The Vulnerability Model: How Psychosynthesis Can Change Our Approach to Grief, Fear, and Mortality

Dr. Richard Schaub
February 20, 2024
bridge leading into the cosmos

The human vulnerability model described by Dr. Richard Schaub explains our often unconscious and yet basic fears of loss, grief, change, and ultimately, death itself. We all suffer the same predicament, yet it does not have to be our destiny. We have the power to change our outlook and understanding of life by connecting to our inner wisdom, our Higher Self, and our experiences of higher states of consciousness. These Higher Self energies alleviate our suffering and change our understanding of life itself. At Higher Self Yoga, we strive to teach seekers how to connect to these energies and expand their consciousness, and the Psychosynthesis training and application to one’s self-awareness as taught by Dr. Schaub is an invaluable resource on this spiritual journey. - Mario Canki, Ph.D.


Vulnerability is a feeling, and it is more than a feeling. It is our actual human situation. It is reality. We are all without exception vulnerable beings in this world. We are all without exception subject to change, loss and grief.

This is hardly a new view. Philosophers, poets and spiritual teachers have been pointing to this bare fact for centuries. The question for each of us, and for the people who come to us for help, is what to do and how to be with this fact of loss and grief.  

The Nature of Mortality

The place to start is that the fact is inescapable. No special diet, no public fame, no religious belief, no money in the bank, no exclusive status, is going to give us a loophole to slip out of loss and grief.  

We are therefore challenged to accept this bare fact. “Accept” is of course a simple word for a huge task.  A remarkable book by Ernest Becker, Denial of Death, describes the refusal to accept loss and grief as “the refusal of reality.” Such an acceptance of loss and grief should not be baffling for us. We have evidence of it everywhere.  In the current jargon of psychological research, loss and grief are “evidence-based.” But Becker is correct: we put a lot of energy into refusing it.  


Painfully Aware

Among the people who seek psychological help, there is a particular group who have been sensitive to this bare fact of loss and grief their entire life.  The person will typically describe that, by the age of seven, they were aware of death, wondered about it, and got no answers from the adults around them.  Their sensitivity stayed with them as they grew into adolescence and adult life and left them secretly searching for an answer to this bare fact.  One writer in touch with this sensitivity, Herman Hesse, said that “…I write for only one reason – to tell the seekers that they are not alone.”

It is likely that spiritual and religious organizations have a significant percentage of people with Hesse’s sensitivity – seekers looking for answers.  We first began to professionally appreciate the search for answers in the lives of clients dealing with addiction.  My wife Bonney, after seven years of doing intake interviews and psychotherapy in a drug treatment center, realized that part of every clients’ early history was an event of loss and grief.  By adolescence, they each felt highly sensitive to this fact of life and went looking for some answer to dampen their feelings and make the world “manageable,” finding it in the alteration of their consciousness through drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors. 

Related: How to Connect With Your Higher Self

The Vulnerability Model

Their answer eventually turned out to be a problem – their addiction made their life more unmanageable.  Once they began to seek a way to live without addiction, they were thrown back on the challenge of how to be in this world that guarantees the loss and grief they had fled from years ago.  

These insights in addiction recovery lead to the development of The Vulnerability Model, which we started teaching to clients in the early 1980s and subsequently in training staff at treatment centers and psychosynthesis institutes throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, including several extensive seminars for the Italian Society for Psychosynthesis Therapy (S.I.P.T.) at the founder Roberto Assagioli’s institute in Florence.


Beyond Acceptance

If the first step of being with loss and grief is acceptance, is there another step, is there more? That is exactly the question that often comes up. Confronted with the difficult facts of life, people instinctively ask Is this it? Is this all there is? Is there more?   

There is more. The laws of reality we live inside of are absolutely true, and yet there is also the hidden aspect, the non-visible, the more. An analogy helps. We look at our right hand at the end of our right arm. Inside that hand is blood, tissue, muscle, energy, flow, dancing atoms, etc. but none of it is visible. It is just as real at the outer hand and, in fact, makes the outer hand work, but we need special instruments to see below the surface of the skin in order to realize the inner workings.  

Related: 9 Common Questions About the Higher Self, Asked By Spiritual Seekers

A New Lense

The same need is true for our mind and feelings trying to grasp loss and grief. The outer facts are painful.  This is undeniable. At the same time, there is much more under the surface. Our “special instruments” to see with are expansions of our consciousness. Facing imminent loss of life because of ovarian cancer, Gloria closed her eyes and used the psychosynthesis method of contact with her inner wisdom, her Higher Self. In her imagination, a man appeared on, of all things, a surf board and asked her to join him.  She refused. Mysteriously, he changed the board into a rubber raft, making it appear much safer for traveling. She got in, and they sailed together into a bright white light that had no limits. When she opened her eyes in the office several minutes later, she said, “Okay, I get it.  It will be okay.”  

In psychosynthesis, we get accustomed to this kind of intuitive wisdom coming to people.  We work interchangeably from a personal and a transpersonal perspective. Do such moments solve the fact of loss and grief? No. Do they bring us more to wonder about, to consider, to explore?  Do they bring mystery and hope? Yes.

What role do you think vulnerability plays in our lives?

Tell us in the comments below!