In Integral psychotherapy, deeper consciousness means more responsibility
A forty-one year old woman named Sandy* comes into my office distressed with her marriage to Tom and frustrated with parenting her two daughters Emily and Sarah, aged seven and nine. Who is my client?
The legal and ethical standards of psychology say that Sandy is my client, but as an Integrally informed psychotherapist I have more responsibilities, especially to help Emily and Sarah thrive. This is beyond my legal reporting obligations about neglect and abuse—this is my responsibility to support all children, and especially the children of my clients.
I also might or might not have responsibilities to help Tom, Sandy’s mother, father, sisters, or brother, depending on lots of variables.
Why is this?
In my book, Waking Up, I maintain that Integral psychotherapists cultivate compassion and depth of consciousness to co-create healing cultures with their clients. Depth of consciousness means understanding people within the many contexts of their lives, including the altitudes they typically inhabit on a variety of developmental lines like the self, interpersonal, parenting, morals, psychosexual, and integration-of-defenses lines. With deeper consciousness in my clients and myself comes felt responsibilities to help all those contexts, but with varying degrees of urgency.
With parents, I have opportunities to support the development of children, and a value I hold is that adults have basic obligations to support and protect children of all ages. No one is more important to a child’s development than his or her parent, and so it’s my responsibility to help people be better parents whenever I have the opportunity.
This is not a secret agenda in my work. I told Sandy in the first session that the welfare of her girls was a primary concern of mine in our work.
What about Tom, Sandy’s mother, father, sisters, or co-workers? If I’m helping Sandy with these relationships, I do have responsibilities to help her be respectful to these people, but might or might not have responsibilities to help them specifically. Say Sandy’s father is an emotionally abusive alcoholic. I probably will need to help Sandy set boundaries for him—refuse to codependently endure his emotional abuse, or perhaps encourage her to never relate with him while he’s intoxicated—but this might result in his decompensation, or actually speed up his physical decline if more family members climb aboard the don’t-be-codependent bandwagon.
In Integral psychotherapy, these distinctions are always being considered by the therapist, evaluating each situation, each relationship, from multiple perspectives.
If we can’t see these perspectives, we can’t make these discernments. This is one illustration of how deeper consciousness means more responsibility.
*Sandy’s name and circumstances have been changed to protect her privacy.