The History of Transpersonal Psychology

This video is a nice overview of the foundation of the Transpersonal Psychology movement and many of its well known founders.  It includes interviews with many of the field’s luminaries such as co-founder of the field, Stanislav Grof, as well as Charles T. Tart, Frances Vaughan, James Fadiman, Miles Vich and many others.

It should be noted that each different Transpersonal Psychologist may have their own definition of Transpersonal Psychology and Psychotherapy:

Dr. Michael Mayer’s definition of Transpersonal Psychology and Psychotherapy: “Transpersonal Psychology, often called the fourth force of psychology,  contains an integrative psychotherapy that includes all forms of psychotherapy as well as methods that focus specifically on connecting with the wider whole of which we’re a part. This experience of the wider whole can be accessed through energetic pathways, (which can be activated through various altered states of consciousness practices: breathing and acu-point touch techniques, methods of postural initiation, etc), spiritual practices from East/West/indigenous traditions, and symbolic process modes of healing.”

Here’s an interesting not-well-known tidbit that you won’t often hear about the origins of the word “transpersonal:” Long before Anthony Sutich et. al. used the word “transpersonal,” an astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, used the term “transpersonal” in 1930 in a small magazine called “The Glass Hive.”  In Rudhyar’s definition he meant a double meaning, both “beyond” and “through.” This has important implications for the field because most transpersonal theorists use the term “transpersonal” to mean an ascent to attain greater heights and peak experiences; whereas a transpersonal process may also imply a descent of spiritual energy through a person, as a solar light is focused through a lens. This later definition is oriented more towards including symbolic process traditions in transpersonal psychology, as well as somatic  and energetic traditions including traditions of postural initiation (such as Tai Chi and Qigong).

All this just goes to show the truth of Mircea Eliade’s (1963) quote, “The origin myth of any thing determines the way it is seen and its destiny, and creates a magical, incantational, hypnotic power.”

If you look at Lajoie and Shapiro’s review (Jour. of Trans. Psych., Vol 24, 1992) of forty definitions  of transpersonal psychology in the academic literature from 1968- 1991 they found five key themes: states of consciousnesshigher or ultimate potentialbeyond the ego or personal selftranscendence; 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.

So, one  can see that origin myths and history are written by majority views that can leave out significant minority views. In the Lajoie and Shapiro review, the transcendent bias of many transpersonal theorists leave out the “immanent orientation”, and the importance of “the soul” (Hillman 1978) in the spirit/soul dialectic, symbolic process orientations, and cross-cultural somatic therapies. A more holistic view has been emerging regarding transpersonal psychology in more recent times with authors such as Daniels (Trans. Psych. Rev., 2009) calling for an “all vector approach” to transpersonal psychology and spiritual traditions.

* {This blog post is not meant to be an overarching view of Transpersonal Psychology, which would necessitate addressing  much wider dimensions of the field, some of which are touched upon in this attached video.}

Dr. Michael Mayer was a co-founding faculty member of the first accredited Transpersonal Psychology Program in the United States at JFK University, where he trained therapists for twelve years. His approach to Transpersonal Psychotherapy can be found in two of his books: Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy: Ancient Pathways to Modern Health (Bodymind Healing Publications, 2007); and Energy Psychology: Self-Healing Practices for Bodymind Health, (North Atlantic/Random House 2009). His latest Ben Franklin award-winning book, The Path of a Reluctant Metaphysician: Stories and Practices for Troubled Times, traces his journey through the transpersonal psychology movement over three decades and his quest to create an “all vector approach” to transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy.

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