Stanislav Grof

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Stanislav Grof
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materCharles University, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences
Known forTranspersonal psychology

Basic perinatal matrices Hylotropic and holotropic

Spiritual emergency
SpouseBrigitte Grof since April 2016
AwardsHonorary doctorates from:
  • Burlington College (2000)
  • World Buddhist University (Bangkok, Thailand) (2004)
  • Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (2012)
  • California Institute of Integral Studies


    1959 Kuffner Award for Psychiatry (Czechoslovakian national award granted annually for the most important contribution in the field of psychiatry) for the study of Benactyzine and other anticholinergic delirogens (shared with Drs. M. Vojtěchovský, V. Vítek, and K. Ryšánek).
  • 1967-69 Fellowship from the Foundations’ Fund for Research in Psychiatry in New Haven, Connecticut, for advanced research in psychedelic therapy.
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology, psychiatry
InstitutionsJohns Hopkins University
University of Maryland, Baltimore
Esalen Institute
California Institute of Integral Studies

Stanislav "Stan" Grof is an American psychiatrist. Grof is one of the principal developers of transpersonal psychology and research into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of psychological healing, deep self-exploration, and obtaining growth and insights into the human psyche. In 1993, Grof received an Honorary Award from the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) for major contributions to and development of the field of transpersonal psychology, given at the occasion of the 25th Anniversary Convocation held in Asilomar, California. He also received the VISION 97 award granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Václav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007. In 2010, he received the Thomas R. Verny Award from the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH).

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] Grof’s early research in the clinical uses of psychedelic substances was conducted at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, where he was principal investigator of a program that systematically explored the heuristic and therapeutic potential of LSD and other psychedelic substances.

In 1967, he received a scholarship from the Foundations Fund for Research in Psychiatry in New Haven, CT, and was invited by Joel Elkes[2] to be a Clinical and Research Fellow at Henry Phipps Clinic, a part of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, United States. In 1969, he 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. In 1969, Grof also became Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University. 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 and conducting monthlong workshops.

Grof was the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA) (in 1977) and served for several decades as its president. 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 remained in until 2018. In May 2020, he launched, with his wife Brigitte Grof, a new training in working with holotropic states of consciousness, the international Grof® Legacy Training.


Psychedelics and breathwork[edit]

Grof's early studies were 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 experiences in psychedelic sessions and other "holotropic" states are understood as being influenced by biographical material, fetal and perinatal experiences, and a range of transpersonal phenomena.[3] Over time, this theory developed into what Grof called an "expanded cartography of the human psyche." Following the suppression of legal LSD use in the early 1970s, Grof pursued this therapeutic direction without drugs, by codeveloping with his wife Christina Grof, a combination of deep and rapid breathing, evocative music, focused bodywork, and mandala drawing.[4] Originally termed "Holotropic Breathwork," he now uses the term Grof® Breathwork to describe this breathwork technique.

Interplay of hylotropic and holotropic impulses in the psyche[edit]

Grof distinguishes between two modes of consciousness: the hylotropic and the holotropic.[5] The hylotropic mode relates to "the normal, everyday experience of consensus reality".[6] In contrast, holotropic is characteristic of non-ordinary states of consciousness such as meditative, mystical, or psychedelic experiences.[7] According to Grof, contemporary psychiatry often categorizes these non-ordinary states as pathological.[7] Grof connects the hylotropic to the Buddhist conception of namarupa ("name and form"), the separate, individual, illusory lower self. He connects the holotropic to the Hindu conception of Atman-Brahman.[8]

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."[9] 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.[10] 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."[11] 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.[12]

Influence on other researchers[edit]

Grof's collaboration with Richard Tarnas began in the early 1970s, when Tarnas moved to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur to write his dissertation on psychedelic therapy under the auspices of Grof. They would eventually research a new way of understanding the timing and content of experiences encountered in holotropic states of consciousness, which Tarnas refers to as "archetypal cosmology".[13]


Grof was featured in the film Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a 2006 documentary about rediscovering an enchanted cosmos in the modern world.[14]

In 2020, the documentary The Way of the Psychonaut was released, which explores Grof's lifework and contributions to transpersonal psychology.[15]


  • Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research. New York: The Viking Press (1975).
  • The Human Encounter with Death. New York: E. P. Dutton (1977).
  • Dimensions of Dying and Rebirth. (1977).
  • LSD Psychotherapy. Hunter House (1980).
  • Beyond Death: The Gates Of Consciousness with Christina Grof. (1981).
  • East & West: Ancient Wisdom And Modern Science. (1985).
  • Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death And Transcendence In Psychotherapy. (1986).
  • Human Survival And Consciousness Evolution, edited with Marjorie L. Valier. (1988).
  • The Adventure of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration. Albany: SUNY Press (1988). ISBN 978-0887065408.
  • Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes A Crisis, with Christina Grof. (1989).
  • The Stormy Search For The Self: A Guide To Personal Growth Through Transformative Crisis, with Christina Grof. (1990).
  • The Holotropic Mind: The Three levels Of Human Consciousness And How They Shape Our Lives, with Hal Zina Bennet. New York: Harper Collins (1993).
  • Books Of The Dead: Manuals For Living And Dying. (1994).
  • The Cosmic Game: Explorations Of The Frontiers Of Human Consciousness. (1998).
  • The Consciousness Revolution: A Transatlantic Dialogue, with Peter Russell and Ervin Laszlo. (1999).
  • Psychology Of The Future: Lessons From Modern Consciousness Research. (2000).
  • The Call of the Jaguar. (2002).
  • Caterpillar Dreams, with Melody Sullivan. (2004).
  • When The Impossible Happens: Adventures In Non-Ordinary Reality. (2006).
  • The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness And The Mystery Of Death. (2006).
  • LSD: Doorway to the Numinous: The Groundbreaking Psychedelic Research into Realms of the Human Unconscious. (2009).
  • Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy. (2010).
  • Healing Our Deepest Wounds: The Holotropic Paradigm Shift. (2012).
  • Modern Consciousness Research and the Understanding of Art: Including the Visionary World of H. R. Giger. Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (2015). ISBN 9780979862298.
  • The Way of the Psychonaut: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys (Volume One). Santa Cruz; Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (2019). ISBN 9780998276595.
  • The Way of the Psychonaut: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys (Volume Two). Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (2019). ISBN 9780998276557.

See also[edit]


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


  1. ^ Kaczorowski, Aleksander (trans. Figiel, Joanna) (05.12.2018). A Communist LSD Trip: The Story of Czechoslovak Acid.
  2. ^ Grof, Stanislav (2016) Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research Souvenir Press Ltd ISBN 9780285643666
  3. ^ Rowan, John (2005). The Transpersonal: Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Taylor & Francis. p. 39. ISBN 978-1583919873.
  4. ^ Cortright, Brant (1997). Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. SUNY Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0791434666.
  5. ^ Wilber, Ken (1998). The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. Shambhala. p. 165. ISBN 978-1570623455.
  6. ^ Grof 1988, p. 38.
  7. ^ a b Grof 1988, p. 39.
  8. ^ Butler 2014, p. 9.
  9. ^ Blackmore, Susan. (1991). Near-Death Experiences: In or out of the body?. Skeptical Inquirer 16: 34-45.
  10. ^ French, Chris. (2005). Near-Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Survivors. Progress in Brain Research 150: 351-367.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Grof, Stanislav (2019). The Way of the Psychonaut, Volume II. Santa Cruz, CA: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. ISBN 978-0887065415.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The Way of the Psychonaut".

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]