crisis leads to an intense spiritual awakening. We may have what Abraham Maslow called peak or transcendent experiences where we momentarily glimpse the beauty and richness of life and the immense potential within both ourselves and humanity. Sometimes, where we aspire towards the transpersonal through spiritual practice, this happens voluntarily. Sometimes it is involuntary and we have what could be called ‘eruptions’ from the spiritual world – experiences of insight and illumination or creative inspiration, fluxes or inflows of energy that come from a place deep inside us. It is curious how spiritual experiences often tend to happen when we least expect them -moments of crisis or pain, moments when we are grappling with a problem or moments when we are engaged in mundane activities.

Pitfalls of the Spiritual Path

I sometimes ask people if, as they open up to the transpersonal, they become healthier? Some say yes, some say no. I was upset when I realised that following a spiritual path didn’t necessarily mean that I would be healthier. I’ve come to believe that there is a regressive tendency, especially at the beginning of a spiritual awakening, and in a child-like way we hope that we are going to become who we deeply know ourselves to be and live happily ever after. My experience is that the spiritual path has its own unique set of pitfalls, developmental issues and pathologies (the pathology of the sublime), its own tendency to stimulate and energise shadowy things in us. It isn’t all sweetness and light, perfumed and holy. Self-realisation carries with it psychological pitfalls.

The biggest pitfall on the spiritual path, in the sense mentioned above, is what psychosynthesis calls the crisis of duality. Why are peak experiences called peaks? Why aren’t they called ‘pit’ experiences? In the moment, which is precious and right and full of goodness, it feels as if I have approached a sense of pure Being and everything else seems unreal. But sooner or later, I’m not there anymore -and in the next moment I am looking at the fact that there is war and starvation, or I’m talking to my mother on the telephone and feel irritated and angry. How can this gap between what could be and what is, be so large? It can be very painful and crazy making. It’s as if our personality has been temporarily overwhelmed by the peak experiences but it isn’t permanently transformed, and all the rubbish concealed by the high tide is revealed again. Roberto Assagioli likened it to climbing in the Himalayas. We can reach ever-greater heights in our Being, but we can’t stay there permanently because we can’t breath there. The trouble is that after these vivid flashes and realization of Being, ordinary life can feel like an illusion. Then we have the illusion that everything is an illusion.Every level of reality that we experience is valid and has its own place. Otherwise Being would not have chosen to play the great game of evolution.
Abraham Maslow called it ‘higher sidetracking’, Where we become so identified with the transcendent content of our spiritual experience that we devalue the rest of our life. It can make us crazy. It can form a ‘tyranny of the positive’ , where we are driven by our vision and our spiritual experiences. We tend to identify with the contents of our spiritual experience -with our love, with our joy, with our sense of unity. So that any time I’m not experiencing love, or not being joyful, I’m not being who I really am, and so I become only conditionally alive.

The crisis of duality can create a ruthless perfectionism, based on a valid spiritual vision, which represses whatever we judge as not being a part of our spiritual identity. My working hypothesis about the Self or soul is that it is the place of pure essential beingness in me that is unconditionally alive. I deeply believe that all these spiritual models, visions and principles are good working hypotheses. If we work with them and use them as such, then life can become an adventure. If we believe that they are TRUE, then the process becomes a tragedy.

After four years of residence at the Esalen Institute, I went to study with Roberto Assagioli. I thought that he would take me to the heights of my Being and I would finally find the God within me. To my horror, Assagioli ‘s therapy with me was what he called a ‘systematic exploration of my lower unconscious’ , or in other words, my shadow. After the years at Esalen I didn’t think I had a shadow anymore. I thought I had gone into all that stuff. Assagioli helped me to see how my spiritual awakening was actually triggering my shadow, triggering deeper levels of my own darkness. I asked him once, ‘this is pretty dark, darker than anything I ever did at Esalen. Am I going to have to become it? This is a terror spiritual people often have. He told me to practice high carelessness; that I was a silly fool and of course I didn’t have to become my shadow. What I needed to do was to face it head on, to embrace it, to put my arm around it and take it to the light.

I’ve since come to believe that this is indeed what needs to happen with the unredeemed aspects of ourselves. We don’t have to become them, but we do need to embrace them and take them with us. This led me to the insight that darkness actually seeks light for regeneration and perhaps light has the purpose of seeking darkness in order to illuminate it. Lights nature is to illumine. Light can’t illuminate light – it needs darkness to do that.

To see the shadow is to redeem it. We don’t have to act it out. We need to respect our defense mechanisms. They are there for a reason. If we meditate or use spiritual practice to tear them down before we are ready, some can have psychotic episodes from spiritual experiences. A lot depends on how integrated we are psychologically. If our personality isn’t strong enough to receive and utilize superconscious or spiritual energy, it can be like sticking our finger in an electric socket. For example, if we work on some of the really shadowy content in our psyche, say murderous rage, we can also connect with collective rage and experience it incessantly and still not be free of it. That’s not what we are meant to do. We’re meant to face it, to see it for what it is.

Jung defined the shadow as that which is unconscious and unredeemed. It’s not that the shadow is bad or something to be totally redeemed or gotten rid of, but rather it is something that will always be there. We may have our spirituality and some positive qualities in our shadow. We will always have unmanifest potential and as we expand our consciousness, there will always be another level of further potential to actualize.

The soul breathes in and the soul breathes out. When there is a breathing out we have these moments and experiences of grace and then the soul breathes in again and there may be moments that are barren when the ‘stuff’ gets energized and we are called to roll up our sleeves and start working. I believe that we cannot follow a spiritual path without also following a therapeutic path and vice versa. The question I would ask is how can we develop a psychotherapy that synthesizes these two realms?

We need a psychotherapy which consciously holds a life affirming context and which includes the pain and suffering that our clients bring to us. I suspect that transpersonal psychology is the very crude beginning of that synthesis, but we are still at the caveman stage of it. Transpersonal psychology hypothesizes that evolution is a reasonable bet, that there is some higher organizing principle which is meaningful and that each one of us is on a path of unfoldment. What matters to me most in it is the notion that our problems are not the result of mere inadequacy, that they are purposeful and evolutionary. Even more importantly, every pain, sorrow or problem that we have is intimately connected with the realization of our potential.

It is here that the therapist has two roles in all of this and is working on two levels. One is the role of the psychotherapist which we all know of. The other belongs to the priest, the teacher, and the spiritual guide. In the past we went to one or the other; in transpersonal therapy there is a fusion of these two roles.This can be a very dangerous thing. Think about what happens in the world of therapy. There is transference which occurs when the client transfers on to the therapist all their unfulfilled needs and fantasies from childhood. All the aggression, the unfinished parental issues are projected onto the therapist and the client wants the therapist to be the parent they never had… When we also work transpersonally, the therapist becomes a living symbol of the spiritual. They represent the eternal and the beauty that we have been longing for all our lives, not in the sense of being further along in their evolution or superior, but rather in terms of a function. Imagine the mixture where the person who represent mum or dad rejecting us in therapy, but also the soul or spirit rejecting us -which may be infinitely more intense, meaningful and painful.

In psychosynthesis we find that we cannot separate the two roles of spiritual guide and therapist, and that it is dishonest to try. Playing only the therapist, there is the danger that we may repress the sublime and interpret transpersonal experience as a desire for regressive unity, and if we only work with the transpersonal, there’s a big danger of suppressing our personal problems.

There is one more developmental step in this journey of transpersonal psychotherapy. That is where the therapist, accompanying the client on his or her spiritual journey, has to be naked. When the client seems to be making an evolutionary shift and their identity is shifting from personal to spiritual we have to put down our models, practices and techniques. Assagioli once said that it didn’t matter what the therapist and client do in this game of therapy, of catharsis and crying… Getting images and dialoging with our subpersonalities are just ways to keep our personalities busy while our souls are getting on with the work of human regeneration and healing. We have to surrender and embrace uncertainty, paradox an unknowing- to not know – and that’s not an easy thing!

Diana Whitmore

This article was taken from a talk given at a conference on ‘Souland Psyche’ at the Findhorn Foundation.

Read more from Diana here – The Psychosynthesis Trust

Dr Angie Fee on Experiential Learning

Psychosynthesis training

Dr Angie Fee on Experiential Learning – Psychosynthesis training.

In counselling and psychotherapy trainings there is often a focus on the importance on ‘inner stability’ and I wonder if this gets in the way of students being able to experience instability as they become identified with the ‘idea’ of stability, and ignoring the real lived experience that may be quite the opposite. What happens to us when we try to fit our lived experiences into pre-existing theories and expectations? Therapy trainings often state the importance and significance of discovering and exploring our unique individual selves, yet I notice how hard we work at trying to stay loyal to a learned theory.

Psychosynthesis training emphasises the experiential aspect of the course as a way of becoming more of who we are – the difference between knowing about ourselves and knowing ourselves. The training creates boundaries, norms and psychological ideas about what is healthy – and at the same time aims to create an environment that can nourish and accept the reality of students processes which often challenge those very same concepts.

Can we allow ourselves to ‘experience’ without trying to conform to some kind of external norm, without packaging the experience too quickly or making it fit some kind of cognitive understanding? Can we expose the contradictions and subversions produced by our experiences, instead of trying to level out the complexities prematurely?

Michael Eigen , psychoanalyst, describes therapy as a way of exploring how we can kill off or short circuit the possibility of an experience – of just letting a moment grow. Experience can take us to places that have no name. How easily we interrupt a moment of experience in a bid to try and understand what it means. In not allowing ourselves to be intimate with the moment, we deny it the power to change or influence us. Can we allow the embodied experience the time and space to breathe before we box it up and package it. Whilst Eigen acknowledges that understanding can be nourishing and freeing, he also argues that understanding can be suffocating – ‘ too often it is part of one-upmanship, analytic self-protectiveness, and attempt to control and cut off psychic life.’

All too often we reduce the complexity and fullness of experience when it doesn’t fit into the concepts and ideas that allow us to talk about them. Opening ourselves up to experiencing can challenge the dominant psychological and social belief systems that we have invested in and have often become our identities. It can be a challenge to maintain our own subjectivity when our reality doesn’t fit into normative accounts of angry, pain, despair, desire.

My own experiences of researching and working with peoples desires bring to light the importance of allowing the lived and felt experience. The more complex and unstable stories of desire easily get subsumed within more popular and socially acceptable narratives. Listening to peoples stories illustrate how it is the human mind, not nature, which creates categories and labels that police the boundaries of desire. Lived felt experiences are often ‘straightened’ in order to fit into the dualistic organisation of sexed and gendered identities, whereby we must fit into the categories available. The fluidity and undifferentiated nature of desire gets tidied up and channelled into understandable and organised classifications. This is hard to escape as we all live within a historical and cultural context and we need to consider how this influences and limits our embodied experiential range. Dualistic theories and discourses can easily become background affecting how we experience, preventing a horizon of possibilities.

Can we resist the temptation to ‘capture’ experiences whereby they become absolute fixed truths. Experience is not something to be had, kept and reorganised as a commodity. Can we be open to the contradictions and complexities of the relationship between experiences, theories and identities? Are we open to the element of surprise ? Can we resist coming to conclusions, solutions and final answers?

In the midst of my research I discovered the idea of desire lines. Notice any campus or public park where there are neat stone paths laid across the terrain, and you will often see a trampled piece of grass that has formed into an alternative path. A desire line is an architectural term for an unofficial path where marks are left on the ground by people who have deviated from the paths they are supposed to follow. The marks generate alternative lines which are formed by people following their desire.

What has brought us to the Trust has often been the result of following paths that we created through our own unfolding desires. And our ongoing journey has much to do with the struggle and conflict between continuing to create and experience our own desire lines, and the seductive nature of following safe paths that are already laid out and organised for us.

No one puts it more succinctly then Eckhart Tolle,

Life will you give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment

Dr Angie Fee

Further reading;
The Psychoanalytic Mystic by Michael Eigen. 1998, Free Association Books
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. 2004, Namaste Publishing.

Angie is a trainer and supervisor at the Psychosynthesis Trust

9 and a half ways to get the most from therapy


3Therapy, and some thoughts on how to make the most of your time:

Speak the unspeakable in therapy – Include what feels shadowy, dare to bring the parts of yourself that feel unacceptable; include rather than exclude. Know that everything we reject we become. Ask what am I not bringing? And then bring it…

Keep a journal – write, draw, splurge – Keep your therapy alive between sessions, record and ground insights, creatively respond to your inner process, let yourself write everything and anything; be a poet, be an artist.

Let go of going anywhere. Stop striving – Set an intention for yourself, acknowledge your hearts yearning, but let go of trying to be a better person or fixing yourself. The imagined end point is an illusion, there isn’t a time when everything is sorted.

Prioritise what’s happening in the room right now – Get interested in your relationship with the therapist and how that can be a source of rich learning and growth; spend less time describing things that have happened outside the room, and more time getting curious in the here and now with your therapist.

Everything is valuable and valid – Trust yourself, notice things arising in the moment and include them in your therapy even if they feel irrelevant.

Meditate – Cultivating stillness, awareness and insight through meditation will serve your therapeutic work and vice versa. Simply observing the mind, body and emotional contents supports deeper insight and a personal container that can hold deeper work. Use mindfulness to track and report your responses in the moment.

Include your body – Bring your body and all it has to say into the room. Anchor yourself physically and listen carefully and respectfully to your body – there is a wealth of data and healing to be found here. Move about – free your body.

Embrace the unknown – See your stories as just that, stories. Bring your known narratives and then be prepared to put them to one side. Let yourself not know, get curious about your blind spots, let go of the sides and swim away from the shore.

Build a support structure for your therapeutic work – Find like-minded people and build a sangha of friends on the path.

And…..Be kind to yourself.

Written by the Psychosynthesis Trust