Transpersonal Psychology

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Transpersonal psychology is a type of psychology and therapy that studies how matter and mind are connected with each other. It relies on a spiritual aspect of human experience and aims to help individuals heal on a deeper spiritual level, using a combination of traditional types of therapy such as behaviorism and humanism with mindfulness and philosophy.

Did you know that there is a type of psychological study and therapy that combines spiritual concepts with scientific research in order to work to understand the human experience? In fact, that’s what transpersonal psychology is all about. While many types of therapy and psychology focus on human behavior, transpersonal psychology claims that understanding the human mind goes beyond simple behaviors and habits.

Transpersonal psychology is a type of psychology and therapy that studies how matter and mind are connected with each other. It relies on a spiritual aspect of human experience and aims to help individuals heal on a deeper spiritual level, using a combination of traditional types of therapy such as behaviorism and humanism with mindfulness and philosophy.

In this article, we will explore what transpersonal psychology is, review its brief history, and provide some research-based insights about the effectiveness of this approach.

What is Transpersonal Psychology?

Transpersonal psychology is a type of psychological theory that relies on spiritual aspects to understand human nature. It was introduced in the 1960s by Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology, and a Czech-born psychiatrist, Stan Grof. In order to separate this field from humanistic psychology, Maslow introduced it as the “fourth force of Western psychology” (Vich, 1988), and nowadays, it’s still referred to with this status.

Even though spirituality is an integral aspect of transpersonal psychology, it’s important to note that this type of counseling has nothing to do with religion. Instead, it’s focused on the mind-body connection and uses various concepts from traditional schools of psychology such as philosophy, literature, cognition science, and even art to study the human experience as a whole.

The general meaning of the term “transpersonal” is related to extending something beyond an individual level of the psyche. It’s an experience in which the sense of self goes beyond the individual to encompass the hidden aspects of the world. In line with this meaning, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines transpersonal psychology as an area of humanistic psychology that tries to explore the nature and effects of higher states of consciousness.

However, Lajoie and Shapiro (1992) offered 40 definitions of transpersonal psychology and discovered that all of them had 4 key factors in common:

  • Spirituality
  • Higher potential
  • Transcendence
  • Other states of consciousness

After combining the common definitions of transpersonal psychology, they provided a unified definition based on which “Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness.”

A Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology

The history of transpersonal psychology goes back to the 1960s when people were in the process of examining psychedelic drugs. Back at this time, two Harvard psychologists, Timothy Leary, and Richard Alpert decided to discover and study hidden parts of the human psyche that were beyond our consciousness. Even though they were immediately fired from Harvard, their experience inspired other researchers to give rise to an entirely new field of transpersonal psychology.

Later, a humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed the holistic approach of transpersonal psychology with the help of Carl Jung and Roberto Assagioli. As he believed humans are unable to function properly without satisfying their basic needs. And only afterward can they move on to other needs that transcend their basic requirements for living.

Considering this, humans may be able to satisfy their transcendental needs through spiritual healing. Based on the transpersonal psychology approach, the real essence of transpersonal psychology relies on spirituality, and that’s one way for humans to thrive.

4 Forces of Western Psychology

Currently, transpersonal psychology is considered one of the 4 forces of Western psychology:

  • 1st – Psychoanalytic – Freud, Jung, Adler
  • 2nd – Behavioral – Skinner
  • 3rd – Humanistic – Maslow, Rogers, May, Perls
  • 4th – Transpersonal – Maslow, Sutich, Tart, Grof

The key difference between these schools of thought is that a psychoanalytic approach focuses on the impact of the unconscious mind on human behavior. In contrast to this, behaviorism proves that we can’t explain human behavior by internal forces such as emotion or cognition, and our behavior is completely determined by external factors. On the other hand, humanistic psychology was developed in response to the previous two forces of Western psychology and emphasizes helping people achieve their full potential.

While transpersonal psychology is the closest approach to a humanistic approach, it significantly differs from the traditional schools and tries to explain the impact of an individual’s holistic experience on their healing process.

Transpersonal psychologists usually use traditional therapeutic methods, but it transcends the common Biopsychosocial model. Instead, transpersonal psychologists have developed a “Bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” model in order to help therapists assess and analyze their clients’ conditions from a wider perspective and help them achieve holistic healing.

How Does a Transpersonal Approach Work? – Basic Elements

A transpersonal approach combines Western and Eastern philosophy with behaviorism and cognitive psychology and is based on the idea that both tangible and intangible aspects require being taken care of. While doctors, clinicians, and therapists specializing in other types of psychology and therapy can help people take care of tangible aspects such as their body and mind, transpersonal therapists aim to help individuals transcend their consciousness.

Practitioners who specialize in transpersonal therapy tend to use a wide range of strategies, most of which are related to spirituality. For example, they might use meditation, dream work, mindfulness, or guided visualization to help people perceive the world and themselves in the bigger picture and expand their scope by diving deep into their inner strengths. The purpose of these techniques is to create a balanced life and improve psychological well-being.

These are the most common techniques that transpersonal therapists use in counseling sessions:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Visualization
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Journaling
  • Music therapy

Effectiveness of Transpersonal Therapy

While scientists conduct various types of studies to assess the effectiveness of therapies with empirical foundations, the research area in the transpersonal therapy field isn’t very diverse. However, some studies still prove its effectiveness in reducing the symptoms of specific disorders (such as depression and anxiety).

In particular, a study about the effectiveness of transpersonal therapy in women with breast cancer suggests that techniques such as visualization, affirmation, and release reduce the symptoms of depression (Fourianalistyawati, 2010). Besides, based on the latest study, transpersonal group psychotherapy turns out to be effective at reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in cancer patients (Mallamace et al., 2021).

Based on the study results, counselors tend to use transpersonal therapy techniques in order to help people overcome the following conditions:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • PTSD and traumas
  • Grief
  • Relationship challenges
  • Existential crises

Is The Transpersonal Approach Right For You?

Despite the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of transpersonal therapy, this approach might not be suitable for everyone. The reason is that it’s based on specific spiritual practices and requires a particular mindset or worldview from individuals to be effective.

Generally, this holistic approach is especially suitable for individuals who are interested in spirituality and seek guidance to improve the body-mind connection. Transpersonal therapy will help you become more spiritually aware and explore the hidden parts of yourself in your consciousness.

Where to Find a Transpersonal Psychologist?

If you’d like to give the transpersonal counseling approach a try and improve your mental health condition with holistic forms of healing, you should try to find a licensed counselor who specializes in transpersonal counseling.

Although there are not many psychotherapy clinics that provide services related to transpersonal psychology, you can take advantage of transpersonal counseling services at Health for Life Counseling in Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI. Licensed therapists with us combine a psychological framework with transpersonal psychology techniques to empower clients to feel comfortable on their spiritual pathways and heal. There are also therapists at Health for Life Counseling who focus on counseling for spiritual issues.

Therapists For Transpersonal Psychology

Billie Walters

Intuitive Counseling, EMDR Therapy, and Reiki

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