Notes from the Field The Integral Psychograph, A Personal Journey

Ewan Townhead


Ewan Townhead photo

The following article was written in response to a conference call in January 2007 concerning the Integral Psychograph with Integral Institute’s David Zeitler, and organised by Joanne Rubin of the Integral Psychology Affinity Group. While I have done my best to represent the material from the call when used, it does not necessarily represent the views of David, or any of the participants.

As I sat down to compile my notes, and plan the structure of this article, it suddenly struck me as rather odd to try and write about the Integral psychograph – as I had been planning to do – in purely objective terms. After all, as a concept intended to aid the assessment of ones own development, it is inherently about people’s interiors is it not? How could I present this material without some taste of personal enquiry or interior relationship? I decided I couldn’t. And since the person I seem to know best is myself, I thought I’d tell you—as the context for it all – about my own journey into Itegral; how I came to Ken Wilber’s work, and how it has changed me forever.

It was 11.56pm GMT, I had been in the pub all evening drinking my favourite Moonshine ale (several pints I must admit), and talking about life, love and politics with my newly found Integral brother Melv. I was sitting at my kitchen table, making sure I had all the things I’d need: paper, pen, cafetiere of rather strong coffee, and the phone numbers I’d need to get on board the call. I had never even taken part in a conference call before, let alone one to the States, and certainly never one with so many wise old Integralites; I must admit, I was a little nervous!

The fundamentals of the Integral Psychograph

What is the Integral Psychograph? The Integral psychograph is two things: it is a theoretical construct, and it is an assessment tool. The whole concept of the psychograph is based on the idea of multiple lines of development—that people develop though multiple intelligences and capacities, which have relative independence. People can be highly developed in some capacities and lowly in others. It is a map of these lines that forms the construct of the Integral Psychograph.

The Fundamentals
Figure 1 The Integral Psychograph

Multiple lines of development have been noted by many developmental theorists including Susanne Cook-Greuter, Robert Kegan, Howard Gardener and Jean Piaget. Piaget was particularly aware of the differences between cognitive and moral development, highlighted by the occurrence of highly intelligent people who inflict moral evil. It is Wilber’s AQAL model, however, that has defined the nature of uneven development in the most comprehensive fashion and introducedthe idea of the Integral Psychograph presented here.

How many independent lines are there? Wilber suggests twelve, with suggestive evidence for a further twelve, though a definite number isn’t clear—some lines can be blended in one person, while being distinct in others.

So now that we know what it is, what is the purpose of the psychograph?

‘The psychograph helps to spot where your greatest potentials are. You very likely already know what you excel in and what you don’t. But part of an Integral Approach is learning to refine considerably this knowledge of your own contours, so that you can more confidently deal with your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others’ (Wilber, 2006, p.9).

The Psychograph is in important tool for any Integrally minded person, particularly those in leadership roles. As Wilber points out, it is not only about understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, but how we project them onto others.

So how do we assess our own psychograph? Can I take a test? Will it tell me what my centre of gravity is—what altitude I’m at? Empirical tests do exist, and while there is no single test to determine ones centre of gravity, Robert Kegan’s Subject/Object interview (SOI) may give a general view of the self-related lines – the combination of developmental lines that make up a persons ego, what they refer to as ‘I’.

I was introduced to Ken Wilber’s work through the Kosmic Consciousness CD set. It was my 2nd year at university, and I was fed up. I had little or no motivation for my course, I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do with my life, and I was increasingly alarmed and scared by the downward spiral the world situation was taking. George Bush had just been voted in for a second term, and global climate change was gathering momentum towards the destruction of our precious Gaia. I was pretty bummed to say the least, and was dulling my pain through the best in student healing techniques: the recreational drug.

Then I discovered Ken. I would sit for hours; smoking cigarettes and listening to Ken and Tami discuss all the different elements and intricacies of AQAL, its inspirations and its implications. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the beginning of a monumental transformation for me; for ‘I’…

The 3-2-1 Psychograph

Even if an all powerful empirical test did exist to determine someone’s psychograph, this would not be the entirety of assessment. As Ken makes explicit in his recent writings: to truly take as Integral Approach as is possible currently, one must honour Integral Methodological Pluralism; in simple terms this means taking a 3-2-1 approach.

Empirical, 3rd person psychometrics can be incredibly powerful, and assuming one had both the time and the money, a variety of tests could give a very indicative psychograph. In this regard, David recommended taking the Sentence Completion Test (SCT), developed by Susanne Cook-Greuter, waiting a while, and then taking Kegan’s SOI. The SOI fine tunes the SCT and also shows directionality; where you are moving to (e.g. entering or exiting a level), as well as sub-stages, both of which are missed by the SCT.

The Sentence Completion Test is a psychometric based on Jane Loveinger’s ego development model, which has been extended and expanded by Susanne Cook-Greuter. The test consists of various open ended questions such as “I am…; What gets me in trouble is…; Rules are…; Crime and delinquency could be halted if…; When people are helpless…(Miller & Cook-Greuter, 1994, p.126-131)”. The test is then assessed by a specially trained scorer who can determine the makeup of the person’s ego development spectrum.

A 2nd person approach to assessment is very important according to David, although the accuracy of the assessment depends, of course, on the ability and development of the second person. The more developed you are, the easier it is to assess another’s altitude, but always be careful to hold it lightly. Even highly developed people have shadows and defences that will distort their assessments. Our shadows have a directly proportional effect of our analysis of others. The best person to engage in a 2nd person assessment is a knowledgeable and sensitive friend who can give you a direct and compassionate analysis.

David Deida recommends the basis of this approach in relation to his work with masculine and feminine energy. While his recommendation is not specifically related to psychograph assessment, it is the importance of 2nd person dialogue that is emphasised: “A man’s capacity to receive another man’s direct criticism is a measure of his capacity to receive masculine energy. (Deida, 1997, p.35)”

I would never have hit the depth of Integral understanding that I did, were it not for the guidance of two close friends, in whose wisdom and authority I was able to trust to an enormous extent. Knowing that these men—whose opinion I valued greatly—valued Ken’s work as highly as they did gave it an initial validation for me; I was ready to trust it. That’s not to say hugely painful questioning and extreme caution didn’t come up for me daily, because it did, but it helped me to face them, rather than retreat into my contractions. I was able to have a constant dialogue as Deida describes: honesty, direct and true. “I’ve had this intuition for some time I think, but this is such a politically incorrect view, am I really allowed to think this!?”

When assessing ourselves—the 1st person approach—we use our intuition, our felt sense to introspect. As our self-awareness increases, so we are able to objectify more and more of our own subject. The more that this occurs, the more easily it is to let go, and to transcend the subject. The higher the altitude, the more objective and inclusive the self-assessment.

From a relatively young age I had been very introspective; I still keep a journal to this day. I would question, enquire and explore my reactions to things. “What am I feeling? And why do I feel like this?” At times I would take it to introverted extremes, spending days on my own basking in self-enquiry. I would also spend considerable time around people my parents’ age. I loved soaking up their wisdom and then exploring it with my own mind—questioning, comparing and assimilating.

As my understanding of Ken’s AQAL map grew, my introspective tools begun to grow at an extraordinary rate. “This is my immediate reaction, but it feels very Green, partial and rather uncomfortable—am I really in control of this thought, this reaction?” It gave me a frame for the different pieces of my interior puzzle. Every time I familiarised myself with another model of vertical development, I would relish the process of introspecting, witnessing, resonating and attempting to situate myself on the scale. “What stage am I at?” As my journey into Integral continued, these answers would become more and more refined. As my egoic attachment to these assessments lessened, my pursuit of truth increased. I was making object what had been subject.

The Shadow

What we can never do is see our own subject. We cannot see and objectify the lens that we see through; the knife cannot cut itself. It is this important dynamic which makes an exclusively 1st person psychograph very unreliable. It is also this dynamic which leads us to the subject of the shadow.

Shadows are parts of our self-system that have become unconsciously split off from the self at a previous level.

“It’s astonishing that I can deny I. That I can take a parts of myself, my I-ness, and push them on the other side of the self boundary, attempting to deny ownership of those aspects of my self that are perhaps too negative, or perhaps too positive to accept” (Wilber, 2006, p.119).

Shadows are seen by the self as ‘other’—things that are not included in your own 1st person awareness. But just because the self denies them does not mean that they disappear. It simply means that you become unaware and unconscious of their effects. Everyone has them; no one escapes childhood without some contractions and defences. And so when introspecting your own psychograph, these shadows will affect your assessment in ways you cannot even be aware.

Not only this, but any form of transformation and development will be actively resisted by your shadows. They have their own agency, which resists transcendence and re-integration. The self-system can hijack lower level explanations to serve in its own defence or fixation at a lower level—a personal version of the pre/trans fallacy. (The pre/trans fallacy is a confusion of two vertical levels because of their apparent similarity. For example it is common for pre-rational behaviour, and post-rational behaviour to be confused, because they are both ‘non’ rational.) As the self retracts and becomes defensive, it is a good indication that you are reaching the limits of your altitude. Your cognition can see the inconsistencies and contradictions that your self-system and shadow self cannot handle.

Cognitive work plays an important role in my own Integral Life Practise; if I can see it, that’s the first step to being able to objectify it. My understanding and absorption of AQAL has hit such a point that I cannot help but see through its lens, whether I like it or not. It acts like a bullshit filter, pointing out to my truth striving self-system, the inconsistencies in my relationships and reactions. Whether or not I am capable of transcending those reactions is an entirely different matter, but seeing them means I cannot easily ignore them.

In a recent discussion I participated in we were asked: “what do you know about your shadow?” Of coursed I know nothing about my shadow; if I know its there, it’s not a shadow. But what I do look for, are longer-term patterns, the symptoms of a part of myself that I’m not conscious of. “Why do I always feel insecure in an unfamiliar social situation? Why do I always feel disinclined to pursue something until I feel the environmental conditions are perfect?” It is these types of questions that are so important to introspect, but even more crucially, to offer to the scrutiny of a direct and safe 2nd person analysis. “Give it to me straight bro, is this my shadow talking?”

Transformation and Resistance

The self fears transformation, it fears the emptiness above itself that it does not understand—that it has no translations for. There is always emptiness above you, reaching all the way up to ultimate I-I, supreme awareness.

Emptiness is created by the cognitive line running above the self lines; you can see the space, but your self cannot embody it. Entering into dialogue with a person a half step ahead of you can be very beneficial for transformation; your level of cognition will match their level of self-translation. If transformation does occur, the first early steps into the new level are crucial. If they are distorted, it can be very difficult to overcome later on.

The Integral community is somewhat obsessed with transformation. There is an apparent need to initiate or assist transformation both in self and other above all else. But as advocated by people such as Wilber, Kegan and Don Beck—it is translation that is the most important element. It is far more important, and indeed practical, to assist healthy translation—create healthy red, healthy amber, rather than to try and get everyone up to turquoise. There is always a tension and relationship between the two processes—agency and communion—and they go hand in hand. Unhealthy translation distorts transformation.

To be able to act with others, from your own highest self, you need to know what that highest self is, where it excels and where its weaknesses are. This means constructing your own Integral Psychograph. Read the books that describe the lines of development—which ones do you resonate with, which ones do you aspire to? Are you being honest, or are you projecting? Check these analyses with those around you. Join an Integral sangha, ask your Integral friends, accept their perspectives with as little egoic reaction as your highest self can maintain. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, there’s probably some truth in it. If you can afford it, take the tests, they don’t lie. Are you committed to the truth?

Our development and evolution never ceases, if you can be conscious of it, the capacity for objectifying your subject is increased in a remarkable way. If you have Integral consciousness and Integral Leadership, don’t waste it, don’t get complacent. It’s easy to regurgitate 3rd person theory. How good are you at facing your own 1st person pathologies, your own shadows, and laying it bare to a 2nd person community? How committed are you to the Integral project? The Integral train is gathering steam, are you willing to jump on and face yourself? The Integral Psychograph is your ticket, invest in it and squeeze out every penny’s worth.

Cook-Greuter, S. (2005). 9 Levels of Increasing Embrace. accessed 5th May 2007.
Deida, D. (1997). The Way of the Superior Man. Boulder: Sounds True.
Kegan, R. (1994). In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. London: Harvard University Press.
Miller, M, and Cook-Greuter, S., eds. (1994). Transcendence and Mature Thought in Adulthood: The Further Reaches of Adult Developmen t. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Rubin, J. (2007). Integral Psychograph notes from conference call with David Zeitler. (unpublished)
Wilber, K. (1979). No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth. Massachusetts: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2006). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral Books.
Zeitler, D. (2007) The Integral Psychograph . Integral Psychology Affinity Group Lecture Series: Joanne Rubin, Ed.

Ewan Townhead is a musician, composer and impassioned student of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory. After graduating from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in 2006, he is currently pursuing various writings and projects, including the recently established UK Integral Next forum—an online network for the next generation of Integral enthusiasts, thinkers and leaders. he currently lives in Liverpool, England.