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What Is Transpersonal Psychology? A Comprehensive Guide
transpersonal psychology
Spiritual Health

What Is Transpersonal Psychology? A Comprehensive Guide

Staying non-judgmental is essential.

There are many subfields of psychology and even more types of therapy. There are specialties that focus on different perspectives, such as biological, developmental, abnormal, humanistic, behavioral, and cognitive. One more recently developed approach is transpersonal psychology, which is also called spiritual psychology.. 

Essentially, transpersonal psychology is a blend of the transcendental and spiritual aspects of human existence within a framework of psychology. This methodology takes a holistic approach, incorporating spiritual but non-religious experiences and extending beyond the individual to include creative potential, relationships with others, and other unique aspects of life. In this comprehensive guide, learn more about transpersonal psychology and whether it may be helpful to you. 


What Is Transpersonal Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, Transpersonal psychology is defined as "an area of humanistic psychology that focuses on the exploration of the nature, varieties, causes, and effects of ‘higher’ states of consciousness and transcendental experiences. Transpersonal refers to the concern with ends that transcend personal identity and individual, immediate desires."

In addition to looking at a person’s life experiences and straightforward emotional landscape, transpersonal psychology encompasses other realms of existence that are not typically addressed. These areas of introspection include a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs and experiences, mysticism, altered states of consciousness, relationships between people in their life, and personal development and potential. 

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In The Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology, writer Ken Wilber explained transpersonal psychology as “personal plus.” 

Transpersonal psychology may also be called several different names. It’s sometimes described as spiritual beyond-ego, integrative and holistic psychology. These approaches to understanding the human mind and experience explore the emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, social, and creative realms of the psyche. Additionally, a perons’ desires and needs are explored to develop a person’s self-understanding and well-being. This therapeutic approach seeks to foster healing and personal growth.

History of Transpersonal Psychology 

The concept behind transpersonal psychology emerged in the mid-20th century as a subfield of humanistic psychology, an approach that considers the whole person and connects their behavior to their experiences and inner thoughts and feelings. The roots of the transpersonal psychology approach can be found in the work of William James, Carl Jung, and Abraham Maslow.

Jung
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Psychologists who were interested in spirituality, personal development, and the impact of unique experiences like near-death experiences and altered states of consciousness began discussing and researching a more transcendental vision of psychology. Giving acceptance as a path to self-knowledge to such activities as taking psychedelic drugs was controversial. But what began as a fringe movement, eventually gained more credibility and acceptance. 

This new approach was named by one of the field’s founders, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, in the late 1960s, with the term “transpersonal” replacing the earlier name of “transhumanistic” psychology. 

Soon after, the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology was launched to publish scientific papers in the field, and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology was founded. In 1975, another pioneer of the field, Robert Frager, started the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, a center that continues to be a leading institute for transpersonal education, research, and therapy.

Key early, influential thinkers in this field include Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn. Their theories were followed by Stanisolv and Christina Grof, who developed the concept exploriging spiritual emergence. Another important contribution to the movement is Jorge Ferrer’s Revisioning Transpersonal Theory - A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality, which was published in 2001.

How Does Transpersonal Psychology Work?

Transpersonal psychology has been called the “psychology of the spirit” and may appeal most to those that are interested in finding the purpose and higher potential in their life. Additionally, those that are drawn to or open to their more spiritual, intuitive, or creative sides, and/or exploring other forms of consciousness may also find resonance in this transpersonal psychology. This therapeutic approach delves into finding meaning in our connectedness to each other and the universe beyond our own egos. In other words, it delves into life beyond just oneself, while also examining the whole person. 

This type of therapy and exploration holds space for the full spectrum of the human intellect, emotion, consciousness, beliefs, and experience, including altered or uncommon states of consciousness. Transpersonal psychology helps clients who seek transformation in their lives and are interested in achieving a higher potential. The broader perspective also gives full consideration to the many states of consciousness and unique experiences that impact the wellbeing and mental state of the whole person.

Transpersonal psychology also welcomes the wisdom of a variety of spiritual practices, such as Taoism, Hinduism, Kabbalah, Shamanism, Christian mysticism, and the belief systems of native peoples throughout the world into its viewpoint.

Kabbalah
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Topics of concern include exploring the self beyond the personal ego, childhood, and family life. The spirituality component can either focus on a specific religion, multiple religious traditions, or be non-religious in nature. Altered states of consciousness, mystical experiences, systemic trance, guided imagery, breathwork, yoga, religious beliefs, and other extraordinary experiences are valued as possible vehicles for learning about oneself and further developing as a person. Ultimately, transpersonal psychology is an attempt to explain, honor, and incorporate these spiritual experiences into modern psychology.

Who Might Benefit From Transpersonal Psychology?

Transpersonal psychology can be used to treat a variety of mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, self-development, addiction, health issues, spiritual awareness and openness, acceptance of transpersonal issues, spiritual crisis, end of life, relationship issues, and finding balance and meaning in one’s life. Keys of this approach focus on the following:

  • Achieving one’s goals and ultimate potential
  • Surpassing the limitations of the personal self
  • Exploring various states of consciousness
  • Seeking transcendence and scientific exploration of the consciousness
  • Exploring spirituality and the human spirit
  • Studying Relationships between the self and others
  • Finding Holism
  • Valuing the whole self
  • The use of psychedelics as a spiritual practice
psychedelic mushrooms
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This approach also is unique in that the therapist is not intended to be an expert or teacher but instead is considered more of a partner or guide of the client’s therapeutic journey. This method seeks to help the client discover their own truth by providing opportunities for them to unearth the personal knowledge they need on their path toward healing and becoming their best self. 

Also, essential to this process is that this type of therapy is non-judgmental and doesn’t impose on the client any specific end goals, beliefs, or ways of living or thinking. Instead, it offers a way to confront and work through a person’s full range of  experiences in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. The purpose is for the client to arrive at their own definition of what is “right” or “best” for them, ideally arriving at their own personal enlightenment.

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