An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:




Elliot Benjamin

In one of my recent articles, “Wilber Vs. Schneider: Transpersonal Vs. Existential” [1], I described the debate between transpersonal and existential psychology in the late 1980s, which has continued in full force into the first decade of the 21st century. Closely related to existential psychology is humanistic psychology, largely based upon the idealistic and life affirming visions of uplifting human growth potential initially described by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow in the 1950s and 1960s [2]. However, it can be argued that contemporary humanistic psychology incorporates and assimilates both existential and transpersonal psychology, as well as seemingly much further removed fields of psychology such as psychodynamic, cognitive, and behavior psychology [3].

It therefore seems rather puzzling at first glance how to distinguish between Ken Wilber's comprehensive integral psychology and the eclectic and/or integrative movements in psychology and psychotherapy that have become increasingly more widespread [4]. In a number of current articles in the first two volumes of AQAL journal, the leading journal of Ken Wilber's Integral Institute, the case is made that integral psychology is significantly more comprehensive, theoretically articulated, and effective as techniques of psychotherapy than the previous eclectic and integrative approaches to combining various unimodal techniques of psychotherapy into a multimodal format [5].

It is interesting that since the debate between Wilber and Schneider in the late 1980s regarding transpersonal vs. existential, that happened to take place in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (c.f. [1]), both Wilber and Schneider have gone on to formulate their own versions of integrated multimodal techniques of psychotherapy. For Wilber we have his all encompassing integral psychology and for Schneider we have what he refers to as “existential-integrative” psychology [6].

The main theme of existential-integrative psychology is similar in nature to the contemporary integration theme of humanistic psychology (c.f. [3]), except that the dominant focus of integration is upon existential psychotherapy as opposed to humanistic psychotherapy. The task of trying to compare integral psychology to humanistic psychology therefore is by no means simple.

If I rely solely upon my intellect, I would have to conclude that integral psychology appears to be a more comprehensive and effective system of psychology than humanistic psychology. However, I must also say that when I think of Wilber's integral psychology, although I fully appreciate its intellectual brilliance and incredible comprehensiveness, there is something that often leaves me “unmoved.”

When reading Wilber's books that describe his four quadrant approach, he repeatedly stresses that one quadrant is no more important than any other quadrant [7]. This equalitarian philosophical principle has extended into the integral psychology realms regarding an “equal” appreciation of all systems and psychotherapies for clients with various symptoms and needs, in order to give a client the psychotherapy treatment that will be most effective. Thus there is no priority or hierarchy or ranking of psychotherapies; humanistic, behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic, transpersonal, pharmacological, neuropsychological, family systems, existential, nutritional, etc. all have equal merit for integral psychology.

And this is precisely what leaves me rather dry and uninspired. I am in full agreement with the philosophy that is at the crux of integral psychology, i.e. to be an effective psychotherapist it is important to be knowledgeable about various psychotherapeutic treatment modalities and to be able to utilize particular treatments that would be most effective for particular clients at particular times.

However, it can be argued that this same philosophy of integration is at the heart of both contemporary humanistic psychology and existential psychology. But there is also a significant difference here as well. For contemporary humanistic and existential psychology fully describe their respective integration with a focus upon the humanistic or existential context. And this I find “moving” [8]. When I think of the pioneering visions of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow I feel inspired and rejuvenated, reminding me of the uplifting creative potential that human beings are capable of.

For me, this kind of humanistic vision includes the existential realities of our tragic human predicament that death looms large for all of us who choose to think about it, as well as the transpersonal realm that has the possibility of experiencing transcendental states that could even transform our notions of the meaning of death itself. At the same time, I realize that changing our thought patterns, focusing upon behavioral reward systems for particular external situations, and if I really stretch myself--even the use of medication to accompany psychotherapy in extreme circumstances, is not necessarily antithetical to a general humanistic psychology perspective.

I can view all the forms of psychotherapy that are continuously described by integral psychology as taking place in the four quadrants of individual subjective, individual objective, interpersonal cultural, and interpersonal social systems, as revolving around the central themes of humanistic psychology. And I also know very well that I consequently will be labeled as being in the Spiral Dynamics “Green Meme” [9], i.e. stuck in the first tier new age human potential movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Well, perhaps there is some truth to this pronouncement, as I cannot deny that my spirit becomes infused from what I experience as “real” and “authentic” relations with other human beings involving what I perceive as genuine creativity and spirituality. I have much knowledge about techniques of behavioristic and cognitive psychotherapy, and I can appreciate their usefulness in an intellectual sense. But the truth is that my heart is not in the picture. So now I am talking about my “heart” and not just my mind. Why not go even further and talk about my “soul?” What is my “inner calling” telling me to pursue in the realm of psychotherapy with clients?

I have formulated my own version of psychotherapy that I have described as “the artistic theory of psychology” [10]. And I choose to follow in the footsteps of contemporary humanistic psychology and existential-integrative psychology, i.e. I choose to embrace a multitude of psychotherapeutic techniques while retaining my dominant artistic context and framework. This is what feels right to me, what “moves” me. Perhaps one could call it “integral psychology with a twist.” We could have a humanistic twist, an existential twist, a transpersonal twist, an artistic twist, etc.

Actually I suspect that deep down Ken Wilber himself does integral psychology with a transpersonal twist, but I do not believe he would state this publicly. For the official integral policy is an equalitarian one: all things are equal (but perhaps some things are more equal than other things?)

However, since we are all human and it is only natural that deep down we have our preferences for what moves us the most, I firmly believe that we as psychotherapists should go in the directions that truly inspire us, while being versatile and integral in the process. So I suggest that we start doing the psychotherapeutic integral twist: humanistic-integral, existential-integral, transpersonal-integral, artistic-integral, etc. Now we are integral but we have some life in us, some color, heart to accompany mind, with the prospect of even discovering our souls.


1) Elliot Benjamin, “Wilber Vs. Schneider: Transpersonal Vs. Existential” (Integral World website;, January, 2007).

2) See for example Carl Rogers, “On Becoming A Person” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961) and Abraham Maslow, “Toward A Psychology Of Being” (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1962).

3) Kirk Schneider, James Bugental, J. Fraser Pierson (editors), “The Handbook Of Humanistic Psychology” (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001).

4) See for example: Arnold Lazarus, “Multimodal Therapy” in U.C. Norcross (editor), “Handbook Of Eclectic Psychotherapy” (pp. 65-93) (New York: Brunnel/Mazel, 1986).

5) See for example the following articles in AQAL journal;

  • Volume 1; Issue 2:
    • Elliot Ingersol, “An Introduction To Integral Psychology” (pp. 131-143);
    • Suzanne Cook-Greuter, “20th Century Background For Integral Psychology” (144-184);
    • Bert Parlee, “Integral Psychology: An Introduction” (pp. 185 - 200);
    • Paul Landraites, “Jane: An Integral Psychotherapeutic Case Study” (pp. 201 - 236).
  • Volume 1; Issue 4:
    • Annie McQuade, “Revisiting The Interiors: Serving The Mentally Ill Living In Our Streets” (pp. 116-150).
  • Volume 2; Issue 1:
    • Kelly Bearer, “Toward An Integral Treatment Methodology For Schizophrenia” (pp. 23-39);
    • Joachim Sehubrock, “Preliminary Evidence For The Effectiveness Of Integrative Informal Psychotherapy” (pp. 40 - 59);
    • David Zeither, “Integral Psychology: Clinical Applications” (pp. 60 - 73);
    • David Zeither, “An AQAL Case Study Of Short-Term Psychotherapy As Transformation” (pp. 74 - 96).

6) Kirk Schneider & Rollo May, “The Psychology Of Existence: An Integrative, Clinical Perspective” (New York: McGraw Hill, 1995).

7) See for example Ken Wilber, “Integral Psychology” (Boston: Shambhala, 2000).

8) In all fairness I must say that two of the Integral Institute AQAL articles referenced in [4] most definitely did move and inspire me. These are the articles by Annie McQuade: “Revisiting The Interiors: Serving The Mentally Ill Living In Our Streets” and David Zeither: “An AQAL Case Study Of Short-Term Psychotherapy As Transformation.” After the usual AQAL analysis of quadrants, levels, lines, types, and states, both of these articles focused upon the humanistic/existential subjective experience of the person, and I found this portrayal to be quite consistent with contemporary humanistic and existential-integrative themes.

9) Don Beck & Chris Cowan, “Spiral Dynamics: Managing Values, Leadership, And Change” (London: Blackwell, 1996).

10) Elliot Benjamin, “Art And Mental Disturbance” (Journal of Humanistic Psychology, to appear in 2008); an earlier version of this article is available in the Journal of Conscious Evolution (, volume 3, 2006). See also Elliot Benjamin, “Integral Psychology And An Artistic View Of Mental Disturbance” (Integral World website:, September, 2006).

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