Integral Counseling

My practice (in Seattle and Edmonds, WA) may be described as “integrally oriented.” The word “integral” may be used in a number of different ways. In describing my practice as integral I am drawing on general meanings – integrating diverse points of view, oriented towards wholeness – as well as referring to an emerging perspective known as integral psychology.

integral counseling

We grow and evolve

In the framework of integral psychology, we acknowledge that as human beings we naturally develop and evolve from infancy through our entire adult life, moving through numerous well-researched stages of development as our sense of self (our self-image, how we identify ourselves) and our view of the world expand and deepen. Navigating these stages can be challenging, especially as we find ourselves having to question and let go of old ways of defining ourselves in the world before we have a firm sense of “what’s next.” It’s a bit like having to let go of the trapeze bar we’re holding on to and being in midair for a few moments before catching hold of the next bar – except in life, this midair feeling can last for a lot more than a few moments! When we are aware of this unfolding process, even if at the moment we are not experiencing this kind of deep change, we understand that change is always in process.

We are each unique and grow in uneven ways, with some of our capacities and intelligences (cognitive, musical, moral, emotional etc.) evolving more fully than others; recognizing this, we can better understand our individual gifts and challenges. It’s also useful to recognize that all of the levels of development we have grown through are still part of us – part of our repertoire, sometimes exerting a pull back to younger parts of ourselves that still need attention. Integral counseling recognizes the importance of giving consideration to all the levels that exist within us, as well as to the possibilities that have not yet emerged but seem to pull us forward into being more, as if there is a magnetic force in human evolution that calls us to be more than we are at the moment.

We experience reality in a variety of ways

Integral also refers to the recognition of different experiences of reality (sometimes called states of consciousness.)  We have experiences of ordinary everyday reality, of course, but also the reality of the dream world, as well as experiences that are not considered ordinary in our culture but which give us glimpses of something beyond our normal waking consciousness. These are often profoundly moving and open us to new possibilities; according to numerous research surveys, a lot of people have what they call mystical or spiritual experiences which can change their view of reality and their lives. Whether they are small moments of wonder and revelation or big openings, these kinds of experiences are an important part of our lives and deserve our careful attention; if we overlook or minimize them, we may be missing a valuable gift.  Sometimes we need help in integrating these glimpses into our sense of self and our worldview because they can be disorienting and overwhelming. One way of synthesizing these various perspectives is to say that working integrally implies the inclusion of body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

We each have a personality style

Another aspect of the integral perspective is the recognition that we each have a personality style, which is our way of paying attention to life, making sense, defining ourselves, and growing. There are various systems for understanding personality patterns; I like to work with the Enneagram, an intriguing and well-respected approach which is a helpful tool for learning to see ourselves and our relationships more clearly, in terms of both challenges and strengths. The Enneagram is sometimes presented as a system of personality types, but it also has many additional layers of subtlety, including an approach to deep spiritual development. Some useful websites for information: Enneagram Institute and Enneagram Worldwide.

We live in a world of different perspectives

Finally, Integral refers to the understanding that we need to pay attention to more than just our internal subjective experience (where much of psychology focuses), because, simply put, there is more going on and everything influences everything else! Both self and world matter. Alongside our thoughts and feelings and body sensations there is the actual condition of our bodies and our behavior – in other words, the more objective aspects of ourselves. What do other people see when they look at how we act in the world, for instance – do our actions line up with what we most value? How can we address this gap? And then there is our experience in our relationships and communities: what is meaningful and fulfilling in this arena, and what do we feel is missing or somehow falling short? Finally, how are we participating in the various systems of which we are a part – from our families to the political and economic systems of our cities, regions, country, and world; from our neighborhood networks to the regional and planetary ecosystems to which we belong? We are an integral part of local and global realities, and in our times I believe we cannot afford to ignore these dimensions of our lives.

While keeping these various aspects in mind may sound overwhelming, in practice this has a way of presenting itself quite naturally. One area of focus or one problem opens into a wider or deeper territory and invites exploration from several perspectives. It is a matter of ongoing inquiry, following the clues that present themselves – like following a breadcrumb trail! – allowing ourselves to trust the process and becoming more and more aware in that process.