Psychosynthesis Counselling in Action


Diana Whitmore

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    About the Author

    Lady Diana Whitmore MAEd is Chief Executive and a founding Director of Teens and Toddlers UK. She is co-chair of the Trustee Board of the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust and is one of the UK's leading trainers of counselling and psychotherapy. She is also a UKCP registered psychotherapist, a BACP Accredited Supervisor and has been responsible for curriculum development of accredited programmes for some thirty-five years and for the provision of professional training and development for counsellors, psychotherapists and youth workers. Diana has been a member of the trustee board of the Findhorn Foundation for the past sixteen years. Diana is also the author of Psychosynthesis in Education: A Guide to the Joy of Learning.


    Insight. Each move, each effort in counselling, is directed towards that moment: the face relaxes, the eyes brighten, there is a smile of recognition. As tensions and suspicions fade away, your client sees his or her personality and life from a new perspective. There is a feeling of lightness. There is, perhaps, gratitude.

    Perhaps you, the counsellor, have fought a hundred battles, met countless resistances. It was hard and tiring. But all that is now past. A fresh understanding has dawned, which is just what both counsellor and client were aiming for.

    What is insight, and how is it produced? Although many have formulated hypotheses, no one truly knows. To facilitate understanding and transformation is less a matter of technical knowledge than one of instinct and experience.

    You could compare it with skiing: good skiers know in their cells how to turn with ease, how to balance their weight exactly and dance gracefully down the slopes, while Sunday skiers come tumbling painfully down, getting stuck in deep snow, making a nuisance of themselves or even being a danger to others.

    The field of counselling is just like that. Some people, improvising themselves as counsellors, try to convert their clients to their own views, or unconsciously attribute to them their own problems. Seeing themselves as great rescuers, they invade their clients’ lives with their own emotions, get angry at their resistances or upset by their pain, judge them harshly or push them to change; thereby confusing them even more in their predicaments. They are the Sunday skiers of the helping professions.

    Others are like champion skiers: they make the right intervention at the right moment; they glide through the asperities and the dangers of the client's inner world with great ease. They evoke the best resources in their clients, and assist them in becoming what they choose to be.

    Diana Whitmore definitely belongs to this second category. For many years I have worked with her in the training of psychosynthesis professionals. And many, many times I have seen her extend her intuition while working with participants. And I have seen her accompany many of them into a freedom beyond their blocks.

    Don't expect to learn her art by reading this book. That cannot be communicated. But you may expect the next best thing: if you have any interest in counselling, this is a good place to start; if you are studying to be a counsellor, this book will give you a balanced view and help bring out the best in you; if you are already working in this field, you may find new vistas and surprising directions.

    Psychosynthesis counselling is innovative. It is an energetic, pragmatic approach aimed at producing results easily and quickly. It emphasizes the will and the human capacity to choose; it makes ample use of imagery; it acknowledges the presence of a transpersonal realm in all human beings – the realm of inspiration, awe and joy; it encourages clients to work on their own using a variety of specific techniques.

    All good counselling has stringent requirements. A good counsellor has to be clear, feel at ease with the inner world, meet serenely with pain and rage, deal with the unexpected effectively and, above all, be open and receptive to others.

    And yet, beyond all the dilemmas and demands, one finds a great beauty in counselling – in all counselling. Helping people to discover themselves, make decisions and change their attitude is a creative endeavour. Again and again, you deal with life's most profound questions: Why am I here? How can I deal with pain and solitude? What is love? What course shall I give to my existence?

    Psychosynthesis Counselling in Action is a powerful contribution to meeting the challenges of counselling and appreciating its beauty.

    Piero Ferrucci PhdIstituto di Psicosintesi R. Assagioli Florence


    Although the remit of the Counselling in Action series is to examine counselling from a particular modality, beginning–middle–end, with a focus on how the theory unfolds in practice, I am pleased to note that many different modalities of counselling practice today are increasingly being applied in new arenas. Counselling's approach to human suffering and its emphasis on well-being is not limited to the consulting room. How wonderful that the principles and methods of psychosynthesis can be made available to those who perhaps would never seek counselling.

    This edition of Psychosynthesis Counselling in Action has two new pieces on the application of the models and methodologies of psychosynthesis as applied in two areas, outside of but similar to counselling – youth work and coaching. In the years since the first edition of this book several important things have happened within the international psychosynthesis community. It has deepened and elaborated its understanding of what we call transpersonal psychology, alongside the growing need of humanity for goodness and making meaning of today's world situation. Our need to become masters of our own universe and for finding our deep response to modern life has greatly increased, and the creation of well-being is poignantly needed. From our continued and worsening social problems, to the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor; from the decline of our natural resources, to the increased violatio4ns of human rights, mankind today has to cope with an acceleration of challenge and stress. Since the third edition of this book, globalization has further shrunk the planet to the point where our fundamental interconnectedness can no longer be denied. Equally challenging is the emergence of social violence on an unprecedented scale. We have watched our nations go to war on questionable grounds with questionable motives. Insecurity, instability and fear, whether real or imagined, impact our consciousness more than they used to. Today we are urgently in need of a more positive meaning to our lives. Amid the noise and struggle, we need to find a place within ourselves, which is untouched by the clamour, which is still and quiet and, most importantly, which can perceive our life and world in an optimistic and beneficent way.

    Spiritual intelligence (SQ) has become a paradigm that can provide some relief regarding the dilemmas we face today. The capacity to tolerate ambiguity, to embrace paradox, uncertainty and chaos is a skill we are being called on to develop. To have SQ is to live on the edge of order and chaos, and to find within it a place of unanimity which can allow an acceptance of what is, as well as the insight for actively supporting change.

    Without wanting to sound arrogant, I believe that this book is more needed today than it was when first published. In psychology and counselling there is a need to see beyond the client's presenting issues and to recognize that being human is ultimately a spiritual experience and one which includes our interconnectedness with each other in a collective sense. The impact of the global situation on our experience of the quality of life unquestionably needs to be accommodated within the counselling arena. While this book contains much practical input on confronting one's problems from a solid psychological basis, I wholeheartedly recommend that special attention is paid to Chapters 6 and 7, which take us deeper towards a transpersonal explanation and work with those same problems. Because psychosynthesis is really a broad vision and context of personal, interpersonal, social, global and universal evolution, it is hard to define it as a form of counselling. When addressing the human soul it is challenging to say the least, to speak of strategies and their application. There can be no therapeutic brilliance or step-by-step sequence that adequately describes the journey to Selfhood which psychosynthesis seeks to foster in clients.

    I would also like to issue a challenge or a word of warning to the therapeutic community of which psychosynthesis is a part. Since initiating my work in social psychosynthesis and seeing the value of the application of transpersonal work to socially excluded adolescents, vulnerable young people who would never come to counselling, I am now somewhat outside the counselling paradigm. From this position of standing outside the profession, I perceive a cultural trait that I can only call preciousness – a tendency to adhere to basic counselling principles or guidelines in a dogmatic and limiting way. For example, the principle of keeping strong boundaries with the client, can lead to infantilizing them as incapable of adult relationships.

    We also can use principles of transference and countertransference to avoid authentic human relating. We can be overly careful which can wrap the poor blind suffering client in cotton wool, denying them the resilience and strength of character which they inherently have. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, even if, by our illustrious models we might interpret slight dysfunction.

    The case study for this edition demonstrates the opposite of the above word of warning. The case study author, Kim Shiller demonstrates again and again a relentless trusting of the client's capacity to find his way and a steadfast holding of a positive outcome for him. As I no longer work with clients, a special thanks to Kim, a senior psycosynthesis practitioner, trainer and coach, for providing this case study. Additionally, the models and methods illuminated in this book do not belong to me personally, but to the wider psychosynthesis community which has developed and shared these models internationally.

    Although psychosynthesis as a therapy has tremendous resources of principles, models and techniques at its disposal, it does not seek to explain away the mystery of life and human development. It values times of darkness as much as periods of joy; it encourages us to embrace the unknown with no guarantees of security; it respects the creativity of confusion, rather than ready-made certainty; and, most importantly, it welcomes the unexpected which shatters our attachments and fixed models. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, said, ‘our working hypothesis is that evolution is a “reasonable bet”’. He challenged his students to dare to make this bet and rigorously test its validity. In over thirty years of practising psychosynthesis I have again and again been inspired by the capacity of the human spirit for self-healing and regeneration. The bet is worth making. This book has to be dedicated to others who dare to make the bet, both clients and counsellors, and reach out for a more fulfilling life and profession.

    There is a vibrant tendency in the psychosynthesis community to reframe pathology, as being in some way intimately connected with our soul's journey through life, rather than being a distraction or obstacle. The implicit context here is that each of us is on a journey. We each have challenges to meet and obstacles to overcome in order to fulfil ourselves. It is this context which will illuminate and give meaning to our own, or to our client's personal circumstances. In this sense our psychological symptoms serve as a symbol – a symbol that constitutes a transparent statement. This symbolic statement is the very thing that is guiding us towards the healing we are seeking, not something to eliminate in order to be well.

    We could call it the principle of hidden longing. If we feel impotent, perhaps we feel powerless to express our true self. If we are depressed, perhaps our depression is a symptom of how we have lost touch with our truest nature. If we have lost everything that is precious and most beautiful, if we have betrayed our deepest Self, of course we will feel depressed. If we have lost the richness of our Being, perhaps we seek it desperately through the acquisition of material wealth. For another example think of joy; we try to regain the joy of being alive and in touch with ourselves by doing things that give us pleasure – alcohol, drugs and compulsive working – we seek ecstasy, but a material ecstasy, an imitation. We can aim for a full transpersonal explanation of an individual's suffering – that the deepest reason for our pain and suffering (whatever our issue) is that we have forgotten who we really are. The true source of our suffering may lie in this ‘forgetting’, the betrayal, the loss of contact with our essential nature or Self and the meaningful journey life is meant to be for each of us.

    Today psychosynthesis theorists and practitioners speak of the principle of transcendence/immanence. Through the process of counselling there will be moments when the client re-discovers or re-connects with their true Self, moments of transcending the everyday reality and reaching a wider, higher perspective on our difficulties. We may experience a sense of the fundamental almightiness of our life, in spite of and with, the issues that we are struggling to overcome. At other moments of counselling we might see our Self deeply inherent within the very problems we are seeking to solve. Both levels of embracing our journey can be healing and transformative. Every moment of our process contains within it the opportunity for growth. In this sense there is no place to get to – no end-result of permanent psychospiritual health – only the journey and the full investment of ourselves in that journey. We are both Being and Becoming in the same breath.

    Finally, the therapeutic relationship can be seen as the central essential factor which can, unexpectedly, restore our connection to our own Being. It is the experience of our ‘I’ or sense of identity that gives us the experience of being deeply connected with ourselves, at home with who we are, of our true individuality. It is this ‘I’ that connects our everyday experience with our sense of Being or personal Selfhood. This I–Self connection is what gives us a sense of continuity and provides us with an inner empathy, an intra-psychic empathic connection.

    Often, those who seek counselling have lost this connection with their deeper Self, this inner empathy. The psychosynthesis counsellor will intend to mirror or refect for the client, through their interpersonal relationship, empathic understanding and acceptance. This in turn provides a model for the client which can be internalized – a model that fully demonstrates that, no matter what her issues, problems and pathologies might be, she is at core, a valuable and worthwhile individual. The client is unquestionably more than her difficulties and issues. The counselling relationship provides a container that holds an acceptance of both the dark and the light within the client through which she can find continuity of Being.

  • Appendix 1 Current Application of Psychosynthesis: Youth Work

    Working with At-risk Young People: Empowerment Rather than Control
    Why Youth Work?

    After twenty-five years of training professionals in counselling and psychotherapy, I looked around one day and noted that I was surrounded by nice white middle-class people; all sincere, all motivated to make a difference in the world and all of whom I respected very much. But in that moment, I found myself plagued with a deep question: Would the principles, methodologies and practice of psychosynthesis be positive and life-enhancing for those who would never come to the rather pristine world of counselling? Could transpersonal work be effective in social settings with the disadvantaged or less fortunate in our society?

    If I am honest, I wanted to put psychosynthesis to the ultimate test – to work with socially excluded adolescents. In England they are called the hoodies, young people who are at risk – of being excluded from education and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training), of falling prey to drugs and alcohol, of teenage pregnancy and crime. I took an early intervention programme called Teens and Toddlers, created by the late Laura Huxley, who was my friend and mentor for thirty-five years, and adapted the programme by making it appropriate for a UK audience and by integrating psychosynthesis into the curriculum. After ten years of delivering the Teens and Toddlers programme and reaching over 9,000 vulnerable young people, I am happy to report that the principles of psychosynthesis not only work amazingly well but are highly transformative, increasing aspiration, self-belief, self-esteem and promoting a positive re-engagement with society!

    Why is it Important?

    Our troubled young people today are not receiving the quality of care, authentic attention, positive intervention and loving support that they both badly need and deserve. What do we aim for? Do we aim to control their behaviour with no concern for their ultimate well-being? Do we aim to turn them into nice, but unfulfilled people who don't give society any trouble? In other words, do we just want them to behave themselves?

    Or, alternatively, can we shoot for the stars on their behalf? Can we value and respect their unique potential, no matter how difficult their behaviour? Can we support the unfoldment of that potential? Can we change consciousness rather than modify behaviour? Can we trust young people to make good life choices once they are able to self-reflect and self-manage? Can we recognize their need for meaning and purpose in life as no different from yours or mine?

    A Vision for Young People

    I believe that we can. Actually, having gathered enough evidence through the work of Teens and Toddlers, I don't believe, I know. Experience has unquestionably taught that all young people long to:

    • feel that they belong
    • feel good about who they are
    • make a difference and feel they have something worthwhile to contribute
    • have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.

    I also think that it does not require highly sophisticated interventions carried out by experts with long years of training in youth development to fix damaged youth. Most importantly, the context that we bring to our work with young people has a dramatic impact on how they will experience themselves and, consequently, behave. A context is that which illuminates and gives meaning to a particular set of circumstances or life experience. We can approach, relate to and perceive a young person as damaged, problematic and difficult, expecting little of them. Even worse is when we expect them to always be a problem and never change or amount to anything. By perceiving a young person this way, they will tend to conform to the perceptual box that we have put them in.

    On the other hand, we can have an alternative context – one which sees this young person as a unique individual, rich with immense potential, who has a purpose in life and challenges to meet. This is not to say that we turn a blind eye to behaviour, but rather that we see the whole person, we give the gift of respecting that young person's potential, no matter how obscure it might be. We recognize that consciousness can change and that, through personal development, emotional intelligence can be fostered.

    As graduates of the Teens and Toddlers programme have said:

    I think that the teens and toddlers programme should be extended to boys and girls in every school during secondary school to enable them to broaden their knowledge about life and realize that if you don't have an education you don't have anything. (Female, 17)

    Doing T&T helped me to get back into what right for me and I know I have to finish school if I want to make anything for myself. (Male, 17)

    Principles of a Psychosynthetic Way of Working with Young People
    Trusting Rather than Controlling

    When we work with young people, we are being a role model whether or not this is conscious and intentional. The best role model we can be is one that demonstrates authentic humanness, rather than being some kind of unrealistic ideal. If, as role models, we show how it is OK to be human, to make mistakes and then to deal with the mistakes we make in a positive way, or if a young person sees us being imperfect, but having integrity around our mistakes, they will learn that it is both acceptable and human to make mistakes.

    In my experience of working with troubled young people, I have seen again and again that, if armed with a realistic knowledge of outcomes and consequences, young people will most often make the best decision for their well-being. In fact, we can trust them to. For example, on the Teens and Toddlers project, when at-risk young people start the course, which involves mentoring small children in nursery settings, they believe that it is acceptable to have a baby when you are 16–18 years old. However, after having a live hands-on experience of the enormous amount of work, responsibility and indeed privilege it is to have a child, a large proportion change the acceptable age to a significantly higher one.

    None of us can be perfect; to make mistakes is human. It is how we deal with the mistakes, the empathic failures, the errors of judgement that really matters. If we take responsibility for our mistake, acknowledge it and make amends in some way to clean up the mess we make, we are demonstrating a transformative way of being. This is a tremendous gift to give vulnerable young people. Vulnerable young people often do not have adults in their lives who have modelled this positive way of dealing with our humanness. As one young person said: ‘I now have more patience. I know how to solve problems cooperatively. I have learnt to care more for other people's feelings and not just mine’ (Female, 15).

    Respecting Rather than Judging

    Many teens have told me that the reason they behave well on the Teens and Toddlers intervention is because they feel respected. At-risk young people are labelled quite early on as the bad, the difficult and the problematic ones. This label is passed through the educational system from teacher to teacher, school to school. It should be no surprise to us when that label becomes real.

    To have compassion for the suffering of a young person's background, to understand that they may have lacked any positive role models in their life, to have empathy for their need for recognition, to know that their negative behaviour is often a cry for help – is to give a gift that can plant the seeds of self-empathy – to be a role model of how to be empathetic, which can then be internalized.

    Unconditional positive regard requires that we value young people for who they are, not what they do or how they behave. A practitioner can model this through their relationship with the teens, with each other, with colleagues. To have unconditional positive regard as a value for your work means taking a positive approach. This young person is valuable and worthwhile simply because they exist. This type of valuing is sorely lacking in vulnerable young people's lives – whether they are the challenging ones or the quiet, shy ones lacking in self-belief. This is not to say that we tolerate unacceptable behaviour or accept disrespectful attitudes. Tough love is an acceptable way of being and, when it comes from a place that values the person and not the behaviour, things can begin to change.

    Each young person has a unique path of development or unfoldment. Absolutely everything that a young person encounters on their path of development can be a stepping stone to their growth and learning. With good coaching and role models, whatever situation a young person finds themselves in, they can learn and evolve from it.

    I have become more mature and find it easier to express my opinion. My mum said I'm more confident because I am usually shy. (Female, 14)

    My parents and friends have seen the changes that I have made during this project, the reason being is because I have a better knowledge. (Male, 15)

    Relating to Potential Rather than Behaviour

    The psychosynthetic attitude here is, ‘I know that who you really are is so much more than the behaviour that you are demonstrating.’ ‘I see more of you than your behaviour.’ ‘I see who you really are.’ From this perspective, a young person can receive challenge and tough love in a way which engages rather than alienates them. If we only relate to a young person's behaviour, we will try to control that behaviour. The situation becomes a battle of wills, someone has to win and someone has to lose. However, if we come from a wider perspective of the whole young person, if we see their rich potential as well as their behaviour, we create a wider field for them to grow and develop within.

    Think for a moment about someone in your life who believed in you and saw your potential. Whether a parent, grandparent, teacher or mentor, to be truly seen in our potential has a dramatic impact on us which we don't forget and, most likely, we continue to carry for many years inside ourselves. For a significant other to see our potential and believe in us enables us to find self-belief and an empathic inner awareness that does the same.

    I didn't know what I wanted to be before, but now I want to be a teacher. And my mum helped me to look to see what you need, like what exams and stuff and so now I know I've got to work harder to get my exams at school. So it's definitely made me more focused, cos before I didn't have anything to work towards. (Male, 15)

    If people show me just a little bit of attention, I give my full. I have learnt to care more for other people's feelings and not just mine. (Female 15)

    Empowering Rather than Minimizing/Fixing

    We can trust young people to make their own decisions if they first learn the skill of self-reflection and reflect on the choices that they are making and the consequences of those choices. Perhaps most importantly, from those choices, are they getting the outcomes that they want? (Usually not.)

    Young people can be coached to gain an increased awareness and understanding of the choices they are making in their lives and the consequences of those choices. Having a greater awareness leads to a greater capacity to self-manage and to be empowered to take responsibility. For adolescents this is a great developmental task, which, once learned, can be applied to many areas of their lives. Is it not better to support young people in learning the skills of self-reflection and self-management than to try to control their behaviour, because they are deemed to be lacking and in need of fixing? Is it not more effective in promoting change to trust that each young person is capable of finding their own answers, if we provide them with self-awareness and self-belief? We are then teaching a hungry person how to fish – rather than giving them food. The question is always, what choice needs to be made to get the outcomes that the young person really wants?

    The value that this attitude contains is one of inner freedom. Rather than having a normative chart on the wall that tells us what a healthy, fully functioning adolescent should be like – we can value each teenager finding the inner freedom to do and be what they choose as valuable and worthwhile.

    If young people are less dictated to, more encouraged to develop the capacity to think through their goals and the best ways to create outcomes that work for them, the results can be astounding. We can give an adolescent an experience of here-and-now choices and the power they have to create different outcomes for themselves. This dramatically increases their motivation to continue to choose differently in other areas of their lives. For example, changing the negative outcomes of angry reactions into positive outcomes with assertive communication is a major reframing in a culture that usually promotes the necessity of ‘keeping face’ at all costs.

    Enabling young people to develop reflective muscles will provide a more robust capacity to ‘think through’ challenges and choices in the future. Teaching them to use their minds in this capacity is something the current education system fails to address, and is one of the most important strengths to acquire. Through creating the opportunity for sharing at both peer group level and through spending time with adult role models, young people create new bonds beyond their immediate social life to develop a more clearly individuated sense of themselves.

    This process establishes personal responsibility as a keynote in their lives and attitudes, crucial to the creation of a life on large and small scales that they are motivated to aspire towards.

    I was talking to [Facilitator] and we were saying I can try to use the interpersonal skills with my teachers, like the ones who I always have problems with when I go to school. Cos I do want to go to college, but I know I need to go to school more first and try to get along with people better. (Male, 15)

    Teens and Toddlers made me understand that before making choices you need to think. It has made a great difference in my life because before I didn't think twice, now I am aware of my future. I have learned how to control my anger, how to express my feelings and thoughts without hurting someone. (Male, 14)

    Understanding that Young People Are Values-driven

    Young people are values-driven – even when behaving negatively – beneath or behind the behaviour is a value that is driving that young person. For example, I have many times asked young men what they gained from being a part of a gang. Inevitably, the response has been, ‘Because it makes me feel like I belong’. Or, take the example of a disadvantaged young person stealing expensive trainers. What value does that fulfil for them? It provides them with a sense of importance and recognition. It is my experience that teenagers are longing to express their values and opinions, to test them out in the world and see what the consequences are.

    Young people are at a stage in their lives when they are forming their identities, developing their capacity to think, searching for core values around which to orientate their behaviour and seeking future goals towards which they can aspire. Many of our most vulnerable young people are at risk of failing to meet these developmental needs in a positive way, instead forming identities around a negative sense of themselves, born from a sense of hopelessness regarding the world around them. As a result, the sum total of their aspirations in life is often to make as much money with as little effort as possible, and therefore to fall prey to criminal activities or to make money in ways that are exploitative and continue to compound a sense of failure. At best they will tend towards a rather depressed and passive attitude to life in which they expect to be looked after by a parental state. From this attitude it is ‘no big deal’ for a young woman to become pregnant, as they are often hoping a boyfriend or the benefit system will subsequently look after them.

    The most important thing I have learned is that we must talk politely with elders and youngsters … we must love our youngsters and respect our elders. And we should not fight with others. (Male, 15)

    Providing Young People with a New and Positive Experience of Themselves Leads to Increasing Self-empathy

    Life is relational. Young people are relational beings and learn best through each other and through positive role models. Research has shown that the most important factor in enabling a young person to make the transition into adulthood is having one positive role model in their life.

    Giving young people a new and positive experience of themselves builds a new neural pathway to replace existing negative ones. To experience again and again that they have something to contribute to the world, that they can make a difference, that they can do a splendid job and that they fundamentally are a good person builds self-esteem and self-belief. On the Teens and Toddlers project, the combination of intensive adult and peer group interaction, alongside the responsibility of bonding with, and being responsible for a small child, provides a multi-layered set of relationships designed to give the teenagers a new experience of themselves and the world around them.

    The responsibility of having a child to mentor and be a role model for can call a young person into parts of themselves that allow them to feel vibrant and alive and which they also like and respect. The enthusiasm that they display at the end of toddler time usually reflects a sense of satisfaction in having been needed, wanted and responded to by staff and toddlers. This forms an attitude internally of ‘I can’ as they integrate the positive expectations of the toddlers, staff and facilitators.

    Providing young people with a new and positive experience of themselves gives them something worth towing the line for, and therefore sufficient motivation to have a positive experience of engaging with respect and an ability to integrate others’ rules and expectations. On Teens and Toddlers, mentoring small children, feeling listened to and engaged with in debate during classroom time, and experiencing a peer group outside of school and the usual social circles – in a more focused way that encourages honesty, listening, respect and intimacy – are all very strong motivating factors for the young people to behave and interact in new and more useful ways. Bonds to their peers and facilitators made here are often much deeper and provide a blueprint for possibilities of relating respectfully and productively beyond the project.

    Increased self-empathy is the outcome of all of the above factors. Gradually, little by little, an internal sense of identity is formed – a deeper identity and inner relationship with Self, a stable reference point and a continuity of being. Having experienced empathy from a positive role model and having developed empathy for others, the young person internalizes this experience and builds this inside, developing an inner centre, leading to the capacity for self-empathy to evolve.

    Because I always use interpersonal skills that I learned from this project and my uncle say to me ‘You are very respecting in these days, from what you've learnt from the project.’ So my family say I'm respecting them every time. (Female, 15)

    In Summary

    In summary then, what's unique about a psychosynthetic approach to work with young people?

    • It is a consciousness-changing approach rather than a behaviour modification one.
    • It works to enable young people to grow and evolve rather than trying to control their behaviour, so that they are empowered to make choices that are constructive and to their own benefit.
    • It perceives each young person in their totality as a highly unique individual, with many latent gifts, qualities and potentialities.
    • It promotes an exploration of values, which supports young people finding their own values, potential and place in the world.
    • It recognizes the need of vulnerable young people for meaning and purpose in their lives.
    • It provides young people with new and positive experiences of themselves, which build self-esteem and aspiration.
    • It develops emotional intelligence, particularly in the areas of self-awareness and self-management.
    • It encourages educational attainment through building awareness of life goals and the choices and actions needed to make those goals real.
    Case Studies

    Rebecca arrived at the first session looking frightful. Her eye make up was bold and badly applied, her clothing messy and she was full of anxiety. This young person had a lot of difficulties; she was diagnosed with ADHD and an eating disorder. She wanted to be the centre of attention at all times and part of her struggle was to learn to listen to others.

    Supporting Rebecca to feel comfortable enough to allow others to talk was at times exasperating, however she was really open to wanting to be able to listen to others, as she realized that they would be more open to listening to her. Working with small children was a very powerful thing for Rebecca, as she practised her new skills with the small groups she worked with – supporting them to be able to talk one at a time, and to listen to each other. Her bold facial expressions captivated the children and her class teacher was full of enthusiasm and support.

    As the children were practising for a school play at one point, Rebecca's class teacher asked her to take the class and to hear each child speak their lines and let them know if they were speaking loud enough to be heard on stage. Rebecca excelled. She loved seeing how quiet the children were and how attentive they were to her. She was also really able to take on that it was her presence that kept them interested and learning.

    Rebecca's self-esteem grew exponentially. Her appearance became more appropriate, her hopes for the future grew as she realized that she was good with children and that she enjoyed the responsibility of teaching, and that this was what she wanted for herself for her future.


    Reilly was an extremely shy and quiet young man who was only in school part time, as he had behaviour issues and problems with his anger management, often acting out in aggressive and inappropriate ways. He had strong ideas of what he wanted to do when he left school that were unrealistic. Little by little, Reilly gained in confidence as he experienced being seen, respected and valued. His skills and potential were highlighted and he was given praise throughout the project to develop his self-esteem. His interpersonal skills developed throughout the intervention, and learning to reflect on the choices he was making around his anger, and the consequences of those choices, allowed him to see that the outcomes were not what he wanted. Learning to assert himself in acceptable ways that made him feel empowered and good about himself allowed him to calm down considerably. Harnessing the capacity to affirm himself instead of acting out in anger enabled Reilly to become a good role model for the other teens. He became a leader whom his colleagues respected.

    Reilly's mother said that Reilly had become a lot calmer at home and at school. She was very pleased with his behaviour towards his family, as he learned that he could be patient with his younger siblings. He realized that he could use his formidable strength of self-affirmation to positive effect – both in school and in his future career goals.

    Appendix 2 Current Application of Psychosynthesis: Coaching for Performance

    Why Transpersonal Coaching?

    Beyond the arena of counselling, increasingly some would say our world today is in urgent need of the vision, sense of perspective and expanded sense of meaning that a transpersonal approach can provide. In recent years, people – especially in Western cultures – have been waking up to the transpersonal within themselves, through an emerging need to find meaning and purpose in their lives, both personally and at work professionally, as well as a longing to work in the service of something beyond just making a profit. Transpersonal coaching is a movement out of psychotherapy and psychology and into life – both life coaching and business coaching. Transpersonal work does not belong solely to the world of counselling and therapy, although it has been most developed and differentiated there. Transpersonal coaching tends to be brief, solution-focused work of a duration defined by the goals of the client.

    When coaches are familiar with the transpersonal dimension in themselves and the methods of addressing it in others, their capacity to help others is greatly enhanced. Even with the most practical solution-focused coaching interventions, such as daily task performance, the work is more potent if the coach holds a transpersonal perspective. Whether applied to youth work, coaching young people or in business as an action-orientated way of addressing challenges, transpersonal coaching provides a short-term, positive and solution-focused way of working.

    As we have seen, merely trying to fix things can be a dispiriting and energy-draining approach for people. If we look for where the positive energy is, the vitality, the spirit, and explore and build on it, then this is what will grow. A range of transpersonal tools and techniques are invaluable in helping people to reach higher levels of performance, more readily fulfil their potential and especially to achieve in leadership positions. Transpersonal coaching is an empowering process which helps clients discover the power and effectiveness of who they really are. This core, the source of our deepest values and qualities, is a well-spring of real strength and actualization. Operating from this core enables clients to connect with their staff, the vision of the organization and the global context fully and effectively.

    The Basics of Coaching

    In order to provide an overview, some general information about coaching will demonstrate its value as an educational intervention with a therapeutic outcome.

    What is Coaching?

    Coaching is the art of facilitating the learning and performance of another, which enables us to actualize more of our potential. Most importantly, the general aim of coaching is to build awareness, responsibility and self-belief. Coaching is a methodology for helping the coachee or client to learn rather than teaching them. Our belief about the capacity of others has a direct impact on their behaviour. To get the best out of someone, we have to believe the best is there and transpersonal coaching takes this fundamental stance. It aims to unlock a person's potential to maximize their own performance. As with transpersonal counselling, a transpersonal approach to coaching provides a focus on: values, alignment to potential, eliciting information, self-empowerment (self-belief), a holistic approach (importance of mind, body, emotions, spirit) and emergence and learning about oneself.

    What differentiates coaching from counselling?

    The primary difference between coaching and counselling is that coaching does not go backwards into the past, into an individual's history – but rather looks from the present to the future. The coaching process begins with what is – the here and now – and aims to move forward towards potential. In terms of performance in life or the workplace, therapeutic work is not always required or even necessary. Many obstacles that we face can be resolved with this forward-aspiring methodology that has been shown to be effective. Furthermore, in some cases resolution can come without delving deeply into the past; which is cost effective and more readily applicable to a wider audience than counselling.

    Subpersonality work and coaching

    Subpersonality work, thoroughly discussed in Chapter 5, lends itself particularly well to coaching. Why work with subpersonality in coaching? It leads to a valuing of difference and diversity; can be used to develop new skills and qualities and to work on blocks to performance as well as to deal with a fear of failure or success. Issues that lend themselves well to the coaching methodology are:

    • Poor self-esteem and self-image
    • Poor capacity for self-affirmation and assertion
    • Performance anxiety
    • Poor communication skills
    • Rigidity in interpersonal relationships
    • Conflict resolution
    • Difficulty working with others
    • Stuck in fixed roles or identities
    • Self-sabotaging behaviours
    • Inability or blocks to creative thinking and problem-solving
    • Difficulty initiating
    • Repetitious reactions and behaviours

    The fundamental behaviour of the coach is to ask questions, and coaching questions are designed to increase self-awareness and awareness of others. Some basics about asking questions: it is better to ask, rather than to tell; asking open questions allows for self-reflection on the part of the person being coached. Telling is a part of the old educational paradigm and does not empower the coachee or client. It is advisable to keep questions short, giving the space for a subjective response. Ask one question at a time – avoiding double or triple questions, which only lead to rationalization. Make questions specific and non-judgemental. Fuzzy questions evoke fuzzy answers. Avoid leading questions like, ‘Don't you think …?’ or ‘Why do you do that …?’ or ‘I wonder if …?’

    Types of Questions

    In coaching it is a golden rule that open questions cause the person to think of an answer beyond yes or no, inviting them to reflect more about the issue. Closed questions usually begin with a verb – have you, can you, will you? Whereas closed questions lead to a yes or no answer, open questions invite longer replies. They tend to begin with: who, what, when, where, rather than why. For example, an open question would be: ‘What did you feel when you saw such and such happen?’ A closed question might be, ‘Did you feel bad when you saw that?’ A closed question: ‘Do you need any more support?’ Open: ‘What support do you need?’ Closed: ‘Did the action work?’ Open: ‘What was the effect of the action you took?’ Closed: ‘Do you want to go to further education?’ Open: ‘What education do you want to have after 16?’

    Seeking to Quantify

    The most effective questions for raising awareness and responsibility begin with words that seek to quantify: what, when, who, how much, how many? Why questions are discouraged as they can imply criticism and therefore evoke defensiveness. As Fritz Perls, the father of gestalt therapy stressed, ‘why’ only leads to clever explanation, never to understanding. Why questions are better expressed as: what were the reasons? A coach seeks descriptive answers not judgemental answers.

    A coach will summarize content and check understanding, which allows clients to know that the coach has heard them accurately. Also, some useful coaching questions are: ‘What do you really want?’, which encourages the client to set goals, be clearer.

    Case Study: John

    When he was passed over for promotion, John, a business consultant sought coaching because his performance at work was not meeting his own expectations and his colleagues were surpassing him. His coach noticed that John was an exceptionally nice person, very affable, kind and self demeaning. He seemed to be just too good …

    Through dialogue, John revealed that he had an overbearing father who constantly demanded that he be the best at everything that he did. He spent his life living up to these expectations, always doing the right thing. However, in his current role, rather than being able to do the right thing, John was in a competitive sales position. Through transpersonal coaching John saw that sales did not suit his fundamental nature and once he changed roles in his company to a more HR-related role, he excelled. Essentially John was trying to be something he was not and consequently not fulfilling his potential, which was in a different arena.

    John was able to change this pattern of being overly nice without counselling, which would most likely have worked extensively on his relationship with his father. It is important for us to note that delving into the past is not always a prerequisite for dealing with challenging issues and behaviour patterns. Thanks to the transpersonal, who we are is greater than our childhood conditioning. Behaviours and experience of well-being can change by starting with the now and moving forward towards potential rather than backwards to the past. Counsellors beware of dogmatic adherence to traditional models of counselling for who we essentially are is so far beyond prescribed theories of psychological wounding and damage.

    Coaching Young People

    Unless long-term counselling is available, which it often is not, in working with vulnerable young people it is advisable not to open Pandora's Box. There are over one million 16–24-year-old young people in England who are not in education, employment or training. Their needs and lack of aspiration urgently require addressing, alongside creating positive life goals. Rather than focus on what's gone wrong for these young people, transpersonal coaching can focus on inspiring them to achieve the skills, qualifications and self-belief they need to succeed in education, work and life. It can enable them to feel valued, included and able to contribute to their communities. In other words, it can build aspirations, set life goals, open new possibilities and support them to accomplish them.

    Case Study: Susan

    For example, Susan is a young woman who was excluded from school for her angry behaviour and was reactive to certain situations where she felt unseen and unheard. Susan needed to learn to self-reflect and look at her life from a different perspective. With coaching she learned to reflect on the choices she was making and the consequences of those choices. She realized that the outcomes were not the ones that she wanted and explored alternative ways of expressing her anger. It was obvious that Susan was very bright but overbearing, challenging her teachers to respond to her dynamism in ways that were not suited to the classroom. Once Susan saw that she could tone down her responses and choose more appropriate ways of demanding attention, engage in more fruitful dialogues and learn to listen more, she saw that her teachers responded positively. In her own words, Susan said, ‘life is like being on a football pitch and being expected to score goals without knowing the rules. Coaching taught me the rules and I am now scoring goals all over the place. I found something special in me that I didn't previously see. I want to do so much to contribute to my community’.

    Case Study: Nick

    Nick is a young man who had low confidence and felt belittled by his peers who would occasionally tease him. It was hard for him to believe that his coach was real and actually did value and respect him, and they went through a period of Nick testing his coach's authenticity. Major challenges for Nick were to overcome his shyness and express his opinions in front of the others, in addition to overcoming his fear of being criticized. Once trust was built with his coach, Nick developed an ideal model of how he would like to be at school, setting realistic goals and steps forward that he could aspire towards. At first his steps were very small, the outcomes of which Nick would then bring to his coaching sessions. He tried new ways of speaking and expressing his opinions with his coach. Through coaching he experienced a boost in self-respect and discovered the hidden potential he had to express himself and to be creative. He learned that he did indeed have positive contributions to make and found the determination to do so. Nick now is head of his class and a role model for his friends and colleagues, and with the sensitivity he previously so loathed now serving him in his relationships with others.

    In Summary

    Transpersonal coaching does not require years of specialist training. Adhering to the simple principles expressed above can lead to effective changes for the coachee or client. I have trained young people to be successful peer coaches. If the coaching relationship adheres to the principles of bifocal vision, of seeing the best in the client and of non-judgemental, empathic understanding individuals can be empowered to believe in themselves, to take responsibility for changing what does not work for them and to make constructive choices for their way forward in life.

    Further Reading

    AssagioliRoberto (1993) Transpersonal Development. London: Crucible.
    AssagioliRoberto (1994) The Act of Will. London: Aquarian/Thorsons.
    AssagioliRoberto (1999) Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques. London: Aquarian/Thorsons.
    AssagioliRoberto (2000) Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings. Amherst, MA: Synthesis Centre Publishing.
    BrownMolly (1993) Growing Whole: Exploring the Wilderness Within. San Francisco: Hazelden/HarperCollins.
    BrownMolly (2004) The Unfolding Self: Psychosynthesis and Counselling. Los Angeles: Psychosynthesis Press.
    BrownMolly (2009) Growing Whole: Self Realisation for the Great Turning Within. Mt Shasta, CA: Psychosynthesis Press.
    EastcottMichael (1995) The Silent Path. Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Sundial House Publication.
    EastcottMichael (1999) ‘I’ the Story of the Self. Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Sundial House Publication.
    FerrucciPiero (1982) What We May Be: The Visions and Techniques of Psychosynthesis. Wellingborough: Thorsons.
    FerrucciPiero (1990) Inevitable Grace. Wellingborough: Thorsons.
    FerrucciPiero (1997) What Our Children Teach Us. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
    FerrucciPiero (2007) The Power of Kindness. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
    FerrucciPiero (2010) Beauty and the Soul. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
    FirmanJohn, and GilaAnn (1997) The Primal Wound: A Transpersonal View of Trauma, Addiction and Growth. New York: State University of New York Press.
    FirmanJohn, and GilaAnn (2002) Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. New York: State University of New York Press.
    FirmanJohn, and GilaAnn (2010) Psychotherapy of Love: Psychosynthesis in Practice. New York: State University of New York Press.
    HardyJean (1996) Psychology with a Soul: Psychosynthesis in Evolutionary Context. London: Woodgrange Press.
    HardyJean (2011) A Wiser Politics: Psyche, Polis, Cosmos. London: Woodgrange Press.
    ParfittWill (2011) The Elements of Psychosynthesis. Dorset: Element Books.
    ParfittWill (2003) Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond. Glastonbury: PS Avalon Pub.
    ParfittWill (2009) Psychosynthesis: New Perspectives and Creative Research. Glastonbury: PS Avalon Pub.
    WhitmoreDiana (1986) A Guide to the Joy of Learning: Psychosynthesis in Education. Wellingborough: Thorsons.


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