Finding a Key That Unlocks My Cathedral
Part one of a series outlining a new theory of mental health and disorder.
Posted February 13, 2019
Readers of this blog know that my intellectual journey toward the “Unified Theory/Unified Approach” started in the mid-1990s when I encountered the problem of psychotherapy integration, which refers to the fact that the field of psychotherapy resides in a state of fragmented pluralism. Although there are many great ideas in the field of psychotherapy, there is no coherent way for putting them together to make them sing as one. Instead, the ideas exist as a chaotic cacophony of noise rather than a beautiful symphony. This absence of a general understanding is why, instead of being taught a coherent vision of the subject matter and effective practice that is shared by the faculty, doctoral students in health service psychology still “choose” their theoretical orientation from a menu of options in advance of their pre-doctoral internship.
My journey resulted in some conceptual success in tackling the problem, and I developed the “UTUA Framework” as a solution to make music out of the noise. UTUA is an acronym that emerges from the combination of the “Unified Theory of psychology” (UT) and a “Unified Approach to psychotherapy” (UA). Both the UT and the UA are themselves made up of four key ideas. The UT consists of the Tree of Knowledge System that maps the universe as an unfolding wave of behavioral complexity that is divided into different dimensions and levels. The UT also consists of Behavioral Investment Theory, which combines a cognitive neuroscience functionalist account of the mind with key insights from Skinner’s radical behaviorism, which is then placed on an evolutionary psychological foundation to offer a clear account of “mental behavior” (AKA the behavior of animals) ...
Let me stop here, as the point I wanted to make has been made. My UTUA Framework is a massively complex “cathedral” of interlocking ideas. My experience and argument is that it is a beautiful cathedral, and that it does indeed provide the field what Dr. Waldemar Schmidt called a “Consilient Comprehensive Existential Metatheory” that solves many of the fields long standing conceptual problems. However, even that description reveals the difficulty, which the fact that the solution I am offering is complicated, multifaceted, and not easily transmitted or digested.
As those close to me know, my life has been changed in the last month because I have found what I believe to be a “golden key” that can help “unlock” my cathedral and set the stage for hopeful new approaches to mental health. And that key came from an unlikely place. I received a call in October from a man who worked in the field of “philosophical consulting and counseling.” Completely self-taught, he had developed a consulting firm and an educational and self-help platform that he argued provided the key to unlocking human potential and revealing the path to our “True Selves.” A half an hour conversation coupled with a quick review of his website left me with the feeling that his platform’s clean, but simplistic interface and “common sense” language system (while appealing) may not be properly anchored in the traditional sense. That is, I thought he had good insights for the layperson, but he was not speaking a refined psychological language, and thus he would not be much help to me in my quest.
Several weeks went by and another phone call with him resulted in my beginning to get genuinely curious about this man’s system. I could tell he was remarkably insightful about a broad range of issues and, even more importantly, it seemed to me that he was deeply self-aware and an authentically “healthy presence.” When it emerged that we both shared a philosophical interest in the notion that the Euler Identity represented a reductive point of “mathematical beauty,” I was convinced that his system had some real philosophical depth to it.
In December, I had a friend in distress with whom I had been engaged in some therapeutic-like conversations. She struggled with a long history of depression, and I was looking to help hook her up with additional resources. So, with her permission, I asked if he would be willing to serve as a philosophical consultant/counselor for her and her problems. It was here that things really started to click. She reported to me that although he used a very different language, she could see that he was highlighting her socio-emotional patterns and difficulties in a way that was highly similar to my approach. When he shared with me a written analysis of her patterns of emotional conflict, I immediately recognized that he was operating off a powerful lens. That accelerated my excitement, and several conversations later he agreed to travel from LA to the east coast where we would meet for two days to deeply explore each other’s visions.
That happened on January 3rd and 4th, 2019. The first day was a powerful meeting of the minds. He was broadly and deeply versed in philosophy and psychological theory and, as we spoke, the convergence of our ideas became increasingly apparent. The nature of the complementarity was truly striking, especially given that we came from completely different spheres. Whereas via my training I “climbed up the mountain” of the academy and dove deep “into the bowels” of psychological theory and research to develop my UTUA cathedral, he was completely self-taught and worked outside of the academy, as a consultant on human conflict. In climbing up his separate side of the mountain, he had developed a language system and platform for a general audience.
The nature of our systems and the differences can be brought to life in the following exchange:
“I have some concerns about how you use some of your terms,” I said, sitting on my refined knowledge high horse. “For example, you use ‘True Self’ and ‘False Self’ as if these were ontologically reified entities, when in fact don’t you mean different kinds of self-state flow?”
“Gregg,” he replied kindly, “How many people actually speak your refined language system?”
A brief pause, as I gulped for some air. “Good point,” I stammered, clearly recognizing in that moment the tension between a language game that is deeply refined and a language that can be readily used by others in the general population.
But it was the next day that the game really shifted.
“I need to ask you something, Gregg,” he said to me, an hour into our Friday conversation. His tone was serious, and I could feel a shift in the air. “I have sensed you have an ‘Inflated A’ edge to you. I need to know if you know that and what that is about.”
My mindset shifted dramatically as I processed this comment. Even though I felt exposed to some degree, my hope for what this might be exploded. One of my great points of emphasis is that any theory of human psychology/psychopathology worth its salt must be applied to its owners and practitioners with relevance. The next three blogs will lay out the theory in detail but let me explain what an “Inflated A” is in the context of the system. An Inflated A refers to emotionally charged social influence strategies characterized by a hyper-masculine, competitive, arrogant, or aggressive way of being. Our current President exemplifies the Inflated A style, in an algorithmic like fashion. The fact that it is “Inflated” refers to the fact that it is likely driven by more than just instrumental needs or understandable frustration stemming from truth-based claims not being understood by someone else. Rather, there is something deeper going on psychologically that energizes it. (As you likely can surmise, “Inflated B,” refers to the opposite side of this equation, and it characterized by someone being deferential and submissive or hypersensitive).
His comment was dead on. I do carry an Inflated A, especially in relationship to my theory. My experience of building the unified theory is that it is the beautiful thing that others ought to love and respect. The reaction to it—from both the field and important others—has at times been less enthusiastic than my ego has desired. Thus, it is true that I carry some resentment that can “leak out” in the way he noticed and has been sometimes experienced by others as a narcissistic, grandiose "edge." The direct connection between my wounds for not being known and valued the way my heart wished to be, and the way that translated into an aggressive edge that was easily labeled as an “Inflated A” struck me deeply. Not only that, but the fuller realization of what he meant by the “False Self” popped for me in that moment. The False Self characterizes our ego-based defenses that we deploy in efforts to protect our status and belonging based on our core fears that emerge out of earlier injuries. Indeed, the root of our False Selves are broken trust events that leave us experiencing a profoundly aversive state that we will do anything to avoid.
Since that day in my office when the light was shown on my Inflated A, a cataclysmic shift has happened in my view of mental health and disorder. I realize now that my initial assessment of this self-help platform could not have been further off. Dismissing it because it was simple or in the self-help genre or lacked some of the refined knowledge elements I utilize was an error, albeit an understandable one. I now see that its beauty lies in its simplicity and its accessibility. And when it is contextualized in the UTUA cathedral, a remarkable new approach to mental disorder and mental health potentially springs forth.
Who was this man and what is this “key” that unlocked my cathedral? The man is Edward Kroger and the key was his theory of Emotional Warfare and Philosophy of One Divide. The next three blogs describe these ideas. In them, I explain why I believe they hold such potential for transforming our understanding of the human condition, human conflict, psychopathology, and how they might play a part in charting a path toward harmonizing social flow toward truth, goodness, and beauty.