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Why Transpersonal Psychology?

Updated on December 10, 2013

Carl Jung: Grandfather of Transpersonal Psychology

A Brief History

Although Transpersonal Psychology is often associated with Carl Jung, a highly creative and inventive thinker, the movement itself started later, mid-century, as a branch of Humanistic Psychology, which itself was a response to Freudianism and Behaviorism, two schools that had a limited idea of human possibility. While Freudianism claims that humans are largely controlled by urges they cannot fully understand that must be controlled, Behaviorism claims that internal, subjective experience is largely unknowable and that our outward behaviors are the only issues that can be controlled. By mid-century, many psychologists challenged these two primary schools and saw that human life contains much more than dark internal drives and mechanistic behavior.

Humanistic psychology sought to bring humanity back into the equation. Thinkers such as Abraham Maslow studied people who were high functioning and sought to understand why those people were so happy and fulfilled. Maslow coined the term "peak experience" to describe life experiences that were common for individuals who where particularly happy, high functioning, and satisfied with life. He believed that psychology should acknowledge that people can go beyond a "normal life" and have an extraordinary life, and that ways to do this should be included in psychological practice. Other Humanistic psychology pioneers include Carl Rogers and Existentialist psychologists such as Viktor Frankl.

Eventually, though, Maslow and others found Humanistic psychology limiting; they were interested in also exploring issues at the edge of acceptable psychological practice but central to human life, such as mystical traditions, altered states of consciousness, and creativity. These thinkers brought in not only Western religion, but also esoteric traditions and Eastern spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism. Maslow, as well as other important thinkers such as Stanislav Grof (famous for his study of birth trauma and healing through altered states of consciousness) and James Fadiman, gathered in 1969 and decided to name a new branch of psychology "Transpersonal Psychology," which indicates the desire of these psychologists to see both through and beyond ordinary human concerns.

Transpersonal Psychology

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Why Transpersonal Psychology?

Transpersonal psychology acknowledges that human life is more than simply getting through day-to-day life effectively and smoothly; it points to the extraordinary aspects of human life and weaves them into psychological treatment. Whether these extraordinary aspects are through spiritual connection, altered states of consciousness, meditation, art, or simply cooking a good meal and enjoying it is up to the client. Transpersonal psychology doesn't teach any particular spiritual or religious viewpoint but instead includes the possibility that health can come through experiences labeled as "spiritual" or "creative" which are not usually included in mainstream psychology.

Transpersonal psychology is a good choice for the therapist or would-be therapist who is willing to incorporate the entirety of a client's experience into the session and to accept the validity of spiritual or transformative experiences in a client's life. Transpersonal psychologists also hold the belief for the client that they can be happy, they can feel more fully whole and human, and that they are capable of and deserve more than the "common unhappiness" that Freud thought was the ultimate goal of psychotherapy.

Being a Transpersonal psychologist does not mean that you have to have personal religious beliefs of any sort, though some type of spiritual practice or belief is common; it simply means that you recognize the importance of these experiences to the client. Therefore, being a Transpersonal psychologist means you must be open-minded and willing to accept a client's spirituality, even if it differs from your own.

Stanislav Grof, Important Transpersonal Psychology Figure


Transpersonal Psychology

  • Accepts the full spectrum of human experience
  • Incorporates spirituality
  • Incorporates non-ordinary or altered states of consciousness
  • Includes both Eastern and Western psychological theories

Francis Vaughan

Thinking Allowed Series

Check out the Youtube clip for a talk by well-known Transpersonal Psychologist Frances Vaughan. The Thinking Allowed video series, clips of which can be found on youtube, includes interviews with Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, and Shinzen Young.

Schools for Transpersonal Psychology

If you are interested in pursuing Transpersonal Psychology from a repudable school, check out the following universities that provide the opportunity for licensure:

Naropa University: Transpersonal Counseling Psychology MA

Sofia University: Master's of Arts in Counseling Psychology


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