Metabolising bigger-than-self distress through nondual enactive wisdom development : a layered autoethnographical study of embodied embedded psychological responses to biospheric and civilisational crises : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate of Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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Massey University
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The current thesis explores the question of how psychologists and other mental health professionals might assist clients experiencing bigger-than-self distress. Bigger-than-self distress is defined as psychological distress that relates to what I describe as the biospheric-civilisational meta-crisis, which comprises a compounding and interlinked set of social and environmental issues, some of which pose time-bound existential threats to the stability of our civilisation and the biosphere’s capacity to sustain it. The thesis begins with looking at the cognitive behavioural tradition and mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) and explores what further psychological assistance might be given for those whom these interventions are not enough. The thesis takes an autoethnographic approach, drawing on the author’s own experience of responding to bigger-than-self distress, and blends this with an enactivist theoretical account that seeks to link more closely together mindful understandings of experience with cognitive scientific theory and empirical literature. The author’s experience of engaging in mindfulness training broadened and deepened his perspective on bigger-than-self distress and the seeming necessity of an expanded container within which to hold and process it. This expanded container is expounded in the form of the Big History, Systems View of Life, and Theory of Knowledge perspectives, which provide an evolutionary, scientific, and cosmological account of history within which to situate the biosphere, humanity, and the civilisational-biospheric meta-crisis that is related to bigger-than-self distress. An updated view of cognition is also provided, which views cognition as self-organising, based on principles of relevance realisation, free energy minimisation, predictive processing, and which is profoundly embodied and embedded within its environment. From this expanded base, wisdom traditions from Western, Eastern, and Indigenous cultures are discussed with a view to being able to draw from these for novel interventions within the cognitive behavioural tradition that align with this updated version of cognition and context of cosmos, biosphere, humanity, and biospheric-civilisational meta-crisis. From there, interventions within clinical psychology and coaching (IFS and Aletheia Coaching, primarily) are presented as prototypical novel cognitive behavioural interventions that are aligned with this view of cognition. The novel ways of working with psychological content are applied to bigger-than-self distress via a new term that I label metabolisation. This overall way of working can be understood as enactive nondual wisdom development for bigger-than-self distress and helps to provide a cognitive scientific vocabulary for understanding psychological responses to bigger-than-self distress. Importantly, nondual enactive wisdom development is something that can only be enacted in real-world praxis, and so to guide clients through it requires clinicians to go through it experientially ahead of their clients: a philosophy that overall fits well with the reality of bigger-than-self distress and the meta-crisis being something that clinicians and clients alike are subsumed within.
Distress (Psychology), Treatment, Cognitive therapy, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy