How We Become Fragmented: The Rise of Our ECHOs

Every human on the planet has a deep yearning for love, connection and safety. When we’re faced with abuse or neglect as children, especially from those that we love, the need to escape arises. We need to psychologically distance ourselves to avoid becoming overwhelmed by our experiences. Desperately trying to maintain some attachment to our family, aspects of our self-esteem, we disconnect from that experience and we disown that part of our self. We strive instead to be “good”, to be acceptable and loveable. We yearn for safety and acknowledgement that we’re ok. Fisher (2017) puts it well when she states, “abused children capitalize on the human brain’s innate capacity to split or compartmentalize.” As good children we display sweet, mature and perfectionistic tendencies that become our gateway to acceptance. The rejected, disowned part of us however is kept locked up out of sight. Whilst it remains denied, disconnected and quite often beneath conscious awareness, on some level it lives on. The trauma is still very much alive. And when these parts can no longer remain hidden, they manifest in different forms. We manage to survive the neglect and abuse, but at the cost of disowning the most vulnerable part of our self.

 

A Part of Us Develops Normally Whilst Another Part Hides Away

 

Perhaps the most confusing aspect for many of us  is that the “good” part within us develops somewhat “normally,” learning skills, going to schools, engaging in activities that we enjoy; and yet on some level, we have parts within us that hold the traumas that we have experienced. This can quite often be confusing for people because they can’t understand how part of them functions normally, and yet there are parts of them with which they struggle.

 

These Fragmented Parts are Called ECHOs

 

In matrix Re-imprinting, we call these fragmented parts of ourselves “ECHOs” (Energetic Conscious Holograms). The ECHO is the part of us that holds and replays the trauma within our subconscious. It holds all the information about what happened to us in the moment the trauma occurred; for example, a change in our breathing, what we were wearing, eating, and what was happening in our environment. Each of the factors recorded become our triggers, and each time we encounter them in the present moment, our body responds in a way to protect us, which can quite often be a fight, flight or a freeze response.

 

The key to healing our fragmented parts – our ECHOs, is to no longer deny or disconnect from them, but rather to gently nurture these parts of us and to work the trauma through to resolution. Every part of us is yearning to be heard, to be loved to be secure and to be connected, and Matrix Re-imprinting holds the key to resolution.


About Suicide...

***Trigger Warning – Post About Suicide***

 

I have spent countless hours sitting with people, listening to them and exploring why they feel the way that they do. I have worked with people who have both thought about suicide and attempted suicide. For some, it’s a mild ideation -a distant possibility, and yet for others it is an obsessive thought. The truth is, we may never know exactly why someone chooses to end their life because personal circumstances and reasons are varying, and there may be various contributing factors. But here is what I do know:

 

  1. Suicide isn’t about wanting to die, it’s about ending the suffering, it’s about not being able to bear living. Think about that for a minute. Think about what must be happening inside of that person’s psyche to be considering ending their lives. Try not to look at it from your perspective but try to see it from theirs. Each time we judge suicide as being a cowardly act, we close the doors on compassionate listening. We re-affirm to those who are already suffering- who may be considering the act of taking their lives, one more way in which they are inadequate. Generally speaking, when someone comes into clinic wanting to talk about their suicidal thoughts, they want to be heard without judgment or criticism. They want someone to acknowledge and respect them. They don’t want to be lectured or judged or told that it will pass.
  2. Suicidal people often have conflicting thoughts/voices, one which speaks of self-hatred and other is the voice of reason. One will provide all the reasons for wanting to end life, and the other will give reason for continuing to fight. Clients have on occasion described the thoughts of wanting to commit suicide as being all-consuming; and when this happens it becomes difficult to reach out for help.
  3. Whilst we are not responsible for another’s actions, we are responsible for our own and how we treat others. Our actions and words matter. Listening to someone, showing that you care, trying to be non-judgmental and gently pointing them towards professional help counts. Furthermore, looking within yourself at your own judgments and beliefs matters immensely.

 

Ultimately, every one of us inherently wants to survive, to live, to experience, to grow, to be heard, to love and to be loved; but when we don’t address our pain and take the time to understand who are and how we function, we struggle. In the famous words of Sigmund Freud, “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth in uglier ways.” If we are to cultivate compassion and kindness within both our self and for others, we must first educate ourselves about ourselves.


Near-Death Experiences: Beyond the Brain?

A Near-Death Experience (NDE) is a distinct subjective experience that some people report after a near-death episode, which is defined as either: when a person is clinically dead, near-death, or in a situation where death is expected. The earliest known description of a near-death experience was a recount by Plato in his Myth of Er, (circa 420 BC). However, it wasn’t until 1975 that Dr. Raymond Moody coined term near-death experience. (IANDS, 2016).

According to Rivas et al. (2016), one of the central discussions surrounding NDE research is whether they signal the existence of a broader reality, indicating that there may be more going on than just imagination. Greyson (2015), outlines two types of paradigms that attempt to explain NDEs: the mechanistic- reductionist paradigms which include psychological and physiological explanations; and a non-reductionist paradigm, which essentially entertains the notion of post-mortem survival, that is that some aspect of consciousness survives after physical death. This is also known as the survival hypothesis (Irwin & Watt, 2007).

Let us first explore the mechanistic-reductionist paradigms, starting with the psychological explanations. There have been a number of psychological explanations put forward to explain NDEs (Greyson, 1983; Greyson, 2015):

Depersonalization

It has been suggested that NDEs are a form of depersonalization. (Noyes & Kletti, 1976; Noyes & Kletti, 1977; Noyes, 1979; Noyes &Kletti, 1981). Depersonalization is when an individual loses all sense of identity, with their thoughts and feelings seeming unreal. It also includes a psychological detachment from their body, which is seen as a defence mechanism in response to perceived threat of death (Greyson, 2015; Irwin & Watt, 2007). Noyes (1979) however, has highlighted that the depersonalization model does not account for all NDE phenomena. In fact, some NDE characteristics represent a complete contrast to this model. For example, Irwin & Watt (2007) point out a key difference in that depersonalization also includes confusion over self-identity and reality, but in contrast, this is not the case with near-death experiencers, who have reported feeling a strong sense of self and mental clarity – more so than in waking consciousness.  Holden et al (2009) have also found that near-death experiencers as a group have been found to be psychologically healthy and are similar to the general population in many regard.

Dissociation

Dissociation is a psychological defence mechanism that is triggered in order to deal with pain or anxiety. In a study carried out by Greyson (2000), it was found that the dissociative symptoms in near-death experiencers were not consistent with a psychiatric disorder, but rather with non-pathological responses to stress. I have also observed this in my own experience. Having worked with many dissociated patients and a few near-death experiencers over the years, it seems that dissociation as a model again cannot account for the full range of NDE phenomena, as is the case with depersonalization.

The Expectancy Model

The notion that individuals replace an unpleasant reality, (such as fatal danger) with a pleasant fantasy in order to avoid an emotional freeze response ties in with the expectancy model which also postulates that NDEs are defence mechanisms protecting against the threat of death, but the model additionally adds that these are imagined constructs built from one’s personal and cultural expectations (Greyson, 2015). However, there have been a number of studies which challenge the expectancy model. A Study carried out by Abramovitch (1988), found that there was a conflict between the reported NDE and the cultural expectation, which led to the individual feeling confused about their NDE. Additionally, Athappilly et al. (2006) found that NDEs reported before 1975 (which was when the term “near-death experience” was coined) did not substantially differ from those collected post 1975. They concluded that their data challenged the hypothesis of prevailing cultural models influencing NDEs. NDEs in children also challenge the expectancy model as they may not yet have fully constructed their own personal, cultural and religious expectations. Despite this, it has been found that NDEs reported by children are similar to those reported by adults. (Bush, 1983; Morse et al., 1985).

Other psychological explanations

Other psychological explanations include post-traumatic stress disorder (Greyson, 2001), fantasy proneness (Irwin &Watt, 2007), recollection of birth memories and autoscopy (Greyson, 2000). However similar to the discussion above, none of these theories account for the full range of NDE phenomena (Greyson, 2000; Greyson, 2001; Irwin & Watt, 2007).

The second type of mechanistic-reductionist paradigm are the physiological explanations:

Cerebral anoxia

Cerebral anoxia is one such theory put forward which accounts for NDEs by suggesting that they are a result of an oxygen shortage in the brain (Blackmore, 1993). However, van Lommel et al. (2001) point out that most patients that have been clinically dead should report an NDE if this was the case, yet only a few do. Additionally, Parnia et al. (2001) have found that oxygen levels were higher in those that experienced NDEs. It should be noted however, that Braithwaite (2008) has put forward an argument stating that van Lommel’s conclusion regarding cerebral anoxia was over simplified, and did not account for the different types of cerebral anoxia which produce a wide range of neurophysiological consequences.

Temporal lobe paroxysm

In addition to cerebral anoxia, it has also been suggested that NDEs are a result of temporal lobe paroxysm, a seizure-like neural function or the result of direct electrical stimulation to the area (Greyson, 2015; Irwin & Watt, 2007). This produces out-of-body and autoscopy experiences, as well as illusionary body displacement sensations (Blanke et al., 2002; Blanke et al., 2004). However, a few key differences have been observed. For example, temporal lobe seizures frequently produce distortion of the immediate environment along with feelings of loneliness and sadness, which is different to NDEs, in which feeling of peace and calm are commonly reported. Additionally, electro-cortical stimulation or seizures do not produce the communication with deceased relatives, as do some NDEs (Irwin & Watt, 2007).

Chemical release models

Chemical release models (such as neurotransmitter and endorphin release) are another suggested cause for the occurrence of NDEs (Saavedra-Aguilar & Gomez-Jeria, 1989; Jansen, 1997). However, Sabom (1982) has argued that the known effects of endorphins last longer than the typical and NDE; and additionally Fenwick (1997) has highlighted that Jansen’s hypothesis contains several weaknesses, for example, contrary to Jansen’s proposal, some individuals experiences NDEs that are unlikely to upset cerebral physiology. Once again, it has been suggested that this theory does not accommodate all aspects of NDEs (Irwin & Watt, 2007).

Cardiac arrest model

An important area of current research is the cardiac arrest model. Researchers have found that a small number cardiac arrest survivors have reported memory recall (from during the event), which is consistent with NDEs (Parnia & Fenwick, 2001; Parnia et al., 2014;). During a cardiac arrest, the cortical brain activity shuts down within around fifteen seconds (resulting in a flat electroencephalogram EEG reading), to a point where complex conscious processing is no longer possible (Rivas et al., 2016), hence posing the question of how people are able to recall experiences. Braithwaite (2008) however, argues that a flat (EEG) reading (assuming no technical error) does not necessarily indicate total brain inactivity, and suggests that deep sub-cortical brain structures could still be active, which may account for some of the occurrences. Additionally, Chawla et al. (2009) reported that there was a very brief surge in electrical brain activity at time of death, which they suggest could be responsible for the occurrence of NDEs. On a similar note, Borjigin et al. (2013) found a surge in electrical brain activity in rats within the first 30 seconds of cardiac arrest, which they too, suggest is a possible cause for NDEs. However, Greyson (2015) highlights that the electrical activity is very small in relation to the brain activity observed before the arrest, and hence is unlikely to account for NDEs. He also noted that this experiment was conducted with rats and may not necessarily be accurate in the case of humans.

The timing of an NDE in relation to cardiac arrest also needs to be considered. NDEs are commonly associated with clarity of thought, therefore Parnia & Fenwick (2002) have argued that NDEs cannot occur during the cardiac arrest recovery period as this is commonly associated with confused thinking; and neither can they occur when the person starts to go unconscious as this happens too quickly. French (2005) challenges this notion, highlighting that some researchers still argue that there is a possibility of the NDEs occurring during both the periods mentioned above. The cardiac arrest model also raises the question of why such few survivors of a cardiac arrest experience NDEs, although it is thought that age may play a part. (van Lommel, 2001).

The fact that near-death experiencers report vivid sensory imagery, mental clarity and clear memory, presents a challenge for the mechanistic-reductionist theories because these characteristics are inexplicable if viewed from the perspective that consciousness is an epiphenomena of the brain (Greyson, 2015; Laszlo & Peake, 2014). This has led to some researchers proposing a non-reductionist theory, which suggests that consciousness is not a by-product of the brain, but is rather received by the brain (Grosso, 2015; Goswami & Pattani, in prep; Lorimer, 1984). Van Lommel (2001) has also proposed that, “complete and endless consciousness is everywhere in a dimension that is not tied to time or place, where past, present and future all exist and are accessible at the same time” (p.xvii).

Veridical studies

This theory is supported by veridical studies, which, according to Rivas et al. (2016), minimise the possibility of inaccurate or fabricated accounts. In their recently published book, the authors present 104 independently corroborated cases. They consider a number of different cases which include after-death communication with strangers, and NDEs during cardiac arrest. They also specifically excluded cases that lacked sufficient evidence to suggest that the NDE took place during the time of clinical death. After careful consideration of the reductionist argument, they concluded that consciousness has the “ability to function independently of the brain, and hence is a phenomenon that is independent of the brain” (p.219). Similarly, Holden et al (2009) reviewed 93 cases of out-of-body experiences in NDEs. Eighty of these cases were corroborated independently, and it was found that 92% of these were accurate.

Another factor that strengthens the non-reductionist view and potentially provides evidence for post-mortem survival is communication with deceased relatives or friends during the NDE, particularly where the experiencer meets an unknown person whose identity is later confirmed by living friends or relatives (Alexander, 2012; Rivas et al., 2016; Sartori, 2015); or in cases where the experiencer reports back information that they could not have previously known, for example, meeting a deceased person who they did not know had died. A combination of veridical cases and meeting deceased friends or relatives challenges the reductionist notion that NDEs are a hallucination. (Greyson, 2015).

NDEs and blind participants

Ring & Cooper (1997, 1999) conducted a study in which 80% of the blind participants reported an NDE/OBE, during which they experienced visual perception; however, not all the cases were independently corroborated. The authors do discuss some possible explanations for apparent sight in the blind and consider both the dream hypothesis, which they reject, as well as Blackmore’s (1993) retrospective reconstruction theory, which suggests that participants reconstruct a plausible account based on various other perceived cues. The authors commented that although Blackmore makes a plausible argument, they could see no evidence of it amongst the study participants (Ring & Cooper, 1997).

NDE after-effects

Another area that potentially strengthens the non-reductionist argument are the after- effects that are experienced by near-death experiencers. Whilst it has been argued that some of these changes, such as a spiritual transformation may have come about due to unconsciousness processing (hence indicating a psychological explanation for their occurrence), after-effects such as miraculous healing (P. Sartori, personal communication, 16th August 2013), psychokinetic abilities and unintentional poltergeist-like influences seemingly provide an argument in favour of the non-reductionist view (Rivas et al., 2016).

One of the potential issues with NDE research is methodology, especially since NDEs are an unpredictable occurrence. For example, psychological hypotheses cannot give an indication of what processes and defences were operating at the time of the experience, but rather they can only test cognitive and personality traits of the experiencer. Similarly, methodological sophistication limits the extent to which physiological theories can be tested (Greyson 2015). Another factor to take into consideration is the researcher’s own belief system whilst processing another’s NDE, and to what extent this could create a bias. (NDERF, 2016). Rivas et al. (2016) however, make an interesting point by highlighting that although strictly controlled experiments are very conducive, anecdotal evidence is not necessarily unscientific, especially in the case of veridical studies.

Conclusion

Whilst the psychological and physiological approaches presented some plausible explanations for some of the NDE features, it appears that none of the models were able to account for the full range of NDE phenomena. Furthermore, just because the reductionist explanations may be valid in certain circumstances does not necessarily mean that NDEs are not a “real phenomena”. The reductionist models however do raise an interesting question as to why such few people experience an NDE, especially in relation to the cardiac arrest model.

From the critical evidence presented, it seems that the non-reductionist model significantly challenges the reductionist worldview. Moreover, other findings in parapsychology, such as biocommunication with plants (Backster, 2003), non-local communication in correlated brains (Grinberg-Zylberbaum et al., 1994), and the effects of remote prayer on bloodstream infection (Leibovici, 2001) further strengthen the non-reductionist notion. Additionally, advances in quantum physics in recent years have also presented anomalies which question whether the materialistic world-view represents the complete scientific picture (Goswami, 2008; McEvoy & Zarate, 1996).

Although there are some valid arguments raised from both sides, it is evident that the non-reductionist model questions the current scientific paradigm. I have been using parapsychological research to inform my psychotherapy practice for some time and I find it immensely useful when working with bereavement or anxiety surrounding death. Whilst the “hard-problem” of consciousness still remains unresolved and ongoing research needs to be conducted, a fair representation of the arguments presented need to be more prominently included in current training and education.

References 

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Alexander, E. (2012) Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. UK: Piatkus.

Athappilly, G.K., Greyson, B. & Stevenson, I. (2006) “Do prevailing societal models influence reports of near-death experiences?  A comparison of accounts reported before and after 1975. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(3) pp.218-22.

Backster, C. (2003) Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods and Human Cells. California: White Rose Millennium Press.

Blackmore, S.J. (1993) Dying to live: Science and the near-death experience. London: Prometheus Books.

Blanke, O., Landis, T., Spinelli, L. and Seeck, M. (2004) Out-of-Body Experience and Autoscopy of Neurological Origin. Brain, 127  pp.243–258.

Blanke, O, Ortigue, S. Landis, T. & Seeck, M. (2002) Stimulating Illusionary Own Body Perceptions. Nature, 41(6904) pp.269-70.

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Bush, N.E. (1983) The Near-Death Experience in Children: Shades of the Prison-House Reopening. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies 3 pp.177–93.

Chawla, L.S.,Akst, S., Junker, C., Jacobs, B. & Seneff, M.G. (2009) Surges of Electroencephalogram Activity at the Time of Death: A Case Series. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 12(12) pp.1095-1100. doi:10.1089/jpm.2009.0159.

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McEvoy, J.P. & Zarate, O. (1996) Introducung Quantum Theory. Cambridge: Icon Books

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Parnia, S., Waller, D.G., Yeates, R. & Fenwick, P. (2001) A Qualitative and Quantitative Study of the Incidence, Features and Aetiology of Near Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Survivors, Resuscitation, 48(2), pp. 149–156. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9572(00)00328-2.

Parnia, S., Spearpoint, K., de Vos, G., Fenwick, P., Goldberg D., Yang, J.,  Zhu, J., Baker, K., Killingback, H., McLean, P., Wood, M., Zafari, A.M., Dickert, N., Beistener, R., Sterz, F., Berger, M., Warlow, C., Bullock, S., Lovett, S.,McPara, R.M.S., Marti-Navarette, S., Cushing,P., Willis, P., Harris, K., Sutton, J., Walmsley, A.,Deakin, C.D.,  Little, P., Farber, P., Farber, M., Greyson, B. & Schoenfeld, E.R. (2014). AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study. Resuscitation85(12), pp.1799–1805. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2014.09.004.

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Van Lommel, P., Van Wees, R., Meyers, V. & Elfferich, I. (2001) Near-Death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, The Lancet, 358(9298), pp. 2039–2045. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(01)07100-8.


To What Extent is a Transpersonal Orientation in Therapy Necessary for Conscious Development?

A few years ago, a client of mine (who was in therapy with me at the time) phoned me in distress. She explained that she had had an alarming experience, where she had left her body, and in her words, “gone to the other side”. Unknown to my client, I had held an interest in near-death and out-of-body experiences for some years, and once all ethical considerations had been addressed, we explored her experience. It was at that point I started to question what the client’s therapeutic experience would have been had I not have had a transpersonal orientated therapy practice.

 

The aim of this paper is to consider to what extent a transpersonal orientation is necessary in therapy for conscious development. Consideration will first be given to definitions of ‘transpersonal orientation’ and ‘conscious development’, followed by arguments for and against traditional behaviourist, psychodynamic and transpersonal approaches with a view to address the assignment question. Before concluding, consideration will also be given to the importance of scientific world view and how it impacts the term ‘conscious development’.

The terms ‘transpersonal orientation’ and ‘conscious development’ are open to being interpreted in several ways. For example, based on the definition that transpersonal is that which goes beyond the individual or the personal, it could be argued that all therapists are in some way transpersonal in their orientation (A Transpersonal Orientation, n.d.). For this assignment however, the following definition will be used to define transpersonal orientation:

The word transpersonal literally means: beyond (or through) the personal. It refers to experiences, processes or events in which our normal limiting sense of self is transcended and in which there is a feeling of connection to a larger, more meaningful reality. For many people, religious or spiritual experience is seen as central to the transpersonal agenda, although the transpersonal can also be about extending concern for (or our sense of identification with) other people, human kind in general, life, the planet or nature (Daniels, 2005, p.11).

Regarding the term, ‘conscious development’, Barrett (2016) outlines seven stages of psychological development, which have been built upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These stages include: surviving, conforming, differentiating, individuating, self-actualizing, integrating and serving. In personal opinion, these stages encapsulate a spectrum of ‘conscious development’, and hence represent an adequate definition for the term.

The middle of the twentieth century saw psychology dominated by two major schools, behaviourism and Freudian Psychology (Grof, n.d.). Both Pavlov’s notion of classical conditioning (Pavlov, 1927), and Skinner’s concept of operant conditioning (Skinner, 1953) have provided blueprints for evidence based applications in behaviourism. Behaviourism has since proven effective in therapeutic setting; for example, in the diagnosis of patients with mental disorders by operationalizing the acquisition of new behaviour (Barrett & Lindsley, 1962), and in improving item-recall in dementia patients (Dixon et al., 2011).

In clinical psychology behaviourists theory is typically complimented with cognitive theory to produce more effective results (Feltham & Horton, 2006); for example, cognitive behaviour therapy has been shown to be particularly effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Schnurr, 2007). Additonally, a review of 16 meta-analyses supported the efficacy of CBT in many disorders (Butler et al., 2006).

Freudian psychology, which has given rise to the psychodynamic approach has also shown benefits in a therapeutic setting. For example, Shedler (2011) highlights that empirical evidence does support the efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy, with patients continuing to improve after therapy ends. Additionally, there is also evidence that long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy is an effective treatment for complex mental disorders (Leichsenring & Rabung, 2008).

Although contemporary psychological and behaviour approaches have undergone considerable change and have clearly made a valuable contribution to therapy, Cortright (1997) points out that, “all genius is a product of its time” (p.34), meaning that the scientific outlook (Newtonian-Cartesian worldview) of the early 1900s is embedded in both Freud’s psychology and behaviourist approaches. This, in personal opinion, is an important consideration, and will be addressed later on.

Despite success such as that outlined above, both behaviour and psychodynamic approaches drew criticism in the 1950s and 1960s. Humanistic psychology was developed as a result of a dissatisfaction with the two major schools of psychology, which were considered to be increasingly inadequate approaches to the human psyche (Buskist et al., 2010; Grof, n.d). The primary objection against behaviourism was that the study of animals could only help with aspects of human functioning which were shared with these animals, and hence could offer no relevance in understanding higher human functions, such as love and morality (Grof, n.d.). It was also argued that human nature extends beyond environmental influences, and that Freudian psychology was preoccupied with psychopathology, ignoring positive phenomena such as happiness and satisfaction. Humanistic psychology therefore was an approach that studied human behaviour, placing emphasis on human experience, choice, creativity, self-realization and positive growth (Buskist et al., 2010).

Despite humanistic psychology becoming increasingly popular, its founders Maslow and Sutich became dissatisfied with the original conceptual framework, feeling that they had left out the spiritual dimension of the psyche (Sutich, 1976). The widespread psychedelic experimentation during the 1960s, along with a growing interest in Eastern spiritual philosophies, meditation and various mystical traditions called for a more cross-cultural, comprehensive psychology, which led to the formation of “transpersonal psychology” in 1976 (Grof, n.d). Cortright (1997) has commented that it is difficult to understand how psychology, which has tried to explore the truth of human experience could have avoided the realm of spirituality so long, especially because it has been an aspect of human culture throughout history. There have since been a number of contributors to the field of transpersonal psychology, for example, Wilber. Although not a clinician, Wilber has made a significant contribution incorporating transpersonal stages of development derived from non-western traditions along with the western human stages of development (Wilber et al. 1986).

The emergence of humanistic and transpersonal psychology resulted in new effective therapeutic approaches which dealt with the whole person, and also placed emphasis on the interconnectedness of body and psyche (Grof, n.d.). Jung was arguably the first clinician to legitimise a spiritual approach to depth psychology, and suggested that psychological development should not stop at adult ego maturation, but rather should extend to include higher states of consciousness (Kasprow &Scotton, 1999). Additionally, the founder of pychosynthesis, Assagioli has argued that Freud did not give adequate consideration to the higher aspects of human personality, consequently recognising the need for a broader idea of the human being. Psychosynthesis therefore works to integrate both the higher and lower levels of the unconscious. It has also been stipulated that as we progress in life our sense of world meaning also grows, eventually leading us to a transpersonal dimension of growth (Firman &Vargiu, 1996).

Similarly, Hillman has argued that old psychology no longer works, and that too many people have been analysing their pasts and childhoods, recognising that it does not do enough (London, 1998). Hillman instead suggests that there is an individual soul, which is responsible for individual character, aspiration and achievement (Hillman, 1996).

In terms of research showing a connection between transpersonal elements and healing, Schwarz (2002) has found that when experiencing trauma, the experience of being connected to God is a powerful resource that has the ability to calm and regulate the affect. Koenig (2010) has reported that recent studies have found that spirituality may serve as a spiritual and social resource for coping with stress; and Goldman (2012) has found that there is a strong case for using meditation as a primary strategy in improving mental health.

Some disadvantages of a transpersonal orientation however, have also been highlighted. Wellwood (2016), for example, refers to ‘spiritual bypassing’, where spirituality is used to try and rise above a shaky foundation, therefore becoming another way of rejecting one’s experience. Additionally, Ajaya (n.d) highlights that spirituality is interested in that which transcends the complexities of a person, and consequently produces people who may have mastered a particular realm, but yet still struggle with psychological conflict.

As a transpersonally orientated psychotherapist, I too discovered early on in my practice that whist the transpersonal practices were highly relevant, there were clients that required more skill to be worked with. Hence, there came a point where I felt that I had to expand my skillset to understand more about how trauma effects the brain, essentially engaging in a Newtonain based science, and building upon my transpersonal orientation. Although referring to psychiatry, Kasprow & Scotton (1999) express my realization well, stating that, “the current ‘classical’ psychiatry is a subset of a larger system, the new transpersonal psychiatry” (p.12). I personally view a transpersonal orientation as an inclusive practice, building upon traditional western psychology.

So far, this paper has presented some evidence for and against both traditional and transpersonal approaches, highlighting that both approaches have a part to play in conscious development. From a personal perspective however, a key factor in ascertaining to what extent a transpersonal orientation is necessary for conscious development, is the way in which we personally define the term “conscious development”; which is ultimately dependent on our basic assumptions of reality. Cortright (1997) highlights that the level of theory includes philosophical worldviews and basic assumptions about human nature. Therefore, we must consider how scientific worldview has changed and whether it has informed our basic assumptions about human nature.

By the late 19th century, physicists were certain about their ideas about the nature of matter, with Newtonian physics being regarded as an absolute certainty. (McEnvoy &Zarate, 1996). The advances in Newtonian science encouraged psychologists to look for mental elements that combined to create complex experiences. (Atkinson, 2000). In other words, consciousness was considered an epiphenomenon of the brain (Goswami & Pattani, in prep). Additionally, behaviourism was also rooted in Newtonian physics (Atkinson, 2000). This started to change in the early part of the 20th century as quantum physics started to emerge, presenting a new theoretical framework at a subatomic level, questioning our previous assumptions about the nature of reality (Goswami, 1993).

Not only has there been a new science emerging, but there have also been other findings in parapsychology, such as: veridical studies in near-death experiences, suggesting that some part of us moves on after physical death (Rivas et al., 2016); biocommunication with plants, which suggests that there is a universal interconnectedness (Backster, 2003); non-local communication in correlated brains, suggesting that if we meditate upon the intention, we can communicate with one another instantaneously (Grinberg-Zylberbaum et al., 1994); and the effects of remote prayer on bloodstream infection (Leibovici, 2001). All these findings suggest that quantum concepts such as non-locality are at play, and that perhaps consciousness is the ground of all being (Goswami & Pattani, in prep).

I believe that the more a person’s world-view begins to change, whether that be through, for example, new scientific discoveries, or through personal experiences such as that of my client at the beginning of the essay, a transpersonal orientation becomes essential for conscious development. Cortright (1997) states that “regular people with ordinary problems who are also on a spiritual path are seeking psychotherapy from transpersonally orientated practitioners” (p.13).  This illustrates that a person’s notion of conscious development, and what they feel they require changes when their worldview includes a transpersonal element.  Boorstein (1997) also comments on this from a therapeutic perspective, highlighting that he went from being a traditional psychotherapist therapist to a transpersonally orientated psychotherapist over a period of several years, during which time his world-view and values changed.

This does not however mean that a transpersonal orientation is necessary for conscious development all the time. The first three stages of Barrett’s seven stages of psychological development are centred around survival and safety, and apply to infant, child and teenage development. If however, the first three stages are not mastered, one’s ability to master the later stages, (in which “soul motivations” are considered), is significantly affected (Barrett, 2016), and cases of developmental trauma may lead to mental health issues (Linehan, 2015).

Working with individuals within these first three levels may not always require a transpersonal consideration. For example, the studies presented in the earlier part of this assignment highlighted how behaviour and psychodynamic approaches have been successful in treating some issues, indicating that a transpersonal approach is not necessary for conscious development. I have also worked with clients who are not open to a transpersonal orientation and yet we have made some good progress. In personal opinion however, I do feel that conscious development is limited without a transpersonal orientation, but this is a reflection of my own assumptions about reality.

At the beginning of this paper I presented a definition of transpersonal orientation from Daniels (2005). However, during the process of this writing, I realised that a transpersonal orientation is not just about the practice (for example, tools and techniques, or including a spiritual aspect in therapy), or the client’s beliefs; but is also about the therapist and how a therapist holds space. (Cortright, 1997) expresses this well: “transpersonal therapy lies not in what the therapist says or does, but in the silent frame that operates behind the therapist’s actions, informing and giving meaning to specific interventions (p.15).” Additionally, Goswami suggests that being in the presence of an individual who is consciously evolved, (such as a Maharishi), in itself can create a healing (Goswami & Pattani, in prep). I have worked with many cases of severe trauma where I feel that I have not applied transpersonal tools, yet I have become very aware that as a therapist, I am still transpersoanlly orientated through my presence. The question for me to consider then becomes, ‘what role is my transpersonal orientation playing in the background, and is it contributing to conscious development in any way?’ Additionally, I would be interested to explore whether or what role the therapist’s own belief has played in some of the behaviour and psychodynamic studies mentioned earlier.

In conclusion, the extent to which a transpersonal orientation is necessary for conscious development, has not been an easy question to answer. The main challenge being a lack of a standardised definition for both transpersonal orientation and conscious development. Also, consideration needs to be given to how a transpersonal orientation manifests. For example, there are tools and techniques, such as meditation, which may be considered as transpersonally orientated; but there is also the presence of the therapist that plays a part too.

In light of the evidence presented however, a transpersonal orientation is not always necessary for conscious development. This has been illustrated by the studies showing success with behaviour and psychodynamic approaches. However, I do feel that traditional western approaches cannot deal with the deeper questions about reality that one may have. A transpersonal orientation becomes essential, in my opinion, if an individual’s concept of conscious development includes transpersonal elements. Additionally, a transpersonal orientation may also be useful in cases where a client experiences phenomenon that cannot be explained or addressed by a classical reductionist worldview, rather like the example I shared at the start of this assignment. It should be noted however, that a transpersonal orientation in therapy needs to be considered carefully, being aware of manifestations such as spiritual bypassing.  Finally, I suspect that a transpersonal orientation will become increasingly necessary as the modern science ushers in a new paradigm.

 

References

A Transpersonal Orientation: Psychosynthesis in the Counselor’s Ofiice. (n.d). https://www.psychologytoday.com/sites/default/files/attachments/42788/transpersonal-orientation-didi.pdf.  Retrieved 20th June 2017.

Ajaya, A. (n.d.) Psychotherapy and Self-Revelation PhD. https://education.pdf.net/access/content/group/CSTP4019TherapyAll13/Resources%20for%20forum%202/Therapy%20and%20therapist/psychotherapy%20and%20self%20revelation%20submitted%20article.pdf. Retrieved 21 June 2017.

Atkinson. R.L., Atkinson, R.C., Smith, E.E., Bem, D.J. & Noel-Hoeksema, S. (2000) Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology: Thirteenth Edition. London: Harcourt College Publishers.

Atmanspacher, H. (2015) “Quantum Approaches to Consciousness”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from  <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/qt-consciousness/&gt;.

Backster, C. (2003) Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods and Human Cells. California: White Rose Millennium Press.

Barrett, R. (2016) A New Psychology of Human Well-Being: An Exploration of the Influence of Ego-soul Dynamics on Mental and Physical Health. UK: Fulfilling Books.

Barrett, B. H., & Lindsley, O. R. (1962) Deficits in Acquisition of Operant Discrimination and Differentiation Shown by Institutionalized Retarded Children. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 67, 424-435.

Beck, A.T., Butler, A.C., Chapman, J.E., Forman, E.M. (2006) The Empirical Status of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Clinical Psychology Review. 26 (1), pp.17-31.

Bernardy, N., Chow, B.K., Engel, C.C., Foa, E.B., Friedman, M.J., Haug, R., Orsillo, S.M., Resick, P.A., Schurr, P.P., Shea, M.T., Thurston, V. & Turner, C. (2007) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA, 297(8): 820-830. doi:10.1001/jama.297.8.820.

Boorstein, S. (1997) Clinical Studies in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. New York: State University of New York Press.

Buskist, W., Carlson, N.R. & Martin, G.N. (2010) Psychology. UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Cortright, B (1997) Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. New York: State University of New York Press.

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Firman, J. & Vargiu, J. (1996) Personal and Transpersonal Growth: The Perspective of Psychosynthesis. In Boorstein, S. (ed) Transpersonal Psychotherapy: Second Edition New York: State University of New York Press.

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The Trauma Definition Cheat Sheet

 

One of the things that I was quite confused about earlier on in my journey as a therapist were the different terms to describe trauma. So, I have put together a quick cheat sheet outlining the key trauma definitions which you may find useful!

Definition of Trauma

SAMHSA (2014), defines trauma as events or circumstances that are experienced as harmful or life threatening and that have lasting impact on mental, physical, emotional and or social wellbeing. Trauma can be experienced as both a single or multiple events.

Trauma can be further categorised into the following definitions:

Acute Trauma: A single overwhelming event or experience (a car accident, natural disaster, single event of abuse or assault, sudden loss or witnessing violence).

Big-T Trauma: is the result of major traumatic events. Examples include war, rape, concentrations camps.

Chronic Trauma: the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to trauma, for example, ongoing domestic violence, neglect, human trafficking or receiving regular treatment for an illness.

Complex Trauma: the result of multiple, prolonged overwhelming traumatic events and experiences. The key difference between chronic and complex trauma is that it happens within the context of an interpersonal relationship, in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. Examples include severe child abuse, domestic violence or multiple military deployments into dangerous locations.

Developmental Trauma: the result of early onset or exposure to ongoing or repetitive trauma, for example, neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, physical abuse or assault, emotional abuse or assault. This often occurs within the child’s caregiving system and interferes with development and healthy attachment.  Developmental traumas are also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). 

Complex Developmental Trauma is a term used to describe chronic abuse or neglect in a child’s important early developmental period, which occurs within the context of the child’s caregiving system.

 Organisational Trauma/Organisational Stress: Organisational trauma is a collective experience that overwhelms an organisation’s defensive and protective structures and leaves the entity temporarily vulnerable and helpless or permanently damaged.

 Insidious Trauma/Micro-Trauma: the result of tiny, barely noticeable traumatic occurrences that build up over time.

Historical/Intergenerational Trauma: Psychological and emotional trauma that can affect communities, cultural groups or generations. Examples include slavery, racism and genocide. Patterns of coping can be passed down through generations.

Small-t Trauma: is the result of overwhelming experiences that may not necessarily be regarded as traumatic. These can be overlooked at times by the person experiencing the trauma, and often have an accumulated effect, which means that they build up over time, causing a significant distress. Examples include divorce, legal trouble, financial worries.

Vicarious Trauma: is also known as indirect trauma, compassionate fatigue or secondary trauma is the result of caring for others through empathetic engagement. For example, therapists working with trauma survivors may experience this as they hear trauma stories and witness the client’s pain, fear and terror.