Integrative Therapy

Integration, Self-Esteem and Contentment
Article by Paul M Rakoczy

In this whirlwind of an existence that is life at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many of us are looking for a level of contentment and functional self esteem. A therapist friend of mine has exclaimed to me more than once, “I sometimes wonder if any of us possess meaningfully high self-esteem.” I’m not sure in actuality how wide spread this concern is statistically but please consider the following life scheduling change as a possible remedy for low self-esteem and the feeling that “contentment” exists only somewhere in our elusive future.

I often talk to my clients about the advantages of integrating various life aspects such as physical, spiritual, mental, emotional/psychological, social, and cultural/community in a balanced manner into their lives. According to Ken Wilber in his book A Theory of Everything, “The basic idea of integral transformative practice (ITP) is simple: the more aspects of our being that we simultaneously exercise, the more likely transformation will occur.”  The change that most often has occurred from ITP use in my life and that of my clients is improved levels of self esteem and contentment (I concede that other positive outcomes are possible). So, how to incorporate ITP into our daily lives?

In our present experience many of us have added a physical routine into at least, our weekly if not our daily lives. We jog, run, exercise at home, bike, play tennis, volleyball, basketball, and golf, hike or simply walk in an appropriate attempt to bring the physical manipulation of our bodies into our experience. Personally, I hike 5 to 7 miles once a week and seek out every staircase I can find. One client in particular hikes three times a week with a partner which fosters engaging conversations.

A meaningful spiritual practice to add to our ITP might include meditation, prayer, deep nature awareness, shamanistic experience, yoga, religious ritual, higher power focus, chanting, drumming, energy work or any other practice that brings an understanding of being more than our physical body and mind (altered consciousness). I have been able to experience meaningful (witness awareness) meditation the last few years after much frustration in successfully moving beyond my thoughts for a very long time. I sit for meditation at least three times a week and am learning walking meditation. Playing or listening to music is a type of spirituality performed by one of my clients (also uses non-petitioning prayer).

We need to exercise our mental faculties; on a regular bases to be alert and aware. Which one of us does not have an intellectual interest that we have not pursued? We benefit from challenging ourselves to learn. Friendly conversation in the form of dialogue or debate can be very stimulating mentally. All types of reading and visual aids (including the internet) can be intellectually intriguing. The occasional distraction in the form of television or movies can round out our mental experiences (but does not define it). Writing poetry and music lyrics is the means that one client uses in this area. I enjoy professional continuing education, conversation, reading, surfing the net and political debate.

Understanding our emotional or psychological functioning can be challenging or even a struggle for many of us. Assertiveness, managing moods, relational conflict, role identification or performance, self esteem and personal growth are all important areas for personal emotional/psychological exploration. Assertiveness training, dream work, art or music therapy, various forms of psychotherapy, mindfulness practice, integral parenting, couples therapy, and Bhakti yoga are all effective ITP interventions for this aspect of human functioning.

Most of us feel a need for social interaction on very deep psychological and emotional level. The great spiritual masters both east and west, promote the concept of oneness at our most fundamental spiritual level. Do we see “ourselves” in our family, friends, associates, acquaintances, or even in all sentient beings? Our internal social drive might be explained by our need to bond with ourselves in the form of others. Nonetheless, social interaction is an important aspect of our personal and societal growth if only in learning about ourselves in the form of our reflection we see in others, or which of us has not felt enhanced while supporting people with a helping hand or a positive kind word. I use my social opportunities to connect with people in all aspects of my life from my dearest family member to the stranger I pass on the street. Two of my clients have experimented with putting themselves intentionally into social situations which might at first seem uncomfortable for them, in order to learn about the possible rewards of expanding their human connection experience.

Portland, and the surrounding area, provides a wonderful example of the manner in which citizens might be involved in community and culture. Some of us resist or limit the opportunities to be drawn in to the communal experience whether it is centered in the political, artistic, ethnic, religious/spiritual, organizational, recreational, academic, environmental, or any combination of these cultural possibilities for interaction with the community. Culture and community involvement is an important aspect of ITP if due only to the self-esteem bump we feel from being helpful or even just from involvement with others. I am involved with professional organizations and political movements but quite honestly feel a need to increase my community involvement to come to an improved balanced level in my ITP.

Improved self-esteem and contentment can occur from expanding and balancing the various aspects of our human involvement. Contentment seems to be associated with balance extrapolating from my own experience, the experience of my clients and from research compiled by philosophers such as Ken Wilber. Our self esteem grows not only from our increasing acceptance of ourselves and our individual characteristics but from the reflection of ourselves that radiates from others. The feelings that we often glean from interacting with other sentient beings are, “I am not so unique, we are more alike than different, feelings are ubiquitous,” and maybe that, “oneness is comprehensible!” According to Wilber the fact that balancing various human experience aspects correlates directly with our states of consciousness (being) including body, mind, soul and spirit is not a coincidence (read more about Ken Wilber’s philosophy from his many books from Shambhala Press). Could exercising integral transformative practice be the step for change that improves your self-esteem and contentment?

Paul M Rakoczy, LCSW, CADC III, is a private practice social worker/psychotherapist at Hollywood Professional Center, 3939 NE Hancock, Suite 205, in Portland, Oregon. Paul sees adults, adolescents and families concerning conflict resolution, depression, anxiety, addictions and personal growth while offering a free consultation and a sliding fee scale. 503-997-8611,