Explaining the Intrapsychic Taxonomy

Background. There are two principles that explain almost everything in the universe. The first of these is existence. Everything that is, is. The second principle is connection. Everything that is draws its meaning from its connections to other things. Subatomic particles derive their meaning when they combine to form atoms. Atoms derive their meaning when they combine to form molecules. As the magnitude of order of connections increases with increasingly complex entities and objects, the connections may, themselves, acquire networks of connection. From these two basic principles we may extrapolate the triune being that humans are.

As one conceptually moves up the scale of complexity, a corollary to the two fundamental properties becomes apparent. Being cannot be fully defined in terms of existence and connection. The structuralists discovered this, to their chagrin, and the Gestalt psychologists codified their error as fundamental to their views and investigations: The whole is not equal to the sum of its parts; there are properties of being which emerge from amongst the complexity of existence and connection.

These emergent properties, ultimately, are being. The connections have connections, of a secondary and tertiary nature, and on to the nth degree. Being is a property that emerges from the vast complexity of connection, it is an awareness of existence and connection, of being. Existence and being align on a single continuum. Everything exists; not everything has being. In the simplest of terms, being is awareness of one’s existence.

Note also, regarding the derivation of meaning from connection, that this is the foundational principle of general systems theory. The fundamental principle of systems theory is that one determines what the components of a system are and then assesses how they interact. In essence, their interaction is determined by how they are connected to one another. Using systems theory diagnostically, one need only determine where the connections have gone awry or the components have failed. And in the case of component failure, one may assess the component as an independent system, noting its subcomponents and how they are related.

Recently, I taught a health psychology course, a class I had not taught before. The biopsychosocial model was an anchoring concept of the text (Taylor, 2006). The biopsychosocial model, suggested the text, represents the whole of the patient, laying out all the areas of concern in health as well as approaches to healing. This is an advance over the medical model, in that it recognizes the person in the social environment, the patient’s social resources, and the patient’s social motivation. Having nearly died of a strange viral infection five years prior and having lost a daughter to cancer, I felt that something was missing from this model.

Basic concepts. The intrapsychic taxonomy incorporates all that is in the biopsychosocial model, including body and mind, but also include issues related to spirit. This was inspired by my own experience, given form by the ancient Greeks’ conceptualization of the whole self as being body, mind, and spirit—suggested in Plato’s The Republic, by Freud’s concept of id, ego and superego, and by the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. These three aspects of self are interdependent and interactive, as in Figure One.

Figure One: Intrapsychic Taxonomy

Figure One. Intrapsychic Taxonomy.

This incorporates the biopsychosocial model, plus the spiritual needs and resources/agencies that are left out of it. It also suggests that, like Freud’s original conceptualization of id, ego and superego, these are interdependent and interacting aspects of self (Thorne & Henley, 2005).

In this conception of self, each of these aspects is the seat of some specific needs, as well as the agencies (knowledge, skills, abilities or other internal resources) for meeting needs. At the intersections or overlaps of the three aspects of self, needs and agencies interactively combine to shape how we react to and respond to the events of life with respect to the associated needs and agencies.

This taxonomy represents a modest extension of the biopsychosocial model, adding consideration of spiritual and aesthetic needs to an already very useful model. Yet these two additions get at some very important aspects of health and healing, including such diverse things as complementary medicine, the power of prayer in health and healing, and the importance of ritual in complementary healing ceremonies.

A good model for health needs and how those can be met should also be able to deal with needs of other sorts; it should be competent in any domain of needs, motivations, and agencies. As I have worked with this taxonomy and how it functions, it has become apparent that it is useful for much more, across several levels of analysis.

At the most basic level, this intrapsychic taxonomy can be used to characterize an individual’s constellations of needs and resources / agencies, both descriptively and prescriptively. At its most generalized level, it can be used to characterize the societal institutions arrayed to assist individuals and groups in meeting their various needs, as well as form a conceptualization of the Trinity model of God that is the doctrinal heart of Christianity. At intermediate levels, it can be used to examine the characteristics of successful needs interventions such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to prescribe interventions in one needs sphere that capitalize on agencies of the adjoining spheres, or to examine why groups of people behave as they do in response to needs threatening events like the terrorist attacks of September 11.

This conception of self may provide an integrating mechanism for diverse motivational and developmental theories and also may help resolve some issues related to extant theories. For example, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is more clearly operationalized if projected on this model rather than on the traditional pyramid. I believe that it is because Maslow’s needs are presented as a hierarchy. Hierarchical, linear assumptions underlie much of Western thinking, and those assumptions may blind us to nonhierarchical relationships that are often present in systems. For this reason, this conception of self is presented as a taxonomy.

Hierarchy is “a graded or ranked series”, and taxonomy is “orderly classification of plants and animals according to their presumed natural relationships” (www.webster.com; underlining is my emphasis). By extension, any system presented in terms of presumed natural relationships might be considered to be taxonomic. In much of the social sciences, it may make better sense to try to structure systems in terms of their presumed natural relationships--interrelationships and interdependencies--than to do so in strictly hierarchical or linear terms. This monograph uses a nonhierarchical view as its underlying assumption in developing an intrapsychic taxonomy, though this will remain a work in process for some time. I will demonstrate that the intrapsychic taxonomy provides a useful framework for analysis of a wide range of psychological and social phenomena. I also will discuss the broader and more important implication that arises from this process—how the Western view of the world constrained Maslow’s needs hierarchy and possibly many other models and systems views. In conclusion, I will suggest some research imperatives that arise from this analysis.

The classical Greeks taught that in order to be fully healthy (and happy) one must meet the needs of the body, the mind, and the spirit. To neglect one of these was to invite some sort of ill health as well as emotional upset.

On the pages that follow, body, mind, spirit are discussed, as well as interactions of these.


Integrate Perspectives