What Is Transpersonal Therapy
Clinical Psychotherapist; Psychological Counsellor
Transpersonal Psychotherapist, & Shamanic Psychotherapist
Somatic Experiencing; & Sensorimotor Trauma Psychotherapist
Transpersonal Psychotherapy originally came into recognition in the West in the 1960’s as a therapy that was regarded as the “fourth force” in psychology. It was specifically referred to as the “fourth force” as it was a therapy that was inclusive of the human spirit, experiences of spirituality, religious experiences, the dimensions of consciousness/altered states of consciousness, and ego focused psychology. The inclusiveness of the human spirit, spirituality, religion, and consciousness research beyond the ego, therefore differentiated Transpersonal Psychotherapy from the first three theoretical orientations to psychology that included Psychoanalysis, Behavioural Psychology, and Humanism. This fourth force of psychology and psychotherapy is currently gaining more credibility. There is a growing acceptance that a psychology method devoid of a transpersonal understanding is limiting and diminishing to the understanding of our true full human nature. Transpersonal psychology/psychotherapy is a therapy that assists us in remembering that human nature has a spiritual heart and transcendent and authentic source.
Transpersonal Psychotherapy differentiates between Spirituality, and Religion. Whilst organised religion is imbued with spiritual meaning, a person’s spiritual experiences may be completely separate from any religious faith. Smith in “The Tablet” (1996) clarifies the distinction of spirituality and religion as:
“Spirituality is the dimension of our being related to the physical and psychological dimension which gives our life meaning and calls us towards our higher self usually expressed as some form of relationship with a Divine being”.
My suggestion is that this would also include a relationship with an intelligent creative Universe/Spirit that lives within, between, and around us as stated by Martin Buber.
“Religion (stated by Smith: 1996) is a particular framework…which includes a belief structure, a moral code, an authority structure and a form of worship, within which people find nourishment for the spiritual dimension of their lives”.
The distinction between spirituality and religion is an important distinction in Transpersonal Psychotherapy, as many individuals regularly encounter spiritual and mystical experiences outside of any religious order. For example a spiritual experience may happen in a moment of bitting into a fresh crisp apple where for a moment time appears to stand still and a feeling of unity emerges in the eternal present and sole identification with an ego self is transcended, it may happen through present moment connection with another where all separation is eliminated and the uniqueness of the other is confirmed, in mediation, dance giving rise to moments of union and ecstasy, holotropic breath work, moments of ‘enlightenment’, surfing/swimming, fasting, running, deep relaxation, and prayer. There are numerous ways in which a spiritual experience can emerge that is often deeply meaningful and healing for an individual.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of Light,
but by making the darkness conscious”
– Carl Jung
The fore-mentioned and immediately below quote by Carl Jung a recognised leader in the field of Transpersonal Psychology brings attention to the importance of psychological therapy as a process of the revealing the dynamics of the continuation of consciousness (what we in the west refer to as the unconscious and inclusive of what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious) to awareness for integration and wholeness. Spirituality from this perspective is not purely about the transcendence of ego identity. It is also a process of becoming fully authentically integrated and expressing our humane authenticity with an awareness of our impact upon the world. We do not live in isolation. Every choice and action we embody has a ripple effect within our own systems and within the world. By taking responsibility for our darkness, our shadow (disowned aspects of the self both positive and negative) we make our darkness light. In this way we bring our authentic humane spiritual light/enlightenment to the world.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are”
– Carl Jung
Stanley Grof, a contemporary figure in the Transpersonal movement, states that the transpersonal experience “involve an expansion or extension of consciousness beyond the usual boundaries and the limitations of time and/or space”; and therefore beyond ego personality functioning. In this regard what Grof is referring to is the scientific findings of the human mind being Non Local extending beyond ordinary mechanical space and time theories. Grof has devoted his professional life to understanding the nature of spiritual experiences, and altered states/non ordinary states of consciousness in holotropic breath work.
Robert Assagioli discerned this phenomena of mind when he referred we not only have a conscious, subconscious, and unconscious state of mind, we also have what he referred to as the Superconscious that houses our spiritual instincts. At the further most expression of the Superconscious within each of us he stated is the Higher Self.
Walsh & Vaughan (1993) expand on the transpersonal phenomena or experience further as “the sense of identity of self extends beyond (‘trans) the individual or personality to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, or cosmos”. Here again we see reference to an expandedness extending beyond the boundaries of the ego into a feeling of unity, interconnectedness, and a sense of identity that is beyond the our everyday egoic conditioned self. The ego is the part of us that has been conditioned by culture, society, and family, and forms our everyday habituated personality.
Transpersonal Psychotherapy starts from the premise that views the human psyche as having an Essential Self/Essence, and consciousness that is connected to and part of the nature of the infinite unitive universe/cosmos. There is no separation, and because there is no separation many experiences arise that are not solely within the domain of our rational cognitive functioning.
From this perspective consciousness is regarded as not purely a brain process, but it is a broader inter-related field process that does involve the brain and human nervous system and yet is beyond the physical brain. This rests upon the theory that consciousness and spirit pervade all of life as an intelligent force of creation involving atoms, molecules, quarks, superstring vibrations, and preons all inter-related and communicating. This understanding of the transpersonal is not separated from up to-date science, rather contemporary science is confirming this.
The scientific research untaken by Bohm’s theory of Wholeness and Implicate Order findings, Field Theory, and research in non-local consciousness, along with research in ancient wisdom and spiritual approaches are all implicit in a Transpersonal Psychotherapy approach.
In fundamentally acknowledging the significant role of the human spirit and consciousness in supporting the healing of human distress, transpersonal psychotherapy explores experiences of altered states/non ordinary states of consciousness/Being, the processes of the unconscious (individual and collective), sub and superconscious, the non conscious, near death experiences, mystical, religious, and paranormal experiences, visions and dreams, synchronistic experiences, deeper intuitions, and past lives. It has also investigates meditation, shamanic journeying, prayer, contemplative practices, vision questing, active imagination, distant healing, consciousness and the biology of beliefs, hypnosis, and exceptional human abilities.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fundamentally as previously stated, an understanding of the unconscious is also central to Transpersonal Psychotherapy. The work of Carl Jung is most prominent in this area. The interface between awareness, the unconscious, non-conscious and transpersonal experiences are fluid to a lesser or greater degree depending upon the depth of inner work an individual has undertaken.
“When an inner situation is not made conscious
it appears outside as fate”
– Carl Jung
In conclusion, at the heart of a Transpersonal Psychotherapy practice is integration of time honoured spiritual wisdom practices and experiences, with the latest science of consciousness, the non and un-conscious, and ego psychology. Transpersonal Psychotherapy is a holistic encompassing approach to our humanity. It respects the multifaceted aspects of our experiences, many of which some people find difficult to speak about in conventional psychological therapy. A trained Transpersonal Therapist can offer a facilitated exploration of your essential nature and broader consciousness and spiritual experiences with a deep understanding, and without judgement.
I wish to acknowledge a number of transpersonal researchers that have contributed to the working model of Transpersonal Psychotherapy & Counselling Australia. In particular the work of Carl Jung, Martin Buber, Stanislav Grof, William James, Roberto Assagioli, Victor Frankl, Abraham Maslow, Stanley Krippner, Charles Tart, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Fritz Perls, Ernesto Spinelli, James Bugental, and Kirk Schneider, Krishnamurti, and the Medicine People I have had the honour to encounter.
“Meaning In Life is limited and unsustainable without
reaching out for something greater and higher than self interest”
– Paul T. P. Wong
Buber, M. (1970). I and thou (W. Kaufmann, Trans.) New York: Scribner’s.
Bohm, D (1980) Wholeness and Implicate Order: Routledge & Kegan; New York
Jung, C. The Collected Works of Carl G Jung (Volumes 1 – 20)
Keutzer (1982) Physics and Consciousness: Journal of Humanistic Psychology Vol.22
Porter, S. E, & Hayes, M, & Tombs, D (2001) Faith In The Mellennium
Grof, S: online @ www.stanislavgrof.com
Smith, A (1996) cited in Porter, S. E, & Hayes, M, & Tombs, D (2001) Faith In The Mellennium
Walsh, R and F. Vaughan (1993) Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision
Walsh, R and F. Vaughan (1993). On transpersonal definitions. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol. 25, No2, pp. 199-207