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Transpersonal psychology

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Transpersonal psychology, or spiritual psychology, is an area of psychology that seeks to integrate the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience within the framework of modern psychology.[1]





In 1968, Abraham Maslow was among the people who described transpersonal psychology as a "fourth force" in psychology.[2] Early use of the term "transpersonal" can also be credited to Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich. At this time, in 1967–68, Maslow was in close dialogue with both Grof and Sutich regarding the name and orientation of the new field.[3] According to Powers,[4] the term "transpersonal" starts to show up in academic journals from 1970 onwards. Humanistic and transpersonal psychology are often associated with the Human Potential Movement, a movement in the 1960s that explored various therapies and philosophies at institutions like Esalen in Big Sur, California.[5][6]

Formative period


Gradually, during the 1960s, the term "transpersonal" was associated with a distinct school of psychology within the humanistic psychology movement.[2] In 1969, Maslow, Grof and Sutich were among the initiators behind the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.[7][2][8] The Association for Transpersonal Psychology was established in 1972,[5] the International Transpersonal Psychology Association in 1973,[8] and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in 1975 .[5] The institute was founded by Robert Frager and James Fadiman[citation needed] in response to an academic climate that they felt was hostile to such ideas.[citation needed] Soon other institutions begain offering curricula in transpersonal psychology including Saybrook Graduate School, the California Institute of Asian Studies (now California Institute of Integral Studies), JFK University, and Naropa.[9] Other proponents of transpersonal psychology included Ram Dass; Elmer and Alyce Green who were affiliated with the Menninger Foundation;[8] and Ken Wilber.[8][10][11]

An early preoccupation of those interested in transpersonal psychology was meditation and altered states of consciousness including those induced from psychedelic drugs.[12][13]

In the early 1980s, a group of members within APA Division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) argued in favor of establishing transpersonal psychology as a separate division within the framework of the American Psychological Association. A petition was presented to the APA Council in 1984, but it was turned down. A new initiative was made in 1985, but it failed to win the majority of votes in the council. In 1986 the petition was presented for a third and final time, but was withdrawn by the executive board of Division 32.[14][5] An interest group was later re-formed as the Transpersonal Psychology Interest Group (TPIG), which continued to promote transpersonal issues in collaboration with Division 32.[5] Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn delivered the main transpersonal models of development of this period, Wilber in 1977 and Washburn in 1988.[15] Ken Wilber has since distanced himself from the label "transpersonal", being in favour of the label of "integral" since the mid-1990s. In 1998 he formed the Integral Institute.[16]

Later developments


Proponents of transpersonal psychology were behind the proposal for a new diagnostic category to be included in the DSM-manual of the American Psychiatric Association called "Psychoreligious or psychospiritual problem", which was approved by the Task Force on DSM-IV in 1993, after changing its name to Religious or spiritual problem.[17][18][19][20][2][12][excessive citations] Concurrently, there was an increase in membership for the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, stabilizing at approximately 3000 members in the early nineties.[2] In 1996, the British Psychological Society established a Transpersonal Psychology Section.[21][22]

In 2007 the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies were accepted for indexing in PsycINFO, the journal database of the American Psychological Association. That same year, Ruzek, noted that the "American Psychological Association (APA) and most academic institutions have not yet recognized transpersonal psychology as an approved area of study; transpersonal psychology is rarely mentioned in mainstream academic journals or textbooks; and relatively few American academicians identify themselves as practitioners of transpersonal psychology. Furthermore, transpersonal psychology is scarcely mentioned, if at all, in history or introductory psychology texts".[23]

In 2012 the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology announced that it was changing its name to Sofia University with an expanded graduate program featuring computer science and business.[citation needed]


Other transpersonal disciplines, such as transpersonal anthropology and transpersonal business studies, are listed as transpersonal disciplines. Other fields of study that are related to transpersonal psychology, include near-death studies and parapsychology.

A few commentators[2][24][25] have suggested that there is a difference between transpersonal psychology and a broader category of transpersonal theories, sometimes called transpersonal studies. According to Friedman[25] this category might include several approaches to the transpersonal that lie outside the frames of science. However, according to Ferrer[26] the field of transpersonal psychology is "situated within the wider umbrella of transpersonal studies".

Transpersonal psychology may also be associated with New Age beliefs and pop psychology.[24][27][28][8] However, leading authors in the field, among those Sovatsky,[29] Rowan,[30] and Hartelius[31] have criticized the nature of "New Age"-philosophy and discourse. Rowan[30] even states that "The Transpersonal is not the New Age".[32] Other commentators, such as Wade,[33] notes that the field remains part of the New Age, despite the fact that transpersonal psychologists may want no such association.

Although some consider that the distinction between transpersonal psychology and the psychology of religion is fading (e.g. The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality), there is still generally considered to be a clear distinction between the two.[34] Much of the focus of psychology of religion is concerned with issues that would not be considered 'transcendent' within transpersonal psychology, so the two disciplines have quite distinct focuses.[35]

Organizations, publications and locations


Although the perspective of transpersonal psychology has spread to a number of interest groups across the US and Europe, its origins were in California, and the field has always been strongly associated with institutions on the west coast of the US.[14] Both the Association for Transpersonal Psychology and the forerunner to Sofia University were founded in the state of California, and a number of the fields leading theorists come from this area of the US.[14] A European counterpart to the American institution, the European Transpersonal Psychology Association (ETPA), was founded much later.[36]

Leading publications include the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. Smaller publications include the Transpersonal Psychology Review, the journal of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society.

Reception, recognition and criticism


Reception of Transpersonal psychology in the surrounding culture reflects a wide range of views and opinions, including severe skepticism. Ernest Hilgard,[37] representing the contemporary psychology of the early 1980s, regarded transpersonal psychology as a fringe movement that attracted the more extreme followers of Humanistic psychology. He did however remark that such movements might enrich the topics that psychologists study, even though most psychologists choose not to join the movement. Adams[10] also regarded Transpersonal psychology as a fringe discipline. He also observed its status as a controversial field of study.

Eugene Taylor,[8] representing the field of Humanistic Psychology, presented a balanced review of transpersonal psychology in the early nineties. On the negative side he mentioned transpersonal Psychology's tendency toward being "philosophically naive, poorly financed, at times almost anti-intellectual, and frequently overrated as far as its influences". On the positive side he noted the field's "integrated approach to understanding the phenomenology of scientific method"; the "centrality of qualitative research"; and the "importance of interdisciplinary communication". In conclusion he suggested that the virtues of transpersonal psychology may, in the end, "outweigh its defects". In a later article Taylor[6] regarded transpersonal psychology as a visionary American folk-psychology with little historical relation to American academic psychology, except through its association with Humanistic psychology and the categories of transcendence and consciousness.

Although transpersonal psychology has experienced some minor recognition from the surrounding culture,[2] it faces a fair amount of skepticism and criticism from the same surroundings. Freeman[13] mentions that the early field of transpersonal psychology was aware of the possibility that it would be rejected by the scientific community. Its method of inner empiricism, "based on disciplined introspection", was to be a target of skepticism from outsiders in the years to come. Several commentators have mentioned the controversial aspects of transpersonal psychology. Zdenek[38] noted that the field was regarded as "controversial since its inception". Other commentators, such as Friedman,[24] and Adams,[10] also mention the controversial status of the field. Adams[39] also remarked that the field has struggled for "recognition as a legitimate field of study" in academia. This aspect was also noticed by Parsons,[40] who observed that Transpersonal psychology's "naive perennialism, misreading of religious texts, lack of methodological sophistication, weak epistemology, and, some would claim, promotion of narcissistic self-absorption" had not been well received by the majority of academics. Commenting on the state of the field in the mid-nineties Chinen[2] noted that professional publications, until then, had been hesitant to publish articles that dealt with transpersonal subjects.

In 1998 the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the holistic studies program at the John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, which included a transpersonal psychology department. The program was considered to be unique at the time, but also controversial. Commentators presented their skepticism towards the program.[41] Another contentious aspect concerns the topic of psychedelic substances. Commenting upon the controversial status of psychedelic and entheogenic substances in contemporary culture, authors Elmer, MacDonald & Friedman[36] observe that these drugs have been used for therapeutic effect in the transpersonal movement, but - the authors add - this is not the most "common form of transpersonal intervention" in contemporary therapy. However, Bravo and Grob[42] note that "the place of psychedelics in spiritual practice remains controversial".

Ruzek,[43] who interviewed founders of transpersonal psychology, as well as historians of American psychology, found that the field of Transpersonal psychology had made little impact on the larger field of psychology in America. Among the factors that contributed to this situation was mainstream psychology's "resistance to spiritual and philosophical ideas", and the tendency of Transpersonal psychologists to isolate themselves from the larger context.

One of the earliest criticisms of transpersonal psychology was leveled by the humanistic psychologist Rollo May, who "disputed the conceptual foundations of transpersonal psychology".[5] May also criticized the field for neglecting the personal dimension of the psyche by elevating the pursuit of the transcendental,[14] and for neglecting the "dark side of human nature".[9][44]

According to Lukoff and Lu[9] the American Psychological Association expressed some concerns about the "unscientific" nature of transpersonal psychology at the time of the petition to the APA (see above). Rowan[45] notes that the Association had serious reservations about opening up a Transpersonal Psychology Division. The petitions for divisional status failed to win the majority of votes in the APA council, and the division was never established.[5] Commentators also mention that transpersonal psychology's association with the ideas of religion was one of the concerns that prohibited it from becoming a separate division of the APA at the time of the petition in 1984.[5]

Transpersonal psychology has been criticized for lacking conceptual, evidentiary, and scientific rigor. In a review of criticisms of the field, Cunningham writes, "philosophers have criticized transpersonal psychology because its metaphysics is naive and epistemology is undeveloped. Multiplicity of definitions and lack of operationalization of many of its concepts has led to a conceptual confusion about the nature of transpersonal psychology itself (i.e., the concept is used differently by different theorists and means different things to different people). Biologists have criticized transpersonal psychology for its lack of attention to biological foundations of behavior and experience. Physicists have criticized transpersonal psychology for inappropriately accommodating physic concepts as explanations of consciousness."[46]

Albert Ellis, a cognitive psychologist and humanist, has questioned the results of transpersonal psychotherapy. In 1989 he cooperated with Raymond Yeager for the release of Why some therapies don't work: The dangers of transpersonal psychology, where the authors compared the results of transpersonal psychology with the effects of Rational-Emotive Therapy, noting the dangers of the transpersonal approach.[47] Ellis has also questioned the scientific status of transpersonal psychology, and its relationship to religion, mysticism and authoritarian belief systems.[48][49]

See also



  1. ^ Walsh, R.; Vaughan, F. (1993). "On transpersonal definitions". Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 25 (2): 125–182.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Chinen, Allan B. (1996). "The emergence of Transpersonal psychiatry". In Scotton, Bruce W.; Chinen, Allan B.; Battista, John R. (eds.). Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Books.
  3. ^ Vich, M. A. (1988). "Some historical sources of the term 'transpersonal'". Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 20 (2): 107–110.
  4. ^ Powers, Robin (April 2005). "Counseling and Spirituality: A Historical Review". Counseling and Values. 49 (3): 217–225. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2005.tb01024.x.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Aanstoos, C.; Serlin, I.; Greening, T. (2000). "History of Division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) of the American Psychological Association". In Dewsbury, D. (ed.). Unification through Division: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association. Vol. V. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  6. ^ a b Taylor, Eugene (Spring 1999). "An Intellectual Renaissance of Humanistic Psychology". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 39 (2): 7–25. doi:10.1177/0022167899392002.
  7. ^ Judy, Dwight. "Transpersonal psychology: Coming of age." ReVision. Winter 94, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p99. 2p.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Taylor, Eugene. Transpersonal Psychology: Its several Virtues. The Humanistic Psychologist, Vol. 20, Nos. 2 and 3, pp. 285-300, 1992.
  9. ^ a b c Lukoff, David; Lu, Francis. A transpersonal-integrative approach to spiritually oriented psychotherapy. In Sperry, Len (Ed); Shafranske, Edward P. (Ed), (2005). Spiritually oriented psychotherapy., (pp. 177-205). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, ix, 368 pp.
  10. ^ a b c Adams, George (2002) A Theistic Perspective on Ken Wilber's Transpersonal Psychology, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17:2, 165-179, DOI:10.1080/13537900220125163
  11. ^ Miller, John J. "Book review: Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology." Psychiatric Services April 01, 1998
  12. ^ a b Fadiman, James; Judy, Dwight; Lukoff, David and Sovatsky, Stuart. 50TH Anniversary Reflections From (a few) of the Past Presidents of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2018, Vol. 50, No. 1
  13. ^ a b Freeman, Anthony. A Daniel Come To Judgement? Dennett and the Revisioning of Transpersonal Theory. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 13, No. 3, 2006, pp. 95–109
  14. ^ a b c d Hartelius, Glenn; Caplan, Mariana; Rardin, Mary Anne. "Transpersonal Psychology: Defining the Past, Divining the Future". The Humanistic Psychologist, 35(2), 1–26, 2007
  15. ^ Smith, Elizabeth D. Addressing the Psychospiritual Distress of Death as Reality: A Transpersonal Approach. Social Work. May95, Vol. 40 Issue 3, p402-413.
  16. ^ "History". Integral Institute. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  17. ^ Lukoff D, Lu F, Turner R. Toward a more culturally sensitive DSM-IV. Psychoreligious and psychospiritual problems. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1992;180(11):673–682.
  18. ^ Steinfels, P. "Psychiatrists' Manual Shifts Stance On Religious and Spiritual Problems". New York Times, February 10, 1994.
  19. ^ Turner, Robert P.; Lukoff, David; Barnhouse, Ruth Tiffany & Lu Francis G. "Religious or spiritual problem. A culturally sensitive diagnostic category in the DSM-IV". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Jul;183(7):435-44, 1995
  20. ^ Lukoff D, Lu FG, Turner R. Cultural considerations in the assessment and treatment of religious and spiritual problems. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 1995 Sep;18(3):467-85.
  21. ^ Fontana, David; Slack, Ingrid & Treacy, Martin, Eds. (2005) Transpersonal Psychology: Meaning and Developments. Transpersonal Psychology Review (Special Issue). Leicester: British Psychological Society
  22. ^ Daniels, Michael & McNutt, Brendan. "Questioning the Role of Transpersonal Psychology". Transpersonal Psychology Review, Vol. 1, No. 4, 4-9. (1997) [Preprint Version]
  23. ^ Ruzek, Nicole. Transpersonal Psychology in Context: Perspectives from its founders and Historians of American Psychology. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2007, Vol. 39, No. 2
  24. ^ a b c Friedman, Harris (2000) Toward Developing Transpersonal Psychology as a Scientific Field. Paper presented at Old Saybrook 2 conference, May 11–14, 2000, State University of West Georgia
  25. ^ a b Friedman, Harris. Transpersonal Psychology as a Scientific Field. The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 2002, Vol. 21, 175-187.
  26. ^ Caplan, Hartelius & Rardin. Contemporary viewpoints on Transpersonal Psychology. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2003, Vol. 35, No. 2.
  27. ^ Sutcliffe, Steven (2003). Category Formation and the History of 'New Age'. Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 4:1, 5-29
  28. ^ Casey retiring from Burlington College. Vermont Business Magazine 29.14 (Dec 01, 2001): 27.
  29. ^ Sovatsky, Stuart (1998) Words from the Soul : Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. New York: State University of New York Press (SUNY Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology)
  30. ^ a b Rowan, John (2005). The Transpersonal: Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-58391-987-3.
  31. ^ Hartelius, Glenn (2017). "Circular reasoning is not the uroboros: Rejecting perennialism as a psychological theory". International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. 36 (2): 121–135. doi:10.24972/ijts.2017.36.2.121.
  32. ^ Evans, Joan. "The Transpersonal - Psychotherapy and Counselling" (Book review). International Journal of Psychotherapy 2.2 (Nov 1997): 237-240.
  33. ^ Wade, Jenny. Transcending "Transpersonal": Time to join the world. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2019, Vol. 51, No. 1
  34. ^ Hartelius, G., Friedman, H. L., & Pappas, J. (2013). The calling to a spiritual psychology: Should transpersonal psychology convert? The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons. doi:10.1002/9781118591277.ch3
  35. ^ Miller, L. J., ed. (2012) [2012]. "Models of Spiritual Development". The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-19-972992-0.
  36. ^ a b Elmer, Lori D., MacDonald, Douglas A. & Friedman, Harris L. "Transpersonal psychology, physical health, and mental health: Theory, research, and practice". The Humanistic Psychologist, 31:2-3, 159-181, 2003
  37. ^ Hilgard, Ernest R. Consciousness in Contemporary Psychology. Annual Review of Psychology 1980, 31:1-26
  38. ^ Zdenek, Marilee. "Transformations of Consciousness" (Book review). L.A Times, September 14, 1986
  39. ^ Adams, George. "Book Reviews: Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality." Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2003 pp. 403–435
  40. ^ Parsons, William B. Book Reviews: Revisioning Transpersonal Theory. A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (Book). Journal of Religion, 00224189, Oct. 2003, Vol.83, Issue 4.
  41. ^ McManis, Sam. University with a Vision. JFK's holistic studies program attracts devoted students - and strong critics. San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, October 9, 1998
  42. ^ Bravo, Gary and Grob, Charles. Psychedelics and Transpersonal psychiatry. In Scotton, Bruce W., Chinen, Allan B. and Battista, John R., Eds. (1996) Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Books
  43. ^ Ruzek, Nicole Amity. Transpersonal Psychology's Historical Relationship to Mainstream American Psychology. Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. B 65/04 (2004): 2081. UMI pub. no. 3129589.2
  44. ^ Abzug, Robert H (2021) Psyche and Soul in America : The Spiritual Odyssey of Rollo May. Oxford University Press. Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2020
  45. ^ Rowan, John. "The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology" (Book Review). ACPNL Magazine, Issue 75 March 2014. The Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in North London
  46. ^ Cunningham, Paul F. (2011). A Primer on Transpersonal Psychology. Nashua NH 03060-5086: Rivier College. p. 53.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  47. ^ Ellis, Albert; Yeager, Raymond J. (1989) Why some therapies don't work: The dangers of transpersonal psychology. Amherst, NY, US: Prometheus Books.
  48. ^ Ellis, Albert. "Fanaticism that may lead to a nuclear holocaust: The contributions of scientific counseling and psychotherapy". Journal of Counseling & Development, Nov 1986, Vol. 65, pp. 146-151
  49. ^ Ellis, Albert. "Dangers of Transpersonal Psychology: A Reply To Ken Wilber". Journal of Counseling & Development, Feb89, Vol. 67 Issue 6, p336, 2p;

Further reading