Evaluate the relevance of elements typology to transpersonal integrative psychotherapy

Evaluate the relevance of elements typology to transpersonal integrative psychotherapy


The Elements model has a balanced view of personality. Whereas Jung believed we have a type, the elements model indicates that whilst we might have a particular orientation, we can develop other parts for a more balanced type. In some areas of our life, we are extroverted but introverted in other areas. The Elements model has 3 positions: expressive, receptive balanced, therefore, comprising twelve types in all, master, prophet and saint. However, no one is a pure type.

1. air (expressive, receptive, balanced)

2. fire (expressive, receptive, balanced)

3. water (expressive, receptive, balanced)

4. earth (expressive, receptive, balanced)

In this model expressive qualities are similar to the extroverted type, the more apparent, active dimension of the element and are connected with the path of the Master who overcomes limitation. The receptive dimension, on the other hand, is more inner, and therefore more introverted and subtle and is associated with the path of the Saint who consciously surrenders to the Divine Will. The middle ground of balance is the path of the Prophet who shows wisdom and discrimination to balance the two other paths. In this model the twelve groups of qualities are then associated with an archetype that is the ideal for each.

A transpersonal perspective on the psyche (Wilber 1978) is that we come from spirit, our true nature is divine and our essence is of a split-off fragment of an all-encompassing consciousness. The word ‘spirit’ is derived from spiritus which implies wind or breath. The alchemical journey is to reveal our true nature, before we were born. If we think of a garden, our personality is what we plant in the garden, the trees and the shrubbery. Character is defined by how we tender the garden. Attending to a fertile soil in the garden when there is abundant sunlight and temperate climate is very different to attending to a stony garden in the west of Ireland. In transpersonal therapy we create the fertile soil, the inner marriage with our inner selves. We can find the voice for the client or mirror a desire for the client.

Through the alchemy of transformation I can uncover a lot of my negative past or my shadow in the nigredo stage, similar to undertaking personal inventory work, and through to a brighter stage of albedo. Citrinas is largely unconscious and rubedo is an emerging new life. I have spent most of life struggling in nigredo and flipping between one addiction to another. I have received glimpses of albedo through therapy and meditation but sometimes it can be fleeting and any attempts at acquiring serenity can feel like pushing water uphill. For me, personal transformation is predicated on the willingness to “let go”. How can I achieve this if I am nursing unhealthy fantasies and active addictions? I do not have much experience of mastering. In my meditation I can feel great resistance as my ego defences are very solid. Mastering for me would represent being able to sit with my feelings and not have some manic activity consuming my attention. My own personal therapy is a journey of letting go, acquiring a new rhythm, keeping an open mind, trusting the process and developing new layers of honesty with my therapist.

Freedom in the elements model is when we are free of our history. We no longer react in the instance but can provide a considered response as the soul has its own journey.

For the elements model I like to think of the analogy of a balloon. A balloon when full of ‘air’ and ‘fire’ will rise and be up in the clouds before very long. I can be very ‘intellectual’ and be powered by researching and pontificating economic ideas whilst I fail to change the light bulb in my house. This is further evidenced by my wife asking me to pick up some bread or milk from the shop or her jacket from the dry cleaners. In spite of having the day to myself I will invariably have run out of time to do the basic housekeeping jobs in hand. However, when ‘water’ and ‘earth’ is added to the balloon there is a very different effect. Through meditation or therapy sessions, I realise that my ‘air’ element is distorted. I therefore feel the need to walk in green surroundings taking in the fresh air and I notice my breathing becoming more relaxed and whole. I often take myself to Richmond Hill overlooking the river Thames (a scene which Turner made famous) and begin to get a sense of being “in the now.” My receptive ‘earth’ and ‘water’ qualities are accessed and I then feel less compelled to intellectualise or to argue but rather to “just be” and to take in the smells and the colours. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I am at this serene place and yet am in distorted ‘fire’. I am looking to argue and fight with other road users en route, for instance, if I felt I was cut up whilst cycling. This is when ‘fire’ can be a liability. Or I may be so wrapped up in my own head that I fail to appreciate the colours and the beauty and completely misswhat is beautiful and, therefore, suffer from too much ‘air.’

In the CCPE weekend groups, we observed in group work the elements at play in walking. It was intriguing to note that some walked with so much air they were up in the clouds and ran the risk of walking into things. Others walked with lots of fire and were very off putting in their stance. I have since used the observations in coffee bars whilst observing people come and go. This is useful when seeing clients since body language can be another indicator of what is happening at an unconscious level. I believe that our job as transpersonal therapists is to make conscious the unconscious. Observing body language can be an essential part of our basic toolkit.

Critique of elements

Critics of the elements model suggest that those with borderlinepersonality or psychotic symptoms are not appropriate candidates for transpersonal therapy techniques because of the potential for ego defences to be overwhelmed. But these conditions are probably relative contraindicationsat best. However, for Linehan, he used and visualisation with borderline patients in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and suggested that even patients with fragile or unstable ego functioning can benefit from such work.

The assumption in the elements model is that we carry all elements in ourselves and we adapt and repress others but we can potentially get in touch with all of them. Through the transformation of alchemy in the elements model, we discover harmony in the relationships between all parts.

Ultimately true healing does not happen in the head. It occurs through feeling toned realisations in response to a lived experience. That is why the analytic process, when pursued on an intellectual level, and that includes most self-analysis, is sterile. As we come to understand and appreciate transpersonal experiences and process, we can evaluate other cultures better and learn from their accumulated centuries of transpersonalwisdom. We can, in effect, reclaim what has been called “the Great Tradition,” the sum total of humankind’s cross-cultural religious and philosophical wisdom so that we may better serve our patients.


Related posts

Alchemy of transformation


About Noel Bell

Psychotherapist in London. Check out my blog posts and more at www.noelbell.net
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