The Integrative Helper:

Convergence of Eastern and Western Traditions

 

The above entitled book by William L. Mikulas (Brooks/Cole:Pacific Grove, CA, 2002) helps counselors appreciate the opportunities available to them to increase their effectiveness by incorporating into their practice Eastern teachings.  All the following quotes are from his book. 

 

Western educated people have long borrowed from Eastern thought.  However, in the last 50 years this borrowing has increased substantially.  Remember to keep in mind that we do not want you to let go of the Western ideas, rather we are seeking, as Mikulas says in his title, a “convergence” to be your goal so that you are comfortable incorporating ideas from throughout the world.  In order to fully appreciate all the fabulous potentials of a human being, such a convergence is essential.

 

“Buckminster Fuller defined humans as observers of patterns in the flow of events.  This includes a predisposition to notice apparent causal patterns” (p. 32).  In order for you to “see” the flow, you have to be aware of Eastern as well as Western concepts.  Even Maslow eventually came to recognize this.  Maslow’s classic hierarchy of needs use to stop at “self-actualization” and many teachers still teach his ideas as if that were the end-goal.  However, “Maslow came to realize that self-actualization is not the end of development, and he added ‘self-transcendence’ as the new top of the hierarchy, a stage corresponding to the transpersonal level.  Maslow was a founder of humanistic psychology and later a founder of transpersonal psychology” (p. 23).  “For most people, the transpersonal has a religious or spiritual flavor to it…some…may prefer to substitute ‘spiritual’ for ‘transpersonal’” (p. 161).

 

“At the personal level, someone’s self-concept and self-esteem are often based on the person’s perceptions of and thoughts about his or her body, such as how ‘attractive,’ healthy, or competent it is…From a transpersonal perspective, the body is part of the role a person is playing in the great play” (p. 31).

 

“A central theme of this…book…is the cultivation of mindfulness…(which) refers to the bare attention and choiceless awareness of what is being observed.  That is, it is just simply noticing, without evaluation, judgment, or elaboration.  The mind may judge, and mindfulness is the noticing of the judgment.  Mindfulness is not thinking; it is simply being aware of what is happening, including any thinking…According to the Buddha, it is the most important thing one can do, for it facilitates everything else one does…The integrative helper is continually looking for opportunities to add cultivation of mindfulness to other treatment components.  When learning progressive muscle relaxation, the client should not simply tense and relax muscles.  Rather, he should be instructed to observe carefully the feelings of tension and relaxation” (p. 60).

 

“When one has learned to be more mindful on one’s breathing, being mindful of one’s emotions and thought becomes easier and more likely” (p. 61).

 

“Positive thinking promotes biological health…realistic optimism improves cardiovascular responses, muscle enzyme activity, and immune system functioning…a person’s perceptions of, interpretations of, and attitudes toward events influence how much stress he will experience at the biological level…It is very important that the integrative helper never underestimate the great power of beliefs!  This power can be seen in a wide variety of interrelated literatures including expectancy, placebo, psychosomatic, faith, and hypnosis” (p. 122).

 

“By quieting the mind and opening the heart, the integrative helper learns how to listen, be empathic and compassionate, be in the here and now, and fully enter into relationship with the client.  Integrative helpers recognize that there are different personal realities; they respect the autonomy and dignity of the client and are vigilant to their own personal and cultural biases and attachments” (p. 141).

 

Motivation to Change

 

“…a common cause of motivation occurs when a person discovers that what he thought would bring fulfillment and happiness in life is just not working.  In commercial America, many people seek happiness or status by collecting more and more stuff (e.g., clothes, cars, electronic gadgets, money) and by living a lifestyle dictated by advertisers and the media.  When these do not provide the fulfillment expected and promised, the person may have a personal crisis (e.g., midlife crisis, existential crisis) and/or seek what more there is to life, including the transpersonal. 

 

“Some people are motivated toward the transpersonal by existential and spiritual yearnings, anxiety, feelings of isolation, a search for meaning, or a desire for a deeper connection and greater coherence between self and world.  Others have had experiences (e.g., peak, flow, mystical, psychic) that they perceive as a taste of the transpersonal that they wish to explore further…One reason for the current popularity of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, is the inclusion of the transpersonal component” (p. 158).

 

“An important early factor in a change program is ‘readiness to hear,’ the ability of a person to recognize that there is a problem or need to change.  For many reasons already discussed, it might take a while before the person reaches this point.  It is amazing the amount of suffering people endure before they are finally ready to hear. 

 

“After the need is recognized and the client accepts responsibility to do something about it, a change program is developed.  Then the next step is for the client to actually do what is necessary for change.  This step is often very difficult for the person, whether working alone or with a helper.  Many people want to change and know what they need to do; but somehow they never have the time or energy to do it.  The complexities and melodramas of their lives keep them unnecessarily tied up.  In addition, people procrastinate for various reasons, such as fear of failing at change, dislike of the work involved in changing, concern about rejection or resentment toward changes, fear of consequences of change such as new responsibilities, and fear that changes will result in an unpleasant situation or a situation with great potential for failure” (p. 143).

 

“Thus, the helper often must assess the client’s concerns, beliefs, and attachments related to change, and some of these must be addressed before proceeding with the change program…Perhaps the person is being reinforced for her current undesirable behaviors by reinforcers such as attention, concern, or sympathy from others.  Perhaps others are sabotaging the person’s attempts to change.  A husband may sabotage his wife’s attempt to lose weight because he doesn’t want her to become more attractive to other men.  A wife may sabotage her husband’s plan to curtail his problem drinking; because if he is successful, she feels she will be forced to confront some of her own problem behaviors.

 

“When it is time to change, the helper helps to elicit and/or develop the client’s motivation to change…The client might make a list of reasons for changing, a list that is posted, reviewed regularly, and altered over time…

 

“It may be helpful for clients to learn how to reinforce themselves for carrying out the steps of the change program.  This could be formalized into a contract, that might involve other people…Short delays of reinforcement usually have a much stronger effect on behavior than long delays...The immediate reinforcing effects of eating a second piece of pie are stronger than the long-term reinforcing effects of weight loss for not eating the second piece…To deal with issues of delay of reinforcement, the helper may need to help the client imagine future consequences or learn to deal gradually with delay of gratification” (p. 144).

 

“Development from the personal stage to the transpersonal stage involves…getting free from being lost in the melodrama of the personal reality, where one’s happiness depends on the plot of the melodrama and what the script says one needs to be happy.  This does not mean that the personal-level self and related constructs disappear or lose their functional usefulness.  They are simply added to as one uncovers the transpersonal level of being” (p. 159).

 

“First, one moves into a broader conscious domain and uncovers a very sane, awake, clear, and centered aspect of being that is particularly open to insight knowing.  During the gradual transition from personal to transpersonal, one periodically has an experiential sense of this calm and clear domain, which gradually provides a frame of reference relative to how much one is lost in the melodrama of the personal reality.  Second, the mind becomes free from unnecessary service to the personal-level self…Third, one is experientially more in the here and now.  At the personal stage of development, one is seldom in the here and now; much of the time one is lost in memories of the past or anticipations of the future.  But at the transpersonal stage, there is much less of this remembering and fantasizing; and when it does appropriately occur, one does not get pulled into and lost in it…The fourth result of transpersonal development is that one finds peace of mind and fulfillment that are independent of the events in the personal-level melodrama.  And the fifth result is that one’s behavior becomes motivated primarily by appropriateness and compassion.  This behavior is more spontaneous, obvious, harmonious, and selfless”  (p. 159-160).

 

“The goal of most Western psychotherapists is to help the client cope better with his or her life.  A helper cannot eliminate all the suffering from a client’s life, but he or she can help their person be better able to cope with or accept the suffering.  Eastern psychologies and transpersonal psychology suggest we can do better than that” (p. 156).

 

Ram Dass is a Western trained former Harvard psychologist (his former name was Richard Alpert) who went and became deeply involved in Eastern thought processes.  He “…suggests that ‘Western psychotherapy rearranges the furniture in the room.  Eastern techniques help you get out of the room.’  Transpersonal therapy helps the client discover freedom, equanimity, peace of mind, and love” (p. 156).  I have been reading Ram Dass for over 30 years now and have found his work very helpful in my efforts to assist others as well as myself.

 

When Mikulas “surveyed the major psychospiritual disciplines from around the world, Western and Eastern, (he) found a wide variety of moderately incompatible philosophies, cosmologies, and religions; but when (he) looked at the psychospiritual practices, (he) found consensus.  That is, if the question is what to do, as opposed to what to believe or think, in order to uncover the transpersonal, then there is agreement.  The four, interrelated, universal practices are quieting the mind, increasing awareness, reducing attachments, and opening the heart” (p. 168).

 

Although this book provides you with an overview that is helpful, many of the books that Mikulas uses to understand the spiritual nature of humans and which are listed in his references are really far better books for you to read and I recommend them to you.  They include works by Ram Dass, Carlos Castaneda, Csikszentmihalyi, E.T. Gendlin, Fromm, Daniel Goleman, S. Grof, Michael Murphy, Carl Rogers, and Andrew Weil---and if you have read the material for my “How to live a wonderful life!” course you will recognize that I have used many of these same sources.