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The Integral Map - Part 7

Synchronizing Mind, Body, Speech, and Environment

Having an integral map gives us an orienting framework that will allow us to take a “whole-person” perspective, and so respond in the broadest, most effective way to a wide variety of needs.  This is not to say that these four territories are in fact truly separate from each other.  They are all continuously interpenetrating and interdependent.  For human beings, as far as we know, all four must be present and intimately related in order for us to exist at all.  This is similar to how a box can only exist if it has height, width, depth, and surrounding space.  If any one of those dimensions is eliminated, the box ceases to exist.  At the same time, each dimension can be considered separately.

In addition to orienting us to these four fundamental territories, so that we don’t leave anything out; we can also look into how they work together, or not.  In other words, are all four synchronized; or are they dissociated, fragmented, and dissociated?  The integral point of view suggests that distress tends to involve all four territories and is made worse whenever there is some breach in the connection between them.  When our attention has separated from our body and/or our environment, i.e. become absorbed by fear, wild hope, or fantasy, we become vulnerable to extreme states.  We fail to notice or respond to our immediate situation with any accuracy or effectiveness, and so troubles begin to mount.  In the same way, if our mind is out of touch with the minds of others, i.e. fails to “read” and respond to others with any accuracy, then mind and speech become desynchronized.  Trouble begins to brew in our relationships when we cannot reach mutual understanding with others. 

The practice of integral care is all about discovering ways to differentiate, strengthen, synchronize, and promote development in all four territories.  In a nutshell, this is the aim of integral care.  It should facilitate differentiation of MBSE and re-weave them together when they have become dissociated or desynchronized.  This is also why integral practice is so useful for anyone doing integral care.  If we have a personal discipline for differentiating, strengthening, and synchronizing our MBSE, and developing self-awareness and understanding, then we will have a lot more to bring to those we care for.  We will explore this further in the chapter on integral practice.


Another reason for having an integral map is so that we are not seduced by partial-view ideologies, or reductionisms.  Interestingly, it seems that there are groups that tend to coalesce in each of the four territories and claim that their quarter-view map explains everything.  It is not that they are wrong.  They are usually quite accurate and persuasive in mapping out their own favorite territory.  But in reducing everything to their own area of expertise, they offer a false map.  It is false because it is incomplete.   In the field of mental health, for example, these four partial maps can be seen as follows.



“Mental illness” originates in our minds.  It is the result of unresolved intra-psychic conflict.  It must be dealt with by integrating unconscious material with the conscious mind, gaining self-awareness, knowledge, and insight.



 “Mental illness” is a brain disease.  It is the result of faulty neurochemistry or brain injury.  It must be dealt with by changing the brain, i.e. pharmacologically. 


“Mental illness” is a behavioral problem and is best addressed by changing or conditioning behavior.




“Mental illness” is the result of dysfunctional or abusive relationships, particularly in one’s family of origin.  It must be dealt with by improving one’s interpersonal skills and social network.

“Mental illness” is a socially constructed concept.  It must be dealt with by changing the cultural beliefs that produce such a concept.




“Mental illness” is the product of unfavorable or traumatic environmental circumstances, i.e. poverty, crime, homelessness, war, and lack of opportunities.  It must be dealt with by reforming and improving physical, social, and economic environments.

Again, the point is not that these reductionisms are “wrong”, but that they are partial views.    Whenever we rely exclusively or excessively on one to the neglect of the others, we limit our view and so also the options that we might consider


To reduce our understanding of human distress to the territory of mind means to see the causes and expressions of distress as contained within intrapsychic conflict.  This is the idea that “it’s all in your head”.  Often the explanation involves some kind of revenge or whiplash of the unconscious mind.  Because unconscious material has been splintered off, rather than integrated into the personality, it is wrecking havoc in the form of symptoms.  Perhaps this is due to failures in psychological development.  This form of reductionism tends to minimize or ignore physical, relational, and environmental factors in favor of mental factors.  Psychoanalytic and cognitive explanations and therapies are two major forms of reducing our understanding of and responses to extreme states to the territory of mind.  Seeing mental illness, for instance, as “moral degeneracy” or lack of personal motivation and responsibility is another way to reduce it to the interior-individual territory.


This form of reductionism is the most prevalent in our culture, and the most widely recognized and easily criticized. It claims that physical origins and expressions of distress explain everything and provide the most valuable, if not the only, means for responding.  The two major forms of this are biomedicine and behaviorism

Biomedicine looks primarily at genetics and neurochemistry for the causes and remedies for mental illness.  It provides us with psychopharmacology, surgery, and shock treatments, to name a few.  In the future it will probably find ways to manipulate our genes in an attempt to “cure” or prevent mental illness.  Its view is that mental illness is a “brain disease”.  There is something wrong with our dopamine and seratonin.  We have a “chemical imbalance”.  E. Fuller Torrey is a popular proponent of this view and makes his case for it in his book “Surviving Schizophrenia”.   The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (a.k.a. NAMI) has also embraced this point of view.  As NAMI is a coalition of families of the mentally ill, and other forms of reductionism have historically blamed families for causing mental illness, it is understandable that they would take this position.  When you have a child suffering with mental illness, that’s pain enough.  Do you also want to be blamed for it by being called a “schizophrenigenic mother” ?  I don’t think so.  When someone offers a physiological explanation, it offers more support and hope- and less shame. It also may contain some truth.  But, I am saying, only a partial truth.

Behaviorism, which has fallen out of favor in its pure forms, claims that all we can really know or impact is a person’s observable outward behavior.  It suggests various means for conditioning behavior.  Despite pure behaviorism’s waning popularity, it is still very common for mental health services to be called “behavioral medicine”.


There are a variety of ways that people have tried to explain everything by way of communication and relationships.  Family systems theory, for instance, suggests that an “identified patient” is really just a player in a complex web of dysfunctional family relations.  There are no individual pathologies, only systems of pathological relationships (as mentioned above).  These explain individual problems and are the true locus of any therapeutic intervention.

To me one of the more interesting expressions of a reductionism to the territory of speech comes from a post-modern point of view, and is prevalent in narrative therapies.  This view points to the social construction of all meanings.  From this point of view “mental illness” is merely a construct without any foundation in “reality”, which, by the way, is itself merely an arbitrary and consensual fabrication.  Furthermore, the social construction of an idea like “mental illness” is an expedient means for the unjust wielding of power.  A few well known proponent of this view have been R.D. Laing with “The Politics of Experience”, Thomas Szas with “The Myth of Madness”, and Michel Foucault with “Madness and Civilization” .  In light of our history of abuse (in the name of treatment) of people experiencing extreme states of mind, this point of view is quite understandable. The currently popular term, “the psychiatrically labeled”, points to this truth.  It is a good way to remember that in some ways mental illness is a social construction.  Consumer advocates have been especially drawn to these arguments.  I believe they do contribute to our understanding.  However, I also believe the social construction theory of mental illness is a partial truth and cannot explain everything, nor suggest all the ways that we can and should respond. 


Reductionism to the territory of environment can involve seeing distress exclusively as the product of one’s social and economic circumstances. In this way poverty, unemployment, homelessness, crime, violence, hunger, lack of resources, environmental toxins, and insufficient educational opportunities are seen as the real reasons people experience distress.  Addressing these environmental factors is seen as the real need.  Other factors are seen as insignificant or secondary and likely to take care of themselves once environmental causes are addressed.  In recent years the field of eco-psychology has been exploring how our relationship to our natural environment can be a cause and expression of psychological disturbances, as well as a source of healing.  I believe this new field contributes tremendously to our understanding of human distress.  At the same time, if it is taken as a reductive explanation it will leave out many other equally significant factors. 

Again I want to be clear that just because a particular view may be reductionistic, does not mean it is wrong.  I believe that all the views I have mentioned have something valuable to add to our understanding and can be part of skillful, compassionate action.  The problems come when we constrict our attention to just one of the four territories and attempt to explain and respond to distressed people exclusively from that territory.  In my opinion entirely too much energy is being wasted by those who are trying to prove their reductive explanation and disprove other points of view.  Keeping a whole-person orientation in mind, such as offered by the integral map, can be an antidote to the tendency to reductionism.

Please visit Part 8 - Lines or “Streams” of Development

E. Fuller Torrey

NAMI website

Reference to Bateson

Provide references

Reference for eco-psychology


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