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Integration, Peak Experiences, and Art Therapy

 

Over the past four years, I have dedicated my time and effort to a unique exploration of the concept of integration. Many discuss integration as a therapeutic goal, a product of art therapy, and generally a good thing. My focus has been on delving into the intricacies of the integration process. Integration has gained significance in recent years, with the growing interest in how to integrate altered states in a way that fosters transformation and healing. My study intends to shed light on the role of art therapy in supporting the process of integrating peak experiences (brief moments that feel different and ineffable).

 

In life, there is a natural flow towards integration. It is how we are designed –to return to oneness, to look for wholeness and completeness in our lives. Integration happens naturally, particularly in the process of growth and transformation. However, because we live in a world full of duality and where trauma shatters us, there are also many forces against integration. These opposing forces of fragmentation and chaos can take many forms. Integration can be blocked by trauma and by becoming too rigid or not present in our experience. We also disconnect from integration when we seek more and more experiences and collect them as souvenirs instead of spending the time and effort it takes to honor what we have experienced. Lack of integration can result in confusion, materialism, and sometimes spiritual bypassing or using spiritual practices to avoid feeling, disengaging from suffering, or anything that can be difficult to process.

 

We are born with this integration potential. As Maslow would say, with the capacity to become self-actualized, a pull towards perfect virtuosity and health. As Jung would say, with becoming more ourselves, closer to our essence or individuated. Maslow proposed that as we engage in growth and healing, we become more susceptible to having peak experiences. These experiences provide a space where we can experience perfection, justice, truth, and unity with receptivity and self-forgiveness. However, in our current world, where distractions are plenty and difficult to avoid, we don't have as much time to integrate these peak experiences.

 

For me, integration is a process where we find meaning and incorporate new experiences into our lives in a way that enhances and expands who we are. In the process of integration, we're also talking about bringing more of our unconscious and shadow into our awareness to integrate into our conscious self. By integrating our peak experiences, we support our individuation and self-actualization processes. Jung would say that our individuation is our most important personal goal, and studies have shown that this process crosses cultures and time.

 

I love art therapy and find it an incredible integration tool. My intellectual and art-based exploration took me to how we can use art therapy to help us integrate peak experiences. How can we use the language and the processes of art therapy to help us bring unity and balance into our lives? Art therapy can provide us with a language and structure that can be similar to a peak experience. In that way, it helps us integrate and motivates us to do so because engaging with art materials, imagination, and creativity can also be quite fun. In art therapy, we awaken the healing power of creativity to help us make meaning and make sense of our peak experiences so that they become as powerful and transformational as possible.

 

Integration benefits from:

·       Time

·       A holistic attitude

·       No criticism

·       No expectation

·       No judgment

·       Respect and humility

·       Trust in the process

·       Having choices and feeling empowered

·       A curious and playful mindset

·       Allowing dissonance and paradox

·       Sharing with others who can listen without judgment

·       A supportive presence to navigate moderate levels of discomfort and stress that may occur

·       The arts can create a transitional space to heal and process

 

Please consider joining my small study and contributing to this art therapy exploration. Your insights and experiences could greatly enrich our understanding of how art therapy can support the process of integrating peak experiences. Together, we can further the field of art therapy and its potential for personal growth.

 

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