Psychosynthesis in Primary School

Jenny Bullen writes about bringing her psychosynthesis training into primary school teaching:

I have worked as a Primary school teacher for all of my adult life. I teach music and PSHE. Since qualifying as a counsellor at the Trust I have continued to teach for two days a week. I could leave teaching now and focus on counselling full time however I find myself enjoying teaching more than ever. I believe it is the incorporation of Psychosynthesis principles and ideas into my teaching which has greatly increased my capability as a teacher and also my enjoyment of it.

Whilst training, I continued teaching part time. I realised that the children and teachers at my school provided me with an opportunity to observe and apply the psychosynthesis principles I was learning at the Trust. All around me the different psychological stages of human development were evident.

I will describe how I observe and apply Psychosynthesis principles in my daily teaching.

In psychosynthesis we are taught about the value of basic counselling skills - empathic listening and mirroring. This is a skill which I use all the time with our children. It ranges from the ordinary events of life to the very serious. One boy was sobbing in assembly because he wanted his mum. I simply held his hand and gently said “you are really upset today because you want your mum aren’t you?” That simple mirroring was all he needed to settle down. We cannot change reality for children but we can listen and hold them in their pain and confusion. This can make all the difference. Something I said in PSHE opened the floodgate of emotion for one girl who had recently lost an older sister. She sobbed deeply. I could do nothing but sit with her while she sobbed, reassuring her that I understood what a heartbreaking and difficult time she was going through. Prior to my training I would not have been so attuned to the importance and value of empathic listening and mirroring. I am more sensitive to and aware of how childhood wounding impacts on our children. Parents are often struggling themselves with all kinds of issues -separation, alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, anger management etc. I see how these very human struggles impact on the lives of some of our children. I agree with Alice Miller and her book ‘The Drama of being a Child’. Until we wake up to the importance of good, psychological care of children during their most vulnerable, powerless sensitive years we will continue to produce adults who struggle to cope.

Subpersonality observations feature in my interactions with the children. Aspects of a child may be eclipsed by an overly dominant sub personality. We have a boy in year 5 who is constantly in trouble. He is always calling out, never in the right place at the right time…etc…It is very easy to think of him as difficult and never see beyond this more dominant sub personality. I noticed that he is very engaged when I teach RE. He is interested in conversations about God, Jesus, the meaning of life…..etc… He will often ask me interesting questions. When I can engage him at this level he really is a different character. The animated, interested clever little boy emerges. I am sure it is a relief to him (and me) that our interactions are not always about me becoming annoyed with him. I try to provide opportunity for this less prominent sub personality to emerge. I am also now much more curious about why he is displaying difficult behaviour. I often sit down and explore with children what is happening in their ‘inner world’. I am much more attuned to the value of non judgemental self awareness.

Our education system can be focussed on academic ability. I can see how soul destroying this can be for children who for whatever reason find academic study hard. One boy I teach has always struggled with academic work. He lacks confidence and is identified with the part of himself which finds writing and reading hard. I noticed that he has enjoyed learning to play the recorder. During music, he managed to play on his own, in front of his class. I made a point of saying what a good musician he was. I saw his self esteem rise. His awareness of himself and his skills expanded. He is now developing into a good musician. He is not solely identified with the side of himself which was struggling.

Teaching children interpersonal skills is important in school. Children are learning how to deal with a range of emotional issues - being left out of groups, arguments, anger, sadness, cyber bullying etc… They have to learn how to manage their emotional world. I am fortunate that I teach PSHE so I can incorporate some Psychosynthesis ideas into my teaching. I teach active listening skills. Children work in pairs and have opportunities to speak honestly, openly and in a non judgemental way about issues with which they struggle. I sometimes share an appropriate part of my life in order to model how our emotional world is part of the experience of being a human. Identification and dis-identification skills are important skills for children to learn. My study of Psychosynthesis has made me realise the importance of children developing the capacity for non judgemental self-awareness and moving to the position of the ‘self’ or centre of pure awareness. I see how this impacts on their psychological health and well being. In the playground one is often called to arguments and fights which have broken out. In the moment, the children are heavily identified with their anger or hurt. I encourage a period of separation and cooling off and then I will sit down with each child and encourage them to notice what was happening in the exchange. I steer the conversation away from right and wrong. “He was right and you were wrong. “ I might ask what triggered their emotion. How might they have handled in differently? Sometimes a gentle exploration will reveal other things which are going on in the child’s life and it provides the child with an opportunity to come to know themselves more deeply.

Our reception class provide me with understanding around maternal attachment theory. When Reception arrive (age 4) some children struggle with leaving mum and dad. They will scream loudly and it can go on for weeks. It takes all the skill and patience of our staff to gently encourage them to ‘let go’. Eventually they do and they begin to allow others to become an EUC whilst they begin the arduous task of learning to become their own EUC. I think a psychological understanding of this issue has given me much more sensitivity and patience around their distress.
I take whole school assembly for prayer and spiritual reflection. Christianity is the medium through which we explore the spiritual dimension of life. Psychosynthesis provides a psychological framework for exploring what it is to be human and it holds a transpersonal focus on the human person. I praise children for immanent, transpersonal qualities which I observe like kindness, compassion and honesty. Psychosynthesis teaches that the capacity to consider the other person, planet etc… is an immanent, transpersonal connection with Self. Christianity teaches that these qualities are fruits of the Holy Spirit. The place where God dwells in our humanity. I have found it interesting exploring how Psychosynthesis and transpersonal psychotherapy links with my own spiritual path.

I use psychosynthesis meditation in assembly. I begin our prayer time with the meditation we use in training. I ask the children to sit very still and notice what they are thinking about? What are they feeling? Do they notice any bodily sensations? It has an immediate effect of centring the children. It helps them to tune into their experience and consider what they might need in order to help themselves through the day. We also use Mindfulness meditation in PSHE as a way of managing emotions.

I think that the excellent training I received at the Trust was a life changing experience for me. I thank all the trainers who inspired and encouraged me through the ups and downs. I thank Angie Fee who taught me that we do not need to be boxed in by our own belief systems. An important lesson! I thank Andrew Shorrock who encouraged me not to be afraid of holding a bigger picture. Above all, I am grateful to my therapist, Mrs Cecilia Jarvis. She worked with me for six years and was a wonderful mix of challenge and gentleness. I thank Dragana Djukic who continues to support me with kindness and skill. Each of these people have helped me to transform my life. I am grateful.

Our training at the Trust really does equip us to consider all dimensions of the human person. In my early years of teaching I was far more focused on teaching skills such as reading and writing. I enjoy my teaching much more now because I really feel like I am able to engage more fully in the lives of the children, not just their academic development but their emotional and psychological development too. I hope that the skills they learn at this young age will enable them to live more fully as they enter adult life.

Jenny Bullen graduated from the Trust in 2015, and is a Roman Catholic Sister. As well as teaching in prinary schools for many years, Jenny has worked in a safe-house for women rescued from sex trafficking, and in a day centre for homeless people in Manchester. Since qualifying Jenny has set up a private counselling practice, and is particularly interested in the area of spirituality and sexuality. Read more about Jenny here:


    • Catherine ann Lombard

      Thank you for this well written and honest reflection.
      With regard to psychosynthesis and the Christian faith, you
      might be interested in this article I recently had published in
      Pastoral Psychology in which I explore this topic. This article is an
      open access article and free, so feel free to share it with anyone you
      think might be interested in exploring psychosynthesis in a
      Christian context.

    • Ann-Joyce Peters

      Many thanks to Jenny for this article! I will save it, return to it – and be helped by it!

    • Cecilia Snape

      Thank you Jenny (This page will not allow higher case letters!) I think this will help many people who spend time with children.

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