By LELAND VAN DEN DAELE, PhD, ABPP, professor in the Clinical Psychology Department at CIIS. Leland is a Life Member of the American Psychological Association, a member of the Editorial Board of the American Journal of Psychoanalysis, and Research Director of Psychodiagnostics. He publishes his own blog.
Since its inception, the CIIS Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program was inspired by the philosophical and psychological writings of Alan Watts and Haridas Chadhuri. Watts was the Dean of the Institute for Asian Studies, the progenitor of CIIS, and Chadhuri was the first president of CIIS. Both Watts and Chadhuri emphasized that psychological health depended upon the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.
The interdependence of body, mind, and spirit find validation in contemporary science. Biochemistry and clinical nutrition have demonstrated numerous links among diet, neurotransmitters, mood, and behavior. Wide-ranging cognitive and behavioral effects have been established for exercise and sleep. The scientific study of practices associated with yoga, tai chi, and Buddhism have entered the main stream. As a rule, results validate traditional wisdom as a foundation for equanimity, and physical and mental health.
Cognitive neuroscience employing electroencephalograph (EEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies further provide a window into the inner world. If changes in the brain and the mind are interdependent, as is widely taken as axiomatic, then changes in EEG and MRI patterns reflect changes in mental activity. The use of these technologies demonstrates the pervasive influence of unconscious factors on attention, awareness, and cognition. Subtle emotion, the material and social context, abstract purpose, belief, personal history, and a host of other variables individually and collectively influence the flow of consciousness, cognition, and choice. Consciousness, cognition, and choice arise in a multidimensional field. Multiple strata from the biochemical and cellular to the energetic level participate to form conscious content.
A different approach is embodied in reductive approaches to psychology, which attempt to isolate a single factor that influences mind and behavior. The statistical method associated with reductive approaches requires the observer to “sum across” individuals. The method necessarily focuses upon one or a few variables isolated from the totality of an individual’s life. Indeed, the individual ceases to exist, replaced by numbers on a scale, which define only a “variable” on a scale and not the individual in her complexity.
As a result, symptom-oriented treatments typically employ a protocol, a kind of “one-size-fits-all” set of exercises or formulations, meant to apply to persons described by the protocol. Reductive approaches fail to address the person or provide individualized understanding how she finds herself in her current life situation. Instead, the person is given a formula.
This contrasts with CIIS’s integrative psychodynamic approach to clinical psychology. Body, mind, and spirit are viewed in dynamic relationship. Symptoms are not isolated from the whole human being and her social and emotional context. CIIS’s integrative psychodynamic approach aims at positive psychological health, not just the elimination of this or that symptom.
Integrative psychodynamic psychotherapy entails growth of experience, knowledge, and insight into the multidimensional nature of self, other, and world. The approach does not entail “quick fixes” or formula. It recognizes the complexity of individual differences, human relations, and life. The successful application of integrative psychodynamic psychotherapy eventuates in new openness to the inner and outer world. The positive psychological health that results is more than the absence of symptoms. It entails heightened empathy, sensitivity, and maturity. As integrative psychodynamic psychotherapy opens experience of the self, it opens experience to life.