2 June 2019

32nd ECNP Congress 2019

25 May 2019

14th International Conference on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

15 May 2019

Mental Health Conference 2019 — Annual Conference on Mental Health


Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a sub-field or "school" of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology. It is also possible to define it as a "spiritual psychology". The transpersonal is defined as "experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos".[1] It has also been defined as "development beyond conventional, personal or individual levels".[2]

Issues considered in transpersonal psychology include spiritual self-development, self beyond the ego, peak experiences, mystical experiences, systemic trance, spiritual crises, spiritual evolution, religious conversion, altered states of consciousness, spiritual practices, and other sublime and/or unusually expanded experiences of living. The discipline attempts to describe and integrate spiritual experience within modern psychological theory and to formulate new theory to encompass such experience.

Transpersonal psychology has made several contributions to the academic field, and the studies of human development, consciousness and spirituality.[3][4] Transpersonal psychology has also made contributions to the fields of psychotherapy[5] and psychiatry.[6][7]


Lajoie and Shapiro[8] reviewed forty definitions of transpersonal psychology that had appeared in academic literature over the period from 1968 to 1991. They found that five key themes in particular featured prominently in these definitions: states of consciousness; higher or ultimate potential; beyond the ego or personal self; transcendence; and the spiritual. Based upon this study the authors proposed the following definition of Transpersonal Psychology: 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.

In a review of previous definitions Walsh and Vaughan[1] suggested that Transpersonal psychology is an area of psychology that focuses on the study of transpersonal experiences and related phenomena. These phenomena include the causes, effects and correlates of transpersonal experiences and development, as well as the disciplines and practices inspired by them. They have also criticised many definitions of transpersonal psychology for carrying implicit assumptions, or presuppositons, that may not necessarily define the field as a whole. Note a

Hartelius, Caplan and Rardin[9] conducted a retrospective analysis of definitions of Transpersonal Psychology. They found three dominant themes that define the field: beyond-ego psychology, integrative/holistic psychology, and psychology of transformation. Analysis suggested that the field has moved from an early emphasis on alternative states of consciousness to a more expanded view of human wholeness and transformation. This development has, according to the authors, moved the field closer to the integral approaches of Ken Wilber and Post-Aurobindonian theorists.

Caplan (2009: p. 231) conveys the genesis of the discipline, states its mandate and ventures a definition:

Although transpersonal psychology is relatively new as a formal discipline, beginning with the publication of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969 and the founding of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1971, it draws upon ancient mystical knowledge that comes from multiple traditions. Transpersonal psychologists attempt to integrate timeless wisdom with modern Western psychology and translate spiritual principles into scientifically grounded, contemporary language. Transpersonal psychology addresses the full spectrum of human psychospiritual development – from our deepest wounds and needs, to the existential crisis of the human being, to the most transcendent capacities of our consciousness.[10]

The perspectives of holism and unity are central to the worldview of Transpersonal psychology.[11]

Development of the academic field

Amongst the thinkers who are held to have set the stage for transpersonal studies are William James, Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli and Abraham Maslow.[3][11][12][13][14] More recent attention has brought to light transpersonal aspects of Jean Piaget’s untranslated French works, and argued that Piaget's transpersonal experiences and theoretical interests were a major motivation for Piaget’s psychological research.[15] A review by Vich[16] suggests that the earliest usage of the term "transpersonal" can be found in lecture notes which William James had prepared for a semester at Harvard University in 1905-6. The meaning then, different from today's usage, was in the context of James’ radical empiricism, in which there exists an intimate relation between a perceiving subject and a perceived object, recognizing that all objects are dependent on being perceived by someone.[17] Commentators[18] also mention the psychedelic movement, the psychological study of religion, parapsychology, and the interest in Eastern spiritual systems and practices, as influences that shaped the early field of transpersonal psychology.

Another important figure in the establishment of transpersonal psychology was Abraham Maslow, who had already published work regarding human peak experiences. Maslow is credited for having presented the outline of a fourth-force psychology, named transhumanistic psychology, in a lecture entitled "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" in 1967.[19] In 1968 Maslow was among the people who announced Transpersonal psychology as a "fourth force" in psychology,[20] in order to distinguish it from the three other forces of psychology: psychoanalysis, behaviorism and humanistic psychology. Early use of the term "transpersonal" can also be credited to Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich. At this time, in 1967-68, Maslow was also in close dialogue with Grof and Sutich regarding the name and orientation of the new field.[16]

Both Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology have been associated with the Human Potential Movement. A growth center for alternative therapies and philosophies that grew out of the counter-culture of the 1960s at places like Esalen, California.[21][22][23][24][25]

Formative period

Gradually, during the 1960s, the term "transpersonal" was associated with a distinct school of psychology within the humanistic psychology movement.[20] In 1969, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich were among the initiators behind the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the leading academic journal in the field.[19][20] During the next decade significant establishments took place under the banner of Transpersonal Psychology. The Association for Transpersonal Psychology was established in 1972.[21] This was soon to be followed by the founding of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, a graduate training center, in 1975 .[21][26] The institute was founded by Robert Frager and James Fadiman[26][27] in response to the academic climate of the 1970s, and incluced transpersonal and spiritual approaches to psychology.[26]

In the 1980s the field developed through the works of such authors as Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, Frances Vaughan, Roger Walsh, Michael Washburn, Charles Tart and Seymour Boorstein. Wilber, a major figure in the early transpersonal field,[3][28] published a number of books and articles at the start of the decade which reflected the development of Transpersonal theory. Among these we find The Atman Project - a transpersonal view of human development (1980).[29] Washburn, drawing on the insights of Jungian depth psychology, presented his transpersonal theory in a book called The Ego and the Dynamic Ground. A Transpersonal Theory of Human Development (1988).[30] This decade is also characterized by the work of Stanislav and Christina Grof, and their concept of spiritual emergence and spiritual emergencies.[31]

The period also reflected initiatives at the organizational level. In the early 1980s a group within APA division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) argued in favor of establishing Transpersonal psychology as a separate division within the framework of the American Psychological Association. A petition was presented to the APA Council in 1984, but was turned down. A new initiative was made in 1985, but it failed to win the majority of votes in the council. In 1986 the petition was presented for a third and final time, but was withdrawn by the executive board of Division 32.[9][21] The interest group later re-formed as the Transpersonal Psychology Interest Group (TPIG), and continued to promote transpersonal issues in collaboration with Division 32.[21]

The 1990s introduced new profiles who contributed important insights to the field. Among these authors we find Brant Cortright, Stuart Sovatsky, David Lukoff, Robert P. Turner and Francis Lu. Cortright[32] and Sovatsky[33] made contributions to Transpersonal psychotherapy. Both authors published their primary work as part of the SUNY-series.Note b Lukoff, Turner and Lu, writers in the clinical field, were the authors behind the proposal for a new diagnostic category to be included in the DSM-manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The category was called "Psychoreligious or psychospiritual problem" and was approved by the Task Force on DSM-IV in 1993, after changing its name to Religious or spiritual problem.[6][34] While Wilber has been considered an influential writer and theoretician in the field, his split from the field of Transpersonal psychology became more evident towards the end of the 1990s when he founded the Integral Institute.

On the organizational side the decade was marked by a steady increase in membership for the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, stabilizing at approximately 3000 members in the early nineties.[20] In 1996 the British Psychological Society (the UK professional body equivalent to the APA) established a Transpersonal Psychology Section. It was co-founded by David Fontana, Ingrid Slack and Martin Treacy and was, according to Fontana, "the first Section of its kind in a Western scientific society".[35][36]

In the second half of the decade commentators remarked that the field of Transpersonal psychology had grown steadily[20] and rapidly.[3]

Later developments

The beginning of the 2000s was marked by the revisionary project of Jorge Ferrer, which is considered to be an important contribution to the field.[37] His main publication from this era, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory - A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (2001),[38] was part of the SUNY Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology.

In 2012 the Institute of Transpersonal psychology announced that it was changing its name to Sofia University. A change that included a new profile in the academic landscape, with an expanded graduate program.[39]

Branches and related fields

There are several psychological schools, or branches, which have influenced the field of Transpersonal psychology. Among these schools we find the Analytical psychology of Carl Jung,[3][12][32] the psychosynthesis of Roberto Assagioli,[3][13] and the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow.[3][13] The major transpersonal models of psychotherapy, as reviewed by Cortright,[32] are the models of Ken Wilber, C.G Jung, Michael Washburn, Stanislav Grof and Hameed Ali.

Dr. William J. Barry established transpersonal psychology as a valid action research method in the field of education through his Ph.D. thesis and development of Transformational Quality (TQ) Theory.[40] Applications to the areas of business studies and management have been developed. Other transpersonal disciplines, such as transpersonal anthropology and transpersonal business studies, are listed in transpersonal disciplines.

Transpersonal art is one of the disciplines considered by Boucovolas,[41] in listing how transpersonal psychology may relate to other areas of transpersonal study. In writing about transpersonal art, Boucovolas begins by noting how, according to Breccia and also to the definitions employed by the International Transpersonal Association in 1971, transpersonal art may be understood as art work which draws upon important themes beyond the individual self, such as the transpersonal consciousness. This makes transpersonal art criticism germane to mystical approaches to creativity. Transpersonal art criticism, as Boucovolas notes, can be considered that which claims conventional art criticism has been too committed to stressing rational dimensions of art and has subsequently said little on art's spiritual dimensions, or as that which holds art work has a meaning beyond the individual person. Certain aspects of the psychology of Carl Jung, as well as movements such as music therapy and art therapy, may also relate to the field. Boucovolas' paper cites Breccia (1971) as an early example of transpersonal art, and claims that at the time his article appeared, integral theorist Ken Wilber had made recent contributions to the field. More recently, the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, in 2005, Volume 37, launched a special edition devoted to the media, which contained articles on film criticism that can be related to this field.

Several academic fields have a strong relation to the field of Transpersonal psychology. Related academic fields include Near-death studies, Parapsychology and Humanistic psychology. The major findings of Near-death studies are represented in the Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology,[4] and in the The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology.[42] The Near-death experience is also discussed in relation to other transpersonal and spiritual categories.[6] The major findings of Parapsychology are also represented in the Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology,[4] and in the The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology.[42]

There is also a strong connection between the transpersonal and the humanistic approaches to psychology, as indicated by the sourcebook of Donald Moss.[43][44] Although Transpersonal Psychology is considered to have started off within,[21] or developed from humanistic psychology, many of its interests, such as spirituality and modes of consciousness, extend beyond the areas of interest discussed by humanistic theory.[18] According to writers in the field[18] transpersonal psychology advocates for an expanded, spiritual, view of physical and mental health that is not necessarily addressed by humanistic psychology.

Transpersonal psychology may also, sometimes, be associated with New Age beliefs.[45] However, leading authors in the field, among those Sovatsky,[33] and Rowan,[46] have criticized the nature of "New Age"-philosophy and discourse. Rowan[46] even states that "The Transpersonal is not the New Age".[47] In his review and criticism of the field of Transpersonal Psychology Friedman[45] emphasizes that a responsible Transpersonal science must express reservations towards "New Age"-ideas and philosophies.

Although some consider that the distinction between transpersonal psychology and the psychology of religion, is fading (e.g. The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality), there is still generally considered to be a clear distinction between the two. Much of the focus of psychology of religion is concerned with issues that wouldn't be considered 'transcendent' within transpersonal psychology, so the two disciplines do have quite a distinct focus.[48]

Research, theory and clinical aspects
Research interests and methodology

The transpersonal perspective spans many research interests. The following list is adapted from the Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology[4] and includes: the contributions of spiritual traditions such as Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism, Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, Shamanism, and Native American healing to psychiatry and psychology; Meditation research and clinical aspects of meditation; Psychedelics; Parapsychology; Anthropology; Diagnosis of Religious and Spiritual Problem; Offensive Spirituality and Spiritual Defenses; Phenomenology and Treatment of Kundalini; Psychotherapy; Near-Death Experience; Religious Cults; Psychopharmacology; Guided Imagery; Breathwork; Past life therapy; Ecological survival and Social change; Aging and adult spiritual development.

The research of Transpersonal psychology is based upon both quantitative and qualitative methods,[11] but some commentators, such as Taylor, has suggested that the main contribution of Transpersonal psychology has been to provide alternatives to the quantitative methods of mainstream psychology.[11] Although the field has not been a significant contributor of empirical knowledge on clinical issues,[18] it has contributed important quantitative research to areas such as the study of meditation.[11]

Theories on human development

One of the demarcations in transpersonal theory is between authors who are associated with hierarchical/holarchical, sequential, or stage-like models of human development, such as Ken Wilber and John Battista, and authors who are associated with Jungian perspectives, or models that include the principle of regression, such as Michael Washburn and Stanislav Grof.

Ken Wilber and John Battista

The transpersonal psychology of Ken Wilber is often mentioned as an influential theoretical framework for the field.[3][9][18][28] Wilber is often regarded as a leading theorist[9] and pioneer of the transpersonal movement,[3] but he has not been actively associated with the label for quite some time. Several commentators[9][28][49] note that he has distanced himself from the transpersonal field in favour of a new model that he calls Integral. However, his psychological model still remains influential to the practice and development of Transpersonal psychology,[18] and transpersonal themes remain a central part of his own work. His initial contribution to the understanding of human development was a spectrum-model of psychology,[3][18][50][51][52] originally outlined in his first books, «The spectrum of consciousness» (1977)[53] and The Atman Project - A transpersonal view of human development (1980).[29] The books might superficially be described as a synthesis of east and west;[54] an integration of the spiritual philosophies of Hindu-Buddhist traditions with the developmental and spiritual psychologies of western academia.

Wilber's spectrum of consciousness consists of three broad developmental categories: the prepersonal or pre-egoic, the personal or egoic, and the transpersonal or trans-egoic.[3] A more detailed version of this spectrum theory includes nine different levels of human development, in which levels 1-3 are pre-personal levels, levels 4-6 are personal levels and levels 7-9 are transpersonal levels.[55] Later versions also include a tenth level.[56][57] The transpersonal stages, or the upper levels of the spectrum, are the home of spiritual events and developments.[18][50] The framework proposed by Wilber suggests that human development is a progressive movement through these stages of consciousness.[52][55] The model implies that different schools of psychology are associated with different levels of the spectrum,[51][54] and that each level of organization, or self-development, includes a vulnerability to certain pathologies associated with that particular level.[18][52][55] Each level also represents developmental tasks that must be properly met, or they might lead to developmental arrest.[50] A basic tenet of Wilber's transpersonal psychology is a concept called the "pre/trans fallacy". That is, a confusion of transpersonal progression with prepersonal regression.[54] According to writers in the field[51] western schools of psychology have had a tendency to regard transpersonal levels as pathological, equating them with regressive pathological conditions belonging to a lower level on the spectrum. The pre/trans fallacy describes a lack of differentiation between these two categories.

The 1990s marked a move into the world of integral ideas for Wilber, and it shifted the weight of his academic project from the domain of psychology to the domain of philosophy. Psychology is still an important aspect of his project, but it is now informed by a wider background of integral ideas.[58] The idea of evolution as a spiritual concept is reflected in the title of his main publication from this era; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - The Spirit of Evolution (1995).[56][59] A simplified version of his developmental model, used both by himself[60] and commentators,[28] describes the levels of consciousness to be ranging from matter, to body, to mind, to soul, to spirit. This "Great Chain of Being", an overarching framework that is adapted from the "perennial philosophy" of the worlds great spiritual traditions, is later reformulated by Wilber as the "Great Nest of Being."[28][54] The integral phase of his philosophy introduces the idea of a holarchy of human development. Not just a simple linear hierarchy, but a kind of nested hierarchy.[51][56][60] Human development, and evolution, is considered to move up this holarchy.[51] Later versions of Wilber's psychological model, in its integral phase, sees human development in the context of waves of consciousness (developmental levels), streams of consciousness (developmental lines), states of consciousness, and the self-system. The idea of a stage-like unfolding of human development is still central to his thinking, but he also presents the idea that development is a "fluid" and "flowing" affair, which includes overlapping features. In his later writing Wilber has expressed reservations towards the concept of linearity that commentators often apply to his model, and has suggested that overall development might be both uneven and non-linear, or partial and fractured.[60]

Similar to the model presented by Wilber is the information theory of consciousness presented by John Battista. Battista suggests that the development of the self-system, and of human psychology, consists of a series of transitions in the direction of enhanced maturity and psychological stability, and in the direction of transpersonal and spiritual categories. His model presents a series of developmental tasks with corresponding levels of consciousness and psychopathology, and discusses therapeutic interventions in relation to the different levels and transitions.[61]

Michael Washburn and Stanislav Grof

In contrast to Wilber and Battista, Michael Washburn[62][63] and Stanislav Grof[64][65][66] present models of human development that are not hierarchical/holarchical or stage-like.

Michael Washburn presents a model of human development that is informed by psychoanalysis, object-relations theory,[67] and the depth psychology of the Jungian perspective.[50][51][67] According to Washburn transpersonal development follows the principles of a spiraling path.[45][67] He calls this perspective the "spiral dynamic perspective".[68] Central to his model is the understanding of a dynamic ground, a deep level of the unconscious, that the person is in contact with in the prepersonal stages of development (up to age 5). Later in life this contact is weakened.[67] Washburn suggests that transpersonal development requires a kind of U-turn,[51][67] or going back to this ground,[51] in order for the psyche to become integrated with its unconscious dynamics. Thereby development in the direction of transpersonal categories,[50] or a fully embodied life,[67] is made possible.

However, Washburn has proposed a dialogue between the structural-hierarchical perspective of Wilber and the spiral-dynamic perspective of depth psychologists like himself. He differentiates between two dimensions of psychoanalytically oriented psychology; ego-functions and dynamic potentials. He suggests that these two dimensions of the psyche unfold along different developmental tracks. Ego-functions in a holarchical manner, as suggested by the structural-hierarchical perspective of Wilber, and dynamic potentials in a spiraling manner, as suggested by his own spiral-dynamic perspective. According to Washburn the deep sources of life "have been submerged", but they can be "restored on a higher, transpersonal level". His understanding of dynamic potentials, or psychic resources, is that these potentials can have both pre-personal and transpersonal expressions. However, he does not consider these potentials to be stage specific. They are therefore, according to his model, not well represented by Wilber's structural-hierarchical paradigm. He points out that dynamic potentials can be expressed in early development, but later submerged or quieted during personal stages of development. They can resurface in later development as transpersonal potentials. Thus signalling a spiral path.[68]

Stanislav Grof, on the other hand, operates with a cartography consisting of three kinds of territories: the realm of the sensory barrier and the personal unconscious (described by psychoanalysis), the perinatal or birth-related realm (organizing principles for the psyche), and the transpersonal realm.[28][50] According to this view proper engagement with the first two realms sets the stage for an ascent to the third, transpersonal, realm.[50] His early therapy, and research, was carried out with the aid of psychedelic substances such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, dipropyl-tryptamine (DPT), and methylene-dioxy-amphetamine (MDA).[69][70] Later, when LSD was prohibited, Grof developed other methods of therapy, such as holotropic breathwork.[70][71]

His early findings,[72] which were based on observations from LSD research, uncovered four major types of experiences that, according to Grof, correspond to levels in the human unsconscious: (1) Abstract and aesthetic experiences; (2) Psychodynamic experiences; (3) Perinatal experiences; (4) Transpersonal experiences. Grof returns to many of these findings in later books.[70] Psychodynamic levels, which correspond to the theory of Sigmund Freud, is the area of biographical memories, emotional problems, unresolved conflicts and fantasies. Perinatal levels, which correspond to the theories of Otto Rank, is the area of physical pain and agony, dying and death, biological birth, aging, disease and decrepitude. Transpersonal levels, corresponding to the theories of C.G Jung, is the area of a number of spiritual, paranormal and transcendental experiences, including ESP phenomena, ego transcendence and other states of expanded consciousness. In order to bring structure to the psychodynamic and perinatal levels Grof introduces two governing systems, or organizing principles: The COEX-system, which is the governing system for the psychodynamic level, and the Basic Perinatal Matrices, which represent the birthing stages and is the governing system for the perinatal level.[70][72]

Grof applies regressional modes of therapy (originally with the use of psychedelic substances, later with other methods) in order to seek greater psychological integration. This has led to the confrontation of constructive and deconstructive models of the process leading to genuine mental health: what Wilber sees as a pre/trans fallacy does not exist for Washburn and Grof, for pre-rational states may be genuinely transpersonal, and re-living them may be essential in the process of achieving genuine sanity.[73]

Stuart Sovatsky

The idea of development is also featured in the spiritual psychotherapy and psychology of Stuart Sovatsky. His understanding of human development, which is largely informed by east/west psychology and the tradition and hermeneutics of Yoga, places the human being in the midst of spiritual energies and processes outlined in yogic philosophy. According to Sovatsky these are maturational processes, affecting body and soul.[33][74] Sovatsky adapts the concept of Kundalini as the maturational force of human development. According to his model a number of advanced yogic processes are said to assist in "maturation of the ensouled body".[75]

Transpersonal theory of Jorge Ferrer

The scholarship of Jorge Ferrer introduces a more pluralistic and participatory perspective on spiritual and ontological dimensions. In his revision of transpersonal theory Ferrer questions three major presuppositions, or frameworks for interpretation, that have been dominant in transpersonal studies. These are the frameworks of Experientalism (the transpersonal understood as an individual inner experience); Inner empiricism (the study of transpersonal phenomena according to the standards of empiricist science); and perennialism (the legacy of the perennial philosophy in transpersonal studies).[23][28][38][49][76][77] Although representing important frames of reference for the initial study of transpersonal phenomena, Ferrer believes that these assumptions have become limiting and problematic for the development of the field.[77]

As an alternative to these major epistemological and philosophical trends Ferrer focuses upon the great variety, or pluralism, of spiritual insights and spiritual worlds that can be disclosed by transpersonal inquiry. In contrast to the transpersonal models that are informed by the "perennial philosophy" he introduces the idea of a “dynamic and indeterminate spiritual power.”[38][77] Along these lines he also introduces the metaphor of the "ocean of emancipation". According to Ferrer "the ocean of emancipation has many shores". That is, different spiritual truths can reached by arriving at different spiritual shores.[38]

The second aspect of his revision, "the participatory turn", introduces the idea that transpersonal phenomena are participatory and co-creative events. He defines these events as "emergences of transpersonal being that can occur not only in the locus of an individual, but also in a relationship, a community, a collective identity or a place." This participatory knowing is multidimensional, and includes all the powers of the human being (body/heart/soul), as understood from a transpersonal framework.[38][49][68][76] According to Jaenke[77] Ferrers vision includes a spiritual reality that is plural and multiple, and a spiritual power that may produce a wide range of revelations and insights, which in turn may be overlapping, or even incompatible.

Transpersonal psychotherapy

Early contributions to the field of Transpersonal Psychotherapy includes the approach of Walsh & Vaughan. In their outline of transpersonal therapy they emphasize that the goals of therapy includes both traditional outcomes, such as symptom relief and behaviour change, as well as work at the transpersonal level, which may transcend psychodynamic issues. Both Karma Yoga and altered states of consciousness are part of the transpersonal approach to therapy. According to Walsh & Vaughan the context of karma yoga, and service, should also facilitate a process whereby the psychological growth of the therapist could provide supporting environment for the growth of the client.[78]

Several authors in the field have presented an integration of western psychotherapy with spiritual psychology, among these Stuart Sovatsky and Brant Cortright. In his reformulation of western psychotherapy Sovatsky addresses the questions of time, temporality and soteriology from the perspectives of east/west psychology and spirituality. Besides drawing on the insights of post-freudians, such as D.W. Winnicott, Sovatsky integrates his approach to psychotherapy with an expanded understanding of body and mind, informed by the philosophy of Yoga.[33][74]

Cortright, on the other hand, has reviewed the field of transpersonal psychotherapy and the major transpersonal models of psychotherapy, including Wilber, Jung, Washburn, Grof and Ali, as well as existential, psychoanalytic, and body-centered approaches. He also presents a unifying theoretical framework for the field of Transpersonal Psychotherapy, and identifies the dimension of human consciousness as central to the transpersonal realm. He also addresses clinical issues related to meditation, spiritual emergency, and altered states of consciousness. [5][32] According to commentators[5] Cortright challenges the traditional view, of Transpersonal Psychology, that a working through of psychological issues is necessary for progression on the spiritual path. Instead he suggests that these two lines of development are intertwined, and that they come to the foreground with shifting emphasis.

It has been suggested that, from a clinical point of view, postulating a transcendent dimension to human experience is theoretically necessary in promoting non-reductive approaches to therapy.[79]

Clinical and diagnostic issues

Transpersonal psychology has also brought clinical attention to the topic of spiritual crisis. Note d Many of the psychological difficulties associated with a spiritual crisis are not ordinarily discussed by mainstream psychology. Among these clinical problems are psychiatric complications related to mystical experience; near-death experience; Kundalini awakening; shamanic crisis (also called shamanic illness); psychic opening; intensive meditation; separation from a spiritual teacher; medical or terminal illness; addiction.[6][7] The terms "spiritual emergence" and "spiritual emergency" were coined by Stanislav and Christina Grof[31][80] in order to describe the appearance of spiritual phenomena, and spiritual processes, in a persons life.Note e The term "spiritual emergence" describes a gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with little disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning.[6][7] In cases where the emergence of spiritual phenomena is intensified beyond the control of the individual it may lead to a state of "spiritual emergency". A spiritual emergency may cause significant disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning.[6][7][50][81] Many of the psychological difficulties described above can, according to Transpersonal theory, lead to episodes of spiritual emergency.[6]Note f

At the beginning of the 1990s a group of psychologists and psychiatrist, affiliated with the field of Transpersonal psychology, saw the need for a new psychiatric category involving religious and spiritual problems. Their concern was that the mental health professions of the day did not have a good understanding of the religious and spiritual dimensions of mental health.[6][34] There was also a concern about the possible misdiagnosis of spiritual emergencies.[80] Based on an extensive literature review, and networking with the American Psychiatric Association Committee on Religion and Psychiatry, the group made a proposal for a new diagnostic category entitled "Psychoreligious or Psychospiritual Problem".[6][34] The proposal was submitted to the Task Force on DSM-IV in 1991. The category was approved by the Task Force in 1993, after changing the title to "Religious or Spiritual Problem".[6][82][83] It is included in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV),[3][81][84][85]Note g and the subsequent text-revision, DSM-IV-TR.[86][87]

According to the authors of the proposal[6] the new category "adressed problems of a religious or spiritual nature that are the focus of clinical attention and not attributable to a mental disorder". In their view there exist criteria for differentiating between spiritual problems and mental disorders such as psychosis.[81][88] This concern is also addressed in the DSM-IV Sourcebook.[89][90][91] According to Lukoff[80] and Lu,[87] co-authors of the category, religious or spiritual problems are not classified as mental disorders. Foulks[86] also notes that the new diagnosis is included in the DSM-IV-TR nonillness category (Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention).

Addition of the new category to the DSM-system was recognized by the psychiatric press,[3][86][87][91] and the New York Times.[82] Several commentators have also offered their viewpoints. Chinen[20] notes that the inclusion marks "increasing professional acceptance of transpersonal issues", while Sovatsky[33] sees the addition as an admittance of spiritually oriented narratives into mainstream clinical practice. Smart and Smart[92] recognizes the addition of the category, and similar improvements in the fourth version, as a step forward for the cultural sensitivity of the DSM manual. Greyson,[93] representing the field of Near-death studies, concludes that the diagnostic category of Religious or spiritual problem "permits differentiation of near-death experiences and similar experiences from mental disorders". In a study from 2000 Milstein and colleagues reported that their findings provided empirical evidence for the construct validity of the new DSM-IV category religious or spiritual problem (V62.89).[90]

According to commentators[18] Transpersonal Psychology recognizes that transcendent psychological states, and spirituality, might have both negative and positive effects on human functioning. Health-promoting expressions of spirituality include development and growth, but there also exist health-compromising expressions of spirituality.

Organizations, publications and locations

A leading institution within the field of Transpersonal Psychology is the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, which was founded in 1972.[94] Past presidents of the association include Alyce Green, James Fadiman, Frances Vaughan, Arthur Hastings, Daniel Goleman, Robert Frager, Ronald Jue, Jeanne Achterberg and Dwight Judy.[95][96] A European counterpart to the American institution, the European Transpersonal Psychology Association (ETPA), was founded much later.[18] The leading graduate school is Sofia University, formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.[26][97][98] According to sources[26] the university is private, non-sectarian, and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Leading academic publications within the field include the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. Smaller publications include the Transpersonal Psychology Review, the journal of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. In 1996 Basic Books published the Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology, a standard text that included a thorough overview of the field.[3][4] In 1999 Greenwood Press published a title called Humanistic and transpersonal psychology: A historical and biographical sourcebook,[44][99][100] which includes biographical and critical essays on central figures in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology.[43] A recent publication, The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology,[94] is one of the latest and most updated introductions to the field of Transpersonal Psychology.[42][101]

Although the perspectives of Transpersonal Psychology has spread to a number of interest groups across the USA and Europe, its origins was in California, and the field has always been strongly associated with institutions on the west coast of the U.S.A.[9] Both the Association for Transpersonal Psychology and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology were founded in the state of California, and a number of the fields leading theorists come from this area of the USA.[9]

Reception and criticism

Reception of Transpersonal psychology, in the surrounding culture, reflects a wide range of views and opinions, including both recognition and skepticism. Transpersonal psychology has been the topic of a number of academic articles and book reviews in other academic fields, including Psychiatry,[3][43] Behavioral Science,[44] Psychology,[24][50][101][102] Social Work,[55] Consciousness Studies,[28][103][104] Religious Studies,[14][49][105][106] Pastoral psychology,[107] and Library Science.[108]

Several commentators have expressed their views on the field of Transpersonal psychology and its contribution to the academic landscape. Hilgard,[102] representing the contemporary psychology of the early 1980s, regarded Transpersonal psychology as a fringe-movement that attracted the more extreme followers of Humanistic psychology. He did however remark that such movements might enrich the topics that psychologists study, even though most psychologists choose not to join the movement. Cowley and Derezotes,[55] representing the Social Work theory of the 1990s, regarded Transpersonal psychology as relevant for the development of spiritual sensitivity in the helping disciplines. Bidwell,[107] representing the field of Pastoral psychology, saw Transpersonal psychology as a developing field that had largely been ignored by his own profession. He did however believe that Transpersonal psychology could contribute to the areas of pastoral theology and pastoral counseling. Taylor,[24] representing the field of Humanistic psychology, regarded Transpersonal psychology as a visionary American folk-psychology with little historical relation to American academic psychology, except through its association with Humanistic psychology and the categories of transcendence and consciousness.

There has been some recognition of Transpersonal psychology in the field of spiritually oriented psychotherapy [109] and in the general clinical field. The Menninger Clinic organized its first symposium on transpersonal psychiatry in 1992. In 1994 the American Psychiatric Association included a new diagnostic category in its official manual (DSM-IV), following a proposal from clinicians associated with Transpersonal psychology and psychiatry.[20] There have been a few attempts to adapt the insights of Transpersonal psychology, and psychiatry, to psychiatric residency programs. For example, in their proposal for a lecture series on religion and spirituality in Canadian psychiatric residency training, authors Grabovac & Ganesan[110] suggest Transpersonal psychology as a session, including spiritually transformative experiences, kundalini episodes, and spiritual emergencies as objectives for the session. In 2007 educators at the University of California (Davis) presented a new academic program for its psychiatric residents. The program was designed to improve culturally appropriate diagnosis and treatment in the Sacramento area. It included training in religion and spirituality, as well as insights from transpersonal psychiatry, as part of the PGY-3 curriculum.[111]

Transpersonal psychology has also entered the classroom setting. Perspectives from Transpersonal psychology are represented in a widely used college textbook on personality theories,[112][113] marking the entrance of transpersonal themes into mainstream academic settings. In this book author Barbara Engler[112] asks the question, "Is spirituality an appropriate topic for psychological study?" She offers a brief account of the history of transpersonal psychology and a peek into its possible future. The classroom dimension is also present in a book on personality theories by authors Robert Frager and James Fadiman.[114] In this publication they provide an account of the contributions of many of the key historic figures who have shaped and developed transpersonal psychology (in addition to discussing and explaining important concepts and theories germane to it), which serves to promote an understanding of the discipline in classroom settings.

Admitting that the majority of mainstream psychology departments rarely offer training programs in transpersonal issues and practices as part of their curriculum,[50] graduate programs in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology have been made available at several North-American Universities.[9][20][55][115] Note c Among these we find the John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, which included Transpersonal psychology in its holistic studies program.[116] In 2012 Columbia University announced that they were integrating spiritual psychology, similar to the perspectives taught at Sofia University (California), into their clinical psychology program.[98]

However, although Transpersonal psychology has experienced recognition from the surrounding culture,[20] it has also faced a fair amount of skepticism and criticism from the same surroundings. Several commentators have mentioned the controversial aspects of Transpersonal psychology. Zdenek,[117] representing a moderate criticism from the 1980s, noted that the field was regarded as controversial since its inception. Other commentators, such as Friedman,[45] and Adams,[106] also mention the controversial status of the field. In 1998 the San Fransisco Chronicle reported on the holistic studies program at the John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, which included a Transpersonal psychology department. The program was considered to be unique at the time, but also controversial. Several commentators presented their skepticism towards the program.[116] Commenting upon the controversial status of psychedelic and entheogenic substances in contemporary culture, authors Elmer, MacDonald & Friedman[18] observe that these drugs have been used for therapeutic effect in the transpersonal movement. The authors do however note that this is not the most common form of transpersonal intervention in contemporary therapy.

Rowan[42] notes that the American Psychological Association had serious reservations about opening up a Transpersonal Psychology Division. The petitions for divisional status failed to win the majority of votes in the APA council, and the division was never established.[21] Commenting on the state of the field in the mid-nineties, Chinen[20] noted that professional publications until then had been hesitant to publish articles that dealt with transpersonal subjects. Adams [49] notes that the field has struggled for recognition, while Freeman [28] mentions that the early field of Transpersonal psychology was aware of the possibility that it would be rejected by the scientific community. The method of inner empiricism, based on disciplined introspection, was to be a target of skepticism from outsiders in the years to come.


Criticism towards the field of Transpersonal psychology has been raised by a wide assortment of commentators,[20] and includes both writers from within its own ranks, as well as writers representing other fields of psychology or philosophy. However, Chinen[20] notes that a few critics did not differentiate between the field of Transpersonal psychology on the one hand, and a wider field of transpersonal theories on the other. The necessity of a distinction between these two categories is also mentioned by other commentators.[45]

Criticism includes the observations of philosopher Ken Wilber, one of the early profiles within the Transpersonal field, who has repeatedly announced the demise of Transpersonal psychology.[118][119] However, the early transpersonal theory of Wilber was itself subject to criticism in the 1980s, most notably from humanistic psychologists.[120] Even though Wilber has distanced himself from Transpersonal psychology in favour of Integral philosophy,[9][28] his transpersonal model has continued to attract both recognition[55][107] and criticism.[106][107]

Criticism from Humanistic psychology

One of the earliest criticisms of the field was issued by the Humanistic psychologist Rollo May, who disputed the conceptual foundations of Transpersonal psychology.[21] According to commentators[9] May also criticized the field for neglecting the personal dimension of the psyche by elevating the pursuit of the transcendental. Commentators[9] note that these reservations, expressed by May, might reflect what later theorists have referred to as “spiritual bypassing”. Criticism has also come from other profiles in the field of Humanistic psychology. Eugene Taylor and Kirk Schneider have raised objections to several aspects of Transpersonal psychology.[20]

Failure to meet scientific criteria

The field of Transpersonal psychology has also been criticized for lacking conceptual, evidentiary, and scientific rigor. In a review of criticisms of the field, Cunningham writes, "philosophers have criticized transpersonal psychology because its metaphysics is naive and epistemology is undeveloped. Multiplicity of definitions and lack of operationalization of many of its concepts has led to a conceptual confusion about the nature of transpersonal psychology itself (i.e., the concept is used differently by different theorists and means different things to different people). Biologists have criticized transpersonal psychology for its lack of attention to biological foundations of behavior and experience. Physicists have criticized transpersonal psychology for inappropriately accommodating physic concepts as explanations of consciousness."[121]

Others, such as Friedman,[45] have criticized the field for being underdeveloped as a field of science, placing it at the intersection between a broader domain of transpersonal inquiry, which includes some unscientific approaches, and the scientific discipline of psychology. Transpersonal psychology has been noted for undervaluing quantitative methods as a tool for improving our knowledge of spiritual and transpersonal categories. This is, according to commentators,[18] a consequence of a general orientation within the field that regards spiritual and transpersonal experience to be categories that defy conceptualization and quantification, and thereby not well suited for conventional scientific inquiry.

Albert Ellis, a cognitive psychologist and humanist, has questioned the results of transpersonal psychotherapy,[122] the scientific status of transpersonal psychology, and its relationship to religion, mysticism and authoritarian belief systems.[123][124] Both Wilber[125] and Walsh[126] have replied to this criticism. However, commentators [127] note that Ellis, in his later writings, has expressed a more moderate view of religious/spiritual/transpersonal experiences. Other commentators, such as Matthews,[5] are more supportive of the field, but remarks that a weakness of Transpersonal psychology, and psychotherapy, has been its reliance on anecdotal clinical experiences rather than research.

Adams,[103] writing from the perspective of Consciousness Studies, has problematized the concept of introspective ‘data’ that appears to make up the "database" of Transpersonal psychology.

Clinical issues

Skepticism towards the concept of spiritual emergencies, and the transpersonal dimension in psychiatry, has been expressed by Gray.[128]

Ontology and philosophical worldview

Ferrer[38] has criticized transpersonal psychology for being too loyal to the perennial philosophy, for introducing a subtle Cartesianism, and for being too preoccupied with intrasubjective spiritual states (inner empiricism). As an alternative to these trends he suggests a revision of transpersonal theory. That is, a participatory vision of human spirituality that honors a wide assortment of spiritual insights, spiritual worlds and places. According to Davis[11] Transpersonal psychology has been criticized for emphasizing oneness and holism at the expense of diversity.

Gary T. Alexander has criticized the relationship between transpersonal psychology and the ideas of William James. Although the ideas of James are considered central to the transpersonal field, Alexander[105] thought that transpersonal psychology did not have a clear understanding of the negative dimensions of consciousness (such as evil) expressed in James' philosophy. This serious criticism has been absorbed by later transpersonal theory, which has been more willing to reflect on these important dimensions of human existence.[129]

Use of Buddhist concepts

From the standpoint of Buddhism and Dzogchen, Elías Capriles[130] [131][132] has objected that transpersonal psychology fails to distinguish between the transpersonal condition of nirvana, which is inherently liberating, those transpersonal conditions which are within samsara and which as such are new forms of bondage (such as the four realms of the arupyadhatu or four arupa lokas of Buddhism, in which the figure-ground division dissolves but there is still a subject-object duality), and the neutral condition in which neither nirvana nor samsara are active that the Dzogchen teachings call kun gzhi, in which there is no subject-object duality but the true condition of all phenomena (dharmata) is not patent (and which includes all conditions involving nirodh or cessation, including nirodh samapatti, nirvikalpa samadhis and the samadhi or turiya that is the supreme realization of Patañjali's Yoga darshana). In the process of elaborating what he calls a meta-transpersonal psychology, Capriles has carried out conscientious refutations of Wilber, Grof and Washburn, which according to Macdonald & Friedman[133] will have important repercussions on the future of transpersonal psychology.

Relationship to religion and New Age movements

According to Cunningham, transpersonal psychology has been criticized by some Christian authors as being "a mishmash of 'New Age' ideas that offer an alternative faith system to vulnerable youths who turn their backs on organized religion (Adeney, 1988)."[121] Commentators also mention that Transpersonal Psychology's association with the ideas of religion was one of the concerns that prohibited it from becoming a separate division of the American Psychological Association at the time of the petition in 1984.[21]


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