Synchronicity Awareness Intervention: An Open Trial
by Lydia Y. Cho, Lisa J. Miller, Mark G. Hrastar, Nina A. Sutton & John Paul Younes - 2009
Background: Awareness of synchronicity may be an opening to more general spiritual awareness. Empirical research analyzing the process of increased synchronicity awareness and investigating shifts in personal spirituality and mental health is limited. Might synchronicity awareness be a porthole for a more general sense of personal spiritual awareness, namely the experience of directly lived daily events as spiritually meaningful?
Purpose: This study evaluated a 6-week synchronicity discussion group, Synchronicity Awareness Intervention (SAI), delivered to emerging educators and human service professionals. Its aim was to increase awareness of synchronistic events and support spiritual awareness.
Participants: Final enrollment consisted of 12 females and 1 male, with a mean age of 26.8 years (SD = 5.29). Religious denominations were 38.5% Catholic, 30.8% Protestant, 15.4% Hindu, 7.7% Buddhist, and 7.7% Atheist.
Research Design: The study used a pretest-posttest within subject design. This report focuses on the postintervention qualitative data collected through a structured interview.
Findings: Data suggested that SAI was associated with increased awareness of synchronicity and suggested beneficial effects of synchronicity awareness on personal spirituality and mental health. Results showed that the program was well received and highly rated by the participants, indicating that it was an acceptable form of a spiritually informed psychotherapeutic discussion group.
Conclusions: This preliminary study showed promising support for the feasibility, acceptability, level of engagement, and potential helpfulness of an SAI in a group setting. Synchronicity awareness may support spiritual awareness and improve mental health.
Awareness of synchronicity might initiate a process of general spiritual awareness, a sense of the spiritual significance in daily lived events. In this brief report, we trace the history of the concept of synchronicity and then investigate whether awareness of synchronicity can be supported in a graduate school context to emerging professionals in education and human service professions.
Carl Jung considered synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, significantly related patterns of chance (Peat, 1987, p. 1), to be a way to address spiritual and existential concerns. Awareness of synchronicity does not require a religious context and is reported cross-culturally. According to Jung, diverse religious and cultural populations, including atheists and agnostics, experience a noncausal relationship between events and inner experience. Jung proposed that synchronicity provides evidence for the connection among people and the universe and suggested that everything is meaningful. Painful events can be understood as fruitful for the path of growth. Seemingly coincidental events can be seen as directive, informative, and guiding.
Jungian analysts incorporate synchronicity awareness into their clinical practice because it provides concrete and symbolic directions and creative answers to difficulties. Positive and beneficial effects of synchronicity awareness have been noted in therapy and career development (e.g., Guindon & Hanna, 2002; Marlo & Kline, 1998). It is a means to spiritual awareness and consciousness, in that daily lived experiences may come to be viewed as indications of the sacred universe (e.g., Begg, 2001; Belitz & Lundstrom, 1998; Bell, 2000; Cousineau, 1997; Hopcke, 1997; Upczak, 2001).
An awareness of synchronicity, and spiritual awarenessto regard the events surrounding professional exchange as carrying spiritual significancemay be extremely helpful for teachers and psychologists who work closely with children and families. Spiritual awareness in these professionals might help students and clients to understand life events as meaningful and illuminating. Professionals may themselves gain guidance and information for their clients through awareness of synchronicity. A crisis may point the way to specific opportunity, or noteworthy or surprising events may carry useful and guiding information. The current study is an initial attempt to evaluate a 6-week synchronicity discussion group, Synchronicity Awareness Intervention (SAI). The groups aim was to increase awareness of synchronistic events and investigate the potential helpfulness for personal spirituality and mental health for graduate students concurrently enrolled at Teachers College. The specific questions of this pilot study follow.
Research Question 1: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Engagement Around Synchronicity Awareness Intervention
Is it feasible to implement SAI in an academic or training setting for education- and human service-oriented professionals? Feasibility is assessed using recruitment, attendance, and retention rates, and qualitative data from the Individual Processing Interview (IPI). Is SAI acceptable and engaging to education- and human service-oriented professionals? Acceptability and level of engagement are assessed by quantitative and qualitative feedback on the Satisfaction of Program Questionnaire (SOPQ) and responses to the IPI.
Research Question 2: Potential Helpfulness of Synchronicity Awareness Group
Does SAI help emerging professionals to become aware of synchronicity? In potentially becoming more aware of synchronicity, what themes around personal transformation will emerge from the IPI? Will transformation around awareness of synchronicity involve spiritual and mental wellness?
Participants were recruited from a graduate-level psychology class at Teachers College, Columbia University. The course concerned spirituality and mental health and had covered the concept of synchronicity, so students were somewhat familiar with the concept at the time of recruitment. The SAI was held during the same semester as the class. Participants (see Table 1) were 13 self-selected graduate students: 12 females and 1 male, with a mean age of 26.8 years (SD = 5.29). Racial composition of the sample was 46.2 % Asian, 30.8% White, 15.4% Latino, and 7.7% Black. Religious denominations were 38.5% Catholic, 30.8% Protestant, 15.4% Hindu, 7.7% Buddhist, and 7.7% Atheist.
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Sample
A semistructured interview, the Individual Processing Interview, was the chief source of data. An assessment battery of quantitative measures of synchronicity, personal spirituality, and mental health were administered at preintervention, postintervention, and 5-month postintervention. This article focuses on the qualitative data from the IPI.
Satisfaction of Program Questionnaire
The SOPQ is an eight-item instrument that evaluated the overall experience. One item asks for the number of sessions attended. Three items, rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), ask about the program, including the journaling and book.
Individual Processing Interview
Thirty-minute semistructured IPIs were scheduled within 2 weeks of the final session with each participant and were videotaped. The IPI was designed to tap the experiential process of the participants. Specifically, the IPI asked about the participants experience of the SAI (i.e., thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes), the most memorable session, and transformation around mental wellness, to include shifts in mood, interpersonal relationships, school and career plans, life plan, and broader spiritual beliefs, experiences, and cosmology.
Participants were divided into two groups based on schedule availability. Group A consisted of 7 participants and three facilitators; Group B consisted of 6 participants and two facilitators. The investigator was a cofacilitator in both. The facilitators role included being attentive to the group process, as in vivo synchronicities help bring the concept to life, and facilitating discussion. Participants received a journal and a book, Hopckes There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives, from which one chapter per week was assigned. Sessions were 1 hour and videotaped. Facilitators met to process sessions weekly.
The purpose of the SAI was to serve as forum to share thoughts and experiences about this concept, to analyze synchronicities, and to note them as they occurred in vivo. The SAI was anticipated to be more experiential than didactic. The process-oriented nature of the SAI provided the emotional space to examine, explore, and even debate the meaning and impact of synchronicity. The class and book provided the didactic component. The aims of the first session were to provide an orientation to synchronicity and to establish the rules and framework of the group discussions, thereby creating a safe and trusting holding environment.
Participants were encouraged to actively pay attention to synchronicities, which can easily pass by unnoticed. Free association, amplification, and mutual amplification were techniques used to understand them further. In amplification, the synchronicity was elaborated by the one who experienced it, as if look[ing] through a magnifying glass (Bolen, 1979, p. 27). In mutual amplification, other group members offered ideas and interpretations. In this way, possible meanings of synchronicities were further explored. The ultimate meaning, however, belonged to the participant who presented the synchronicity, as it is subjective. To facilitate the integration and assimilation of synchronistic experiences into consciousness, journaling was encouraged.
During the final session, group members discussed their experiences of the SAI and noted shifts. The investigator met with each participant for 30-minute semistructured IPIs. They were remunerated with a $40 gift card for the pre- and postassessments and the IPI, and they were invited to complete the assessment a third time, at 5 months postintervention, for which they were remunerated with a $10 gift card.
Feasibility, acceptability, and engagement. Feasibility, acceptability, and engagement were obtained through attendance rates, reasons for missed sessions, ratings on the SOPQ, and qualitative data from the IPI.
Potential helpfulness: Individual Processing Interview. IPIs were videotaped, transcribed, and checked for accuracy. The investigator used guidelines for consensual qualitative research (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997) to explore the impact of synchronicity awareness and to establish domains and categories across cases.
RESEARCH QUESTION 1FEASIBILITY, ACCEPTABILITY, AND ENGAGEMENT
The recruitment effort involved verbally presenting the study to a class of approximately 40 students. A total of 14 students (35%) expressed interest, of whom 13 (32.5%) participated in the SAI. Two groups were formed. The overall attendance rate was 88.5% (M = 5.31 sessions, SD = 0.95), with approximately half of the participants (53.8%, n = 7) attending all six sessions. The remaining six (46.2%) attended between three and five sessions. Reasons for missed sessions included illness, work-related meetings, forgetting, and preparation for an exam. The retention rate was 100%. These data provide evidence for treatment feasibility.
Positive feedback on the SOPQ (see Table 2) demonstrated evidence of treatment acceptability. It was rated favorably, with 61.5% (n = 8) rating it high and 38.5% (n = 5) rating it very high. Participants considered the SAI helpful and would recommend it to others. Approximately half of the participants (n = 6, 46.2.8%) considered the journal helpful, whereas the other half was neutral. Slightly more than half of the participants (n = 7, 53.8%) considered the book helpful. Five (38.5%) participants were neutral about it, and 1 (7.7%) considered it not helpful. In the IPI, participants reported that the warm, safe, trusting, and sacred group environment; the validating, welcoming, and open atmosphere; the small, intimate size of the group; and the religious diversity provided the physical and emotional space for them to be genuine and connect on spiritual matters.
Table 2. Responses to Satisfaction of Program Questionnaire
a 1 = very low; 2 = low; 3 = neutral; 4 = high; 5 = very high.
b 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neutral/ not sure; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree.
RESEARCH QUESTION 2POTENTIAL HELPFULNESS: INDIVIDUAL PROCESSING INTERVIEW
Several participants were hesitant to attribute perceived shifts solely to the SAI. Therefore, participants were requested to describe all changes since the beginning of the SAI instead of those that they would attribute solely to the SAI. Analyses of responses to open-ended questions about the impact of synchronicity awareness revealed the following domains: synchronicity awareness, spirituality, and mental health (see Table 3). Typical refers to categories that apply to half or more of the participants. Variant refers to categories that apply to 2 or 3 to just fewer than half of the participants. Direct quotations are provided. Participants were also asked to indicate their most memorable session.
Table 3. Domains and Categories of the Impact of Synchronicity Awareness
Seven of the 13 participants (typical category) indicated greater theoretical understanding and awareness of the concept of synchronicity. Five (variant category) indicated that it was a new concept or schema that added to their way of thinking. Two (variant category) compared the term to a concept that already existed in their minds. For Participant 9, synchronicity was similar to God moments.
Six of the participants (variant category) indicated experiencing greater frequency of synchronicities. They also typically (8 of 13) indicated greater attunement and attention to their surroundings and openness to possible synchronistic events. In addition, they also typically (7 of 13) indicated greater processing and integration of possible synchronistic events into their meaning-making. Participant 8 reported, Im definitely taking more time to think about them and to process them in my mind, to relate it with other events, to find meaning.
Participants typically (12 of 13) revealed congruence between synchronicity and their belief system. For 7 participants (typical category), the SAI was a vehicle through which they accessed and regained their personal spirituality. They noted a strengthening and greater ownership of their spiritual beliefs.
Eight (typical category) endorsed belief in and experience of the connection with others, a higher power, and the universe. This alludes to the oneness of the universe, or unus mundus. Participant 8 demonstrated it with the following statement: Ive been opened to all these different people having all these different religions, believing almost the same exact thing. . . . Its really opened my eyes.
Two participants (variant category), a self-identified atheist and a stubborn Christian, indicated that their cosmology was challenged by their SAI experiences. Participant 13, the atheist, stated that her experience of connection with others through synchronistic events challenged her cosmology that no such connection existed and her belief that people were products of neural firings in [the] brain. Participant 10, the stubborn Christian, stated that the fact that non-Christians experienced synchronicities that they attributed to higher powers of their respective religions challenged her belief that her God was the one in charge.
The SAI produced shifts in participants mood and self-conduct. Participants typically (8 of 13) noted improvement in mood. Specifically, they indicated feeling at peace, less anxious, and more in flow. Participant 8 had experienced some uncertainty about registering for classes the following semester. And I remembered this synchronicity and it gave me peace, [as] if something told me, Dont worry. Remember, everything is under control. Participant 2 discussed her feelings and perspective about not having been accepted into a graduate program. Im not sad at all because I feel like its probably not my thing. I think [Im] definitely less controlling and less sad and more satisfied with the way life is and things that happen.
Two participants (variant category) indicated experiencing mixed or negative mood because of the SAI. Participant 12 reported greater anxiety and worry as she became more aware of the discrepancy between her theoretical knowledge and her actual practice, which she eloquently described: [Im] struggling with how do I let go of this need to control and have things my way when I know that theres a spiritual interconnectedness to everything . . . and that ultimately its not up to me.
Participants typically (9 out of 13) indicated greater presence and attention to themselves, others, and their surroundings. Participant 13 described this shift in attention in the following way: Maybe its impacted me in the sense that I, maybe, will now be a little bit more intuitive, maybe pay attention more to my intuition, be open to other peoples experiences, be receptive and sensitive.
Participants typically (11 out of 13) indicated greater introspection, meaning-making, and reflection. Participant 7 reported, I am more in touch with myself, and I feel like thats sort of how it should be . . . just be more introspective. This signifies greater introspection and suggests the beginning of an exploratory process.
Most Memorable Session
Participants were asked to describe the most memorable sessions. Memorable sessions were those during which participants felt affectively moved and connected. Group B members tended to choose sessions that resonated for them individually. Participant 8 selected the session in which he discussed his career struggles, which were synchronistically similar to the book chapters. Participant 13 chose the session that she considered intellectually stimulating.
Most (n = 5; 71.4%) of the 7 Group A members chose the same session, during which an in vivo series of synchronicities occurred. That session began with Participant 7 sharing her dilemma about whether to pursue clinical psychology. She felt discouraged and dissatisfied. She questioned her intention about this field but did not elaborate. When one of the group facilitators asked about her initial interest in psychology, she provided a generic response.
Participant 3 then shared the synchronicity that she had presented during the class, right before the session. She reported that the previous weekend, which was near the third-year anniversary of her grandmothers passing, she found a copy of the AA Serenity Prayer in her grandmothers dresser that she had brought from her parents home. For her, it was a synchronicity, a message from her grandmother, confirmation of her grandmothers presence in her life and of her job as a substance abuse counselor.
This prayer resonated with several group members. Participant 5 stated that she had attended Al-Anon meetings with her father, who had passed away because of complications from alcoholism. The previously mentioned group facilitator shared that he had a substance abuse history, was sober for 7 years, and was strongly considering attending an AA meeting because of increased stressors. He reported that this discussion felt like a guiding message to attend.
The number 7 was meaningful to Participant 1, who had decided that it was time to talk about her 7-year eating disorder history. Although she was no longer engaged in eating disordered behavior, she felt disingenuous keeping it secret. This series of synchronistic events came full circle to Participant 7. She had an eating disorder history as well, and her own therapy had been invaluable in helping her become healthy. Her therapist was her inspiration to pursue psychology. This was her affectively charged intention for pursuing psychology, which she was able to reveal after these in vivo synchronicities.
The atmosphere of Group A was transformed by these synchronicities. Participants, authentic and genuine, disclosed sensitive information that they did not usually reveal. As others self-disclosed, they realized that they were not alone in their struggles. There was a sense of connectedness and energy.
This study evaluated a 6-week SAI aimed at increasing awareness of synchronistic events and investigating the potential helpfulness for spiritual awareness and mental health for graduate students recruited from a Teachers College graduate-level class. Participants received a book that illustrated synchronistic events and a journal to record their experiences.
FEASIBILITY, ACCEPTABILITY, AND ENGAGEMENT OF THE SAI
The recruitment rate was 32.5%. The overall attendance rate was 88.5% (M = 5.31 sessions, SD = 0.95), and retention rate was 100%. Participants rated it favorably, considered it helpful, and would recommend it to others. In response to open-ended statements, participants noted gaining open-mindedness and a sense of connection, peace, and faith. These data provide evidence for treatment feasibility, acceptability, and a high level of engagement.
POTENTIAL HELPFULNESS: SYNCHRONICITY AWARENESS
Participants reported a greater theoretical understanding and awareness of the concept of synchronicity as well as an immediate awareness of synchronicity. Namely, they reported greater frequency of synchronicities, greater attunement and attention to their surroundings and to possible synchronistic events, an increase in the processing of and integration of synchronicity into their belief systems, and a heightened sense of spiritual awareness and meaningfulness. The holding environment, which welcomed individual experiences and differences in perspectives and techniques used likely contributed to these shifts and processes of change. Although skepticism was welcomed, participants tended to have an attitude of openness and receptiveness. In addition, hopeful expectancy, the belief that there is something greater (Bolen, 1979, p. 80), was encouraged and internalized.
Group A experienced a spontaneous emotional responseof chills up the spine, or awe, or warmth (Bolen, 1979, p. 17), with the in vivo synchronicities. They realized that they were not alone in their struggles and felt connected. The focus on affective, process-oriented material heightened their level of awareness of and appreciation for the emotional content and symbolic messages that synchronicities hold.
The SAI sparked a stronger sense of more general spiritual awareness and, for some, a sense of spiritual awakening. It was a route by which some accessed and regained their personal spirituality. For most participants, there was an increase in congruence between synchronicity and their cosmology. For two participants who had rigid belief systems, their lived experiences of synchronicities challenged their narrow beliefs. Finally, most reported a greater intellectual and affective understanding of their connection with God, nature, and each other. They experienced the oneness of the universe, or unus mundus. The idea of synchronicity, which can neither be rationally nor logically explained by cause and effect, was consistent with and affirmed their beliefs in the existence of an immaterial, spiritual world. These data suggest that engaged discussions in which lived experiences of synchronicity are honored by empathic others are transformative and heighten spiritual awareness.
The SAI clearly impacted participants emotional lives. Participants reported increased presence in, and attention and attunement to, their surroundings, necessary for uncovering their unconscious. They also indicated increased contemplation, introspection, and meaning-making, essential for understanding the symbolic meanings of synchronicities. In addition, they reported experiencing greater peace and acceptance, being in flow, and feeling less anxious. This pattern of findings suggests that SAI is potentially helpful for mental health. As revealed by the in vivo synchronicities, experiencing and witnessing affectively charged material is transformative and contributed to a decrease in loneliness and anxiety about personal circumstances. The SAI contributed to an understanding that life is inherently meaningful. Thus, participants were able to be more present in their experiences, relaxed, and less controlling. They were also able to endure negative experiences better, conceptualizing them as challenges.
GENERAL LIMITATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Limitations included the following: the sample was most likely not representative of the general graduate student population, so findings may be unique to this sample; the SAI was held during the same semester as the class; and because this was a pilot study, there was control group.
Recommendations for future research include the following: participants of diverse backgrounds should be recruited; journaling and book reading should be highly encouraged because they add to the cognitive processing of this phenomenon and provide structure to a more process-oriented intervention; and comparisons with spirituality focused groups and process-oriented groups should be conducted.
This pilot study of SAI in a graduate school setting with emerging professionals in teaching and human service professions was an initial attempt to investigate (1) the feasibility, acceptability, level of engagement of the SAI and ( 2) whether SAI potentially supports spiritual awareness, personal spirituality, and mental health.
The qualitative data illustrate increased general synchronicity awareness and that explorations of synchronicity in groups with empathic others, where beliefs and experiences are honored, are helpful. Specifically, participants reported an awakening of personal spirituality, an increase in attention to the present moment, greater reflection, improved mood, and a sense of meaning and purpose. Overall, lived daily events came to be viewed through direct personal awareness as having spiritual significance. These preliminary findings suggest that SAI represents another route for spiritual awakening and is helpful for mental health. This pilot study of SAI with graduate students in the healing and education professions suggests that further work might be done to explore the usefulness of SAI with classroom teachers, psychologists who work with children and families, and others in the service professions. Further research might be conducted with large samples and include comparison or control conditions groups.
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