Working Transpersonally with Gender, Sex and Relational Diversities:
A ‘Queering’ of Psychosynthesis
“I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in the darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!”
We all experience some level of toxic social conditioning, trauma and core wounding in our early years. One example is when we feel that showing some aspect of ourselves to the world won't be accepted, or, in some way, will be rejected.
For Gender, Sex and Relationally Diverse (GSRD) people, this Minority Stress[i] can often be particularly magnified or even more traumatising. Adding other intersectionalities such as race, class, status, religion, education, age or ability can create a very damaging mix.
Recent research has highlighted that the mental health of those people who express or are questioning themselves, sexually, relationally or in gendered ways other than heteronormatively, are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues than the rest of the population.[ii]
Today’s society and culture is predominantly heteronormative which implies certain rules and guidelines.
As a result, GSRD individuals often feel that they don’t have ‘the right to exist’–it is traumatic for the soul and disrupts any normal personal development.
The feeling of difference, not feeling like they ‘fit in’ or that they belong, can be a source of tremendous shame and distress that follows many people into their adult life.
It generates internalised protective and defensive mechanisms that can lead to all sorts of self-destructive and neurotic behaviours, substance (ab)use, depression, anxiety, other mental health issues and even suicide.
It often denies people the ability to develop a fully authentic expression of their true potential, particularly around developing healthy sexual, emotional and relational connections with other GSRD people.
What can Transpersonal Psychotherapy Offer?
Transpersonal psychology and in particular psychosynthesis therapy is not an approach that is yet widely known and acknowledged in terms of mental health provision.
However, it has the potential to offer something more, and different, especially when relating to some of the issues that are specific to GSRD clients: the opportunity to become who they really are and fulfil their truest potential, despite the limitations that existing social and environmental conditioning has placed on them.
As Carl Rogers puts it, using a quote from Kierkegaard, the Danish Philosopher[iii]: “The aim of any human life is ‘to be that self which one truly is’”
Many GSRD people say they have felt or experienced a close connection with ‘something that is more than just me’ from very early on.
Overcoming challenges to become who they truly are feels greater, or ‘more real’, than everyday normality.Since early in life, GSRD people typically spend more time experiencing rejection or hatred and have to think about who they truly are, who they want to be and how to protect that.
For some, the exploration that occurred quite often included experiences which connected to aspects of the spiritual, mystical and/or mythical in life that they couldn’t quite understand, but that somehow held greater meaning for them - perhaps ‘knowing’ that something soulful and special exists within them.
But, at the same time, knowing it didn’t feel safe to ‘bring this out fully’ into the world because of the environmental, societal, cultural, religious, political or moralistic constraints in which they were growing up.
Many more weren’t lucky enough to experience those understandings or connections and, as a result, struggle to simply ‘exist’ because of the psychological damage and soul trauma those constraints had and are still having on them.
Psychology with a Soul
Spiritual psychology honours both the relative and absolute, the subjective and objective, the mind and the heart, the body and the soul, and the East and West approaches to transformation.
In fact, the very word “psychology” comes from the root words psykhē meaning “breath, spirit, soul” and logia meaning “study of.”[iv] Therefore, the original meaning of psychology was as a study of the soul. That’s a far cry from the secularised and clinical mind-centered psychology of our modern world.
As Sufi mystic, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes[v],
“The processes of inner transformation are both spiritual and psychological. The spiritual work is the awakening of a higher state of consciousness: the consciousness of the heart. The psychological work involves cleaning the psyche of all the conditioning, psychological blocks, and complexes that could inhibit our spiritual awareness. [It] prepares the psyche for the intensity of inner experiences; it creates an empty, uncontaminated inner space for the awakening of our own divine nature.”
When the Soul or authentic ‘Self’ lies buried, wounded or afraid within us, the challenge of the psychological work to reach that part of us is that much harder – and needs much more care. Perhaps there is a genuine fear about imagining how that true self is going to be rejected or far less likely to be accepted by the world, which brings about more distress. The minority stress ‘dissonance’ between who we are and who we feel we have to be.
It's a matter of life and death, life and death of the self, and often, unfortunately, also physically too.
There is a unique opportunity to appreciate diversity in gender or sexual identity as a gift that allows a better understanding of our world and of the one thing we ALL have in common: our difference.
Difference is not something to fight or push down to shame. It is something to embrace at the individual as well as community level to open up to full potential, integrate or ‘synthesise’ both the immanent and the transcendent into how we are ‘present’ in the world.
A key for GSRD clients is to have ‘guides’ who appreciate and recognise those earlier wounds. Guides who do not pathologies the actual ‘being-ness’ and who can re-connect with their clients’ gifts so that they can truly heal and reach their full potential.
That is what incorporating aspects of working transpersonally into our psychotherapy practice can offer GSRD clients.
“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?”
Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson
We invite you to join our workshop
In the Queering Psychosynthesis: Working Transpersonally with Gender, Sexual and Relational Diversities (GSRD) weekend workshop hosted by The Psychosynthesis Trust which will be held in person later this year, we intend to offer a space for those who want to broaden their knowledge and increase their confidence and effectiveness when working with gender, sexual and relationally diverse clients.
The workshop is open to all counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and mental health practitioners, as well as students in their final year of counselling or psychotherapy training.
It will look at clients’ specific needs and issues, which might challenge the way you provide effective and non-pathologising support. It will also provide you with key takeaways around more transpersonal ways of working that you can incorporate into your existing practice.
Prior to the weekend workshop, we will be providing opportunities to join an online taster session – we will be offering three opportunities to join us on Sat 18th July and 8th August 2020. These tasters will begin to introduce some of these issues and give you an overview of the upcoming workshop which will include psycho-educational input to counsellors/therapists about appropriate mental health support for GSRD (Gender, Sexual and Relationally diverse) clients.
These workshops give you the opportunity to see for yourself how incorporating the Soul into your work, has the potential to transform your practice.
We hope to see you there!
Written by: Nick Field and Gian Montagna
[iii]Rogers, C - On Becoming A Person, Houghton Mifflin, p. 166 (1961)
[v] Vaughan-Lee, L – Sufism, The Transformation of the Heart. The Golden Sufi Center; Paperback edition (June 1, 1995)