By Barry K. Weinhold
I created a transformational approach that I used during my 30 years as a counselor educator at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and as a psychologist counseling clients. I found teaching & therapy to be opportunities for transformation and for facilitating shifts in consciousness.
Here are the elements of the transformational approach I use in teaching and therapy for facilitating shifts in consciousness:
- I design written assignments and classroom/therapy activities for students/clients that help them reexamine the origin of their values, beliefs and personal ideology.
- I make sure that all the learning activities for the course/therapy session are personally relevant.
- I encourage clients/students to share their personal insights or personal growth experiences with each other.
- I use experiential classroom learning and therapy activities that ask students/clients to apply the content they are learning to their personal issues and problems.
- I share personally relevant experiences with students/clients in order to create a facilitative rather than directive classroom/therapy atmosphere.
- I ask students and clients to learn effective relational skills by working cooperatively with others in order to develop partnership relationships.
- In both teaching and counseling, I use real rather than role-play relationship issues or conflict situations to help people improve their relational and helping skills.
- I ask students to develop authentic personal growth experiences with each other and with me. This also applies to clients in group/family therapy and in workshops and therapy intensives.
Facilitating Shifts in Consciousness
Robert Kegan’s work, summarized in his book, In Over Our Heads (1994), also contributed to our theory. He identifies five distinct stages of cognitive development in the evolution of consciousness that grew out of Piaget’s theories of cognitive development:
Stage One: Magical Thinking. People exhibit poor cause and effect thinking.
Stage Two: Concrete Thinking. People base their reality on what is visible, tangible, and concrete and are unable to grasp the meaning of abstract concepts such as human rights or justice.
Stage Three: Cross-Relational Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness are able to think abstractly and are able to see the relationships between experiences and events, but they perceive the world as acting upon them.
Stage Four: Systemic Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness can think holistically and systemically and are able to perceive the underlying patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that recycle and control their lives. They still may lack ways to change this condition.
Stage Five: Trans-Systemic Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness can not only see the relationships between their current behaviors and past family of origin issues, they are able to choose new behaviors that allow them to change their life-restricting patterns.
Kegan believes that most Americans are trying to master the difficult demands of the Fourth or Modern Stage of Consciousness. He thinks that they are hungry for tools that help them develop the skills they need to live in our complex modern world. I agree with him.
My experience as teacher and counselor indicates that most students/clients typically begin at Stage Three or below, but are moving towards Stage Four. When students/clients can identify the intergenerational patterns of behavior they are reenacting that limit them, they can move into Stage Four.
They move into Stage Five when they become able to change these patterns and transform themselves and their lives. I believe these incremental shifts in consciousness are vitally important to anyone seeking effective, stress-free lives in our increasingly complex modern and post-modern world and have spent my whole professional life developing tools that help people make these vital shifts in consciousness.
Conflict & Consciousness
In 1989 Janae and I began teaching courses in conflict resolution to professionals in the community and to graduate students in counseling, psychology, sociology and education at the university. Students indicated that this course helped them shift their consciousness more than any other. Clients who have come to us with relationship conflicts have also indicated how much their consciousness shifted as a result of their therapy experience. These experiences motivated us to write our book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way.
I conducted a research study to determine the amount and kinds of shifts that students experience in our conflict resolution classes. Pre-post test results indicated significant shifts in consciousness in those who took the conflict resolution class when compared to a control group of similar students who did not take this class.
Here’s a sampling of comments from the students in my conflict resolution classes: