Over the weekend, I listened to a lecture by Neal Goldsmith, psychotherapist specializing in psycho-spiritual development.
The word psychology is derived from the Greek word psukhe, meaning “soul,” “spirit,” “mind,” “life,” and “breath,” combined with the Greek logos, here used as “statement,” “expression,” and “discourse,” more often thought of today in the form of “-ology,” as “the study of.” Prior to the late 1800s, psychology was the study of our inner mental life–the study of our soul, our deepest self, and our essence. Over time, the discipline became an academic and clinical field with a strong focus on pathology, rather than spiritual development.
The discussion was interesting, as Goldsmith views “neurosis” as the whole organism’s natural response to developmental stress on the path to maturation, rather than as pathology. Neurosis is the natural unfolding of the human psyche in all it’s beauty and complexity. The word “psycheology” is not a misspelling, but rather a term coined by Goldsmith to reclaim the field of spiritual development.
What is the Psyche?
In psychology, the psyche is the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious, and often used interchangeably with the word soul. There seem to be far more psychological issue today than existed one hundred years ago, many of which are immediately treated with pharmaceuticals. Viewing neurosis through Goldsmith’s lens of spiritual maturation, most cases can be effectively resolved resolved through “talk therapy” with a skilled practitioner or trusted friend.
Whereas pharmaceuticals rewire pathways and modify emotional sensations to address acute symptoms, building trust and rapport allow one to face their stressors head-on and develop appropriate solutions. Many people who take pharmaceuticals to resolve depression, anxiety, OCD, and other psychological disorders find that the medications begin to backfire after prolonged use. They may develop a tolerance or adverse side effects, where the drawbacks begin to outweigh the benefits.
Goldsmith proposes that we find combinations of treatments that are explicitly chosen to be effective, without relapse, when the chemical is finally withdrawn. In many cases, this involves some form of behavioral change, including altering behavioral habits and thinking patterns. Traditional healing professionals play an important role in stopping the pathology and its damage, whereas therapists guide clients towards mature lifestyle choices to forestall the progression of pathology. Both focus on harm reduction, but not necessarily on building the skills necessary to foster spiritual growth.
The Study of the Soul
Contrary to traditional medicine, Goldsmith’s psycheolology approach is oriented towards facilitating and guiding healthy spiritual maturation. Moving backward in time from our current model, which is highly academic and clinical, we might revisit the original meaning of “psukhe” and shift our focus back to the soul–the part of us that is the earliest, deepest, ans most authentic.
In psychotherapy, the psyche is the most influential part in effecting lasting behavioral change and boosting self-esteem. We must go deep, down to the essence of our being to understand our true nature. This may be achieved through meditation, talk therapy, psychedelic experience, or any combination of the above.
Interestingly, Goldsmith suggests that the psyche is the part ourselves that we see illuminated during the psychedelic experience. This illumination of our true nature and the corresponding “ego death” offer therapeutic value, whether discussed with a psychotherapist or a trusted friend.
Goldsmith repeatedly returns to the idea of alignment by opening his hands and intertwining his fingers. Several months ago, I wrote about sympathetic vibration, wherein a still pendulum brought into contact with a vibrating one will begin to vibrate at the same frequency. Similarly, if our conscious attention is brought into contact with our deepest ground of being, our conscious awareness elicits our deepest sense of self. We can reclaim the identity of our true self, which we may have subconsciously abandoned in our youth.
In order to foster this alignment process, we must begin by viewing the behaviors labeled “neurotic” as a natural stress response, rather than a pathological problem. We must journey through the path to spiritual maturation, rather than seek out a shortcut around the rocky path. From this perspective, “neurosis” is been viewed as a developmental challenge–the surmounting of which brings maturity or wisdom.
The term “mental illness” is widespread, yet Goldsmith questions its helpfulness. The concept of “sick” constricts and distorts, preventing those with the label from a natural unfolding and realignment. Just as a car requires regular oil changes to run optimally, perhaps humans need to find ways to tenderly care for the stalling engine and cracked windows of their lives, instead of simply driving through the car wash and calling it good.
The Big Picture
Goldsmith suggests that psychiatrist continue to treat true biochemically-based behavioral disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, but bring psychologists back to the unfolding of the psyche as a non-medical, natural phenomenon on the path to spiritual maturity. This might begin with redefining spirituality as simply the natural unfolding towards the wise, mature end of the normal curve of human development.
In all aspects of life, a big-picture understanding paired with active listening and fundamental positive regard create a healthy environment for personal spiritual development and interpersonal relationships. True and lasting healing requires that we tear down whatever persona we’ve built up for ourselves, allowing ourselves to unfold naturally and accordance with our inner-template for development. That inner template began with mind, body, and spirit in perfect alignment. We have the ingrained potential to return to that state for full integration, but the process both requires and facilitates the emergence of self-acceptance and will.