Integrative and Transpersonal

Shaman Suh Sun Sil, Jeju Island, South Korea [April 2011]

Integrative Health, Transpersonal Psychology — along with cultural exploration and intercultural understanding, these are the primary themes of this writer. But what do they mean?

Integrative health is a concept that takes the ‘biopsychosocial’ model and ‘holistic health’ concept a step further. As we are whole and complex human beings, the fragmentation represented by specialisation, while useful for addressing specific disease, will never fully express our humanity. Integration, the opposite of fragmentation, means that you are not simply a heart, or a reproductive system, or a skin condition, or even (as much as we relate this to our concept of ‘self’) a brain, but all of these and far more.

Integrative health is indeed a bodymind approach. It also allows for ‘spirit’ — even among the non-religious, as the term can be used to refer to all those less easily explained aspects that make us who we are: intuition, instinct, personality, accumulated wisdom, memories, relationships, community, context, humanity, paradox and the abstract, resonance with nature, appreciation of the arts, and even the very concept of consciousness. It includes energetic phenomena of the human body such as qi, prana, dosha, vitality, or essence. It expands the concept of gender to include its nonbinary, fluid expression. And it integrates our culture — our deep roots, heritage, ethnicity, language, traditions and ceremonies, group identity, perceived norms.

A bio-psycho-socio-spiritual-cultural-energetic model of health, if you will. The full story of YOU.

Some traditional systems of healthcare, such as India’s ayurveda or China’s Taoist medicine, represent such integration. Body and mind are considered not separately but as aspects of a whole; the flow of energy and core essence, as well as natural and social correspondences, are included, and context is all. While they are widely applied outside of their cultural origins today, they may not always fit neatly into other cultural settings and their function and efficacy often cannot be adequately described within the framework of scientific methodology.

Transpersonal Psychology, a philosophic framework which emerged in the 1960s, represents an integrative model of the mind and mental health. While not focused on the biological aspect, it otherwise integrates the spiritual, cultural, and energetic with the psyche — the latter term itself a more inclusive approach of soul and spirit along with ‘mind’, and the conscious with both personal and collective unconscious.

This field of psychology has the theories of Dr Carl Jung at its base, filtered through the humanistic psychology model and reintegrating the ‘psyche’. It allows for concepts including the metaphysical and esoteric, altered states of consciousness, and self-actualisation, generally seeking to further the foci of Jung.

Its practice, drawn from the client-centred approach and meaning-making construct of humanistic psychology, may incorporate symbols and myths meaningful to the individual, dream analysis, meditation and trance, breathwork, ritual and creativity, peak experience and transcendence, ego dissolution, and many other processes, with a focus of transformation from fragmentation to wholeness.

The transpersonal psychologist is not unlike the shaman, who goes into trance in order to shift consciousness and enter the Otherworld; there, he/she seeks an individual’s missing soul fragments, retrieving and returning them to the conscious plane and assisting the person in their full reintegration.

Let’s now integrate these two constructs.

Integrative health is an approach to wellness which considers the individual in all his/her aspects and acts accordingly. Transpersonal psychology is an approach to mental well-being that also concerns itself with the whole individual, allowing that mental health extends far beyond the brain and mind and indeed, beyond the person’s own bodily integrity.

Both have the aim of transcendence, perceiving wellness as a state which both includes all aspects of personhood and the greater context. Both also define the healthy state as much more than the simple absence of disease. If we include transpersonal psychology in the model of integrative health, therefore, we are finally approaching a model that expresses our humanity in its entirety.

In upcoming articles, topics related to integrative health and transpersonal psychology, alongside the previously addressed area of cultural exploration and intercultural understanding, will be explored in all their many facets and intersections.

As well, the crossover points between these article series, within the framework of cultural psychology — both the mental-emotional system of a culture and the ways in which one’s culture(s) affects the individual psyche — will be investigated.

We will explore Jungian constructs also found in transpersonal psychology, and their practical applications for the individual, to include such areas as archetypes, collective unconscious, shadow, persona, animus/anima, complexes, symbols and myths, ritual, synchronicity, and more.

Integrative health articles will focus on topics such as breathwork, meditation, nutrition and exercise, the role of stress, somatic psychology and therapies, concepts of traditional Chinese medicine including Taoism and 5-element theory, the nature of trauma, and psychological aspects of addiction, to name a few.

I invite you to join me in this quest.

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