Psyche: The Core Concept
Who owns the mind? Is it the believers in spirit, that illusive "thing" that isn't a thing, but somehow resides in the brain . . . or is it the heart? Do scientists own the mind? Those dissectors and understanders who deny something just because they haven't seen it yet? Before Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental psychology laboratory in 1879 there was no academic discipline of psychology separate from philosophy and biology. Perhaps it should have stayed like that for a while longer at least: the study of mind from a physiological perspective as a subfield in biology and the study of mind from a conceptual perspective as a subfield of philosophy.
Although there are more psychological issues today that can be significantly and reliably treated by a particular psychological approach than there were one hundred years ago, it remains the case that for most psychological complaints, schools of thought or academic orientation are not related to successful treatment. Rather it is similarity of background and values and the creation of a trusting rapport that are most correlated with successful psychotherapy. Furthermore, for common "neurosis," talk therapy with a skilled practitioner (or even trusted family member) is more effective over the long run than an equivalent-length treatment with any pharmaceutical. Especially since many pharmaceuticals begin to backfire after prolonged use-backfire due to tolerance and side effects, where the benefit begins to be outweighed by the drawbacks. The current tendency to prescribe a pharmaceutical, simply because it works at first, is mistaken. We must find combinations of treatments that are explicitly chosen to be effective without relapse when the chemical is finally withdrawn.
There is an important role played by healing professionals who fight to stop pathology and the damage it incurs. There is also a huge role to be played by those who try to guide healthy, mature living in order to forestall the advent of pathology, especially pathology caused by lifestyle choices, using harm reduction, not moralizing. The psycheology approach I describe next is mostly oriented toward facilitating and guiding healthy maturation and to a lesser extent toward fighting true pathology, except during emergency circumstances.
Psycheology: The Study of the Soul
This blog integrates my own evolution into the discussion of using psychedelics for healing. I can illustrate this point by defining a word I've crafted and like to use in my practice, the word psycheology. You won't find the word psycheology in any dictionary (I've searched). Rather, it is a made-up word-a neologism (from the Greek: neo meaning "new" and logos meaning "word" or "statement," or meaningful sound, information as patterned energy). Psycheology is a word I created in my effort to reclaim the true, original meaning of the word psychology.
The word psychology comes from the Greek psukhe, meaning "soul," "spirit," "mind," "life," and "breath," combined with the Greek logos, here used as "statement," "expression," and "discourse," more often thought of today in the form of "-ology," as "the study of." Although the academic and clinical discipline of psychology has become a medical-and therefore a pathology-oriented-field, prior to the late 1800s, the study of our inner mental life was the study of our soul, our deepest self or essence.
My purpose in writing this blog is to bring psychologists, my clients, and us all back to psychology as the study of the psyche, to a focus on the ground of our being, to the soul, because it is this part of us that is the earliest, deepest, and the most authentic part of us. From a psychotherapeutic perspective, the psyche is the part of us that is the most influential in effecting behavioral change and improving self-esteem. Not coincidentally, it is also the part of us that we see illuminated during the psychedelic experience, and it is this illumination of our true nature (or the corresponding "death" of our identification with the ego) that accounts for the therapeutic value of the psychedelic experience. This effect is similar to the concept of sympathetic vibration; wherein a still tuning fork brought into contact with a vibrating one will begin to vibrate at the same frequency. If our conscious attention or identity is brought into contact with or awareness of our deepest ground of being, our conscious awareness elicits or comes into identity with-becomes-that same deepest sense of self. We are changed-transformed-back into identity with the true self we abandoned in our childhood quest for parental love.
To foster this process of re-identification, we must come to view much of behavior now labeled "neurotic" not as pathological, but as the organism's natural response to developmental and environmental stresses on the path to maturation. From this perspective, "neurosis" is better seen as developmental challenge-the surmounting of which brings maturity or wisdom-rather than as pathology.
The term neurosis, as generally applied, is not accurate or helpful. In fact, one of the most negative influences on mental health is the "sick" concept itself, which tightens and distorts, keeping us from a natural unfolding and realignment.
In essence, we need to have psychiatrists (doctors who can prescribe medical and, nowadays usually pharmacological, treatment) treat true biochemically based behavioral disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, and return the clinical practice of psychology to the unfolding of the psyche, in all its beauty and complexity, as a non-medical, natural phenomenon.
With the exception of these biologically based illnesses, psychology must come to be seen as the science of spiritual maturity. We call people "neurotic" when, in reality, it's not a medical illness they are suffering from, but spiritual immaturity. We must redefine spirituality, too, not as supernatural, but as simply the natural unfolding toward the wise, mature end of the normal curve of human developmental psychology.
In my practice, I find over and over again that big-picture understanding, active listening, and fundamental positive regard work best. From my perspective, "healing" takes place only when we get underneath our modern imago, persona, or personality, to rest at the ground of our being-to naturally unfold according to our perfect, inner template for development. That process both requires and facilitates the emergence of self-acceptance and will.
The Psycheology Approach to Psychotherapy
To summarize, in their approach to clients, therapists with the psycheology worldview will tend to naturally express many approaches from the following list of philosophies and methods:
The psycheology approach to healthy human development is yogic and ayurvedic: seen as a perfect, healthy, developmental process of maturation. Psycheology approaches the human organism as a single whole seen sometimes as body, sometimes as mind, sometimes as spirit, but most effectively approached as the integral of all three.
Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development (Inner Traditions, 2011), by Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.