Narcissism, looking in the mirror.

Counselling in London Bridge

Uncovering Narcissism

NarcissismNarcissism gets a bad rap these days. We need a certain amount of narcissism to survive and thrive in life and get our needs met but when that striving gets out of control it can potentially mean we start looking outside of ourselves for any evidence that we are loved, needed or even idealised.

So how does this happen? As you can imagine we have to look back to the way we were treated as infants and  workout what the experience may have been like that created the way we relate to others now. Some children may have been given everything they needed straight away, all their parent’s attention on tap, whenever it’s cried out for. Other children may have had nothing at all – completely ignored and left to cry. So which child would you think turns out to be narcissistically wounded?

These are obviously two extreme examples but the research shows that both scenarios can lead to narcissistic disorders. In the first example, the child that never has it’s needs denied may find it harder in adult life to deal with reality, always unconsciously believing the world owes him something, always feeling hard done by rather than being able to self soothe and take the knocks of life and move on. The child becomes an adult, but the child inside is still expecting to be treated like royalty.

The second example of the child who gets no attention can also lead to narcissistic wounding. Children who are ignored have to find a way to survive in the world and so they go about proving they are are worth something. Usually these kind of narcissists rise to the top of their professions and find ways to have power over others, believing (unconsciously) that if they can reach the top then perhaps they will be loved.

It can be helpful to think about narcissism as a place on a spectrum when looking at ourselves and how we relate to others. If we are ready to look at these aspects of ourselves it can lead to a deepening relationship with the the people around us and ultimately help us develop true self-esteem and integrity.

In psychosynthesis psychotherapy we work with aspects of the self we call ‘sub-personalities’ which are masks or defensive parts of the psyche that develop to help us survive as we grow up. The process of therapy can help us meet these internal selves and step into a conscious relationship with them thereby becoming the directors of our own lives. When we meet the narcissistic aspects within us we realise narcissism is not the enemy, narcissism is invitation to love ourselves authentically.


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

Pre-Trans Fallacy & Psychosynthesis

spectrum of consciousness

Pre-trans fallacyHow Important is Ken Wilber’s Concept of the Pre-Trans Fallacy to Psychosynthesis Understanding and Practice?

In this essay I will examine how important Ken Wilber’s concept of the pre-trans fallacy is in the understanding and practice of psychosynthesis. First of all I will give an overview of the pre-trans fallacy and discuss its importance in the transpersonal field overall. I will then turn to some of Wilber’s critics and discuss the main points of contention in relation to his theory. By examining the psychosynthesis models as put forward by both Assagioli and later by Firman & Gila, I will aim to clarify the following: is psychosynthesis practice and understanding enhanced by Wilber’s contribution? Is it unaffected? – If so, is this because the theory lacks merit or because psychosynthesis already accounts for this issue; or indeed could aspects of practice and theory within psychosynthesis be currently committing this fallacy?

Throughout the essay I will give examples from my clinical work regarding the degree to which the pre-trans fallacy concept has been useful in forming working hypotheses and strategies for my clients, as well as personal insights into the credence of the fallacy theory from my own therapeutic journey.

Ken Wilber’s contribution to transpersonal psychology has been extensive and always controversial, as any project attempting to map all of human experience and development is likely to be. Gaining understanding of his pre-trans fallacy theory requires a brief overview of Wilber’s line of enquiry, which has spanned many decades.

In 1977 he published his first book ‘The Spectrum of Consciousness’ bringing together Eastern mysticism andspectrum of consciousness Western psychotherapy, and mapping states of human understanding and consciousness into multiple levels. These levels comprised seventeen distinct stages, broadly split into three main categories- prepersonal, personal and transpersonal.

Initially Wilber subscribed to ‘the Romantic model’, in accordance with the most celebrated transpersonal practitioners of the time including Jung, Edinger and Neumann. The Romantic view is described here by Wilber (2000:138) himself:

In this general view, the infant at birth…is the noble savage, fully in touch with a perfectly holistic and unified Ground, “harmoniously one with the whole world”. But then through the activity of the analytic and divisive ego, this Ground is historically lost, actually repressed or alienated as a past historical event…This loss is nonetheless necessary according to the Romantic view, in order for the ego to develop its own powers of mature independence. And then, in the third great movement, the ego and the Ground are reunited in a regenerative homecoming and spiritual marriage.


However, Wilber (1982) later came to see this viewpoint as false, and wrote an essay called, ‘The Pre-Trans Fallacy’, dissecting the various mistakes that (he asserts) the Romantic model contains.  This piece of work created a split in the transpersonal field and now Wilber staked his claim, strongly criticising the ‘Dynamic Ground’ perspective of Jung, Washburn, Grof and Levin as committing the pre-trans fallacy (PTF).

‘Pre-trans’ is short for prepersonal/transpersonal, the broad terms for developmental stages as described above; and the ‘fallacy’ of the title refers to the potential pitfalls of confusing the two stages of development.

Since development moves from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal, and since both prepersonal and transpersonal are, in their own ways, nonpersonal, then prepersonal and transpersonal tend to appear quite similar, even identical, to the untutored eye.  (italics in original) (Wilber 1993:125).

According to Wilber, if one commits the fallacy (confuses the prepersonal with the transpersonal) the ensuing mistake could result in two radically different worldviews, which Wilber refers to as ‘elevationist PTF’ and ‘reductionist PTF’. Reductionist PTF refers to the reduction of spiritual and transpersonal experiences to the pre-personal. So for instance Freud, according to Wilber (ibid, 128), “…reduced all spiritual and transpersonal experiences to the prepersonal level”. This worldview is one in which human rationality is the height of development and the ultimate goal of therapy, and any transpersonal development or experience is devalued.

Jung, on the other hand, falls prey to the same fallacy (according to Wilber), but concludes almost the exact opposite: that all non-rational (non-personal, non-egoic) experience is equally valuable, thereby elevating prepersonal experience to transpersonal status. This worldview is inclined to see the egoic stage of development as the lowest point in a ‘fall’ from pure spirit, as with the Romantic view described above. Wilber also points out that ‘Reductionist PTF’ is reminiscent of the scientific outlook, and ‘Elevationist PTF’ of a religious outlook (ibid.127.)

When inquiring into the importance of the pre/trans fallacy in psychosynthesis, it is essential to define the model of psychosynthesis one is working from, since practice and theory have evolved since Assagioli first developed the discipline in 1911, in particular with the contribution of Firman and Gila in 1997. In Assagioli’s original theory he posits a “stabilization of the centre of personal consciousness… at gradually higher levels ” (2007:37) in contrast to Firman and Gila’s reasoning which takes the line that we suffer a ‘primal wound’ in the pre-personal stage, the result of not being seen empathically. According to them this wound creates the split between the lower and higher unconscious through repression of both the positive and negative lessons learned through the original primal wounding. “In our view, the higher and lower unconscious are not developmental levels but dissociated sectors of the psyche that need to be integrated” (Firman and Gila 2002:196:n9)

It has been argued by Michael Daniels (2005) that Assagioli’s development of psychosynthesis was a response Assagiolito what he felt was Jung’s incomplete model; that Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ was not differentiated enough and more subtle distinctions were required between different levels of consciousness, resulting in Assagioli’s assertion of the existence of a lower and higher unconscious. It seems to me that Assagioli himself was attempting to rectify the Elevationist PTF he perceived in Jung’s model. Writing in 1933, Assagioli appears to be discussing what Wilber would call prepersonal and transpersonal material:

In some cases the cure is made more complex by the fact that the patient presents a mixture of progressive and regressive symptoms…such people may reach high spiritual levels with one part of their personality, but in other areas they are enslaved by childish attachments or under the control of unconscious ‘complexes’. We might even say that, on careful analysis, the majority of those travelling along the spiritual path show traces of such limitations, to a greater or lesser extent… ( Assagioli, 2007:125)

firman & GilaFirman and Gila explain the main function of the psychosynthesis therapist as re-modelling the role of the empathic unifying centre (EUC), enabling the client to develop their own internal unifying centre and therefore:

the development of an on-going conscious and intentional relationship to the Self… Overall, the emerging I-Self relationship reinstates the unfoldment of authentic personality, that unique potential of body soul that was broken long ago. (Firman & Gila, 1997:215)

The above quotation certainly seems to imply that Firman and Gila’s revisions adhere to the central tenets of the Romantic model, a perception that ‘the body soul’ is ‘broken long ago’ and that the ‘authentic personality’ must be ‘reinstated’. This leads me to ask myself, has Assagioli’s model, itself a rectifying of Jung’s pre/trans fallacy, been modified by Firman and Gila to once again contain a fundamental pre/trans fallacy?

Here is where I must question the validity of the pre/trans fallacy theory at all, and review the critics of Wilber’s model who claim as Brant Cortright (1997:80) does, “there are different ways to conceptualise development, just as there are different spiritual systems which stress different dimensions of the divine”. Michael Washburn has become one of Wilber’s most assiduous critics, in particular arguing with Wilber’s assumption “that everything that is earlier in normal development is therefore lower” (Washburn 2003:7). Jorge Ferrer (2002) questions the very foundations of Wilber’s assertions, unpicking his adherence to the ‘Perennial Philosophy’ (which claims that at core all spiritual traditions are pointing at the same thing), and ‘structuralism’ in psychology (which asserts the existence of deep structures of development). Crucially, Grof & Grof (1986) go on to assert that “Wilber is not a clinician but instead comes to psychology as a theoretician” and that his assertions about the three broad stages of development “have not found support in the clinical literature” (ibid, 1986). This chimes with my own research – whilst I have had little difficulty finding theoretical reference to the pre/trans fallacy, there appears to be a dearth of clinical evidence about its usefulness in practice.

In terms of my own clinical experience and the pre/trans fallacy, one of my current clients has stood out for me, since her presenting issue is a profound Kundalini awakening that she seeks to integrate so that she might function in the world more effectively. With my sensitivity to the potential pre/trans fallacy heightened, I find myself asking: is she in actuality experiencing prepersonal urges; has her primal wound been reactivated in some way? Or has she indeed glimpsed a higher potential stage of her own development, and is she struggling to stabilise her insights in a world that devalues spiritual experience? Or indeed could both somehow be true?

The dangers of misinterpreting her experience becomes sorely apparent in the following quotation from Sorenson (2009) in his chapter entitled ‘The Danger of Pointing the Wrong Way to the ‘Heights’’:

There is…a grave risk that the “recaptured-goodness” model strengthens an attachment to victimisation. When our childhood is connected with the loss of not only our personal happiness but also the entire spiritual ground, there is a lot more “to blame” evil society and our family for.  (Ch.)

However, on the other hand, elevating her experience to genuine transpersonal development could lead to what Jorge Ferrer (2002:15) calls one of the key dangers of spiritual work’; spiritual narcissism, where spiritual experience is used to strengthen the ego, when the opposite is required.

Another client (M) had been brought up in a family of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. A major event for him had been a four-month trip to Peru to experience taking Ayahuasca (a psychotropic plant derivative) under the guidance of a shaman. He described the experience as a positive one until he returned home and started to suffer from panic attacks. He sought out therapy as he realised that he needed to integrate his experience. His story included his desire to ‘be the truth knower’ amongst his peers, a sort of wise leader. Very soon we made the connection to his childhood experience of growing up in a family that emphasised the importance of ‘knowing the truth’. Again, the potential to either elevate or reduce M’s experience is obvious – was his Ayahuasca experiment regressive or progressive? Was the message of being a ‘truth knower’ a prepersonal message, or a transpersonal one? The panic attacks could indicate the stress of integrating either perspective. With M, I was particularly struck by the moral pitfall of naming either his Jehovah Witness background or his Ayahuasca experience progressive or regressive.

On the other hand, client J presented with a low sense of ‘I’. She had no wants and had learned to keep herself small to avoid beatings as a child. Now at the age of 57 she had moved back into her family home to care for her ageing parents and sought therapy to explore abandoned talents from her childhood. By helping her understand that she had internalised negative messages in early childhood, she gained access to a source of energy, which allowed her to finally begin to explore artistic expression. This corresponds well with Firman & Gila’s idea that painful experience splits into higher and lower repression. The pre/trans fallacy in this case, is less clear cut than Wilber might have us believe: although we must distinguish between the higher and lower unconscious and what they respectively contain, work in either direction seems equally fruitful.

In terms of my clinical practice, what I am coming to conclude is that, in exactly the way both Assagioli and Firman & Gila recommend, time taken to build the strongest (best ‘synthesised’) personal self or ego, will then allow for exploration of both prepersonal and transpersonal material from the most grounded possible platform. Washburn asserts, regression is needed “in the service of transcendence” (1995:126). Wilber on the other hand states the ego has a choice between “those items that favour its continuing growth and evolution of consciousness, or…those items that foster regression in an attempt to blot out consciousness” (2000:143). Whichever path proves more useful, my greater understanding of the pre/trans fallacy will no doubt play a significant part in tempering the tendency to either elevate or reduce the experience of clients.

Viewing my own experience in personal therapy through the lens of the pre/trans fallacy has been illuminating. I have been sober from drugs and alcohol for over 11 years, and having been an addict I know that my desire to imbibe was due to what Wilber would call ‘the Atman project… an amalgam of the desires to attain unity (Atman) but the intense fear of it as well, which forces the self to seek substitute gratifications and substitute objects’. (2000:139). So clearly the use of drugs and alcohol was regressive, but the motivation (in part) was transpersonal. In my active addiction I was without doubt committing the pre/trans fallacy, elevating my experiences on drugs to those of genuine spiritual experiences. After becoming abstinent came the work of building a strong sense of ego and identity (through therapy), but also cultivating a connection with a “higher power” (through 12-step work), resulting in what Assagioli calls ‘synthesis’ not only on the personal level but also on the spiritual level, a combining of personal insight and knowledge with an ability (at times) to look beyond personality and be in touch with a greater sense of knowing, working with that transpersonal energy and awareness, and integrating it into the personality. Although work has been required to understand the prepersonal forces that led to such self-destructive behaviour, the fundamental process has been very much akin to Wilber’s asserted movement upwards through the stages of development.

Attempting to get to grips with Wilber’s pre-trans fallacy concept has been a fascinating, and, at times, frustrating process. What has become starkly clear to me is that if indeed there are two completely distinct realms of the prepersonal and transpersonal, they really are difficult to distinguish. Time and again, I have concluded that an experience of either mine or my client’s is, for example, transpersonal; only to later review it again from a different theorist’s viewpoint and completely reverse my conclusion. Assagioli’s quotation (2007:125) about the complexity of finding a cure when there is “a mixture of progressive and regressive symptoms” seems to me to be right; this area is intensely complex.

Ultimately, the importance of Wilber’s pre/trans fallacy theory in psychosynthesis comes down to whether one considers there to be three distinct stages of development rather than (for example) the duality between the ego and the unconscious (or ego and collective unconscious). Psychosynthesis as a model is indeed at pains to move away from this duality, and therefore, clearly it is of utmost importance to differentiate between the stages if one is adhering to this model.

Finally, within psychosynthesis, I would conclude there is a greater danger of falling into the pre/trans fallacy if one is more inclined towards Firman & Gila’s ‘Primal Wound’ theory, than if one is utilising Assagioli’s original model, as his work takes more account of the progressive and regressive potentials. This is not to say, however, that Firman & Gila’s model is therefore faulty, and in fact I have found considerable merit in exploring a client’s presenting issues from both the lower and higher unconscious.

However, Wilber’s writing on his theory, and especially clinical examples of the theory in practice are very limited, so whilst the importance of not falling into the pre-trans trap becomes clear, how one actually goes about making these vital distinctions feels somewhat vague and confusing.

Despite these difficulties, the very act of engaging intently with the question of whether a client’s symptoms are progressive or regressive seems to me to be crucial. Had Wilber not presented his pre/trans fallacy; this question may not have nearly such a bearing on the transpersonal clinician’s practice.



Assagioli, R. (2007) Transpersonal Development. Scotland: Smiling Wisdom.

Cortright, B. (1997) Psychology and Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Daniels, M. (2005) Shadow, Self, Spirit: Essays in transpersonal psychology. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Ferrer, J. (2002) Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Firman, J & Gila, A. (1997) The Primal Wound. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Firman, J & Gila, A (2002) Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of The Spirit. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Grof, C; Grof, S (1986) ‘Spiritual emergency: The understanding and treatment of transpersonal crises’ .ReVISION, Vol 8(2), 7-20.


Sorrenson, K (2009) Integral Psychosynthesis, a comparison of Wilber & Assagioli. [Accessed 27th April 2015]


Washburn, M. (1995) The Ego and the Dynamic Ground: A Transpersonal Theory of Human Development. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Washburn, M. (2003) ‘Transpersonal Dialogue: A new Direction’. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 35, No.1.


Wilber, K. (1993) ‘The Pre/Trans Fallacy’.  In: Walsh, R & Vaughan, F. (eds.) Paths Beyond

Ego. New York: JP Tarcher/Putnam. Pp. 124- 129

Wilber, K (1982) The Pre/Trans Fallacy. Journal of Humanistic Psychology.   vol. 22 no. 2 5-43

Wilber, K. (2000) The Eye of Spirit: An Integral vision for a world gone slightly mad. Boston & London: Shambhala.


Assagioli, R (2007) The Act of Will. London: A guide to Self-Actualisation and Self-Realisation.   Psychosynthesis & Education Trust.

Lancaster, L (2004) Approaches to consciousness; The Marriage of science and Mysticism. Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Whitmore, D (1998) Pschosynthesis Counselling in Action. London: Sage Publications.

Wilber, K (2000) Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Boston & London: Shambhala.

Couples Counselling

couples counselling

Couples Counselling

couples counsellingPeople choose to come for couples counselling for a number of reasons. Sometimes they simply agree that their relationship could do with a ‘tune up’. Sometimes they attend because they are struggling and not getting on. Often differing attitudes to sex, money or raising children can create tension. If communication has been bad for a while, this can lead to one partner having an affair or wanting to give up and leave, believing that the relationship is beyond repair.

Couples counselling focusses on developing clear communication and being able to own one’s own feelings in the relationship. It’s easy to point fingers and blame your partner for the way you feel – ‘if you were like this, I’d be happier’ or ‘I wish you did things differently’ – but this kind of blaming gets us nowhere. When we start owning our feelings in a non-blaming way, the dialogue opens up and we start to see each-other’s point of view. It takes practice, but the results are transformational. Many couples find that having someone bear witness to their relationship in a non-judgemental, impartial way, can have a profound effect on their ability to air difficulties without fear of starting an argument.

Even if things have got to a point where the relationship problems have become intractable, couples’ counselling can be a loving way of ending a relationship. This allows both partners to learn important lessons from this relationship to take into the future, and to part ways with clarity and tenderness.

From a psychological point of view, something I’ve noticed is that we have a tendency to seek out in a partner the aspects and attributes we can’t fully accept in ourselves. For example, if we were told as children that being joyful and singing out loud were unacceptable, then most likely we would adapt our behaviour to suit our parents wishes. However, later on when we met our partner, the thing we were attracted to was their joyfulness and their ability to sing unashamedly out loud – this is because they are expressing a part of ourselves that was shut down and closed off. But once the relationship gets underway, these traits will start to annoy us because we still can’t fully acknowledge that being joyful is acceptable.

Because of this, relationships are an invaluable psychological mirror. The journey of a relationship, I believe, is to uncover the parts of ourselves and our partners that have remained hidden and unconscious. If we can learn to communicate and accept our vulnerabilities with love and humility, then we can grow together in an expansive and supportive way.

If you want to try couples’ counselling please do get in touch for a recommendation.

Email me here



Piero Ferrucci on The Power of Kindness


41f5gLoYdcL._SX349_BO1,204,203,200_A Piero Ferrucci lecture on the power of kindness, and the “Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life”

Piero Ferrucci gave a talk at the Trust on the power of kindness called ‘The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life’. Quoting the Dalai Lama, who says “my religion is kindness”, Piero discusses the importance of warmth, generosity and gratefulness, arguing that caring is wired into us as humans from an evolutionary perspective. Piero suggests that nature rewards kindness, so that kind people are healthier and happier.

Taken from The Psychosynthesis Trust

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