Transpersonal Approach to Counselling and Psychotherapy
The word transpersonal comes from two words - trans (beyond or through) and persona (mask or façade). Transpersonal approach in psychology used to refer to any human experience related to religion, spirituality, meditation and mysticism (Daniels, 1998). However, today it covers a wider variety of phenomena, not necessarily religious or spiritual. Transpersonal psychology studies phenomena like mystical states of consciousness, meditative practices, shamanic states, rituals etc in a psychological context (Silva, 2001). It is also a process of harmonious blending of religion and spiritual experiences in psychology. From the many definitions and views of transpersonal psychology, Lajoie & Shapiro (1992) identify the following five elements as the basic characteristics of transpersonal psychology. They are: (a) an interest in states of consciousness, (b) concern with humanity’s highest or ultimate potential, (c) human experience that goes beyond ego or personal self, (d) the idea of transcendence, and (e) a spiritual dimension in human life.
The study of transpersonal psychology starts with William James and his study of mystical experiences. James pointed out that mystical experiences are the basis or starting point for all the world's religions (James, 1936). On the contrary, Freud considered religion as infantile neurosis and dismissed mystical experiences as fantasies and regressions to a womb-like state (Freud, 1928); the behaviourists ruled out the possibility of scientific study of any of these experiences to be empirical in their approach. However, Carl Jung showed special interest in mystical and transpersonal issues. In contrast to Freud who labelled religion as an illusion and religious experiences as infantile neurosis, Jung considered spiritual experiences as a sign of mental health and relief from neurosis (Jung, 1989). Jung also postulates that every human person is endowed with potentials for transpersonal and mystical experiences. His theory on personality which talks about collective unconscious, archetypes, such as the self, shadow, hero, and the divine child that are related to dreams, rituals, and other symbols in life are clear signs of the mystical nature of human beings (Jung, 1958).
Abraham Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, is considered one of the pioneers of transpersonal psychology. The great importance Maslow gave to self-actualisation, peak experiences and plateau experiences as the highest attainable motivations and goals of humans, see him as the great explorer of the transpersonal in human beings (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Maslow sees transpersonal psychology as the logical leap beyond humanistic Psychology and nicknamed it "Fourth-force Psychology" in relation to psychoanalysis, behaviourism, and humanistic psychology, and considered it a stage higher than humanistic psychology (Hendricks & Weinhold, 1982). In the theories of Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls and Viktor Frankle too, transpersonal ideas are seen although not identified purely as such.
Besides psychologists, many scientists and great scholars have given great importance to transpersonal view of human behaviour and existence:- Aldous Huxley and Stan Grof who conducted investigations into altered consciousness using Mescaline, LSD and other Psychedelics; Teilhard de Chardin, who integrated biology with Christian theology to develop a model of cosmic consciousness; Sri Aurobindo, the Indian Mystic who talked about the evolution of consciousness based on Indian philosophies; Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis - are just a few of the many we could mention.
Today, Ken Wilber, who integrates the philosophies and psychologies of East and West, ancient and modern, in developing his Spectrum Theory of Consciousness is one of the leading theorists in transpersonal. According to Wilber (1983):
“The material body is exercised in labor with the physical-natural environment; the pranic (emotional) body is exercised in breath, sex, and feeling with other pranic bodies; the mind is exercised in linguistic communication with other minds; the soul, in psychic and subtle relationships; the spirit, in absolute relation to and as Godhead (or God-communion and God-identity). That is, each level of the compound human individual is exercised in a complex system of ideally unobstructed relationships with the corresponding levels of structural organization in the world process at large” (pp. 35-36).
The focus of Wilber’s transpersonal approach is to have a holistic approach to life and existence. Holism, according to him is the integration of body, mind and spirit; when it is applied in transpersonal therapy, it considers healing from the point of view of the personal integration of three aspects of a person, physical, mental and spiritual (Daniels, 1997).
A transpersonal approach sees human beings as intuitive, mystical, psychic and spiritual (Hendricks & Weinhold, 1982). Psychology considers development and the formation of a stable, integrated, and individuated ego as the goal of human development and mental health whereas transpersonal psychology exceeds such description of psychological theories and explores stages of personality development that extend beyond the individual ego into transpersonal realms (Wilber, 2000). However, it is important to distinguish bizarre phenomenon from transpersonal experience or phenomenon. Daniels (1998) argues that any event, experience, or phenomenon that has a transformational meaning or effect on a person can be considered subject matter for transpersonal psychology. Therefore, wide ranges of paranormal experiences are included in the subject matter of transpersonal psychology.
It is not necessary to be a follower of any religion to use transpersonal approach in counselling and psychotherapy. In the first place, as counsellors and therapists, be aware that people have their own unique view of the cosmos, worldview, health concepts and healing practices originating from their specific culture, traditional wisdom; identify them and focus therapy modality accordingly (Janetius, 2003). Second, respect and accept the personal experiences of the clients. Finally identify the client’s specific concepts and views regarding healing and try to combine therapy and healing; generally prayer, customary rituals and reconciliation (with self & others) are the main spiritual factors seen among many people all over the world that could be easily adoptable for a transpersonal psychotherapy.
· If the client relies on factors outside his or her ordinary ego to facilitate healing, ask the client to close the eyes and visualize them for healing
· If the client is religious, some form of reconciliation with God, forgiveness of God could be suggested. Prayer and meditation could be encouraged because many charismatic prayer experiences of Christians are similar to catharsis and, meditation brings out the same effects of imagery and relaxation techniques. If the client is very religious, a word of promise ‘I will pray for you…’ will bring enormous amount of positive feelings and confidence that can extra-boost the healing process
· If the client has no religious beliefs, focus on some values and spirituality of the client (doing justice, possessing rationality and free will to decide etc…)
· Help the client re-establish a conscious relationship with self and others by different modalities applicable and acceptable to the individual
· Do not focus on the issue (presenting problem or symptoms), rather on the belief system of the client (presenting problem Vs real problem)... identify the problems from the point of client’s worldview
· Facilitate and help the client to build new patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour (like the one commonly used by cognitive therapists) by way of meditation, visualization and autosuggestion, based on the belief system either religious or spiritual
· Therapeutic touch (in which the therapist touches the client) which is one of the earliest and widely seen healing practises all over the world and traditions, can create wide range of positive impacts in the client
The transpersonal approach recognizes the importance of integrative aspects in which many disciplines like philosophy, psychiatry, counselling and psychotherapy, sociology, politics, education, anthropology, history, literary studies, religious studies, biology and physics merge together. It embraces an oriental worldview that incorporates elements of personal mysticism, native philosophy, worldview and cosmology. Thus transpersonal psychology is very much in tune with Eastern cultures that includes meditation, yoga, shamanic and traditional healings, therapeutic touch, raiki, acupuncture, and other supernatural, mystical and psychic experiences. It could be very well integrated into mainstream psychotherapy and counselling, provided the counsellor or therapist is very intuitive, creative and skilled. This also needs some kind of theoretical orientation from the part of the therapist to accept and adopt unique methods specific to this approach in psychology. For certain, this approach is well-suited for Asian and African clients.
Daniels, M. (1997). Holism, integration and the transpersonal. Transpersonal Psychology Review, 1(3), 12-16
Daniels, M. (1998). Transpersonal psychology and the paranormal. Transpersonal Psychology Review, 2(3), 17-31.
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James, W. (1936). The varieties of religious experience. NY: Modern Library
Janetius, T. (2003). The emerging worldview of Cordillera indigenous peoples of selected provinces: implications for psychotherapy. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines.
Jung, C. G. (1958). The collected works of C. G. Jung (vol. II). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
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Hendricks, G., & Weinhold, B. (1982). Transpersonal approaches to counseling and psychotherapy. London: Love Publishing Company.
Lajoie, D. H., & Shapiro, S. I. (1992). Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenty-three years. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 24(1), 79-98.
Silva, R. (2001). What is transpersonal psychology? Retrieved October 14, 2001 from http://www.cyberpsychologist.com/FAQ.htm#Transpersonal%20Psychology
Walsh, R., & Vaughan, F. (Eds.). (1993). Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. LA: Tarcher-Putnam
Wilber, K. (1983). A sociable god: Toward a new understanding of religion. London: Shambhala
Wilber, K. (2000). Sex, ecology, spirituality: The spirit of evolution (2nd rev. ed.). Boston: Shambhala
* About the Author
Dr.Janetius, Professor of Psychology, Jain University, Bangalore
dr.janetius [at] gmail.com