Awakening the Healing Powers of the ‘I’ – Integrating Life Beyond Diagnostic Labels – Case Study

Suchitra Inamdar

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Published: 15.03.2024

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Suchitra Inamdar

Psychotherapist, Director of the Anthroposophic Psychology And Research Association (APARA) in Mumbai, India


Rudolf Steiner’s concept of consciousness soul (CS), its role and emergence in the spiritual journey of human biography has a lot to offer in discovering its potential towards humanly meaningful psychological diagnosis and psychotherapeutic intervention. The same will be discussed in this paper through a case study format. In his book “Theosophy”, Steiner describes the nature of the CS as the carrier of the ‘truth’ of the living reality of the human being; the need to establish this living truth becoming a pivotal turning point between age 35 - 42. The ability to discover one’s living truth finds its foundation in the first twenty one years of psycho-physiological development.

This paper will discuss:

  1. The foundation of the first three septennials (seven year period ) of the client’s life (from 0 - 21) that create a backdrop of nature vs. nurture for the quality of ‘I’ embodiment that unfolds after the age twentyone and eventually serves the needs of ‘truth’ of the CS.
  2. The lack of healthy separation, individuation, independence in the young adulthood phase revealing itself through Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) that follow the quality of body and soul development.
  3. How the therapist’s knowledge of the anthroposophic perspective of human development can support the client’s search for self-concept and her living ‘truth’, further accelerating the effects of the intervention, bridging and healing the client’s lost opportunities of the individuation process.


The concept of the consciousness soul is researched to be one of the most original intellectual achievement of the founder of anthroposophy, Dr. phil. Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925). From the very inception up to its detailed differentiation and broad social application, the journey of the term ‘consciousness coul’ can be tracked in Steiner’s writings (1).

Steiner’s work contributes largely to philosophy, psychology and evolutionary theory. Anthroposophic psychotherapy (AP) was initiated simultaneously in Germany and in the Netherlands; in 1970 by Dr. med. Paul von der Heide (1918 – 1996) and Prof. Dr. med. Bernard Lievegoed (1905 – 1992) in the 1980s (2), inspired by Steiner’s spiritual science and found its independent space in professional settings thereafter.

Lievegoed’s contribution brought out the perspective of the figure of human biography through developmental archetypes and indicators. The age, stage in which the client meets the therapist is one single point in time of that ‘life’ which is a whole. With careful phenomenological analysis of the client’s biography it is revealed that mental illness is not a ‘fact’ that lives outside of the client but is the developmental ‘truth’ that lives within the client contributing to his unique psychological design and thus needs to be understood as a part of the design.

Body development and ego/‘I’ embodiment

Emerging individuation, independence, agency during life is called the embodiment of the I, based on the corresponding biological foundations (ego organisation). The human biography is roughly divided into seven year periods (septennials) that gradually transform and slightly overlap. The awakening of the ‘I’ is the gradual empowerment and autonomy of the human being achieved through the complex process of physical, emotional, social and spiritual development that is essentially tied to the physical body in the first twenty-one years of life.

Steiner speaks of the first seven years of development roughly dedicated to physcial, organ and constitutional development (3, 4). Over and above that foundation, is built the manifestation of the life forces (the etheric body) between 7 - 14 years of age through development of various cognitive, motor, emotional and social skills – through habits, routines and rules followed with consistency and persistence. Once a mastery over one’s body is fairly achieved, after the age of fourteen, the mind is capable of creative work, imagination and further ideological, social and emotional development through the impulses of emerging psychological capacities. Beyond age twenty-one, the quality of this development is the foundation of the ‘I’, on which an individual’s inhabitation within the external world is shaped giving the impetus to soul development.

Healthy separation, individuation, independence, autonomy, ego embodiment

A healthy separation from one’s environment at various transitions in the course of development is the foundation of individuation and independence in adult life. An individual is a design of both heredity and individualized constitution on one hand and his environment on the other. A careful observation of the interplay between qualities of the constitution and the environment reveal the quality of individuation. An identity, thus formed is imperative for self-engineering which is a further stepping stone towards meeting the needs of the CS discussed here.

Soul development: sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul

The sentient soul experience is the insight into one’s individual that mirrors the environment and an insight into the environment that mirrors one’s individual.

Steiner shows how these experiences of the sentient soul are internalised by the intellectual soul processes by employing cognition. In this endeavour of getting closer to the truth, the intellectual soul transforms itself - “as truth shines in the intellectual soul, it turns into consciousness soul” (1).

The quality of separation and individuation achieved, becomes the unique shape, structure and design of the ego body further developed through individual, independent interaction of the human being with the world (2).

According to Steiner, an increased autonomy of the soul is achieved through education and self-discipline. This is the intensified activity of the intellectual soul achieved out of a transmuted etheric body (4) (that reaches its potential as a result of the developmental phases in the second septennial). This becomes the foundation of the recognition of ‘truth’ of one’s being that later forms an important characteristic of the CS. In his book “Theosophy” (4) Steiner explains that the sentient and intellectual soul aspects are designed by spiritual beings which means that they naturally occur in human development without much conscious participation of a human being. It is only with the intellectual soul that one begins a conscious participation as a worker in one’s own development (1).

Emergence of modernity according to Steiner brings forth in front of us the challenge of ‘free co-operation’ of ‘self-aware individuals’. The vast expanse of this challenge can be easily sensed by a keen mind and this can be a major indication towards diagnosis and intervention for people, who, with their own free will seek therapeutic work.

CS and the anthroposophic study of human development can help carry diagnosis beyond labels of psychological disorder and help the creativity of the therapist to design the necessary intervention turning the therapy into a catalyst to understand life.

Consciousness soul transformation

The physical body, constitution, hardened through development is instrumental in building a foundation for the cognitive, emotional, motor and social skills with education and self-discipline (the etheric body). This stability of the body is further transmuted into and mirrored in life with the consciousness soul. The astral, emotional dynamic processes of living in one’s environment constantly create hindrances in this otherwise well chalked out development. Roughly after the age of thirty the etheric development that has successfully outgrown the astral resistances in early years, determines the quality of the intellectual soul and the following self-awareness of the CS.

‘Living realities’ or the concept of ‘truth’ can be obstructed by childhood trauma, creates fogginess in clarity of life perceptions, thinking, judgement and conscientious self-governance. This consequently creates anxiety and non-readiness for its further spiritual development as a quality of the CS.

Andrej Belyj (1880 – 1934), a Russian poet and symbolist, characterises the activity of the intellectual soul as the appearance of a thought under the person’s cerebral shell that is characterised by reasoning and linear thinking. In contrast, the core characteristic of the consciousness soul according to him, is its tendency of introducing the power of volition into thinking. Thereby, the act of thinking becoming a creative imperative. According to Belyj, this is because the form of cognition attained at the level of consciousness soul equals the creation of potential reality (1).

Lack of healthy separation from the environment or a compromised sense of autonomy has deep rooted relationship with pathological forms of coping, a fragile identity, external locus of control, lack of empowerment and anxiety towards engaging with one’s environment.

When seeking one’s own truth becomes increasingly impending, various faulty coping styles are observed more vividly by an individual. Intervention at this stage, emerging out of the knowledge of the quality and challenges of the CS and designed to bridge the lost opportunities for individuation, the missing volition in the will can be propelled and anxiety lowered with the perceived control over one’s living. The case study discusses the role of encouraging self-awareness, volition and agency in the intervention process.

Case study

The thirty-nine year old client sought anthroposophic therapy with the author after approximately fifteen years of work on herself. Nineteen sessions were conducted so far by the author.

The presenting problems, as reported by the client, were anxiety, projection, difficulty in forming or maintaining realtionships, repeated patterns of intimacy, abandonment and estrangement. Disturbed, clingy relationships, perceived abandonment, chronic feelings of emptiness, identity issues, intense anger, binge eating, intense interpersonal relationships with alternating feelings of assumed, idealistic intimacy on one hand and paranoid devaluation on the other were manifestation of Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP) that were revealed by the second and third session.

Her symptoms of anxiety, preoccupation with constant worry, muscle tension, sleep disturbances sometimes edging towards a panic attack were manifestations of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

First septennial

Beginning with the challenges of her non-embodiment into the physical body in the first two septennials of life followed by the trauma of sexual abuse by a trusted adult are an important part of the history (3, 5). The body in the first seven years of development grows abundantly. It needs to accept its environment through food, air and water to grow into being human. The reported rejection of food and nurture in the first 14 years was the rejection of the earth forces to grow which is called the lack of healthy embodiment into one’s physique. She said “for the first seven to eight years of life, I had to visit the doctor every fifteen days because my body wouldn’t adjust to anything”.

Alongside the embodiment challenges, were alternating intimacy and abandonment from the mother and constant violence and manipulation from the father towards all family members.

The client reported that her parents have many problems with their social relations, economic management and challenged with attachment issues, moral ambiguity, violence, manipulation and paranoia. Two of the four grandparents also reportedly struggled with depression.

Anthroposophically this indicates that with the non-metabolising of food, the unhealthy body keeps one locked in the concerns of one’s constitution creating anxiety and self-obsessions. The body is incapable of being a home to the spirit. Such a foundation embedded in the physicality does not allow one to forget the body in order to interact with and be available to meet the rest of the world (5). The world remains a stranger and hence the anxiety.

Second septennial

The septennial continued with challenges to the liver. The sexual abuse was reportedly met with a passive, avoidant and victim shaming response from her parents, resulting is no assurance of protection. A looming threat of the perpetrating adult in her life resulted in prolonged PTSD (5) which she partially overcame after age eighteen. High promiscuity of the father and assumed helplessness of the mother encouraged ambiguous social constructs.

Anthroposophically this septennial is indicative of a weak etheric body with impoverished skills in the cognitive, social and emotional realms. The fear of engaging with a morally ambiguous environment existed. With low skills within and ambiguity without, lack of autonomy and confused, volatile sense of intimacy became a part of the social learning process. This was one of the foundational symptoms of BPD later diagnosed at an adult stage.

Third septennial

This septennial characterised by the PTSD symptoms, sometimes also projected towards other non-perpetrating adults, causing visible social challenges. Entry into puberty invited Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) into her reality but a decline of liver issues.

Sexual development and normal behaviours expressing sexuality were evaluated by her environment with insults, demeaning comments and suppression causing constant guilt and shame. Negative evaluation, humiliation and fear of judgement further wounded her self-concept. Need for and yet lack of validation, respect and acceptance, resulted in non-anchoring and pathological clinging.

Anthroposophically this septennial is indicative of experiencing the shadow side of love. Developmentally appropriate phase of being in love with one’s own physicality and the natural impulse of attraction or sexual expression towards the other is tainted with extreme guilt and suppression resulting in loss of identity. Stripping off dignity from the natural course of development resulted in self-loathing, denial and anxiety towards social interaction (6).

The fourth, fifth and sixth septennials

The decisions of moving to another country for work/marriage depicted the yearning to meet the needs of individuality and independence. These decisions were constantly engulfed with self-doubt and anxiety.

She reports having an insight watching others: “I did not have simple etiquettes, skills of negotiation, small talk, decision making, no ability to take criticism and felt very vulnerable.” Once, when thirty-five, she received a feedback from a friend that she is very ‘brittle’.” That word created an image which made her seek help. Gudrun Burkhard mentioned in her book “Taking Charge” the ‘motto’ between age 28 - 35 indicated by Rudolf Treichler: “How is the world organised and how do I organise myself in this relationship with the world?” (6).

This pertinent question that propels the activity of the Intellectual Soul, further giving birth to the ‘truth’ of the CS faces a vacuum in the case here at hand.


The case study depicts the peculiar challenge of the consciousness soul which the client finds difficult to meet because of the physio-psycho-social development of the client. The principles of anthroposophy help the detailed and nuanced study of the lack of healthy separations in the client’s biography and their transformation into a ‘foggy’ sense of truth, not perceiving a constant thread of one’s individuality and lack of volition in one’s thinking.

The intervention was carefully designed so as to bridge the missed separations, enhancing various cognitive, social and emotional skills like emotional articulation, social simulations, practicing transformation of knowledge and encouraging use of humour. Techniques to be able to visualise invisible boundaries in human interactions were also used.

Developing an attitude of responsibility towards what lies on this side of the boundary and creating an attitude of effortful engagement, independence, empowerment and a feeling of agency full of healthy adult detachment towards what lies on that side of the boundary was useful.

The theme of constant guilt and shame, though prevalent, the client now has an insight and fair control over the default negative response that she would have towards herself. She is now able to step back, watch herself, consciously challenge her responses and sometimes replace them with effective thinking. The sparks of self-realisation she experienced in the company and responses of others showed her eagerness to answer the ‘Who am I really?’ question. Helping her to validate consistencies in her self-observations also helped her integrity.


In her early twenties the client had sought therapeutic help where the psychologist administered a personality test. The diagnosis, then, was Borderline Personality Disorder. The client reports being in extreme denial and perceiving accusation and blame from the therapist towards her suffering. Later, she sought help that would make her feel good.

The sentient soul development (age 21 - 28) propels needs of social relevance and social effectiveness. It opens the individual for newer experiences of the world and the ability to read one’s own growth with reference to the world around. Also marked as early adulthood, it contains maximum movement in career, family, relationships and self-discovery. Lack of healthy separation, individuation and a weak identity can result in overwhelming, anxious feelings towards the future and one’s perception of agency in meeting the demands of the sentient soul. One can feel left out and lagging behind with reference to peers and rest of the world.

As the client recalled “I didn’t know what I wanted and I was always confused about whether I was right in wanting what I thought I wanted in life.” With growing disconnect and tentativeness, the client sought help in the form of a distress call. When faced with the “cold objectivity” of the psychometric tests and the diagnosis, she felt persecuted and blamed by the therapist.

On the other hand, her seeking of help in the consciousness soul period (age thirtynine) was supported by the needs of the CS to seek the truth of one’s existence. This, coupled with the therapeutic interventions aimed at bridging the missed opportunities for healthy separation and independence, created a space of acceptance through appropriate emotional distancing from the diagnosis.

Early childhood experiences become the foundation of the self concept. Through the perceptive, consistent and predictable responses of the primary care giver (usually the mother) the growing child understands his own hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure and every other nuance of his own self. He gets closer and awakened towards himself through the other mirroring him. A stable self-concept, formed thus, frees the individual from the process of mere imitation. He is able to progress further to self assessment and autonomy, thereby also developing the firm ground to understand another person’s ‘I’ (7). With body embodiment challenges and quality of care provided in the first septennial and a sketchy temperament and emerging character traits of the second and third respectively, the self-concept is hampered. The work of psychotherapy is located in an attempt towards bridging what is missed and healing what is wounded in earlier stages of life by bringing consciousness, perspective and lucidity in a later stage of life. The needs of the consciousness soul bring an individual to the spot for this search. A therapeutic model, therefore that recognises the importance of the moment of this seeking alongside the qualitative nuances of development offers sutainable, meaningful intervention for the client and all those connected with him.

In the wake of an ocean of psychological research, the increasing insistence on causality amongst different psychological phenomena seems futile (8). Life, instead needs to be approached in a much more nuanced manner to fathom the real effectiveness of diagnosis, intervention and therapy. It is not surprising that anthroposophy can contribute hugely to fill this gap – moving beyond superficial causality – towards integration of the individual in his own destiny and life journey seeking evolution relevant to that journey.


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  3. Bruell A et al. Understanding And Applying The Fourfold Approach to the Human Being. Aberdeen: Camphill School Aberdeen; 2015. Available at: (15.03.2024).
  4. Steiner R. Theosophy. An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos (CW 9). New York: Anthroposophic Press; 1994.
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  7. Dekkers-Appel H. Incarnation and Attachment: Incarnation Disturbances And Detachment During the First Seven Years of Life. Unpublished manuscript by the authors Dekkers A & Dekkers-Appel H; 2015.
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