Stanislav Grof

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Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof by Anton Nossik crop.JPG
Born (1931-07-01) July 1, 1931 (age 90)
Alma materCharles University, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences
Known forTranspersonal psychology
Spouse(s)Brigitte Grof since April 2016
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology, psychiatry
InstitutionsJohns Hopkins University
University of Maryland, Baltimore
Esalen Institute
California Institute of Integral Studies
InfluencesOtto Rank

Stanislav "Stan" Grof (born July 1, 1931) is a Czech-born psychiatrist who has been living in the United States since the 1960s. Grof is one of the principal developers of transpersonal psychology and research into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of exploring, healing, and obtaining growth and insights into the human psyche. Grof received the VISION 97 award granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Václav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007. On the other hand, Grof has been criticized for furthering nonscientific psychology in the Czech Republic. He is the only person to have been awarded the anti-prize Erratic Boulder Award twice in that country.[1][2]

Education and career[edit]

Grof received his M.D. from Charles University in Prague in 1957 and then completed his Ph.D. in medicine at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1965, training as a Freudian psychoanalyst at this time.[note 1] In 1967 he was invited by Joel Elkes[4] to work as a clinical and research fellow at the Henry Phipps Clinic, a part of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, United States, and went on to become Chief of Psychiatric Research for the Spring Grove Experiment at the Research Unit of Spring Grove State Hospital (later part of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center where he worked with Walter Pahnke and Bill Richards among others. In 1973 he was invited to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and lived there until 1987 as a scholar-in-residence, developing his ideas.

As founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (founded in 1977), he went on to become distinguished adjunct faculty member of the Department of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, a position he remains in as of 2015.

Grof featured in the film Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a 2006 documentary about rediscovering an enchanted cosmos in the modern world.[5]


Psychedelics and breathwork[edit]

Grof is known, in scientific circles, for his early studies of LSD and its effects on the psyche—the field of psychedelic therapy. Building on his observations while conducting LSD research and on Otto Rank's theory of birth trauma, Grof constructed a theoretical framework for prenatal and perinatal psychology and transpersonal psychology in which LSD trips and other powerfully emotional experiences were mapped onto a person's early fetal and neonatal experiences.[6] Over time, this theory developed into what Grof called a "cartography" of the deep human psyche. Following the suppression of legal LSD use in the late 1960s, Grof went on to develop a theory that many states of mind could be explored without drugs by using certain breathing techniques.[7] He continues this work as of 2015 under the trademark "Holotropic Breathwork".

Hylotropic and holotropic[edit]

Grof distinguishes between two modes of consciousness: the hylotropic and the holotropic.[8] The hylotropic mode relates to "the normal, everyday experience of consensus reality".[9] The holotropic has to do with states which aim towards wholeness and the totality of existence. The holotropic is characteristic of non-ordinary states of consciousness such as meditative, mystical, or psychedelic experiences.[10] According to Grof, contemporary psychiatry often categorizes these non-ordinary states as psychotic.[10] Grof connects the hylotropic to the Buddhist conception of namarupa ("name and form"), the separate, individual, illusory self. He connects the holotropic to the Hindu conception of Atman-Brahman, the divine, true nature of the self.[citation needed] Thus he is not concerned to explore the concept or state of being of non-self, despite its putative transcendental power.

Hypothesis on near-death experiences[edit]

In the late 1970s Grof proposed a psychological hypothesis to explain the near-death experience (NDE). According to Grof the NDE reflects memories of the birth process with the tunnel representing the birth canal. Susan Blackmore claimed the hypothesis is "pitifully inadequate to explain the NDE. For a start the newborn infant would not see anything like a tunnel as it was being born."[11] The psychologist Chris French has written "the experience of being born is only very superficially similar to the NDE" and the hypothesis has been refuted as it is common for those born by caesarean section to experience a tunnel during the NDE.[12] Michael Shermer also criticized the hypothesis "there is no evidence for infantile memories of any kind. Furthermore, the birth canal does not look like a tunnel and besides the infant's head is normally down and its eyes are closed."[13] An article in the peer-reviewed APA journal Psychology of Consciousness suggested that Grof's patients may have experienced false memories of birth and before birth.[14]

Proposed cartography of the psyche[edit]

Stanislav Grof has researched the effects of psychedelic substances,[15] which he states can also be induced by non-pharmacological means.[16] Grof has developed a "cartography of the psyche" based on his clinical work with psychedelics,[17] which describes the "basic types of experience that become available to an average person" when using psychedelics or "various powerful non-pharmacological experiential techniques".[18]

According to Grof, traditional psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy use a model of the human psyche that is limited to postnatal biography and the Freudian individual unconscious.[19] This model does not account for the experiences and observations from holotropic states of consciousness, which activate "deep unconscious and superconscious levels of the human psyche".[19] These levels include:[20]

  • The Sensory Barrier and the Recollective-Biographical Barrier
  • The Perinatal Matrices
  • The Transpersonal Dimensions of the Psyche

Ego death appears in the fourth Perinatal Matrix.[20]

Sensory barrier and the recollective-biographical barrier[edit]

"Deep self-exploration" starts for many people with unspecific sensory experiences.[21] They are a sensory barrier that one has to pass through.[21]

The next level is the recollective-biographical level and the individual unconsciousness. These involve the personal biography, and unresolved emotional issues.[22] In "experiential work" this autobiographical material is fully relived.[23] Relevant memories and associated fantasy material may emerge as a single or condensed experience, which Grof calls COEX.[24] According to Grof, most of these COEXs are connected with specific aspects of the birth process.[25] Memories of physical traumas form an integral part of this level of the psyche.[26]

Encounter with birth and death: dynamics of the perinatal matrices[edit]

According to Grof, the reliving of emotional and physical pain can become so intense that an identification with "the pain of entire groups of unfortunate people, all of humanity, or even all of life",[27] can manifest. This is accompanied with "dramatic physiological manifestations".[27]

At this level, death may be encountered and birth relived.[28] According to Grof, there are four "hypothetical dynamic matrices governing the processes related to the perinatal level of the unconsciousness",[28] called "basic perinatal matrices" (BPM).[28] These BPM's correspond to the stages of birth during the process of childbirth.[29]

BPM I: The Amniotic Universe[edit]

This is the original symbiotic unity of the fetus with the maternal organism.[29] Elements of this state can be accompanied with, or alternate with, experiences of a lack of boundaries and obstructions,[30] such as the ocean and the cosmos.[31] The extreme expression of the sacred and spiritual quality of BPM I is the experience of cosmic unity and the unio mystica.[31]

BPM II: Cosmic Engulfment and No Exit[edit]

This matrix starts with the onset of labor.[32] The intrusion of chemicals and the pressures of labor change the situation in the womb, and "interrupt the fetus' blissful connection with the mother and alter its pristine universe."[32] Accessing this layer gives rise to strong feeling of "no escape".[32] When experiencing this level, the sense of loneliness and helplessness is overwhelming.[33]

BPM III: The Death-Rebirth Struggle[edit]

This matrix is connected with the move of the fetus through the birth channel.[34] It involves a struggle for survival.[33] When experiencing this layer, strong aggression and demonic forces are encountered.[35] Biographical memories associated with this matrix include struggles, fights, and adventurous activities.[36]

BPM IV: The Death-Rebirth Experience[edit]

This matrix is related to the stage of delivery, the actual birth of the child.[37] The build up of tension, pain and anxiety is suddenly released.[37] The symbolic counterpart is the Death-Rebirth Experience, in which the individual may have a strong feeling of impending catastrophe, and may be desperately struggling to stop this process.[38] The transition from BPM III to BPM IV may involve a sense of total annihilation:[38]

This experience of ego death seems to entail an instant merciless destruction of all previous reference points in the life of the individual.[38]

According to Grof what dies in this process is "a basically paranoid attitude toward the world which reflects the negative experience of the subject during childbirth and later."[38] When experienced in its final and most complete form,

...ego death means an irreversible end to one's philosophical identification with what Alan Watts called skin-encapsulated ego."[38]


  • Realms Of The Human Unconscious: Observations From LSD Research (1975), republished by Souvenir Press in 2010
  • The Human Encounter With Death (1977) with Joan Halifax
  • LSD Psychotherapy (1980)
  • Beyond Death: The Gates Of Consciousness (1981) with Christina Grof
  • Ancient Wisdom And Modern Science (1984) Edited by Stanislav Grof
  • Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death And Transcendence In Psychotherapy (1985)
  • Human Survival And Consciousness Evolution (1988) Edited with Marjorie L. Valier
  • The Adventure Of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness And New Perspectives In Psychotherapy (1988)
  • Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes A Crisis (1989) Edited with Christina Grof
  • The Stormy Search For The Self: A Guide To Personal Growth Through Transformative Crisis (1990) with Christina Grof
  • The Holotropic Mind: The Three levels Of Human Consciousness And How They Shape Our Lives (1992) with Hal Zina Bennet
  • Books Of The Dead: Manuals For Living And Dying (1993)
  • The Thirst For Wholeness: Attachment, Addiction And The Spiritual Path (1994) by Christina Grof
  • The Transpersonal Vision (1998) book and audio
  • The Cosmic Game: Explorations Of The Frontiers Of Human Consciousness (1998)
  • The Consciousness Revolution: A Transatlantic Dialogue (1999) with Peter Russell and Ervin Laszlo. Foreword by Ken Wilber
  • Psychology Of The Future: Lessons From Modern Consciousness Research (2000)
  • The Call of the Jaguar (2002)
  • Caterpillar Dreams (2004) with Melody Sullivan
  • When The Impossible Happens: Adventures In Non-Ordinary Reality (2006)
  • The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness And The Mystery Of Death (2006)
  • "New Perspectives in Understanding and Treatment of Emotional Disorders," Chapter 13 in Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments, Michael J. Winkelman and Thomas B. Roberts (editors) (2007). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.
  • LSD: Doorway to the Numinous: The Groundbreaking Psychedelic Research into Realms of the Human Unconscious (2009) (This may be a renamed version of "Realms Of The Human Unconscious")
  • Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy (2010)
  • Healing Our Deepest Wounds: The Holotropic Paradigm Shift (2012)
  • The Way of the Psychonaut Volume One: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys (2019)
  • The Way of the Psychonaut Volume Two: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys (2019)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Czechoslovakia was the centre of psychedelic research in the communist world during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962 Grof was in a short documentary about LSD called Looking for Toxin X.[3]


  1. ^ "Bronzový Bludný balvan v kategorii jednotlivců za rok 2000 - MUDr. Stanislav Grof". Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  2. ^ "Jubilejní diamantový Bludný balvan - Prof. MUDr. Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D." Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  3. ^ Kaczorowski, Aleksander (trans. Figiel, Joanna) (05.12.2018). A Communist LSD Trip: The Story of Czechoslovak Acid.
  4. ^ Grof, Stanislav (2016). Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research. Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN 9780285643666
  5. ^ Mann, Rod (Director) (2006). Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within. Critical Mass Productions. OCLC 181630835. Archived from the original (DVD video) on November 11, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  6. ^ Rowan, John (2005). The Transpersonal: Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Taylor & Francis. p. 39. ISBN 978-1583919873.
  7. ^ Cortright, Brant (1997). Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. SUNY Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0791434666.
  8. ^ Wiber, Ken (1998). The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. Shambhala. p. 165. ISBN 978-1570623455.
  9. ^ Grof 1988, 38
  10. ^ a b Grof 1988, 39
  11. ^ Blackmore, Susan. (1991). Near-Death Experiences: In or out of the body?. Skeptical Inquirer 16: 34-45.
  12. ^ French, Chris. (2005). Near-Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Survivors. Progress in Brain Research 150: 351-367.
  13. ^ Shermer, Michael. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. Henry Holt and Company . p. 80 ISBN 0-8050-7089-3
  14. ^ Patihis, Lawrence; Burton, Helena J. Younes (2015). "False memories in therapy and hypnosis before 1980". Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. 2 (2): 153–169. doi:10.1037/cns0000044.
  15. ^ Grof 1988, p. xi.
  16. ^ Grof 1988, p. xiii-xiv.
  17. ^ Grof 1988, p. xvi.
  18. ^ grof 1988, p. xvi.
  19. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 1.
  20. ^ a b Grof 1988.
  21. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 3.
  22. ^ Grof 1988, p. 3-4.
  23. ^ Grof 1988, p. 4.
  24. ^ Grof 1988, p. 4-5.
  25. ^ Grof 1988, p. 5.
  26. ^ Grof 1988, p. 5-6.
  27. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 7.
  28. ^ a b c Grof 1988, p. 10.
  29. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 11.
  30. ^ Grof 1988, p. 11-12.
  31. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 12.
  32. ^ a b c Butler 2009, p. 4.
  33. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 18.
  34. ^ Grof 1988, p. 21.
  35. ^ Butler 2009, p. 5-6.
  36. ^ Butler 2009, p. 6.
  37. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 29.
  38. ^ a b c d e Grof 1988, p. 30.

Printed sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. Howe, ML & Courage, ML (2004). Demystifying the beginnings of memory. Developmental Review, 24(1), 1-5.
  2. Jacobson, B, Eklund, G, Hamberger, L, Linnarsson, D, Sedvall, G & Valverius, M (1987). Perinatal origin of adult self-destructive behavior. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 76(4), 364-71.

External links[edit]