THE CASE OF MARIA: A TRANSPERSONAL APPROACH
The goal of transpersonal counseling is to assist the individual in achieving his or her highest potential. A careful examination of themes within Maria's personal history and dreams can help direct the transpersonal counselor toward goals and techniques that will aid Maria in her process toward authenticity and potential. The first issue that needs to be addressed is Maria's willingness to be a client and her openness to transpersonal theory and techniques. Because Maria's family practitioner as well as her priest recommended counseling, her thoughts and feelings about these recommendations should be discussed openly and honestly.
In transpersonal counseling, terms such as maladaptive, dysfunctional, irrational, and other negative terms are avoided. Instead the goal is to reframe Maria's current condition as a time of breakthrough: the birth of her authentic self. This reframing will facilitate Maria in moving through the helpless and hopeless state in which she presently finds herself. Instead of focusing on the "bad" decisions she has made, transpersonal counseling will seek to help Maria understand that her current discomfort may have been the impetus for her to move forward to authenticity and her highest potential.
Throughout Maria's personal history and dreams, we see a pervasive theme of powerlessness and the identification with the victim voice within. In her dreams, she is being chased by shadowy figures, and the room she is in has multiple exits signs with no readily available exit door. She is powerless to escape her pursuers, just as she felt powerless when she was demeaned and assaulted by her ex-husband and looked down on by her family. No matter how she wants to escape, in her dreams, she will soon be at the complete mercy of her pursuers. These shadowy pursuers can be seen as all of the things that Maria feels she has no control over. The multiple exit signs with no available exit indicate that Maria may be ready for change but does not know how to go about effecting it.
In her personal history, there are numerous examples of her identification with the victim. When she made an empowering personal decision to move away for college, she was accused of abandoning her family commitments. When she chose Mark as her husband, her family ostracized her until the birth of her first child. In almost every instance that Maria made an empowering and "adult" decision, she was either looked down on or shunned by her family. Because Maria's culture places such a high value on family, her family's disapproval of the majority of her decisions has resulted in a great deal of psychological dissonance and loss of personal power. This theme of powerlessness extended into her marriage through the physical and emotional abuse she experienced from her ex-husband Mark.
Overall, Maria sees herself as being powerless to seek counseling on her own, powerless to make adequate adult decisions, powerless to effectively stand up to her family, powerless to stop the physical and emotional abuse she endured, powerless to stop depressive and suicidal thoughts, powerless to raise her children effectively, powerless to develop healthy relationships with men, and powerless to even obtain a healthy night's sleep. The issue is not that there is a victim voice within her; the issue is that it seems to be the only voice to which she is listening. There were times in her life when she may have been the victim and could do nothing about it. For example, she could not control (and is not responsible for) her parents' reaction to her life decisions. The victim voice was the most appropriate voice for this particular incident. The victim voice should be honored and understood to be an integral part of her journey but not placed on a pedestal above all others. Maria cannot reach her fullest potential if the victim is the only voice to which she listens.
Two other voices that Maria seems to be having difficulty understanding and accepting are her feminine and masculine voices. The feminine voice tends to be intuitive, nurturing, soft, and able to express emotions. The masculine voice tends to be strong, authoritative, and personally powerful. Maria has not been able to access either her feminine or masculine voice thus far. Expressing her feminine voice would allow Maria to come to terms with the fact that, while important to her culturally, her parents and extended family's opinions are ultimately hers to choose whether to take or leave. Accessing her feminine voice would also allow Maria to reidentify with her role as a mother and as a woman. Finally, identification with Maria's feminine voice would allow her to understand that while she suffered physical and emotional abuse by a man, this does not mean all men are not to be trusted.
Embracing Maria's masculine voice will allow Maria to take more ownership of her life. While she values her family's opinions, her masculine voice will allow her to choose to go her own way and feel confident in doing so. Her masculine voice will also aid her in presenting herself as the strong woman that she is and will allow her to stand up to her ex in-laws with regard to her child-rearing practices. Finally, identification with the masculine voice will allow Maria to confront the powerlessness she feels in her dreams, her work, and her family and personal life.
Maria has been uncomfortable with the feminine emotional, intuitive, nurturing side of herself, just as she has been reticent to honor the stronger, more in-control masculine aspects of her person. Transpersonal theory holds that through the mutual respect and appreciation of the masculine and feminine divinity in each person, one's life comes into balance. Transpersonal theory further believes that all voices within each person should be honored to some extent. There is a time and a place for the victim voice, because things sometimes happen that are out of one's control. The victim voice allows the person to realize and accept this in order to move on both psychologically and emotionally.
Building on the idea of honoring all of the voices within, Maria is clearly in a great deal of emotional pain but has not yet chosen to honor the pain and work through it. It does not appear that Maria has successfully worked through the trauma of her abuse, the fact that she has been largely ostracized by her family, and the fact that she feels ineffective as a mother, a woman, and a professional. Instead of honoring and accepting the emotional pain that resulted from these things, she largely blames herself and identifies primarily with the victim voice. By refusing to effectively deal with and honor all of the voices present within her, Maria has inadvertently given all of the control to this voice, and therefore creates resentment between the victim and the other voices. This plays out in Maria's relationships with men. When she begins to date, she does not open herself to the possibility that she could trust and accept another man. She feels that because she has children and because she does not want to jump right into a sexual relationship, the men do not want to see her anymore. Rather than embracing the feminine voice within that could effectively communicate this to herself and the men she dates and accept the pain that comes naturally in developing relationships, she becomes withdrawn, blames the presence of her children, and strengthens her identification with the victim voice.
Maria may also be refusing to honor her other voices because of the nurturing qualities that may influence her to attempt to mend relationships with her family. She may be pulled by the voice of Western culture that idealizes the individual, while simultaneously being pulled toward the more collectivistic and group- and family-oriented Latino culture's voice. A goal of transpersonal counseling is transcendence beyond the self; however, Maria is unable to do this because she is not fully connected with all of the parts of herself. In an authentic person, the feminine voice, the masculine voice, the victim voice, and all other voices would have their proper place, work together, and be utilized to reach higher states of actualization. Maria's refusal to honor her feminine and masculine voices has caused an overidentification with the victim voice and led to a great deal of psychological and emotional distress.
Another issue to be examined for Maria is a clear lack of unity with a power greater than herself. She reports a strong identification with her Catholic faith, but there is no further evidence that she accesses the spiritual voice within her. Transpersonal theory acknowledges the importance of a spiritual component in development, actualization, and human potential. Part of Maria's increasing depression, failed relationships with men, and a loss of a sense of mother and womanhood could be interpreted as an inadequate search for intimacy and personal strength that could be fulfilled in some part through spiritual development. Once Maria has learned to fully connect with herself, she can become more authentic and thus may be more open to using her Catholic background to have a spiritual connection with a power greater than herself.