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What is integral theory?

Integral theory is a way of knowing that helps foster the recognition that disparate aspects of reality--such as biological constitution, cultural worldviews, felt-sense of selfhood, and social systems--are all critically important to any knowledge quest, Integral theory provides an "all quadrants, all levels" (K. Wilber, 2006, p. 26) metatheoretical framework that simultaneously honors the important contributions of a broad spectrum of epistemological outlooks while also acknowledging the parochial limits and misconceptions of those perspectives. In other words, integral theory affords a perspective that allows counselors to situate diverse knowledge approaches in such a way that they synergistically complement, rather than contradict, one another.


Integral theory is a way of knowing that helps one strive for the most comprehensive understanding of any phenomenon. Applying integral theory to counseling guides the "real world" practices of our theory and research so that counselors may better serve their clients and profession. A primary purpose of integral theory is to foster the recognition that disparate aspects of reality--such as biological constitution, cultural worldviews, felt-sense of selfhood, and social systems--are all critically important to any knowledge quest and therefore, ideally, are included.

How can integral theory incorporate elements such as biology, psychology, diversity, and social systems into higher order unified wholes? It does this by providing a parsimonious and self-reflexive conceptual scaffold within which to order the myriad approaches to human understanding, from mathematics and the sciences to philosophy and religion. Before proceeding, it is important to question what "unification" implies and what some of its advantages and disadvantages are. An integrating, unifying framework such as integral theory is not intended to minimize the significant differences that counselors find across cultures or systems or between individuals from the same culture or family; this would clearly represent a disadvantage to this approach. However, in addition to acknowledging that differences are salient, vital, and add spice to life, integral theorists also search for the deep pattern similarities that pervade striking surface variations between individuals and cultures (see Wilber 1999d, 2000b). Thus, it is often said that the integral approach genuinely honors unity within diversity. Integral theory is often misinterpreted, especially initially, as emphasizing rationality and agency over other ways of being (i.e., more communal or intuitive), but a key element of integral theory is the notion that all agency is always "agency-in-communion" (Wilber, 2000b, p. 561). That is, even if a person is extremely agentic--concerned primarily with self-defining freedom, autonomy, and production--that agency always arises from, and is embedded within, various communal contexts of heteronomy (other-directedness), connection, and relatedness. The advantage of searching for unifying patterns is to reconcile apparent contradictions between disciplines and theorists within disciplines. To do so, in my view, leads to more inclusive, holistic, and effective practice in the real world.

Integral theory is really a metatheoretical framework that simultaneously honors the important contributions of a broad spectrum of epistemological outlooks while also acknowledging the parochial limits and misconceptions of those perspectives. In other words, integral theory provides counselors with a perspective that allows them to situate all of the diverse knowledge approaches (from premodern to modern to postmodern) in such a way that they synergistically complement, rather than contradict, one another. What is this theoretical framework called integral? Simply put, AQAL (pronounced ah-kwahl)--which itself is short for "all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types" (Wilber, 2006, pp. 30-31)--the meaning of which is subsequently explicated. However, this discussion of integral theory begins with a description of the four quadrants.


All-Quadrants: The Four Quadrants

The four quadrants are a central component of the unifying model that Wilber (2000b) developed in response to the plethora of apparently contradictory assertions by diverse disciplines and theoretical approaches. This model allows counselors to situate diverse perspectives such that they augment and complement, rather than compete with and contradict, one another. The four quadrants are formed by the intersection of two axes: interior-exterior and individual-collective (see Figure 1). In other words, the four quadrants are aspects of, and perspectives on, reality that yield four interrelated yet irreducible domains/perspectives. Integral theory posits that comprehensive description of any phenomenon requires that one account for these four irreducible perspectives:

* Intentional/experiential (subjective): the individual viewed from the interior

* Behavioral (objective): the individual viewed from the exterior

* Cultural (intersubjective): the collective viewed from the interior

* Social (interobjective): the collective viewed from the exterior

The Four Quadrants in Psychotherapy

Upper Left (UL): Interior-Individual
Experience--as felt "from the inside"

* Any noteworthy patterns in the client's
* Self-image, self-concept
* Self-esteem, self-efficacy
* Instability-stability
* Joy, zest, purpose, motivation
* Depression, sadness, emptiness
* Anxiety, "jitters," feeling "revved up"
* Political, religious, and/or spiritual beliefs
  and/or experiences
* Consciousness as experienced as mind
* The experience of, for example,
  depression: sadness, loss of interest in
  pleasurable activities, fatigue, feelings of
  worthlessness, difficulty concentrating,
  frequent thoughts of death, suicidal
  ideation, etc. Also how one interprets
  events such as the death of a loved one,
  divorce, profound loss, or childbirth

Lower Left (LL): Interior-Collective
Culture--the group's experience
"from the inside"

* Client's experience of ethnicity
* Client's experience of family dynamics
* Client's meaning-making system(s)
* Client's relationships with significant
  others, especially spouse, boss, friends,
  and family
* The medium of the therapeutic relationship
  and how both the client and therapist
  experience their intersubjectivity
* Cultural meanings assigned to, for
  example, depression: sick, lazy, irresponsible,
  heartbroken, hexed, bewitched, etc.

Upper Right (UR): Exterior-Individual
Behavior--as seen "from the outside"

* Any noteworthy patterns of behavior:
  What specific behaviors bring the client to
  therapy, and what specific behaviors will
  indicate successful outcome?
* Medical disorders
* Medication
* Diet
* Alcohol and/or drug use
* Aerobic and/or strength training
* Patterns of sleep and rest
* Consciousness as described by neurotransmission
  and the functioning of brain
* Observable changes in, for example,
  depression: appears tearful, no longer
  engages in pleasurable activities, significant
  weight loss or gain, psychomotor
  agitation or retardation, lower levels of
  available serotonin, social withdrawal

Lower Right (LR): Exterior-Collective
Systems--the group's behavior
"from the outside"

* Client's socioeconomic status
* Condition of one's neighborhood
* Environmental stressors and/or comforts;
  layout of household
* Analyses of interpersonal dynamics,
  including family history
* Treatment contexts (setting-inpatient/
  outpatient and physical nature of therapy
  setting; frequency and length of sessions;
  modality-individual/group/family therapy)
* Social systems that contribute to, for
  example, depression: economic,
  educational, and medical systems;
  poverty, drug- and gang-ridden neighborhoods;
  poor/dangerous schools; minimal
  access to medical care (brief therapy or
  none at all); racism, sexism, classism,
  ageism, etc.

In a bit more detail, the four quadrants manifest as follows.

Upper left (UL)/intentional: Interior-individual. This quadrant includes the subjective, phenomenal dimension of individual consciousness--any and all experiences, sensations, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts that can be phenomenologically described in "I" language. It also includes the spectrum of those impulses, occasions, and motivations of which the person is unconscious.

Upper right (UR)/behavioral: Exterior-individual. This quadrant includes the relatively objective, positivistic perspective of individual structures, behaviors, events, and processes that can be scientifically described in "it" language.

Lower left (LL)/cultural: Interior-collective. This quadrant includes the intersubjective dimension of the collective. This perspective requires a sympathetic resonance common only to members of a given community--shared worldviews, customs, linguistic semantics, ethics, communal values, and other meaning-making activities that are mutually understood by members of a given culture and are subjectively described in "you/we" language. It also includes relationships with significant others, most notably one's spouse, boss(es), friends, and family.

Lower right (LR)/social: Exterior-collective. This quadrant includes the interobjective perspective of systems, addressing aspects of societies such as economic structures, civic resources (education systems, employment opportunities, and available transportation), governmental systems, and city planning (architectural style, spacious vs. congested, available parks and other areas of natural beauty). Social phenomena are described in objective, third-person, plural ("its") language. It also includes any observable interactions between the parts of a system.

For example, when seeking to understand a client as a phenomenon, each of these four perspectives yields different meanings and information necessary for a more complete understanding. This understanding, in turn, reveals that none of the four perspectives can be reduced to another perspective without violating the essential value of the former's point of view. For example, to reduce the experiences of love or anxiety (UL) to nothing but neurotransmission and brain structures (UR) is to subjugate lived experience to that which can be objectively observed and measured. Likewise, to ignore recent breakthroughs in neuroscience (UR) and focus solely on phenomenology (UL) would be merely the converse form of "quadrant absolutism," in which one perspective is consistently privileged over the other three.

Each quadrant provides a different but valid perspective for a given phenomenon. For example, counselors can use integral theory to understand presenting complaints by quadrant (Ingersoll, 2002). As shown in Figure 1, the felt experience of depression is inextricably constituted by UL factors including self-appraisals of worthlessness; UR factors such as sleep EEG abnormalities, dysregulated neurotransmitter systems, and alterations of neuropeptides; LL factors such as the sundry interpretive contexts that influence how depressed people conceive of themselves (medically ill vs. inauthentic vs. hexed) as well as a consumer culture in which energies are directed toward acquiring material goods rather than cultivating interior development; and LR factors such as living in poverty and lacking appropriate mental health care. As one can see, every experience or event irreducibly has a subjective, an objective, an intersubjective, and an interobjective dimension, and to ignore or dismiss one or more of these dimensions is to be incomplete or reductionistic. Thus, from an integral perspective, an individual's psychological development is understood as a phenomenon with at least four distinct dimensions (quadrants) that mutually constitute one another.

All-Levels: The Spectrum Approach

Prior to writing his first book, Wilber (1999a) was working through a radical conceptual transformation that fundamentally involved the problem of how to reconcile some apparently diametrically opposed truth claims from geniuses as diverse as Newton/Einstein, Freud/Skinner, and Buddha/Aquinas. Wilber was working toward his doctorate in biochemistry when he became cognizant of the different forms of "truth value" that various disciplines privilege. He realized that positivistic science is not wrong; rather, it is limited in its ability to disclose much of human experience. Most prominently, science seemed silent with regard to the meaning(s) of life. To address this issue, Wilber began an intellectual journey through the literatures of science (from physics and chemistry to psychology and sociology), philosophy (Eastern and Western; premodern, modern, and postmodern), and religion (Eastern and Western; belief based and contemplative). He quickly found himself immersed in multiple-truth claims, methodologies, and practices, each apparently contradictory, from figures as diverse as Plato, the Buddha, Descartes, and Freud. "I felt they were all saying something true," wrote Wilber, "but that none of them had it entirely figured out.... It slowly dawned on me that these people weren't all addressing the same level of consciousness" (as cited in Schwartz, 1995, p. 351). Thus, the question was no longer "Whose view is correct?" but "How do these differing insights fit together in such a way that they don't contradict one another?" Wilber's questioning culminated in what he called the "spectrum approach," a developmental model that, arguably, includes and honors the most comprehensive spectrum of developmental potentials, from the earliest and most basic (Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975) to the most fully mature and complex (White, 1984).

In any stage theory of development, one can fall prey to an arbitrariness regarding drawing distinctions (levels or stages) in what is actually a relatively continuous process. Throughout his work, Wilber (2000b) conceptualized the basic structures of consciousness with different degrees of specificity, although he usually described the basic structures/stages of human development as 10 holarchical spheres clustered into three broad realms: prepersonal, personal, and suprapersonal (a holarchy is a hierarchy composed of holons; a holon is a whole-part--that which is simultaneously a whole at one level while being a part of the whole at subsequent levels). The prepersonal realm and the personal realm are consensually corroborated by much of Western academic psychology (Freud, 1963; Kohut, 1977; Mahler et al., 1975; Piaget, 1977). Empirical evidence for the suprapersonal realm derives mostly from the developmental taxonomies found in the contemplative traditions of both the East and West (Brown, 1986; Chirban, 1986).

Wilber (1999d) used several different words to describe the basic stages of consciousness development. He uses the word levels to connote the qualitatively distinct nature of each stage of development; structures to underscore the integrated, holistic nature of each stage; and waves to emphasize the fluidity with which the stages flow into one another. It is important that an individual is not "at a particular stage or level" of development. Rather, the entire spectrum of development is present, as a potential to be realized, within each individual. Moreover, these stages are not viewed as reified structures but as probability waves, that is, not concrete structures residing within the individual but rather that an individual's developmental level is fundamentally a function of that person's residing in a psychological space from which the probability is quite high that the specific patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting that characterize a given level of development are present and observable, whether from within or without (Marquis & Wilber, in press).

According to Wilber (2000e), in healthy development, one's sense of self or identity progresses from one stage to the next through a general process of gradually disidentifying with a current structure of consciousness, identifying with the subsequent structure, and finally integrating the previous structure(s) of consciousness. As such, one's sense of self frequently vacillates, sometimes reaching slightly forward, sometimes slipping slightly backward, until transformation eventually promotes a significantly new sense of self. Of course, numerous derailments can and do occur, ranging from developmental arrests/fixations to one's identifying with subsequent structures without fully integrating the previous ones (e.g., when someone identifies with the formal reflexive mind but denies or dissociates from embodied emotional experiences).

The prepersonal realm. According to Wilber (2000b), children typically spend approximately their first 7 years of life developing through three basic structures of development that together constitute the prepersonal realm. (As with all developmental stage theories, the order of the stages is more significant than the specific ages with which various individuals realize them. Regarding cognitive development, Wilber [2000b] tended to favor Piaget. I am aware of various criticisms of Piaget's [1977] theory, from how he deemphasized the role of the social environment and children's physical activity to his underestimating children's cognitive abilities. For example, Baillargeon and De Vos [1991] found that when they altered Piaget's assessment methods, infants are capable of object permanence significantly earlier than Piaget posited. Regrettably, page constraints require my focusing more on the general arc of such developmental processes than with the myriad criticisms of stage theories in general and, more specifically, the precise ages at which most children attain the various developmental capacities.)

The term prepersonal may sound derogatory to some, because it could imply that the young child is not yet a person. I certainly do not mean to belittle childhood. Rather, prepersonal refers to those stages of development during which a coherent, relatively stable, individuated self-sense is, as yet, only in the process of emerging, hence Mahler's distinction between the psychological birth and physical birth of the human infant (Mahler et al., 1975). Psychological functioning from the prepersonal structures is primarily prerational. Newborn children enter the sensoriphysical structure in a state of psychological undifferentiation from their environment. During their first year and a hall they take their first tentative steps toward individuation by developing an identity as a physical self separate from the environment. Then, in the phantasmic/emotional structure, toddlers develop a sense of their emotional self that perceives emotions differing from those of others and, thus, feel emotionally differentiated from others. At approximately age 3, in the representational mind structure, the child's mental self emerges: What children had known through the senses, they are now able to represent mentally. Piaget (1977) classified this structure as preoperational, in which the capacity for symbols and language provides the child access to an entirely new world of objects and ideas in both the past and the future.

The personal realm. Because Stages 4 through 6 involve the elaboration and stabilization of an autonomous, coherent self, they constitute the personal realm. Psychological functioning from these structures is increasingly rational. When children are approximately 7 years of age, they typically enter the rule/role mind structure, corresponding to Piaget's (1977) concrete operations. Here, the child develops the capacity to take the perspective (role) of others and thus assumes an identity as a role self, learning the rules associated with various social roles. Adolescence commences with the emergence of the formal-reflexive structure, corresponding to Piaget's formal operations. The young teenager is now able to think about thinking, which allows the person to introspect, marking the emergence of a conscientious self. Many people live their lives centered in this stage of development (some, in fact, never fully acquire formal operational thinking). However, young adults have the potential to develop into the vision-logic structure (see the charts in Wilber, 2000e, pp. 197-217). Whereas the formal-reflexive structure involves dichotomized, either/or thinking, vision-logic is integral-aperspectival, allowing one to simultaneously embrace multiple, seemingly contradictory, perspectives in one's attention and, through synthesis and integration, conceptualize networks of interactions among the various perspectives. At this point, cognitive development has greatly expanded, yet existential concerns often plague the individual.

The suprapersonal realm. Whereas the first five or six stages tend to develop without intentional effort on the part of the individual, the progressive emergence of subsequent altitudes of development tends to require increasingly purposeful contemplative (although not necessarily religious) practice. Because the last four stages involve increasing disidentification from a sense of self as isolated, separate, and individual, these altitudes of development are referred to as suprapersonal--including and transcending the personal. Psychological functioning in this realm is increasingly transrational, involving immediate awareness and intuitive apprehension. I am keenly cognizant of the likelihood that the subsequent descriptions of suprapersonal altitudes may appear far-fetched, similar to New Age philosophy, and unscientific, especially to those readers who have never had an experiential taste of these domains. The skeptical, or merely curious, reader is urged to consult such rigorously scientific and scholarly texts as Austin (1998); Scotton, Chinen, and Battista (1996); Goleman (2003); and Walsh and Vaughan (1993). The importance of Wilber's (1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 1999d, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2000d) contribution here cannot be overemphasized. By providing a framework that allows different data to exist in a complementary fashion, the data from millennia of spiritual communities can be incorporated to complement the data from Western psychology.

Experiences of the paramental altitude of development involve the expansion of one's identity beyond what Alan Watts (1966) called the prevalent but illusory "sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin" (p. ix) to include all of cosmic nature, prompting the experience of nature mysticism (Wilber, 2000b, pp. 287-301). Here, one's identity unfolds as a universal self that transcends the consensual sense of space and time. This mystical sense of oneness with the gross universe is clearly distinguishable from psychotic episodes in which people lack reality testing and a clear sense of self. Rather, the universal self includes both rational and transrational faculties, as well as a sense of oneself as an individual organism, while simultaneously expanding to embrace all natural phenomena.

Experiences of the metamental altitude of development transcend all gross referents; that is, consciousness relinquishes its exclusive anchoring to gross realms, and, thus, the contents of these interior experiences transcend the natural universe, usually involving archetypal images, internal luminosities and sounds, and subtle currents of bliss. Here, experiences of lucid dreaming are more the rule than the exception, and one's identity often expands in a union of one's soul with deity (or other subtle archetypes); thus, one may experience deity mysticism (Wilber, 2000b).

In experiences of the overmental altitude of development, one realizes the formless ground from which all phenomena--of both exterior and interior worlds--arise. These are experiences of pure consciousness, devoid of any specific content, in which bare attention itself--the root-essence of mind--abides without effort, strategic manipulation, or "self-consciousness." In experiencing "Witness-Consciousness" (Avabhasa, 1985)--a witnessing of the matrices of cosmic existence itself--one does not merely know about but directly realizes the unmanifest source, ground, support, and cause of all of the previous levels. When such experiences are psychospiritually metabolized, one's identity abides as the unmanifest source of all arising phenomena.

By contrast, in the supermental altitude of development, the "individual" transcends even the distinction between the formless ground and the phenomena that issue forth from the ground. This altitude of development is not actually a discrete altitude of development apart from any of the preceding altitudes of development but, rather, is the reality, condition, or "suchness" of all altitudes of development. In other words, in this ultimate unity consciousness, Spirit and its manifestations, Consciousness and its display, Emptiness and form, Nirvana and samsara (the Ultimate Reality or Truth and the conditional realm of suffering in which most people are engrossed) are all realized to be "not-two." When such experiences are metabolized, the self has retained and integrated all of its previous forms into the stable realization of its true and ever-present nature as the All (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2004). (After this article was written, Wilber [2006] revised his conceptualization of the suprapersonal realm such that the paramental/gross, metamental/subtle, overmental/causal, and supramental/nondual are no longer viewed simply as stages of development in the same sense as the basic structures of consciousness [vertical axis], but more as states of consciousness [horizontal axis]. This is a very complex issue, and Wilber now conceives of and distinguishes between "state-stages" and "structure-stages" [Wilber, 2006, p. 76]. For further explanation of this revision of integral theory, consult Wilber [2006, pp. 65-93].)

All-Lines of Development: Specific Aspects of Development

Given that integral theorists place so much emphasis on developmental issues, it seems only appropriate to ask what is it, precisely, that develops? Within the human being, different lines develop. That is to say, different aspects of human functioning have the potential to develop through the same basic altitudes of development of consciousness. To clarify with an example, what might it mean to say, "John's development hovers around the formal-reflexive level of development"? Part of the difficulty in addressing such a question is that different lines, or aspects, of John--such as cognitive, moral, emotional, and interpersonal--may have developed rather differentially. Thus, John's cognitive line may be extremely well developed, whereas his emotional and interpersonal lines may be significantly less developed.

Thus, adapting work from other developmental theorists, Wilber (1999d, 2000b) has described and mapped more than a dozen different lines of development that each proceed sequentially, yet quasi-independently, through the 10 basic structures of consciousness. Some of these developmental lines are cognition, self-identity, object relations, morality, role taking, psychosexuality, emotion or affect, creativity, aesthetics, altruism, interpersonal, spiritual, values, needs, and worldviews. Each line manifests itself in a relatively identifiable manner at each level. However, as stated before, the lines can and often do develop at different rates. Thus, although specific developmental lines and levels unfold sequentially, "overall development ... is far from a sequential, ladder-like, clunk-and-grind series of steps, but rather involves a fluid flowing of many waves and streams in the great River of Life" (Wilber, 2000b, p. xvii). Generally, Wilber (2006) noted that the cognitive line of development leads all other lines because cognition, broadly defined, determines what one can be aware of. The self line follows cognition (Of the things I can be aware of, what do I identify with?). Finally, there are also self-related lines that hover around the self-sense or ego (e.g., values, morals, needs).

Although it is beyond the scope of this introductory article, the reader should note that Wilber (2000b) has mapped out developmental progressions not only within the human individual but also within all four quadrants. Because holons within the various quadrants are in relational exchange with each other, a detailed figure such as the one in Wilber (2000b, p. 198) illustrates how, corresponding to cultural worldviews (LL) such as archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and centauric, there are social structures/means/ages/eras (LR) such as foraging, horticultural, agrarian, industrial, and informational.

All-Types: Different Ways of Being-and-Acting-in-the-World

Thus far, I have addressed quadrants, levels, and lines--all of which are relatively universal in nature. That is to say, regardless of one's gender or culture, every person can be viewed from the intentional, behavioral, cultural, and systemic quadrants; every person has the potential to develop through the same basic levels/structures of consciousness; and every person can be described in terms of his or her lines of development. Another important piece of the integral model is that of types, or personality typologies, which describe different individuals' ways of being-in-the-world. Whereas levels of development can be conceptualized vertically, typologies are horizontal dimensions. (Although it is not inaccurate to conceptualize levels vertically, the vertical "ladder" metaphor is less accurate than the metaphor of nested concentric spheres, in which each successive level [sphere] includes, embraces, and incorporates the preceding levels [spheres] while at the same time going beyond them. Thus, the essential features of each level are honored and retained while newly emergent features unfold.) In other words, a person's type--as described, for example, by the five-factor model (McCrae & Costa, 1996), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI; Briggs & Myers, 1977), the Enneagram (Riso & Hudson, 1999), Adlerian personality priorities (Fall et al., 2004), or even gender--will manifest at any level of development. Whereas all individuals can develop through the same basic structures of consciousness, not all individuals will do so in the same manner, nor will all people be optimally described by the same typological system. Thus, one's familiarity with various typological systems is an important element of integral conceptualization.

The work of Gilligan (1982) illustrates some of the crucial differences between masculine and feminine types. It is not that one of these types is better or more developed than the other, but different types do develop through the life course with different emphases, in a "different voice" (p. 2) to use Gilligan's term. According to her, the masculine type tends to emphasize autonomy, rules, rights, and justice, whereas the feminine type tends to emphasize relationship, connections, responsibility, and care. Gilligan illustrated this with the story of a little girl and boy trying to negotiate what to play. The girl wants to play as if they were neighbors, and the boy wants to play pirates. The little girl responds, "Okay, let's play pirates who live next door to each other." Masculine and feminine types often clash while playing games. Gilligan cited an example of a neighborhood game of baseball. A boy has just been struck out and begins to cry. The other boys wait unmoved. To them, a rule--three strikes and you're out--is a rule, period. "That's his problem if his feelings are hurt," one of the boys might mutter. If a girl is playing, Gilligan pointed out, she will likely urge everyone to give him another chance. The little girl is empathic and is acting in a caring manner toward the distressed boy. Because the other boys are practicing their masculine logic, grounded in justice and based on rules and principles, they will readily allow feelings to be hurt in order to preserve the rules. Conversely, the feminine type will often bend the rules in pursuit of protecting others' feelings (Gilligan, as cited in Wilber, 2005).

Thus, attending to an individual's type of personality is important because different types of people emphasize different dimensions of life. Consider how differently people's journeys through the developmental labyrinth could be due to the fact that one of them is intensely feminine, whereas the other is intensely masculine (gender); or one of them is highly introverted, whereas the other is highly extroverted (MBTI); or one navigates life with a self-effacing style of peacemaking, whereas the other tends to demonstrate a style that is primarily challenging and confrontational (Enneagram Types 9 and 8, respectively).

On a less healthy note, people who meet diagnostic criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) Axis II disorders can also be conceptualized as different types. Those who meet diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder display a relatively consistent (even if what is consistent is their instability) way of being-in-the-world, just as those who meet diagnostic criteria for avoidant, narcissistic, or any of the personality disorders also exhibit relatively inflexible ways of being. However, with the exception of DSM-IV-TR Axis II disorders, it is important to remember that no type is, in general, better or worse than any other. However, different circumstances may be more easily handled or adjusted to by a certain type of person than another. Also important is an appreciation of how multidimensional our conceptualizations become when we include types: The Enneagram consists of 9 types, each of which can manifest at any of the 10 levels; 9 types times 10 levels yields a typology of 90 different personality types (Riso & Hudson, 1999). Furthermore, I have not yet addressed different states of consciousness.

All-States: Different Ways of Being-and-Knowing-in-the-World

Having discussed levels, or stages, of consciousness, I now need to differentiate between stages and states of consciousness. Whereas levels/stages of consciousness can also be thought of as enduring structures or traits, by which I mean relatively stable patterns of events in consciousness, states of consciousness are more temporary and relatively fleeting. States of consciousness fall into one of two main categories: natural and altered. The most widely recognized states of consciousness are the natural ones: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Any specific state can arise at any structure or stage of consciousness. For example, one can have dreams at preoperational, concrete operational, or formal operational stages of development, just as one can remain at concrete operations while daily passing in and out of waking, dreaming, and deep-steep states. According to the world's wisdom traditions, these three natural states of consciousness have specific spiritual correlates. Whereas the waking state is the domain of our everyday ego, the dream state, because it is a realm created by one's psyche, provides one route to the realm of the soul (the original meaning of psyche). The state of deep dreamless sleep, precisely because it is a domain of pure formlessness, provides one route to the realm of causal/formless spirit. The significance of these spiritual correlates is that all individuals, regardless of their level of development, have access (even if only temporarily) to the entire spectrum of consciousness, precisely because all people wake, dream, and sleep.

Altered states of consciousness, also called "nonordinary" states of consciousness, include experiences such as those induced by drugs or fasting, as well as those brought on by meditation or other contemplative practices. The field of psychology has paid considerable attention to peak experiences, which can occur within people regardless of their stage of development. Peak experiences are often suprapersonal experiences, in which an individual, while awake, has direct awareness of the paramental, metamental, overmental, or supermental altitudes. However, a crucial caveat to bear in mind is that, although anyone at any stage of development can temporarily access suprapersonal states of consciousness, people will interpret that state with the developmental tools they have available. Wilber provided excellent examples of how individuals at five different stages of development might each differentially interpret experiences of the paramental, metamental, overmental, and supermental altitudes (see Wilber, 1999c, 1999d, pp. 446-447). The important point to remember is that regardless of how profound and earth-shattering one's peak experiences seem, they are, by definition, temporary, transient, passing states: "In order for higher development to occur, those temporary states must become permanent traits" (Wilber, 1999d, p. 447). For those interested in converting temporary altered states into more permanent realizations, some form of contemplative or yogic practice apparently becomes necessary:
   Unlike natural states (which access psychic, subtle, and causal
   states in the natural sleep cycle, but rarely while awake or fully
   conscious) and unlike spontaneous peak experiences (which are
   fleeting), meditative states access these higher realms in a
   deliberate and prolonged fashion. (Wilber, 1999d, pp. 447-448)

What do altered states of consciousness have to do with counseling? First of all, it should be recognized that episodes of depression, mania, panic, delirium, and even psychoses are usually states of consciousness. Most people are not permanently depressed, manic, delirious, or psychotic but rather pass in and out of these states. In addition, within a counseling session, clients may be more amenable to certain interventions given their state of consciousness. If they are too "revved up," they are unlikely to be able to "sit with" what is present and deeply process what they are experiencing. Conversely, "when we exist in the ontological mode--the realm beyond everyday concerns--we are in a state of particular readiness for personal change" (Yalom, 2002, p. 127). An obvious example of the value of inducing altered states of consciousness can be seen in the work of Ericksonian hypnosis (Erickson & Rossi, 1981), eye movement desensitization reprocessing (Shapiro, 2001), or dream work (Hill, 1996). Carl Rogers (1986) was also aware of the value of the therapist's altered state of consciousness while working with clients:
   When I am at my best ... when I am closest to my inner, intuitive
   self ... when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of
   consciousness in the relationship, then whatever I do seems to be
   full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful
   ... when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me,
   then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship,
   ways which I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do
   with my thought processes. But these strange behaviors turn out to
   be right, in some odd way. At those moments it seems that my inner
   spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other.
   Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something
   larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.
   (pp. 198-199)

Furthermore, Welwood (2000) wrote beautifully about "unconditional presence"--which is similar to what Rogers (1986) alluded to above--and lamented that although it is perhaps the greatest resource therapists have to offer their clients, therapists' professional training "consists mostly of transmitting knowledge and information. The most important thing--the ability to bring a quality of unbiased presence [an altered state] to experience just as it is--is hardly even mentioned" (p. 144).

The Self-System

"The self-system or self-sense (or just the self)," as opposed to the quadrants, levels, lines, types, or states, "is where the action is" (Wilber, 2000c, p. 548)--the dynamic process holding together the various developmental lines, establishing something of a cohesive whole. The self is the seat of a host of significant operations and capacities, such as identification (self-identity), organization (providing a sense of cohesion to one's experience), will (choosing and initiating action), defense (the use of defense mechanisms), metabolism (psychological digestion of one's experiences), and navigation (one's journey through the developmental labyrinth). The self not only balances, integrates, and navigates the sundry levels, lines, states, and so forth, it is also the experiential center of each individual's psychological universe; however, remember, the self is not reified into a "thing"--the self is the process or activity that creates the sense of being "inside of one's skin." Ingersoll and Cook-Greuter's (2007) article discusses the self-system in far greater depth and detail.

Integral Methodological Pluralism

Philosophically, theories are more like models or maps of territories, whereas paradigms are more like the injunctions or practices that enact and disclose the territories themselves. The important point is that a new theory without new practices is nothing more than a map without a territory. The integral metaparadigm urges one not only to conceptualize differently, but that one practice and/ or research differently, which brings us to Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). I want to emphasize that an integral paradigm is a network of practices that allows us to honor the efficacy of each epistemological approach, while also recognizing that each approach is optimal in specific situations and less so in others. All of the available knowledge approaches and their corresponding practices are crucial components of an Integral Operating System (IOS)--an IOS that "touches all the bases" in an attempt to serve the diversity of our world and its discontents. An IOS also initiates a self-correcting, self-organizing outreach by gently reminding us to conceptualize from, and work with, all four dimensions (all-quadrants) of our being-in-the-world, at the most appropriate developmental level of consciousness (all-levels). Any genuine IOS (and there is not just one) will continually prompt us when we are not honoring an important mode of our own or others' being-in-the-world: all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-types, and all-states. Page constraints, unfortunately, prohibit my addressing one of the most clinically significant concepts in Wilber's integral psychology: the notion that derailments at each stage of development result in specific pathologies and defense mechanisms and, most important, that specific treatment modalities are optimal for developmental problems deriving from specific levels of development (see Fall et al., 2004, p. 458; Wilber, 1999d, pp. 80-160).

IMP is thus a (potentially) revolutionary pluralism because it honors the validity of each discipline/counseling theory and its associated set of methodologies and techniques while simultaneously recognizing the incompleteness and blind spots of each discipline/counseling theory. IMP then takes a step beyond most multicultural, pluralistic stances by revealing precisely how the diversity can be unified in a more encompassing and compassionate framework (AQAL) that salvages the validity of each by relieving each of its absolutisms. When the various disciplines are genuinely integrated, we have an IMP and a correlative transformation from a partial pluralism to an integral holism.

In the introductory paragraph, I mentioned that integral theory may help counselors "better serve their clients and profession." I hope that the reader can see that it does this not only by providing a systematic, coherent, and consistent framework that allows one to draw upon the entire gamut of psychotherapeutic theories and practices but also by urging therapists to heal more than just psyches. In other words, quadratic thinking reveals the dire need to transform not just the thoughts and self-experience of individuals (UL) but also the social systems (LR) that are equally responsible for human suffering. This means that as professional helpers, we may need to work toward transforming the systemic structures that promote human suffering. This call to social liberation is clearly in line with the American Counseling Association's (2005) position on advocacy, as stated in its code of ethics: "Counselors advocate to promote change at [italics added] the individual, group, institutional, and societal levels [italics added] that improves the quality of life for individuals and groups and remove potential barriers to the provision or access of appropriate services being offered" (Introduction to Section C: Professional Responsibility). As someone who was trained as a counselor/psychotherapist, I admit that I am not well versed in how to effect large-scale transformations in social structures such as poverty, classism, and racism, but I suspect that some of the readers agree that truly comprehensive therapy must address all of the sources of our clients' distress and that, clearly, such systemic forces generate tremendous suffering.


This article is only a brief overview of integral theory, a philosophical worldview that Walsh and Vaughan (1994) referred to as "systematic, broad-ranging, multidisciplinary, integrative, visionary yet scholarly ... perhaps unparalleled" (p. 18). Perhaps you, the reader, feel overwhelmed, perhaps you have disagreed on some of the specific details, or perhaps you are concerned that developmental models can be used to marginalize certain people (a concern of what I call developmental abuse).

If you feel overwhelmed, rest assured that that is a normal response to a first taste of integral theory. Read further in this issue and consult other sources that may clarify or fill in some of the specifics that were here omitted because of page constraints. Fall et al. (2004) have included a 60-page chapter on integral counseling, and Wilber (2000e) is an excellent introduction to integral theory applied specifically to psychology and therapy.

If you think that Wilber or I have overgeneralized, that too is possible. When a Kosmic philosopher, such as Wilber, integrates disparate disciplines (e.g., physics, economics, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and literary theory), it necessarily requires a level of abstraction that yields orienting generalizations that may not always do justice to the detailed specifics discovered by those with more narrow research agendas. (Kosmic, in contrast to cosmic, derives from the ancient Greek term, which referred to the patterned nature of the entire universe rather than simply the physical universe or cosmos.) The voicing of such disconfirming details will hasten our (integral counselors') accommodating integral theory to "fit with the facts." That is, after all, a primary manner in which knowledge develops. Moreover, if this article has seemed too abstract, it is because I was asked to write an article on integral theory, not integral practice; I recently submitted a manuscript for publication titled "An Integral Taxonomy of Therapeutic Interventions" that specifically attends to issues of integral therapeutic practice. We integral thinkers are not deluded to the point of thinking that we have the theory or the answers. What we do have is a conceptual map that appears to be more parsimoniously comprehensive than other theories, but it certainly is not the final word or a closed system in any way. To the contrary, integral theory, in my view, is exquisitely self-reflexive, and, provided that we each remain open, humble, and honest, it will continually reveal our shadows and blind spots and entreat our translating or transforming the fractures within ourselves, our clients, and the world.

Regarding the potential of developmental abuse, integral theorists make far more developmental judgments than value judgments. That is to say, an individual at the vision-logic stage is not a better or more valuable person than someone at the rule/role mind stage, anymore than a 20-year-old is a better person than an 8-year-old. On the other hand, all developmental theories do involve a telos: if not an actual endpoint, at least a direction toward which growth progresses. However, the goal of integral counseling is not to get all clients to the highest stage possible. Rather, the prime directive of much of our work involves helping most of our clients translate as healthily as possible at the level we encounter them. Although I personally react against various forms of fundamentalism that are most common in people who have not developed beyond the rule/role mind structure (characterized by concrete operational thinking and a conventional/ conformist morality), I do not think there is something wrong or inherently problematic with the rule/role mind structure. As alluded to earlier, each and every stage/structure has its own specific types of problems and pathologies. Finally, integral counselors work with people, not stages. In fact, knowledge of the full spectrum of human development allows us to better understand, join with, and communicate with diverse people from all walks of life so that we may better serve emerging needs, helping to heal the wounds and mend the fractures of an increasingly fragmented world. Thus, understanding Wilber's spectrum model actually facilitates a more humanistic relationship with the people we counsel. Integral counselors are devoted, not just to certain structures, but to the health of the entire spectrum of development, which we believe is present, even if only as a latent potential, within each and every human being.


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Andre Marquis, Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of Rochester. The author thanks Ken Wilber, Paul Stein, and Kathryn Douthit for their thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Andre Marquis, Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of Rochester, Warner School of Education and Human Development, PO Box 270425, Dewey Hall 1-306, Rochester, NY 14627-0425 (e-mail:
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Integral Theory in Counseling
Author:Marquis, Andre
Publication:Counseling and Values
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Previous Article:Editorial statement.
Next Article:The developmental perspective in integral counseling.

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