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Referential integration: an emotional information processing perspective on the process of integration.

This article contends that the field of integration needs to examine the processes involved in achieving unified conceptual truths about human nature. A theory of emotional information processing (Bucci, 1997) that incorporates the concept of implicit relational knowledge is used to examine different models of integration. The authors argue that manipulative integration models tend to rely on linear, verbal (symbolic) processing, whereas nonmanipulative integration models require linking nonverbal emotional (subsymbolic) processing with linear, verbal (symbolic) processing; a process referred to as referential activity (Bucci, 1997). Moreover, it is argued that this type of emotional information processing inherently links experiential and conceptual forms of integration that have been discussed in the literature. This approach is referred to as "referential integration," which focuses on the processes involved in non-manipulative forms of integration. Referential activity in the process of scientific discovery is used as an example of this approach to integration. The authors conclude with practical implications for the integrative task.


In the past thirty-plus years, the integration of psychology and theology has gained the status of a subdiscipline (Vande Kemp, 1996). This is evidenced by the several journals and monographs devoted to the topic (e.g., Journal of Psychology and Theology; Journal of Psychology and Christianity; Limning the Psyche; Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling), doctoral level training programs that specialize in integrating Christian faith and theology with psychology (of which there are now seven) and professional organizations (e.g., Christian Association for Psychological Studies). The integration endeavor has certainly come a long way since it was first given a formal forum in the pages of the Journal of Psychology and Theology in 1973.

While much has been written about models (see Eck, 1996 for a review) and types of integration (see Bouma-Prediger, 1990 for a review), little attention has been devoted to two key areas: (a) the processes involved in arriving at unified, integrative truths from both psychology and theology that provide a deeper understanding than one discipline alone; and (b) how experiential and conceptual forms of integration interact with each other in support of these processes. We will first trace some of the important trends in integration theory, and then attempt to apply a relational theory of emotional information processing to these two issues. We hope to demonstrate (a) that arriving at unified conceptualizations requires linking nonverbal emotional (subsymbolic) processing with verbal-conceptual (symbolic) processing, a process referred to as referential activity (Bucci, 1997); (b) that nonverbal emotional information processing is a form of implicit relational knowledge that is based on implicit relational representations (Hall, 2004); and (c) that this type of emotional information processing inherently links the notions of experiential and conceptual integration that have been discussed in the literature.

Prior to tracing trends in integration theory, we want to briefly locate our article within the spectrum of modern and postmodern philosophical perspectives on integration, which is the focus of this special issue. This is a difficult endeavor in that where our approach lies on the modern/postmodern divide depends entirely upon how one characterizes modernism and postmodernism. Since there are a myriad of ways to characterize these two "isms," we are somewhat content to leave it up to the reader to judge the degree to which our approach to integration is modern and/or postmodern (or even pre-modern). Nevertheless, it may be helpful to make clear that our position assumes a realist epistemology in which it is held that human nature and functioning exist as mind-independent realities and that through appropriate investigation persons can come to have a more or less accurate understanding of these realities. However, as we hope to show, we do not view the process of coming to have a more or less accurate understanding of human nature and functioning as a simple, objective, linear process. Rather, we propose that a robust understanding of human nature and functioning cannot be obtained apart from a deeply experiential and personal form of information processing that is to some degree influenced by the particularities of our own experience and context.


Model Building, Confusion, and Types of Integration

Worthington (1994) has described three distinct "waves" of integration. The first wave consisted of unsystematic attempts prior to 1975. The second wave was catalyzed by the founding of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, which led to a period of active model building between 1975 and 1982. These works predominantly represent meta-integration efforts, which seek to address the philosophical foundations for bringing together two distinct disciplines (e.g., Carter, 1977; Carter & Mohline, 1976; Carter & Narramore, 1979; Collins, 1977, 1981; Crabb, 1981; Farnsworth, 1982; Guy, 1980, 1982; Larzalere, 1980). Worthington noted that model development slowed following this period. He contended that integration

scholars began to move beyond model building to focus on doing intradisciplinary integration; that is, integrating Christian values with theories of therapy (e.g., Jones & Butman, 1991; Hall & Hall, 1997).

Despite the progress made during this period, the many models that proliferated led to some confusion over terminology and the various types of integration. Bouma-Prediger (1990) detailed the many different conceptualizations of "integration" in the literature. For example, integration has been used to refer to relating psychology and Christianity, psychology and theology, Christian belief and human science, theory and practice, and faith and lifestyle. In addition, many different types of integration have been discussed in the literature, including interdisciplinary (conceptual/theoretical), intradisciplinary (consistency between theory and practice), professional, clinical (Hall & Hall, 1997), experiential and embodied integration, to name a few (e.g., Bouma-Prediger; Farnsworth, 1982). While it is difficult to clearly delineate types of integration due to their overlap, it appears that two broad, higher-order types of integration emerge in the literature: one type that has more to do with conceptual ideas about human nature and functioning, and a second type that has more to do with personal spiritual-emotional growth (and all the implications connected to this). While a more detailed discussion of the interrelationship between the many types of integration is beyond the scope of this paper, this basic distinction is relevant to our purposes as we will attempt to link these two broad types of integration. For the sake of clarity we will refer to these higher-order types as "conceptual integration," and "experiential integration," respectively.

Models of Conceptual Integration

While progress was being made in clarifying the broad types of integration, confusion over models and methods within conceptual integration continued to be a problem. Much of the second wave of integration described by Worthington (1994) focused on integration at the conceptual level; that is, how do we bring together concepts from the two separate disciplines of psychology and theology? Does one discipline take precedence over the other? Should they be treated as separate but equal? Are there different ways of bringing together concepts from the two fields? And if so, are they all equally valid? A substantial amount of work has been devoted to addressing the fundamental epistemological issues involved in conceptual integration. Many different models and terms, some of which overlap, have been identified, which can lead to confusion. For example, some of the models include psychology against Christianity, psychology of Christianity, parallels, correlates, credibility, convertibility, conformability, compatibility, complementarity, and integrates (e.g., Carter & Narramore, 1979; Farnsworth, 1982).

In effort to clarify this situation, Eck (1996) provided a helpful organizing framework for conceptual integration. Based on the integration literature focusing on conceptual integration, Eck identified three integration paradigms that define the admissibility of data from each discipline. This is the broadest organizing framework for conceptual integrative models and includes the Non-Integrative Paradigm, the Manipulative Integration Paradigm, and the Non-Manipulative Integration Paradigm.

The Non-Integrative Paradigm involves one discipline rejecting data from the other discipline; thus, integration is impossible in this paradigm. The Manipulative Integration Paradigm holds that some truth exists in each discipline, however, the data from one discipline is not directly admissible to the integration process because it must be altered or filtered in some way by the other discipline (Eck, 1996). This is a hierarchical model in which one discipline functions as the "control" discipline by filtering (manipulating) data from the other discipline through its control beliefs. Within this paradigm, there are two variants or "processes" of relating data from each discipline. The Reconstructs Model holds that the truth from one discipline can be subsumed by the other; that is, it does not add incrementally to the truth that exists in the other discipline. The Transforms Process involves altering or filtering the data from one discipline through the control beliefs of the other.

The Non-Manipulative Paradigm in Eck's (1996) framework also includes two types or processes: the Correlates Process and the Unifies Process. The Correlates Process has two sub-types, however, the commonality between them is that in both models data and conceptual frameworks from one discipline are kept from directly influencing the other discipline. In the first type of Correlates Model, data and concepts from one discipline may be arranged as different levels of explanation (Correlates-Levels model). For example, we might discuss neurobiological processes of growth at one level, emotional processes at another level, and "spiritual" processes at yet another level. The key in this model is that the explanations of growth processes at the various levels do not influence each other. They are viewed as separate but equally valid explanations. In the second type of Correlates Model, concepts from one discipline are "linked" with concepts from the other discipline that cover overlapping content (Correlates-Linkages). For example, we could link processes of sanctification drawn from Scripture that focus on the importance of relationships within the body of Christ with relational processes of growth drawn from attachment and relational psychoanalytic theories. They would be viewed here as different disciplinary windows into overlapping content domains. However, the windows do not influence each other to create a new, more unified window into God's truth.

The second process in the Non-Manipulative Paradigm is the Unifies Process, which has no subtypes (Eck, 1996). In this model, "... truth to be integrated from each discipline is brought together to create a unified set of truths that mirror the wholeness and unity of God's created and revealed truths" (Eck, 1996, p. 109). Eck further defined the goal of the Unifies integration approach as: "... to seek the underlying truths of God's world in psychology and God's word in theology, and unite them by incarnationally living them out in one's life." There are two components to this definition. The first part of the Unifies Process appears to be conceptual in nature.

The second component of Eck's (1996) definition, incarnationally living unified truths out in one's life, combines elements of clinical integration (Hall & Hall, 1997), faith-praxis integration and experiential integration (Bouma-Prediger, 1990). These are all less theoretical in nature than conceptual integration. Eck relates this component of the definition to Farnsworth's (1985) concept of "embodied integration," defined as "living God's truth in addition to knowing about God's truth" (p. 317).

Limitations in the Conceptual Integration Literature

Having briefly reviewed the various types of conceptual integration, there seems to be some level of agreement that the Unifies Model/Process represents the most complete model of conceptual integration for which we should strive (Carter & Narramore, 1979; Foster, Horn, and Watson, 1988; Tan, 2001). This is based on the principle that God's truth, at the ontological level that underlies the disciplines, is a unified set of propositions that integrators seek to comprehend (Carter & Narramore, 1975, 1979; Clinton, 1990a). While there is some agreement about this at an abstract level, two limitations exist in the literature. First, Foster et al. (1988) classified integration articles from 1980 to 1985 in the Journal of Psychology and Theology and found that nearly two-thirds used a manipulative integration paradigm, which suggests a gap between our ideal model of integration and how conceptual integration is actually done in practice. This gap may partly reflect the fact that most of the discussion of integration models does not directly address the process of how we arrive at unified conceptual truths (e.g., Bouma-Prediger, 1990; Carter and Narramore, 1979; Clinton, 1990a, 1990b; Crabb, 1981; Eck, 1996; Farnsworth, 1982; Guy, 1980, 1982; Ingram, 1995; Larzalere, 1980; Tan, 1987, 2001; Worthington, 1994).

Second, several integration scholars (e.g., Carter & Narramore, 1979; Eck, 1996; Farnsworth, 1982; Tan, 1987, 2001) describe the most complete integration model as necessarily involving more than the conceptual domain; that is, experiential integration is viewed as foundational to any unified conceptual integration. Carter and Narramore (1979) stated, "... very little conceptual integration is possible without a degree of personal integration" (p. 117). They emphasized several attitudes and attributes as essential to unified conceptual integration: humility and awareness of finite limitations, tolerance of ambiguity, balanced expression of intellect and emotions, and openness to our own anxieties and fears. Tan (1987, 2001), likewise, emphasized that personal integration, and more specifically, the spirituality of the integrator, is the most fundamental and foundational category of integration and is necessary to achieve substantial conceptual integration. While experiential integration clearly seems foundational in some sense, very little attention has been devoted to how experiential integration informs conceptual integration, and more generally, how the two broad types of integration mutually interact. To address this, there is a need for a broad theory of relational knowledge to inform our understanding of the processes that facilitate unified integrative concepts. Furthermore, these two concerns-how we arrive at unified conceptual truths, and how experiential integration informs this process-are related, and both are informed by a broad theory of emotional information processing (Bucci, 1997) and implicit relational knowledge (Hall, 2004).


In recent years research and theory in areas such as the neurobiology of emotion and attachment, implicit memory (Schore, 2003a, 2003b; Siegel, 1999), attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999), infant-caregiver relationships (Beebe & Lachmann, 2002), relational psychoanalysis (Mitchell, 2000; Stern et al., 1998) and emotional information processing (Bucci, 1997) are beginning to converge in a way that provides a compelling and coherent paradigm of the internal workings of relational attachments with others and God. This convergence centers on the concept that there are multiple, parallel ways of knowing, and that a foundational way of knowing about people is implicit relational knowledge (Hall, 2004; Stern et al., 1998). This theoretical perspective has significant implications for understanding the information processes involved in different types of conceptual integration, and how these types of integration interrelate. In this section we will provide a brief overview of emotional information processing and implicit relational representations as a framework for understanding these processes, with a particular focus on the concepts of referential activity (Bucci, 1997) and implicit relational knowledge.

Contemporary Conceptualizations of Emotion

In order to contextualize our overview of a broad theory of emotional information processing, we will briefly highlight converging trends in emotion research in recent decades. The focus in emotion research has shifted from the question of how emotional experience is determined to how the emotional meaning of an event, or its significance for an individual's well-being is determined (Bucci, 1997). This component-the meaning of an event for one's well-being-is what distinguishes emotional information processing (EIP) from information processing (IP) in general, which has been the focus of cognitive science. There is a vast literature now demonstrating that EIP follows the same processing rules as all IP; that is, they are both based on a parallel architecture rather than a single linear, sequential architecture. This parallel architecture is the neurobiological basis for the notion that we process a vast amount of information outside of awareness, in multiple parallel pathways that allow complex, and often times competing motivations.

While cognitive unconscious processes are now widely accepted in cognitive science (Westen, 1998), there is now substantial evidence from multiple lines of research demonstrating unconscious affective and motivational processes, all based on the notion of parallel architecture. Evidence for unconscious affective and motivational processes, and thereby for a multiple pathway model of EIP, comes from many lines of independent research. For example, research on the Adult Attachment Interview (Main, Kaplan & Cassidy, 1985) demonstrates that people inhibit conscious awareness of implicit representations of self and others based on the emotional meaning of these representations. Dismissing adults either downplay the importance of attachment relationships or report idealized generalizations, which they are unable to corroborate with specific autobiographical memories. Dozier and Kobak (1992) found that the more individuals deactivated their feelings about attachment figures, the more physiologically reactive they were while answering emotionally evocative attachment-related questions. Shedler, Mayman, and Manis (1993) found supporting evidence for this in a different line of research. They found that individuals who self-reported to be healthy, yet evidenced unconscious distress on a clinical measure of early memories (classified as illusory mental health), were more physiologically reactive under stress tasks than those who were distressed on both measures or healthy on both measures. The level of reactivity was considered to be a cardiac risk factor.

Bucci (1997) defines emotions as "particular types of information-processing schemas, which enable evaluation of the meaning of events for an individual's well-being and provide the basis for directing action" (Bucci, 1997, p. 129). Likewise, Siegel (1999) suggests that emotions "represent dynamic processes created within the socially influenced, value-appraising processes of the brain" (p. 123). This highlights why understanding EIP is particularly instructive for understanding the integrative task, including conceptual integration. EIP is particularly relevant to understanding integration models and processes because it is fundamentally concerned with the appraisal of the meaning of events for our well-being. In other words, EIP represents the underlying mechanisms by which we gain experiential knowledge about human nature and functioning. In order to progress in our understanding of human nature and functioning, the fundamental task of integration, we must understand the various ways we process the types of information relevant to the task.


Building on this substantial research support for parallel architecture in EIP, Bucci (1997) developed Multiple Code Theory, which provides a broad, coherent conceptual framework for EIP, and a theory of how different levels of EIP mutually influence each other. Bucci proposes that there are three general levels, or "codes," of emotional information processing: a) subsymbolic emotional processing; b) nonverbal symbolic emotional processing; and c) verbal, symbolic processing. The first two levels are implicit forms of processing, meaning they are not under our direct control, and the third is an explicit form of processing, over which we have more direct control. There is a large research literature documenting that these implicit and explicit forms of processing and memory involve different neural mechanisms (e.g., Schacter, 1995). In the field of emotional information processing, there is now strong evidence that there are at least dual, and most likely multiple codes of emotional information processing.

Subsymbolic processing (Bucci, 1997) is similar to the concept of primary emotion (Siegel, 1999), which involves initial orientation and elaborative appraisalarousal processes. Primary emotions are experienced in the following way. Siegel (1999) states that a signal of heightened activity is the brain's way of communicating to the entire organism that something significant is happening right now. This happens outside of conscious awareness and initially does not have a positive or negative valence. The brain then rapidly engages in "elaborative appraisal and arousal" processes by evaluating information from the body and stimuli from the external environment. These processes regulate one's state of mind by activating certain brain circuits and deactivating others. Elaborative appraisal processes determine whether a stimulus is "good" or "bad," and arousal processes prepare the body to act accordingly by directing the flow of energy throughout the body. The initial orientation and appraisal-arousal processes set off a wave of increasingly complex appraisal processes that take into account a host of factors such as relevant past experiences, emotional and representational components of memory, current internal physiological state, the current social context, and initial appraisals of this information (Bucci, 1997; Siegel, 1999).

In Bucci's (1997) Multiple Code Theory, this is referred to as the subsymbolic code. Recognizing changes in the emotional states of others is a subsymbolic process. We do this when we perceive subtle variations in facial expressions or changes in our own states. This subsymbolic awareness is the basis for what we might call experiential or implicit knowledge, which occurs without a clear, linear articulation of how we arrived at such knowledge. The subsymbolic method of processing operates according to the principles of parallel distributed processing (PDP), as opposed to the sequential, single-channel mode of verbal processing (Bucci, 1997). We will return to this concept to inform our understanding of different types of conceptual integration.

In general, PDP is the way we process a massive amount of information in a format, or channel, that does not exist in words. The PDP system processes different types of contents, in different formats, in multiple systems or channels that operate simultaneously in parallel (not affecting each other) and in interaction. The PDP system processes elements of information that are not discrete, and it does not use categories to organize information. Furthermore, higher-level units of information are not built on discrete lower-order units of information in a linear way, and the explicit processing rules of this system cannot be identified. Examples can be seen in many domains of functioning. For example, it is difficult for the professional soccer player to break down the sequence of body movements involved in kicking a soccer ball at a particular speed, angle, and height into distinct units and to translate this into words. PDP processing is relied on for this type of knowledge. Similarly, we rely on this type of information to infer the emotional states of others in emotionally significant relationships, just as therapists rely on this type of information in inferring the emotional states of clients.

The second level of emotional information processing is what Bucci (1997) refers to as the nonverbal symbolic code. The primary medium of this code is imagery. Images can be processed sequentially, as in the verbal symbolic code, or in a parallel, continuous manner as with subsymbolic processes. Bucci (1997) notes that images, which operate in the nonverbal system outside of language, mediate the organizing and symbolizing of subsymbolic experience and provide the basis for connecting this nonverbal experience to words, a process she has conceptualized as "referential activity."

These two forms of implicit processing have also been discussed in depth by Epstein (1994) in his Cognitive Experiential Self Theory. He postulates two distinct processing systems: the experiential and the cognitive or rational. Epstein's experiential system parallels Bucci's (1997) subsymbolic and nonverbal symbolic processing levels. Epstein contends that the processing of the experiential system is pre-conscious, automatic, holistic, non-verbal, rapid, affect driven, and based on implicit memory.

Words are the most direct representation of symbolic code. The formats, or code, of language is different than that of images and categorical emotions. The reference of words represent an arbitrary symbol system of meaning, reflected in the fact that the information carried by words is not typically associated with a particular modality, as are images (Bucci, 1997). For example, a group of words has the same syntax and meaning regardless of whether it is heard or read, or processed by touch through Braille. The dominant information-processing mode of language is through a sequential, single-channel symbolic format, sending or receiving one message at a time. The most central feature of language, according to Bucci, is that it is the processing channel over which we have the most direct intentional control. This code represents a linear, abstract processing of words and concepts. Epstein (1994) contrasts the experiential system with the rational processing system, which parallels Bucci's verbal, symbolic code. In contrast to the pre-conscious, automatic, non-linear, non-verbal, rapid, affect driven processing of the experiential system, the rational system is characterized by conscious, deliberate, linear, verbal, slow, affect-free, processing based on explicit memory.


Referential activity is essentially the process of linking feelings and words (Bucci, 1997). It is the process of connecting the subsymbolic and symbolic processing systems, which are very different in nature. This referential process is necessary to integrate functions, to organize goal-directed behavior, and to establish a unified sense of self (Bucci, 1997). On a basic level, these separate processing systems must be linked in order to talk about our experiences, and to make sense of others' words in terms of our experiences. Siegel (1999) describes a process similar to referential activity referred to as "response flexibility." This process appears to be mediated by the orbitofrontal cortex and involves the coordination of sensory, perceptual and appraisal mechanisms. Siegel proposes that this integrating function results in approaching relationships, life decisions, and narrative responses with self-reflection and a sense of perspective. Response flexibility as conceptualized here is likely functionally linked with autonoetic consciousness and is clearly related to the process of referential activity. Such self-reflection involves a "tuning in" to one's subsymbolic experiences and drawing out the underlying emotional meaning. Research in areas such as prototypic emotional memories, or Representations of Interactions that have been Generalized (RIGs) (Stern, 1985), inform the mechanisms by which subsymbolic information is transformed into nonverbal symbols and then into verbal symbols. First, global, implicit subsymbolic information is processed as continuous stimulus variation, as modeled by PDP systems discussed above. In other words, this information does not exist in discrete units, categories, symbols or images. It is parallel to Siegel's notion of primary emotional states, which he defines as "... the nonverbal sensation of shifts in the flow of activation and deactivation-the flow of energy and evaluations of information-through the system's changing states. Primary emotions directly reflect the changes in states of mind ..." (p. 125). This information is then chunked into functionally equivalent classes of representations. That is, discrete boundaries are placed around continuous, subsymbolic processing, and everything within the boundaries is considered to be functionally equivalent, and is captured by a "representation." These representations exist in many different systems, such as visual, tactile, and auditory. Next, these representations are further defined in prototypic images or episodes, which are in the nonverbal symbolic code. This type of information exists as a link between the subsymbolic and the symbolic codes and it is the basis for what allows us to link these two separate systems. This linking is finalized in the next step in which prototypic images are put in verbal form. Operations that are inherent in the verbal system can then be conducted, such as verbal descriptions of images and episodes, the development of abstract ideas based on the images, the application of logic, and the examination of concepts in dialogue with others in the code of conceptual discourse (Bucci, 1997). How this process occurs in the emotional system is particularly instructive for understanding the processes involved in integrative conceptualizing about human nature. The result of this process is the articulation of implicit relational knowledge in verbal-conceptual form (Hall, 2004; Stern et al., 1998).

Implicit Relational Knowledge

In the emotional/relational domain, the infant experiences constantly changing appearances of the primary caregiver (e.g., mother), which is initially processed subsymbolically. This information is then chunked into functionally equivalent classes, which enables the infant to recognize mother, predict her behavior (Bowlby, 1969), and maximize emotional communication (Siegel, 1999). This processing is broad and incorporates actions, sensations, and affects that are experienced in a relational context. These functionally equivalent classes then form implicit relational representations (IRRs), which Hall (2004) defines as: "repetitions of relational experiences, sharing a common affective core, that are conceptually encoded in the mind as non-propositional meaning structures" (p. 71). These implicit relational representations then form a filter of sorts for processing emotional information in a relational context. For example, there is evidence to suggest that these IRRs shape individuals' cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to others (Collins & Read, 1994; Feeney, 1999), presumably by directing the initial orientation and elaborative appraisal-arousal processes.

Implicit relational representations are based on a particular type of memory, referred to as implicit memory (Siegel, 1999). Implicit memory operates without conscious awareness, and is based on behaviors, emotions and images. When implicit memory is retrieved, an individual does not have the experience or sense that something is being remembered (Siegel, 1999). Implicit memory of relationships is what the Process of Change Study Group (PCSG) has referred to as "implicit relational knowing" (Stern et al., 1998). This is the implicit knowledge we have about interpersonal relations, that is, how to be with someone. This type of knowing integrates affect, cognition, and behavioral dimensions. It is typically sub or preconscious, yet is the basis for what can later be represented verbally and consciously (although not fully) through the verbal code in the process of referential activity (Bucci, 1997). Hence, referential activity results in the articulation in the verbal domain of implicit relational knowledge.

Significant for our purposes of understanding the processes involved in integration, subsymbolic processing in general, and implicit relational knowing in particular, are reflected not only in infants, but continue throughout life in our out-of-awareness experience of how relationships work for us (see Mitchell, 2000). Moreover, while verbal, conceptual processing is critical to psychospiritual growth and integration, Hall (2004) argues that implicit relational knowledge forms the foundation of our knowledge of self and others because it is processed automatically, and is not under the direct control of knowledge in the form of words. Perhaps a brief clinical example will help illustrate this. A client clearly demonstrated her implicit relational knowledge of emotionally significant relationships in a recent series of sessions. Several devastating experiences of rejection reinforced her implicit relational knowledge that her need for comfort eventually overwhelms others leading them to abandon her. She subsequently shut down and withdrew from the therapeutic relationship, behavior that accompanied a certain affectively-laden meaning, namely, her implicit relational expectation that I (T.H.), too, would be overwhelmed by her needs for comfort and would abandon her. She was not aware of this experience until we discussed it; however, she eventually put into words her implicit relational knowledge by stating that she felt I, of course, was consumed with my own life, and had no room for her needs.


With this framework in place, let us now turn to applying this theory of emotional information processing and implicit relational knowledge to the process of integration.

Emotional Information Processing and Integration Models

The first central organizing principle in applying this theory to integration is that different models of conceptual integration, by definition, fit with different ways of processing emotional information. Our contention is that, due to their nature, manipulative integration models rely predominantly on linear, symbolic forms of processing. In contrast, due to the nature of non-manipulative models, referential activity is essential; that is, these models require a moving back and forth between subsymbolic and symbolic processing. At least two brief caveats are in order here. First, we are not arguing that there is a one-to-one correspondence between integration models and ways of processing emotional information. However, we do believe that, by definition, these models tend to involve a particular way of processing emotional information. Second, we are not suggesting that nonmanipulative models are always the best or most appropriate simply because of the type of processing involved. There are certain domains of integration for which manipulative models may be the most appropriate. Let us first briefly consider the manipulative models. Following this, we will discuss the referential cycle in the discovery process and then attempt to demonstrate how this way of processing emotional information undergirds higher-level synthetic conceptualization associated with non-manipulative models and particularly with the unifies integration model.

Manipulative integration models. The Reconstructs Model involves eliminating certain types of data from one discipline (e.g., supernatural from theology) that are viewed as being subsumed by the other. This type of integration appears to rely heavily on linear, symbolic processing. One compares abstract concepts from one discipline to criteria for elimination designated by the other discipline. For example, if the biblical concept of demonization is determined to be part of a pre-scientific view of the world, then this concept would be eliminated in favor of some sort of psychological understanding of what was previously taken to be demonic.

The Transforms Model is slightly closer to the Unifies Model, but still involves very little mutual interaction between the two disciplines. In this model one discipline acts as a control discipline by filtering data from the other discipline. Filtering may be more complex than simply eliminating certain types of data in that it involves identifying aspects of data that are deemed unacceptable to one discipline, and then transforming them in some way to make them acceptable. This is parallel to Crabb's (1977) notion of screening secular concepts through the filter of Scripture. It seems the end result here is translating secular concepts into theological language or concepts. This type of translation involves a process of comparing and contrasting abstract concepts from discipline A with filter concepts from discipline B, and then restating concepts from discipline A according to how they line up with concepts in discipline B. These processes again appear to rely heavily on linear, abstract, symbolic thinking. By definition, this model does not attempt to identify new prototypic images that are deeper than the existing abstract, verbal categories of the control discipline. We shall now briefly turn to referential activity in the discovery process as a foundation for understanding the processes involved in nonmanipulative integration models.

Referential activity in the discovery process. Bucci (1997) showed how the referential process parallels four phases of scientific discovery that Hadamard (1949) identified from introspections of mathematicians and scientists. The phases are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Preparation involves two components. In a general sense, preparation is the continuous, lifelong learning that leads to expertise in one's field. More specifically, preparation for a particular problem involves "back-translating" the problem from its verbal formulation into the subsymbolic domain. This process is not one over which the scholar has direct control. The scholar first identifies a problem in verbal or conceptual terms. The problem is then formulated within the conceptual network of one's discipline. This involves articulating the problem in conceptual terms within one's discipline to the best of one's ability at that point in time. When this has been accomplished in sufficient depth, subsymbolic processing begins either in connection with verbal-conceptual processing, or when progress is blocked, in parallel with (independent of) verbal-conceptual processing. When progress is blocked, the scholar "feels like he is working without direction, 'in the dark.' This is what it feels like to work in the subsymbolic systems-to search without clear direction and without categories and dimensions having been defined." (Bucci, 1997, p. 224).

In the incubation phase, subsymbolic processing continues largely outside of one's awareness and without intentional control (Bucci, 1997). Often times, scholars turn their attention away from the problem, but the subsymbolic processing system continues to operate, following its own leads, which cannot be linked to logical forms of thought. In June of 1993, Andrew Wiles, a British mathematician working at Princeton, presented three lectures in which he announced that he had developed a proof of Fermat's last theorem. He devoted many years of his professional life exclusively to working on this proof. When blocked, Wiles would take long walks and turn his attention toward other topics, all the while subsymbolically processing the problems he was encountering. These were periods of incubation for Wiles.

These incubation periods often lead to the illumination phase: a sudden insight or breakthrough. After encountering problems in finalizing the proof and experiencing multiple blocks, Wiles agreed to pursue an idea of a colleague, even though he was convinced it would not work. After working on it for two weeks, he reported: "In a flash I saw that the thing that stopped it ... working was something that would make another method I had tried previously work" (O'Connor & Robertson, 1996, February). Hadamard (cited in Bucci, 1997) reports a similar account of the French mathematician Poincare. Each of his major mathematical breakthroughs followed a hiatus, a turning away from the problem. On a trip, Poincare reported, "At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry" (quoted in Bucci, p. 225). This is how subsymbolic processing works. It follows leads and connections that cannot be identified or categorized. While verbal, symbolic thoughts do not seem to pave the way for such subsymbolic illumination, Bucci (1997) points out that illumination comes only to those who have "worked for years to find new questions, new answers, and new forms, to furnish the mind with the components of the 'good combinations'...." (p. 225). Thus, the scholar must continue following leads that sometimes appear to have no connection to each other, and leave one feeling "in the dark."

Reflection and verification is the next phase in the discovery process. This involves formalizing the results of the illumination. This is done primarily within verbal, symbolic processing and is typically within one's awareness (Bucci, 1997). In this phase, the scholar reflects on the illumination and articulates it in the verbal code. This process is cyclical in nature as the implications of the results are explored, leading to new questions and problems.

What is noteworthy about this process is the back and forth nature between subsymbolic and symbolic processing. This is the essence of the referential process. This constitutes a more holistic type of processing that integrates abstract conceptual knowledge with implicit, subsymbolic knowledge. This leads to new dimensions that may in turn lead to new directions for further processing that would not be possible on the basis of categories that are logically and conceptually defined in the symbolic code. These new dimensions are then identified in symbolic form. Ideally, this becomes a recursive, spiraling process, in which there is a progressively deeper understanding as new symbolic systems trigger new connections in the subsymbolic domain (Bucci, 1997).

Non-manipulative integration model. Having reviewed the referential activity process in the discovery process in general, our contention is that this type of processing is necessary and instructive for bringing together two disciplines, psychology and theology in our case, in a non-manipulative manner. In the Correlates Models (also referred to as the Parallels model by Carter and Narramore, 1979), the disciplines in both subtypes (linkages and levels) do not manipulate each other, but neither do they directly influence each other at the symbolic level. Within the framework presented here, we would contend that correlates models of integration are a good starting point, and may in fact be a necessary starting point to develop more unified concepts of human nature and functioning. Recall Bucci's (1997) comment that illumination only occurs to those who furnish the mind with the necessary components for deeper processing. It appears to us that it is necessary to furnish the mind with relevant components of psychology and theology in sufficient depth for the subsymbolic system to have the possibility of identifying new dimensions and images that stand under disciplinary frameworks. Thus, deeply processing different levels of explanation from different disciplines, or overlapping content from each discipline can lead to subsymbolic processing of the content domain. This indirectly leads to the disciplines influencing each other at the subsymbolic level. This process, at the least, will often lead to deeper experiences or images of the subject matter, and if referential activity is engaged, these deeper images may well be translated into deeper conceptual truths that bypass the limitations of a particular disciplinary window into the world.

Referential processing appears to be particularly necessary to achieve anything close to a true unifies model. We refer to this model as "referential integration." Referential integration, by definition, seeks to identify God's truths at a level in which they exist as an ontological unity, that is, "behind" or standing under the disciplines themselves. This is what we might refer to as a "God's-eye view" (Willard, 1999). While this is an ideal and impossible goal, it is the integrative telos for which we strive. It has become apparent in the challenges to classical modernism that language mediates our knowledge to some extent (Ingram, 1995). This certainly is applicable to academic disciplines. Disciplines themselves represent cultural-linguistic systems at the symbolic level, and they likely run deeper than the symbolic level. When scholars are immersed in a particular academic tradition with a particular language and culture, it influences their way of seeing the world. However, to have any hope of a truly unified integration approach, we have to be able to transcend the way we are shaped by our particular cultural-linguistic disciplinary window.

We would contend that the PDP processing characteristic of the subsymbolic system is the type of processing needed to move toward this goal. The subsymbolic and nonverbal symbolic systems do not respect disciplines or language. They are online long before verbal-linguistic processing occurs (Bucci, 1997; Cozolino, 2002; Schore, 2003a; Siegel, 1999), and operate independently of language. It is a qualitatively distinct type of processing. It does not pay attention to the categories or abstract concepts within a discipline. Thus, it becomes possible with this type of processing to identify qualitatively new dimensions, categories and concepts from the two disciplines in a way that is not possible through comparing and contrasting concepts from each discipline in a linear, sequential manner characteristic of the symbolic system. However, as we pointed out previously, the subsymbolic system can only process what is "back-translated" into its system. If shallow psychology or theology is input into the system, this will limit the depth of processing possible by the subsymbolic system.

Implicit Relational Knowledge and Integration Models

The second central organizing principle in applying this theory to integration is that conceptual knowledge about human nature is undergirded by implicit knowledge of one's self and others, providing an inherent link between experiential integration and conceptual integration. Over twenty years ago, Carter and Narramore (1979) contended that "personal" integration is a necessary foundation for conceptual integration. Tan (1987, 2001) later echoed this point. The theoretical framework presented here provides a foundation for articulating how experiential integration informs conceptual integration and vice versa. Experiential integration, or what we might call psychospiritual growth that is reflected both interpersonally (faith-praxis integration) and intrapersonally (experiential integration) (Bouma-Prediger, 1990), fundamentally transforms one's implicit relational representations (Hall, 2004). As mentioned previously, Hall contends that implicit relational representations and knowledge are foundational to growth because they are processed automatically, and are not under the direct control of knowledge in the verbal-conceptual code.

This implicit relational knowledge of one's self and others filters the flow of emotional information that comes through our system (Siegel, 1999). One of the ways it does this is by cutting the link between painful subsymbolic experiences and symbolization of the meaning of these experiences (Bucci, 1997). This partly explains the self-sustaining nature of psychopathology, because this "desymbolization" process works to prevent pathological implicit relational representations from being organized and accessed in a relational context in order to bring new information to bear on them. Thus, with no new relational information entering the system, they do not change, yet they continue to operate outside of awareness. If there are certain subsymbolic experiences that we cannot access due to our own pathological implicit relational representations, this cuts off a source of very important knowledge about human nature that could potentially be articulated conceptually in the verbal code. For example, deactivating defenses involved in the dismissing attachment orientation will lead to an overreliance on conceptual knowledge that is disconnected from subsymbolic emotional experience.

This connection between these separate processing systems that is prevented by defense mechanisms is precisely the process that is needed in referential integration that leads to more holistic concepts about human nature. This may be different in fields such as mathematics, but when it comes to integrated conceptualizations of human nature and functioning, we cannot go very far without implicit, experiential knowledge. Experiential integration is imperative to achieve deeper unified truths about human nature. These new and deeper truths will ideally impact our subsymbolic processing, opening up further avenues for exploration, and facilitating our experiential integration in a referential "spiral." In fact, this process may be an inherent component of the notion of wisdom (Hall, 2004).

Implications: Engaging in Referential Integration

In light of the theoretical framework we have proposed, several practical implications follow. First, pursuing experiential integration and knowledge of one's self leads to the capacity to process a greater amount of implicit relational knowledge about human nature. This is directly related to the process of higher-level unified integration. Concepts that reflect a more holistic view of human nature and functioning will only be possible as we become more open to the relational experiences from which we habitually protect ourselves. Second, we must do the work of delving deeply into both psychology and theology. Many have discussed the importance of this (e.g., Carter & Narramore, 1979; Worthington, 1994), yet there continues to be few examples of integration work based on in-depth scholarship in both disciplines.

Many have also noted the difficulties of mastering two disciplines (e.g., Carter & Narramore, 1979; Worthington, 1994), and this continues to be a major hurdle to referential integration. However, from our theoretical perspective, it appears imperative for integration scholars to seek at least some level of depth in training in their "non-native" discipline. Short of this, another avenue that needs to be encouraged is ongoing dialogue between scholars in psychology and theology. We stress ongoing because we believe it will take sustained dialogue between psychologists, theologians and philosophers to gain sufficient depth in one's non-native discipline(s) to lead to profitable subsymbolic processing. In other words, it may be possible to furnish our minds in our non-native disciplines through sustained interdisciplinary dialogue. Institutions and organizations involved in integration need to consider ways to facilitate such ongoing dialogue.

Third, this theoretical perspective suggests the importance of the use of narrative and case studies as a method of integration. Bucci (1997) contends that telling stories about our lives is the closest we can come to communicating an implicit relational representation in verbal form. Siegel (1999) echoes this principle: "... storytelling may be a primary way in which we can linguistically communicate to others-as well as to ourselves-the sometimes hidden contents of our implicitly remembering minds" (p. 333). In other words, we cannot directly communicate our subsymbolic and nonverbal symbolic knowledge of our relational experiences in words. However, we can "tell" our implicit relational knowledge in episodic form, or in the code of narratives. Narratives can be conceptualized as the language or medium that carries the emotional meaning of our lives. This is why the Adult Attachment Interview (Hesse, 1999; Main, Kaplan & Cassidy, 1985) has been found to provide such a powerful window into individuals' relational attachments. The task of telling one's story about early attachment history automatically activates the attachment system (Hesse, 1999). Individuals' attachment organization is then "carried" not in verbal form, but in the way they tell their story; that is, in the narrative itself. "State of mind" scales on the AAI, which assess this dimension, have been found to the most predictive of current and future relational maturity (Hesse, 1999).

Narratives not only carry and communicate our "implicitly remembering minds," they also require and facilitate referential activity via interhemispheric integration. The left hemisphere is associated with verbal, symbolic (or rational) processing. It interprets and provides explanations, but in isolation from the right hemisphere, it cannot process the emotional and relational context or meanings of this information. The right hemisphere emphasizes processing mental states and socio-emotional information (Schore, 2003a; Siegel, 1999). Emotionally meaningful, or coherent narratives, require participation, and integration of both hemispheres.

How then do narrative methods facilitate the task of integration? Telling our stories, or reading and dialoguing about case studies, accomplishes two interrelated purposes. First, it allows us to access knowledge about human nature drawn from our implicit relational knowledge. Second, it facilitates referential activity by integrating the processing of the interpreting, left hemisphere, with the right hemisphere processing of context and emotional meaning. Grappling with integrative issues in the context of narratives appears to be a fruitful direction for the way we approach integration. This may involve interdisciplinary dialogue of case studies as Shults and Sandage (2003) have exemplified in their recent book on forgiveness. In addition, this perspective on narrative suggests the importance of using interviews for studying integration issues (see Hall, 2004).

Fourth, the referential process as applied to the process of discovery suggests some practical applications for doing integrative work. This process suggests the need for integration scholars to engage in preparation by following subsymbolic intuition wherever it leads, even when it feels like one is "whistling in the dark." When progress becomes blocked, it is suggested to turn away from the problem, allowing it to incubate while one's subsymbolic processing system continues its work. Incubation will lead to illumination. An impression may form of something new; an image may suddenly appear that seems unrelated to one's former thoughts. Einstein emphasized this type of referential processing:
 The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem
 to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities
 which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more
 or less clear images which can be "voluntarily" reproduced and
 There is of course, a certain connection between those elements and
 relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive
 finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this
 rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a
 psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the
 essential feature in productive thought-before there is any connection
 with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can
 be communicated to others ... (quoted in Hadamard, 1949, pp. 142-143).

Further reflection will ideally lead to the articulation of deeper conceptual truths about human nature and functioning, to increased experiential integration, and to new integrative avenues to be explored-to a referential integration spiral.


The integration of psychology and theology has come a long way in the last thirty years. The focus of much of the integration literature has been on models and types of integration. We believe that the next frontier of integration needs to focus on how we actually process emotional information in a way that leads to unified conceptualizations about human nature and functioning. This approach needs to be founded on the current convergence of relational theories, interpersonal neurobiology and emotional information processing. We have presented a theoretical framework that identifies different systems, or codes, for processing emotional information, and applied this framework to develop the concept of "referential integration." Referential integration is characterized by integrating implicit, subsymbolic, emotional processing (predominantly right hemisphere) with verbal, conceptual processing (predominantly left hemisphere), leading to a more holistic form of processing. This type of integrated emotional information processing is necessary to transcend the often superficial categories of both psychology and theology, in order to arrive at deeper conceptual truths about human nature and functioning. Referential integration also emphasizes the notion that experiential integration is intricately connected, and thus foundational, to our ability to conceptualize deeply about human nature and functioning. We have identified several ways to facilitate this kind of integration. Narrative is viewed as a particularly important method for pursuing referential integration. It is our hope that this discussion will stimulate further dialogue and new ways of approaching integration.


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Rosemead School of Psychology

Biola University


Rosemead School of Psychology

Biola University


HALL, TODD W. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola ave, La Mirada, CA, 90639. Titles: Associate Professor of Psychology; Director, Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality; Editor, Journal of Psychology and Theology. Degrees: PhD, Clinical Psychology, Biola University; MA, Measurement and Psychometrics, UCLA. Specializations: Relational psychoanalysis, attachment theory and spiritual development; psychology of religion; measurement of spirituality; integration of psychology and theology.

PORTER, STEVEN L. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639. Title: Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Theology. Degrees: BA, Biola University; MA, Talbot School of Theology; MPhil, University of Oxford; PhD, University of Southern California. Specializations: Philosophical theology; spiritual formation; epistemology.

Correspondence concerning this article may be sent to Todd W. Hall, PhD, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639. Email:

Steven L. Porter, PhD, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639. Email:
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