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No Man’s An Island: Global Issues In The Counselling Room

Nadia Duggal considers the ways in which global political, economic and ecological issues enter the consulting room, and how we might work with them

Clients come to us from different backgrounds and we all have varying cultures, beliefs and histories. Silvester explains how ‘we develop and adapt very much in relationship to the field, or what we might call the “context”. That context includes the social, political and cultural world, as much as just the psychological.’(1)

To understand our clients and ourselves better we must look beyond the inner world and welcome the wider world context into our practice. Understanding how clients have developed and adapted within these differing relationships to the field, can potentially yield deeper insights into not only their experience of the ‘context’ but also their psychological process, thereby allowing us to deepen the work we do as counsellors.

In this article I will consider how global political, economic and ecological issues might relate directly to psychosynthesis theory. Assagioli talks about how ‘a person is always in a social context; he is not an isolated unit’.(2) With this in mind, I will explore some ways in which these concerns might impact on the counselling space, and argue that the potential of these occurrences will come with how we make meaning of them in our practice.

The threat of non-being

The perception of ‘global’ events as bigger and far removed from our personal experiences has changed. Technology and instant access to the media have meant that our sense of the world around us has become more immediately available. Whitmore writes that ‘terrorism and war have become a common and intimate part of everyday life’.(3) Such close contact with this level of fear and destruction means it’s more likely that global fears become part of our own personal fears, resurfacing old trauma. As Whitmore explains: ‘Deep despair and a sense of meaningless at man’s capacity for destruction will influence a client’s relationship to her own destruction.’(3)

This sense of destruction is seen in the model of ‘primal wounding’. Firman and Gila(4) describe early abuse or neglect as ‘primal wounding’, which damages the core of our sense of existence, giving rise to feelings of our potential ‘destruction’, a threat to our very ‘being’. This trauma that can be reactivated by global political, economic and ecological events, particularly those that are imbued with fear.

I experienced this in a clinical setting when a major critical incident left two of my clients shaken for very different reasons. For one client, the incident evoked his primal wounding; rendering him so fearful that he was unable to leave his house and, having been sober for some time, started drinking again. He lived in close enough proximity to the incident that his sense of safety was threatened, and obsessively watching the news on the television and internet fed his personal fears.

Firman and Gila talk about how ‘the core experience of human being derives from our relationships in life, so it makes sense that the threat of non-being arises when these relationships are disturbed’.(4) The incident evoked my client’s own history of abuse, domestic violence, addictions and parental neglect, and disturbed his sense of being, which had already been threatened over the years.

Assagioli stresses the way to work with global fear is to ensure we do not continue to ‘feed’ the situation: ‘Here again the first pressing thing to do is avoid exacerbating the feeding of these fears with unfounded prophecies of catastrophe.’(5) It was important to provide a space of safety and sense of calm for my client. However, I was also aware that his reaction to the event was bringing to light his unexpressed fears. We were able to work through these in a sensitive way, allowing our work around his primal wounding to unfold.

The collective unconscious

When I think of this event in terms of psychosynthesis models I’m reminded of the egg diagram. Assagioli(6) plots the collective unconscious on his model, thereby taking account of the fact that information in a global aspect will have an impact on each individual’s conscious and unconscious material. Young Brown(7) explains: ‘In the famous Egg diagram of psychosynthesis, the collective unconscious lies outside the borders of the individual unconscious, separated by a dotted line. This indicates that there are no solid boundaries between the individual’s consciousness and that of others.’

It’s clear from this statement that there’s an exchange of information going on all the time between the collective and ourselves. I saw this clearly when the same event evoked a completely different response for another client. The media coverage of the incident, which focused on cultural, ethnic and religious differences, left her with a lot of anger. On exploration, her perception of this viewpoint went straight to the heart of her poor sense of self and lack of identity as a mixed race woman, which came into the consulting room in a more prominent way than ever before.

Whitmore(3) talks about how the lack of a ‘stable centre of identity’, the ‘I’ or personal self, is key to how we relate to others and ourselves. My client had not been able to make sense of her own identity, and was not ‘at home’ with who she was as an individual with her diverse cultural background. The way in which the incident was portrayed in the media came straight in from the collective unconscious and triggered lower and middle unconscious trauma around her painful experiences of growing up mixed race.

Whitmore(3) further explains: ‘As a result, the integrity of feeling at home in the world may be lacking’, which was exactly how my client had internalised this event and standpoint. It somehow validated her sense that her ethnic identity was not accepted in the world, when in fact some of the work required was for her to accept her own identity first. With a sense of this model and the process, I was able to take my previous understanding of her history and sense of ‘I’ and identity and work through this concern in a way that was relevant to her. From this one event, I was able to see that each client will make meaning of such concerns in different ways, depending on the extent of their wounding and how this information is exchanged from the collective unconscious and interpreted within the functioning of each personal egg.

Subpersonalities

When looking at how global political, economic and ecological concerns affect the egg diagram and identity, it’s important to also turn our attention to subpersonalities, which might impact the counselling space when these concerns come to light. Ferrucci(8) describes subpersonalities as ‘psychological satellites, coexisting as a multitude of lives within the overall medium of our personality’.

My ‘justice’ subpersonality is triggered by ecological concerns in particular, where I’m protective of those who don’t have a voice in the world, especially animals. Through personal therapy I’m aware that this subpersonality manifested from my own wounding as a child, not feeling like I had a voice. I was only able to understand this as result of taking my own concerns about the environment into the counselling space. Born out of a lack of identity, fragmented subpersonalities respond to the environment in which they are placed, and in this way are ripe for being present in counselling should global political, economic and ecological concerns impact on a client.

While it’s becoming clear that global political, economic and ecological issues do have an impact on the counselling space, by making clients and us as counsellors more conscious of their unconscious material, it’s important not to pathologise these concerns too quickly. Young Brown examines this in more depth: ‘Psychotherapists are realizing how their profession has blinded itself to the larger context of their clients’ lives, and pathologised their pain for the world.’(6) As counsellors it would be all too easy to look at global political, economic and ecological issues as just being symptomatic of unconscious wounding. However, we may be missing something deeper and more profound: our clients simply sensing and expressing pain for their fellow man and the state of the world in which they live.

The time has come to move beyond the widely held belief that psychological health is solely a function of individual wholeness and nurturing human relationships. Although this view has obvious therapeutic usefulness, it exists within a framework that perpetuates the separation of person from world, and that denies the essential importance of an individual’s surroundings.(9)

If as counsellors we can hold the possibility that these types of concerns may indeed be part of a client’s personal wounding, and that they may also be a calling from the transpersonal, the place where ‘personal plans and concerns are overshadowed by the wider vision of the whole’,(8) then we can harness the qualities from a subpersonality that might present itself, in this way allowing our clients a sense of deeper spiritual fulfilment.

With this in mind, a sense of bi-focal vision when faced with global political, economic and ecological concerns in the counselling space is important. This allows a greater understanding of a client’s emerging purpose, which in turn can facilitate our work as psychosynthesis guides in helping them to realise their potential.

Conclusion

Global political, economic and ecological concerns can inform and guide our work with our clients and ourselves and in this way they have a significant impact on the counselling space. Being curious about what lies beneath the presenting global concern is vital. My clinical experiences to date have shown me how these concerns have brought to light primal wounding, a lack of identity, subpersonalities and the transpersonal. It’s crucial to not ignore these aspects in psychosynthesis therapy when they appear, and to begin to work with our clients to see how they are able to make sense of them within their own personal stories. Naturally, global political, economic and ecological issues might never be consciously present in the counselling space, as I have presented here; a client may never discuss what’s happening in the world ‘out there’, but as practitioners we need to be mindful that they are still present in a client’s life and may be influencing their process in ways that are not yet explicit.

What is apparent through my examination is how we work with these aspects for our clients. As Whitmore(3) explains, as psychosynthesis practitioners we’re already skilled at the transformation of a ‘regressive crisis to a progressive crisis’, which can therefore be applied to ‘the macrocosm as well as the microcosm’. We need to work with global political, economic and ecological concerns as we would any presenting issue, but always being mindful of not only the way in which they might be affecting the client’s trauma but how it might also influence their emerging purpose.

Evoking potential is the most transformative aspect of psychosynthesis work, so we need to ensure we lightly hold what can be cultivated through these concerns, in order to help realise transpersonal qualities, which may be missed if we’re too quick to pathologise them. While I have examined specific global issues alongside specific psychosynthesis models, I don’t believe that one model will necessarily apply to one example. Depending on the client, their presenting issue and particular ‘wider world’ concern, the theories will be interchangeable and possibly numerous.

Nadia Duggal

Since making the break from the corporate world, Nadia Duggal graduated from the Psychosynthesis Trust in 2014 and has never looked back. After initially working as a school counsellor, Nadia now runs a small but busy private practice in London Bridge and Berkshire. www.infinitycounselling.co.uk

References

1. Silvester K. What is contextual psychosynthesis? [Online.] http://www.keithsilvester.com/contextual_psychosynthesis (accessed 5 April 2013).
2. Keen S. The golden mean of Roberto Assagioli. Psychology Today; December 1974: 97–107.
3. Whitmore D. Psychosynthesis counselling in action (3rd edition). London: Sage Publications; 2004.
4. Firman J, Gila A. The primal wound: a transpersonal view of trauma, addiction and growth. New York: State University of New York Press; 1997.
5. Assagioli R. The act of will (3rd edition). London: Psychosynthesis and Education Trust; 2007.
6. Assagioli R. Psychosynthesis: a collection of basic writings (2nd edition). Northamptonshire: Turnstone Press; 1975.
7. Young Brown M. Meeting the crises of our times. [Online.] http://mollyyoungbrown.com/essays-books-on-psychosynthesis-and-ecopsychology/essays/ecopsychosynthesis/ (accessed 10 September 2016).
8. Ferrucci P. What we may be (2nd edition). London: Penguin; 2004.
9. Aizenstat S. Jungian psychology and the world unconscious. In: Rozak TM, Gomes M, Kanner AD (eds). Ecopsychology: restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books; 1995.

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