Transpersonal psychology

Written by Becky Banham

Becky Banham

Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated March 2019 | Next review due September 2020

Transpersonal psychology, also known as transpersonal counselling, was developed by American psychologist, Abraham Maslow in the 1960s. The term 'transpersonal' means 'beyond the personal', and this reflects the core aim of the therapy - to explore human growth and help people to discover a deep and more enduring essential self that exists beyond the conditioned ego.

The methodology behind this therapeutic process is a combination of spiritual traditions from around the world, which are integrated with elements of contemporary psychology. This framework can help a wide range of individuals - including groups of people such as families and work colleagues.

Those who undergo transpersonal psychology are expected to gain a complete understanding of themselves, their capacities, and their relationships, and will leave equipped with the skills to help them deal with these beyond therapy.

What is transpersonal psychology?

Transpersonal psychology is a humanistic approach to therapy which values wholeness. The essential self is a combination of the transpersonal, self-transcendent and spiritual aspects of human experience. All of life's experiences are considered valuable and growth enhancing, and every individual is treated according to their innate striving toward a higher reality. Ultimately, in transpersonal psychology healing and growth is approached through recognition of the centrality of self.

Transpersonal psychology does not view human personality as limited, instead, it sees certain character traits and attributes as a mask of our true essence. So, therapists who subscribe to transpersonal psychology believe that human growth begins with people who are hindered from reaching their potential, for instance, those suffering from a psychological disorder.

Our beings are merely the shell that transports our souls through life and, therefore, who we are consciously is only a window to our transpersonal selves. This is why transpersonal psychology addresses, equally, all aspects of our being (spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, physical and creative) to help us heal and grow. By enhancing all our inner capacities we can become powerful vessels for long-term change.

If you want to make real changes to yourself, I think it is essential to connect with your true self. Who are you really underneath all the difficulties that you face? What are you learning? What qualities are you developing or need to develop? By connecting more with that core part of yourself you can have access to a part that can transcend the difficulties that you may identify with.

- In this article, we explore what a spiritual approach to counselling entails.

Another key element of transpersonal psychology is the use of positive influences rather than troubled aspects of our human psyche to bring about healing and personal development. This technique derives from Abraham Maslow's research on self-actualisation and his belief that creativity, experiences, personal actions and altruism exist outside of the ordinary personality, and deep within the essential self.

Focusing on positive role models who embody the true nature of our human psyche, therapists can teach a client to see their inner capabilities and view themselves as part of the process to reaching a state of improved human functionality.

What is the role of a transpersonal therapist?

Transpersonal psychology relies heavily on the nature of the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client. First and foremost, the therapist must assume the role of an equal to their client and must be completely connected on the level of pure consciousness - sharing the same experience as their client does in therapy. This shared consciousness ensures that empathy and insight can take place alongside the therapist's discriminating and analytical stance.

Fundamentally though, the primary mode a therapist must adopt when being with their client is with an attitude of open-mindedness, respect, innocence and wonder - as if everything that is said, felt and thought is completely new. Ultimately, both the client and therapist aspire to be present, authentic and self-aware, ensuring an ideal therapeutic relationship and setting that will help to facilitate ongoing healing and growth.

The transpersonal can be found anywhere and everywhere. It imbues our lives with meaning, making it rich and deep. The transpersonal counsellor strives to discover with their client what can make life feel whole.

- 'A taste of transpersonal counselling' by Mary-Claire Wilson MBACP, Dip Couns, Dip Ad. Psychology, Ba (Hons), MA.

How does transpersonal psychology work? 

Transpersonal psychology is a process of self-actualisation and self-realisation, which helps clients to discover the deep core of their essential self. Therapy works by building and expanding on an individual's qualities, their spirituality and self-development - helping clients to utilise their free will and inner resources to remove inner conflicts and create a sense of balance and harmony in their lives.

Ultimately, through transpersonal therapy, the individual attains a level of functioning in terms of their work and relationships that would be considered 'normal' and healthy by current standards of mental health. Although experts are in disagreement about a specific model for this therapeutic process, there are three key areas that it encompasses. These are:

  • beyond ego (ego-transcended) psychology
  • transformative psychology
  • integrative/holistic psychology

In this framework, transpersonal therapists will draw from a diverse range of techniques, which will be taught and supported in a way that clients can continue to apply beyond therapy. Crucially, these techniques will be tailored to the specific needs and personal circumstances of each individual client.

The emphasis on individual development in transpersonal psychology is to ensure the effective cultivation of intuitive ways of knowing that complements a person's unique psychological and spiritual being. This is how transpersonal psychology is able to support and enhance a person's inherent striving for freedom, unity and life fulfilment.

Some of the commonly used methods in transpersonal psychology include:

How can transpersonal psychology help?

Transpersonal psychology gives individuals the opportunity to recognise and value their true worth. This makes the therapy particularly beneficial to those who may be experiencing symptoms that are hindering their ability to appreciate and make the most of the experiences life has to offer. The kinds of problems that transpersonal psychology can help to treat include anxiety, depression, phobias and addictions - psychological conditions that are considered to have a spiritual component which needs to be understood and addressed.

Outcomes of transpersonal psychology include an enhanced spiritual connection, greater concern for others, and appreciation of life. These benefits extend to more specific areas of growth and healing depending on the variation of techniques used in therapy.

Whilst yoga and body-work can help to relieve stress, improve mental functioning and balance mental, emotional and physical energies, breathing practices can stimulate calm and initiate an altered state of consciousness. In addition, meditation and guided visualisation can help clients to establish inner peace, whilst hypnotherapy and inner child work can build a positive life outlook and improve self-confidence.

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