ACA Blog

Marianela Medrano-Marra
Jan 12, 2010

Transpersonal Counseling

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep. -Rumi
My approach to counseling is heavily informed by the transpersonal nature of my training. My interest in transpersonal psychology began less than ten years ago when I found myself immersed in the process of recreating my life. Or I should said, it began in the early nineties when I decided to make the USA my home. As an immigrant I have gone through the process of adjustment and adaptation and have felt myself greatly changed by the experience, accentuated by my divorce in the early 90s and subsequent step into single parenting and all that came with it, and subsequent remarriage. How was I changed? Finding the answer stirred up my curiosity. Had I lost a part of me, or had I gained something big in the process? I was intrigued. My life, despite my adaptation, felt like a puzzle with missing pieces. My personal interest in finding the answers extended into my professional life. The idea of living a balanced, congruent life that is implicit in the transpersonal approach struck a chord with me. I have made it my intention and purpose in life. This new year I am renewing my commitment to it.

Reading poetry has always been a comforting experience for me, and encountering the poetry of Rumi has changed my life drastically. The above poem with its invitation to stay awake through thick and thin, through darkness or light, through joy or pain, always awake to see what the new experience brings, has guided me through the darkest times.

Having the transpersonal frame in which to hang my reflections has made a difference in my counseling work. In the words of James Fadiman and Kathleen Speeth, the transpersonal practice includes the full range of behavioral, emotional and intellectual disorders we commonly see, but also the desire and commitment to strive for full self-actualization, a striving that surpasses the day-to-day nuances of egoic issues ( defenses, projections, beliefs, etc.) to face us with those aspects of our lives that are beyond the personal (bliss, ecstasy, mystical experiences, being, essence, wonder, self-transcendence, sacralization of everyday life, oneness, or species-wide synergy, just to name a few). The transpersonal approach has an optimistic perspective. It is sustenance for the spirit. The transpersonal practitioner does not abandon traditional approaches, but he or she combines the two. In other words, a transpersonal counselor will first guide a client in building a robust ego to then move into surpassing that ego and entering into what waits beyond it, a more integrative view of the person’s world.

In transpersonal counseling, whether an individual is building an ego or transcending it, the person is seen as healthy, in the sense that every experience we live through is a part of the wholeness we are. Pain, insecurity and sorrow are as much a part of life’s synergy as comfort, security, and happiness are. In transpersonal counseling, a disorder (usually it is a disorder of some sort that brings people to counseling) is seen as an opportunity to come back into order.

We are at the threshold of a new year, a new beginning. As many of you, I too examine ways to embrace new paths, new ways of living my life. The first new year’s resolution I uttered right after midnight was to do everything in my power to further harmonize all the angles of my life (writer, counselor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and educator). I was summoning synergy—the bridging of all my roles so they can unite in a result greater than the sum of each individual role. What I realize now after writing this is that what I really long for is being at peace while chaos does its thing. We live in an uncertain world, and aspiring to live in certainty sets us up for failure. In reality, the synergy will manifest in my ability to remain equanimous even amid uncertainty. If I must ask for what I really want, as the poet Rumi invites us to do, I want to come to terms with uncertainty. In the same manner, this is what guides my approach to clients’ uncertainties. My new year’s resolution is to keep myself firm in the belief that what matters is not so much that we eliminate problems, but that we learn to coexist with them. Life is difficult, full of uncertainty, and if we want to live fully, we need to learn to accept its forever changing, uncertain nature, and that when the breeze at dawn brings news (good or bad) we owe it to ourselves to not go back to sleep—to remain awake, in order to fully live life.

Marianela Medrano-Marra is a counselor and Dominican writer living and practicing in Naugatuck, CT. She writes poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction; with publications including essays and four books of poetry.

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