Unique Self Psychology and the New Enlightenment Blog by Dr. Elliott Ingersoll
And you may see me tonight
With an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much
But it lasts a long while
- John Prine
My father always said the best way to get into an argument is to talk politics or religion. In this blog I do both by discussing illegal drugs that are starting to be recognized as having medicinal and psychological benefits. Discussions about illegal drugs evoke passions powered by a zeal approaching religiosity as well as convictions equaling the propaganda of political conventions. Being as I am a psychologist with 20 years of experience studying psychopharmacology, I will focus on the psychological and even social benefits that may come from proper use of MDMA (“Ecstasy”), hallucinogens (LSD and psilocybin) and cannabis (marijuana). For many people the idea of these drugs being useful or even therapeutic is as ridiculous as ice dancers at a pig roast. Others believe the legal use of them would trigger a Grateful Dead apocalypse that would bring down the free world in an orgy of drumming and dancing. My sense is that the proper use of these agents will bring about a more humane society, decrease the prison population, contribute to a psychology of ecstasy and provide harmlessly fun anecdotes beyond the usual “…so we were drinking down at Rays Place…”
Make no mistake; all the drugs on my list are psychoactive substances that affect your brain, your state of mind and your choice of snacks. We do not understand terribly much about how they work but don’t let that bother you; we don’t really understand how any psychiatric medications “work” when they work (aside from stimulants like amphetamines and anti-anxiety drugs like Valium). Now I am not going to go on a conspiracy theory “rant” about our ignorance of the brain, drug companies or psychiatric medications but professionals like me are ethically obliged to tell laypeople at least three things that some of my fellow professionals consider somewhat, well, embarrassing:
“Culture is a gadget; it’s something we inherit. And you can fix it the way you can fix a broken oil burner.” – KURT VONNEGUT
I started this blog after the shootings at Umpqua College in Oregon. I realized that to discuss the “source code” that underlies our delusional gun culture I would first have to offer a Unique Self Psychology “take” on culture in general. As Kurt Vonnegut’s words remind us, the contents of culture are not a destined reflection of human nature. Culture is a gadget that can be fixed by human nature once the ocean of culture we are swimming in becomes an object of awareness.
As I write this I am realizing that the phrase “object of awareness” is drier than a California reservoir. I’ve been using the phrase “object of awareness” for years in my writing about psychology. Time for a change. Making culture (or anything) an object of awareness doesn’t take the fun out of it like the dryness of the phrase implies. In that spirit I have made up the word “psychaflower” to denote making something an object of awareness as in “I psychaflowered my anger in therapy” or “As a culture we are psychaflowering our attitude toward marriage equality.” Isn’t that more fun? It’s sort of like the grammatical difference between a scientific discussion of urgency in mammalian reproduction and watching the neighbor’s dog try to hump the mailman’s leg. And of course what is psychaflowered can be pollinated but more on that later. Now that I’ve invented a wonderful new word (unlikely to show up in peer-reviewed journals anytime soon), back to business (or “busyness” if you prefer).
Unique Self Psychology begins discussion of “mental illness” by outlining what is meant by “mental.” In my last blog I offered a Unique Self Psychology description of “mind” that includes not only self-awareness, but our embodiment (including all the neuroscience bells and whistles), our environment, our interactions with others and of course our culture. “Mental” also includes our field of awareness and the things that arise in our field of awareness – the things we can psychaflower. Psychaflowering offers not just understanding but a toy chest of ways to change what was psychaflowered (again, fun everywhere you look!).
That which a “people” agree to focus on in large part form our various “cultures.” “Culture” is an artifact of what a “people” choose as important from things arising in their field of awareness. They may then psychaflower that which they have said is important or simply go with the flow on psychological autopilot. Mind you the default position in all of us for this process is autopilot. We usually have to practice observing, questioning and ultimately psychaflowering. We only begin to master our awareness some years after we are born and by then we have been bathed in the cacophony of what our “people” considered our “culture.” Occasionally one of our people will be good at teaching us to psychaflower cultural assumptions that have been foisted on us but this is usually pure luck if it happens (though many of us were blessed with a “crazy” Aunt or Uncle or laughed at and questioned everything).
A very funny (funny as in “ha-ha” and as in “strange”) thing about culture is that it is reified in 20th -21st century psychologies. This leads to both irony and suffering. Here is an experiment you can do: go to a psychology conference and sanctimoniously invoke the word “culture.” Within minutes you’ll have a strange collection of graduate students and assistant professors groveling at your feet (really – try this – it is amazing). They can’t explain this reflex of course because they have not psychaflowered their conception of culture – they have merely turned it into a monstrous god who rules their intellect with all the compassion of a rabid groundhog. So in Unique Self Psychology we begin by slaughtering this “Golden Calf” (or “Plastic Groundhog” if you like) of culture. We do it humanely of course, like cruelty-free beef where all cows go to Disneyland before going to the butcher.
From a Unique Self Psychology perspective, culture is an artifact of humanness that can range from a rich, fulfilling context for growth to a dung heap of aggression, repression and cruelty. The only “given” or destiny about culture is that humans will create cultures as surely Republican politicians will pray before first kickoff of the Super Bowl. By psychaflowering our culture we become aware of the source code underlying it. We are then free to pollinate the psychaflowered source code so that it increasingly produces cultural artifacts that guide each person toward their Unique Self. These cultural artifacts are the “blossoms” of a Unique Self source code and become increasingly concerned with the preservation of life rather than the ruthless control of life.
Now having established (I hope) a basic understanding of source code in relation to culture, my next blog will specifically examine what a people have to believe to allow a parade of senseless gun violence and mass killing. And of course I will discuss what the source code would have to be for people to believe that a senseless parade of gun violence is inevitable. I will also discuss how 20th and 21st century psychologies do little to dissuade such atrocities. I will not, however merely “muckrake.” I will then go on to discuss how a Unique Self Psychology can liberate each of us from the bleak vision of mental health forged in the 20th century. In this vision, as Alan Watts wrote, mental health is the state of mind you are in driving to work Monday morning. A Unique Self Psychology vision of mental health is more akin to the afterglow of sexual embrace or the laughter of children playing senseless games. I will discuss how this vision of mental health, and the cultural artifacts that promote it, can be written into the source code of our species and how this can alleviate so much of the senseless suffering related to things like gun violence.
By Elliott Ingersoll, Ph.D.
The word “psychology” was coined in the 16th century from the modern Latin psychologia which in turn is taken from the Greek psykhe meaning “breath, spirit, soul.” If these words signified similar things to the 16th century Greeks as they do to us you’d never know it. To sign up as a psychology major in any of the world’s mainstream universities in the early 21st century “psychology” is still described as “the science of mind and behavior.” As all historians of psychology know most of the emphasis in the last 200 years has been on the “behavior” piece. We are still “fuzzy” on the “mind” piece. If by “mind” we mean our mental experiences, sentience, and the field of awareness that these arise in we still come up short. There is growing evidence that “mind” is also a social phenomenon being sculpted dialectically by our interactions with other creatures and the environment. Also there is mounting evidence that at least the experiences of “mind” may be more affected by things like our gut bacteria than ever thought possible even 20 years ago. This may be thought of as another “interactional” dynamic. We carry more DNA for the bacteria that symbiotically work with us than the DNA of our own cells. All these interactions affecting our mental experience and what we call our “mind” seem to suggest more of a field effect than a solitary reality.
In physics, the field effect refers to modulating the electrical conductivity of a material by the application of an external electric field. I try to be very cautious about using similes from physics to discuss psychology. Here I want to relax my caution to use the simile two ways implying the “material” in the description of physics field effects is akin to our solitary experience of “mind” and the “field” in physics akin to the cacophony of situations and stimuli we are immersed in from cradle to grave. What I am pondering is whether what we colloquially refer to as “our mind” is possibly only one aspect of a vast and potentially infinite array of interactions, influences, and overlapping fields.
Ok so back to the two ways I am playing with the simile of field effect: First we know that much of our being relies on electrical activity including our brain. And we know that human brains electrically (and otherwise) entrain with other brains in the presence of certain stimuli. Some stimuli (experiences) are more entraining than others. Drumming and all music have the potential for strong entrainment as do physical activities done in groups like dance, sports, sex (imagine a dyad if the group thing bugs you here), and various “crowd phenomena like so-called “mob psychology” (and “no” this is not psychoanalysis of Vito Corleone but rather how people will do things in crowds they won’t do alone and where the increase of energy is almost wave-like in a so-called “mob happening.”).
Second I feel playing with the simile of field effect to describe “mind” is valid because we are all immersed in a series of fields whether you think of them concentrically or as an overlapping cacophony of potential influences. Part of training “mind” is discerning, focusing, and choosing from among those influences. Some are such that we can make them objects of awareness then “choose” to focus on them (for example choosing those people we will allow emotionally closest). Others are things we are totally immersed in and necessary for survival (like gut bacteria) or characterized by chaos patterns that make them more variable (crowds, things that happen to us, elements in the environments we physically inhabit).
In Personality Psychology or Psychotherapy Theory it is common to hear people describe themselves as a “community of selves.” Mind seems a similar phenomenon in that it is a seeming solitary experience that is one aspect of a vast and potentially infinite field of influences, interactions, symbiosis and accidents. In future blog entries I will discuss levels of the field of psychology in the context of Unique Self Psychology. We will also explore why “soul” keeps popping up in etymological explorations of the word “psychology.”
Integral Psychologist and Associate Academic Director for CIW Elliott Ingersoll, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and clinical counselor in Ohio. He is professor of counseling/counseling psychology and “Distinguished Faculty Member” at Cleveland State University. His research interests span a broad spectrum including psychopathology, mental health diagnosis, psychopharmacology, and spirituality in counseling and psychotherapy. He has authored or co-authored six books and dozens of peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on mental health related topics.
Elliott has been inspired and influenced by the Free Thought movement of the late 19th century and particularly by Robert Green Ingersoll, a leading freethinker of that time. He believes the most important skill for a human being is critical thinking seasoned with compassion. Elliott also is a singer/songwriter and creator of “FreeThought Folk Music” which he performs throughout Northeast Ohio. His CD “American Infidel” was released in 2013.
He has worked with Ken Wilber and the Integral Psychotherapy Team at Integral Institute since 2004 developing the Integral Psychotherapy approach. Integral Psychotherapy draws upon all validated psychotherapeutic approaches to help clients deal with psychological symptoms or live more fulfilling lives by removing barriers that come from living unconsciously. As an Integral Coach, he helps clients take action through motivation, methods of inquiry, and assisting clients in using the Integral Model to achieve their goals and improve their lives.
We wish all our readers a good and sweet year: L’Shanah Tovah U-Metukah. Read more about the cosmocentric rereading of the ritual of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday, by Dr. Marc Gafni, here>>>
In Evolutionary Love,
The Center for Integral Wisdom Team
Dr. Elliott Ingersoll, Associate Academic Director of the Center for Integral Wisdom, gave a talk at our recent board meeting in Texas about how the Dharma of Outrageous Love and Unique Self is going to transform the field of psychology.
Dr. Marc Gafni introduces Elliott as the Integral psychologist (according to Ken Wilber) and the most popular professor for psychology at Kent State University.
In his serious, yet humorous way Elliott talks about his work at the Metro Health Medical Center and how through collaborative interdisciplinary efforts people’s lives have been changed because their stories have been heard. By having their stories heard people feel seen and loved.
“In being loved they are experiencing a wholeness that for whatever reasons they didn’t get in other parts of their lives… and their recovery is progressing at a pace that far outstrips what we were doing before…” Elliott reports.
He shares about his hope that Unique Self Psychology will transform the field: Students learning how to hold space and to really see the other person and experiencing themselves as being seen will carry that experience into their therapy sessions. This –although a little scary in the beginning–is pretty contagious and it is what will transform the field.
“Nature loves diversity–genetically, psychologically and spiritually. Every one of us has a plate. Every one of us has a way to deal with our plate. And that’s the piece of Unique Self that we want to bring into psychology.”
Listen to Elliott as he takes us on a journey from the flatland psychology that has “physics envy” through the effects of psychotropic medication to the possibilities of a psychology transformed by Outrageous Love and Unique Self:
Some interesting statements and questions Elliott raises in his talk:
- Who will be a voice for those people who don’t have a voice?
- Outrageous Love is missing in so much of our health care.
- The uniqueness of people is muted with psychotropic medication.
- There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the brain. We don’t have one physiological marker for any mental disorder.
- You cannot medicate anger out of a person.
- WHEN psychotropic medication works, we don’t know how.
- Outrageous Pain cannot be held by ego. Unique Self can hold it and can deal with a piece of it and be excited about what’s on “my plate.”
- When people are being seen they stay and get the treatment they need to get better.