Book Review: Integral Psychotherapy and With a Commentary on Ken Wilber’s AQAL and Types

John Rowan

John Rowan

Mark D Forman. A Guide to Integral Psychotherapy:
Complexity, Integration and Spirituality in Practice
Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010.

R. Elliott Ingersoll & David M Zeitler.
Integral Psychotherapy: Inside Out. Outside In
Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010.





John Rowan

Two books on the same subject, from the same publisher, in the same year. They both say – A volume in the SUNY series in Integral Theory – and have the same series editor. How remarkable is that?

Of course this makes it inevitable that they will be compared and contrasted. And it turns out that they are quite dissimilar.

What is all this integral stuff? Well, it is not the same as integrative therapy, at all. It is a specific approach, developed by Ken Wilber, which says that we can split up the world and our experience of it, into four quadrants based on the two dimensions, I and We, on the left-hand side and It and They on the right–hand side. So the left-hand quadrants are the personal or subjective ones, and the right-hand ones are the impersonal or objective ones. Then the upper two are both individual, and the lower two are public. That includes everything human.

Just to be clear, the upper left is the quadrant that is the most personal, the most inner, the most private, the “I”. This is the quadrant of individual consciousness. The lower left represents the community, the close social connections that we all have – our support system, our family history – everything we could call ‘We”. The upper right is the quadrant of the physical body, of medicine, of exercise, of the brain, the “Me”. It is all about the objective side of our individual life. And the lower right is the realm of the public – of economics, of sociology, of poverty, of racism (and the other isms of that kind), of employment, of public housing, of churches, of wars, strikes and riots.  Wilber also adds lines, types and states, and we shall be referring to these below.

All these authors agree on these quadrants: they are quite basic. They also agree on the other half of the AQAL formula. AQAL stands for All Quadrants All Levels. The levels are levels of consciousness. We have been familiar for many years with the levels of Piaget, of Erikson, of Maslow, of Kohlberg, of Loevinger, and more recently of Cook-Greuter, Torbert, Kegan and so forth. But in the integral field the levels of consciousness come from Ken Wilber. He has been arguing, since 1979, that if we look at the people (mostly mystics and philosophers) who have talked about levels in this way, there is a striking similarity in what they all say. In his book ‘Integral Psychology’ he has pages and pages of charts demonstrating this with a wealth of evidence. And he says we find corresponding levels in the other three quadrants.

This, then, is the basis accepted by both of these books. And both of them are saying that it makes sense to apply these ideas to the field of psychotherapy. Of course this is an ambitious project. There is a lot here to deal with.

The Ingersoll and Zeitler book starts off very well. The first chapter, by Ingersoll, has some very civilized stuff: “The biggest risk in psychotherapy is that you may change and the changes you experience may not be welcomed by other people in your life, culture, or society. In some senses, psychotherapy is a subversive activity.”

Another strength of this book is that it has a place for spirituality. Already in the second chapter Ingersoll is telling us: “The first-person experience of God is an identification with God (the ‘I am’ experience), the second-person is God as the ‘Great Thou’ (God as ‘other’ to worship), and the third-person experience is God as an interconnected ‘it’ (e.g. ‘great web of life’).”

The third chapter is about the self-system and ego development, and this is very well done, with copious references to recent research on levels of consciousness. They have not yet caught up with the latest material on the dialogical self, and are still talking about subpersonalities instead of the (better) I-positions, but still a very good effort.

Then we come to the fourth chapter, by Zeitler, which is quite turgid and hard to read, all about lines of development, which does not seem to be either necessary or helpful to the psychotherapist.  Of course they are part of the AQAL system, and would be of interest to the academic researcher, but they are very little use to the psychotherapist.  As Zeitler himself says, to deal adequately with this issue would “take 10 years and $500.000”.  Life is too short.  As Zeitler later says: “For the clinician, the only psychograph that matters is the clinical psychograph”, and he goes on to say that this is “basically an extension of their clinical judgment”.   So why bother with a chapter like this?

nd the fifth chapter, which is all about personality types, seems to me quite redundant and out of place. The whole emphasis of the book so far is about the importance of noticing levels of consciousness. But this chapter does not mention such things at all – the problem being that personality theories never bother with more than one level of consciousness! It has to be said that this chapter is excellent on its own terms – brilliant for anyone writing an essay on personality types – but out of place in a book on the integral approach.  [I have in fact written a short paper saying that types cannot properly form a part of the AQAL system, because they represent first tier thinking, while the system itself represents second tier thinking.  This can be obtained from…]

Chapter six is about states of consciousness such as waking states, hypnotic states, daydreaming, using imagery, dreams, including lucid dreams, and ‘the AQAL approach to dreams’, involving an excellent case study. The chapter ends with a short survey of drug-induced states of consciousness, including some brief but wise words.  “With a new era of psychedelic study beginning, we can only hope that the scientific spirit will prevail and substances that consistently prove to have therapeutic value will eventually be moved to Schedule II allowing supervised medical use.”

The seventh chapter is called ‘Psychological Address’, and here again we have to wonder if it is really necessary. Wilber’s idea, on which this is based, was that any statement by anyone about anything comes from a Kosmic Address, defined by a quadrant and a level within that quadrant, and is probably directed towards another such. This is a very powerful idea when applied to political and philosophical matters, because it enables us to see where a statement is coming from, in a quite objective way. But with a client in therapy, we always have to be cautious about attributing a position to him or her, because that may prevent the client from moving to the next position. Ingersoll’s own comment on all this is to say that in therapy we have to be cautious in keeping to ‘constructs we can test’. But this chapter is all rather messy, in my view, and does not really contribute much that is useful.

Chapter 8 is by both authors, and is entitled ‘Spirituality and Integral Psychotherapy’. This is a curious chapter, full of good ideas and pertinent observations, but hamstrung by adherence to Wilber’s idea that transpersonal psychology is a dead end. In practice, of course, almost the only people who have been really interested in the integral approach have been those coming from transpersonal psychology. This chapter eventually gets bogged down in a discussion of Integral Post-Metaphysics, which is far from clear.

Then comes a marvellous case study, which is a very good account of how this whole approach was used in a particular instance. Everything in the theory could be used and the outcome was very positive. So this is a good book, even though a bit oversupplied in parts.

So what about the other book, by Mark Forman? Again, it perforce starts off with a description of the AQAL system, including the quadrants, the levels, and also lines, states and types, all quite briefly covered. Then we get a comparison with other therapies, again quite briefly done. Then comes a chapter on psychotherapy as a four-quadrant affair. It starts with assessments, goes on to interventions, and so on, again all quite brief and succinct. Chapter 3 is an odd little chapter, with a rather bitty look at things like sincerity and three kinds of unconscious. Chapter 4 is also quite brief and covers quite a lot of ground on topics around development with some rather nice diversions around the idea of the labyrinth. I liked his account of Gil Noam’s ideas about life themes, problem pathways and encapsulated identities.

The fifth chapter is about lines of development and I found this much clearer than the equivalent piece by Zeitler. There is a nice quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

And then we come to the main section of the book, all about identity development and how it relates to the rest of the system. And here Forman follows the basic map of Wilber in starting with the pre-personal (Chapter 6), moving on into a discussion of the early and mid-personal (Chapter 7), and then into the personal and transpersonal, in Chapter 8, which also includes a discussion of the Nondual. Actually this piece on the Nondual is one of the strengths of this book – it is very sophisticated and accurate, in my opinion, and presents a very balanced view of how the Nondual relates to other levels and insights.

Now at last we come to the practicality of the work with clients – what interventions does the therapist use in AQAL work? This hardly appears in the Ingersoll & Zeitler book except in the form of case illustrations. But here, Chapters 9 and 10 focus directly on this important area. The suggestions made seem eminently reasonable and well judged, and I liked this section very much.

Then comes a chapter on spirituality in integral psychotherapy, which takes quite an elegant Wilberian line. It is interesting to me that Forman mentions the Nondual, while the other authors do not. This is followed by one on ‘Gender and Typology’, quite orthodox and helpful, and another on diversity, which I found agreeable. The last chapter is on the development of the integral psychotherapist. Forman makes the point that one cannot do integral psychotherapy unless and until one has reached a pretty high level of psychospiritual development. He actually specifies ‘the integrated-multiperspectival stage’ as outlined in Chapter 8. He goes on to say that from this base the therapist can go on to develop further: in the upper left quadrant by individual therapy, meditation, altered-state experiences, art work and so forth; in the upper right quadrant through taking action, proprioceptive practice and readings in biology and neurology; in the lower left quadrant by group process, travel and immersion in another culture, relationship with a spiritual teacher; and in the lower right quadrant through service and challenging the system.

This is a much different and much more approachable book than the first one, but of course it is not so deep or so thorough. For the average psychotherapist, I think the Forman book would be enough; but for the serious academic, Ingersoll and Zeitler would be better. Both of these books are serious challenges to psychotherapeutic orthodoxy, and represent a quantum leap in the conceptualisation of therapy as an art and a science.


Wilber and Types

In his work on the AQAL system, Wilber started off with quadrants and levels, as the initials suggest.  Later he added lines, which was a very good idea, making it clear that development on one line was not a guarantee of development in another.  He proceeded to add states and types.  States is simply an amplification of levels, saying that having a glimpse of a level is not the same thing as full arrival at that stage of development.

But types is not the same thing at all.  It is a completely different concept which Wilber treats in quite a different way.  The only example he gives of a type is male and female, but he suggests that there may be many types, such as for example psychological types.  (Integral Spirituality, pp.11-15)

The snag is that types are one level concepts – what Wilber often calls flatland.  They can be found at any level, but they do not have levels within themselves.  They are much the same wherever found.  There are no levels of malehood or femalehood.  There is just male and female.  In fact, as we know from much recent research, there are all sorts of variations in gender identity.  GL became GLB, GLB became GLBT, and so it goes on.  But they are all, without exception, one level concepts.  There is no concept of hierarchy, or holarchy, in any of this.

I have been a student of gender, and gender politics, since 1972.  One of my books, published in 1987, is partly about the history of the anti-sexist men’s movement in the UK.  Another one, published in 1997, is all about the male psyche and its position in the world.  From 1980 to 2000 I was part of the collective which produced Achilles Heel, a radical men’s magazine.  I have contributed several entries to the International encyclopaedia of men and masculinities, published in 2007.  And I can assure you that there is no concept of levels in any part of this field.

The same thing with personality types.  Whether it is the Enneagram, or the Myers-Briggs, or the MMPI, or the 16-PF, or the Big Five, it makes no difference – they are all on one level.

My conclusion is that the concept of types does not fit as part of the AQAL system.  What I am saying is that Wilber does not have the right to smuggle in flatland concepts into a non-flatland system.  Or to put it another way, types is a first-tier concept, while AQAL is a second-tier system, through and through.   In future accounts of AQAL he could choose to say – “I used to say that types was part of the AQAL system, but now I see that it is not.  It is a concept worth studying, but it is not and cannot be part of the system itself.”

I rest my case.

About the Author

John Rowan introduced the idea of using the AQAL method in psychotherapy to England at the EUROTAS conference in 2004, and his chapter on the subject was published in the following year.  In 2006 he presented it at a conference in Athens, and in 2007 and 2008 in London.  In 2009 he did a workshop in Estonia, and his paper on the subject was published in the Journal of Transpersonal Research.  In 2010 he did a whole day workshop in Slovenia.  He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and also of the BACP and the UKCP.  He has been a member of the Integral Institute since the beginning.



  1. Brian OConnell on January 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Types are not as flat as it seems. And much work needs to be done. But there are level/types in AQAL. And true, levels in types have not been done fully yet. And the Types category is not as broad as it seems. It is Male and Female with personality types ( Which makes it a small category in AQAL, which is why it is last, but the detail it brings is key). Levels can not get to, how a perspective can be seen with from agency and/or communion and, to how horizontally a perspective can be fixated in a personality type. So like everything else in AQAL types do not stand on there own. A personality type at one level is very different at another. So types are important to show fixations at each level, male/female with personality types.

    And there is another problem with types in Ken’s AQAL. It is kept open, when it should have formulated its own personality types based on the Big Three. Instead of using any system one choices like the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs etc. And the problem is that the Big Three has been used in Enneagram using dialectical logic. But dialectical logic can not integrate the big three. If you study the enneagram you should come across were it came from, Oscar Ichazo. And the formulations from his work of the Enneagram have misunderstood his work, right from the beginning. They never understood trialectics which is an integral logic.

    So in many ways you are right, AQAL can not just throw in a first tier typology in a second tier system. It needs a second tier typology for a second tier system. And the only one I know is Oscar Ichazo’s personality types. But don’t just throw out types all together, cause without types we could not understand how we are so different at each level.

    I think in types there needs to be another type, I call it core types, but is known as “character structures” from bio-energetics or Core Energetics. So Male/Female, Personality and Core types. Which happen at each stage.