Resolving internal conflicts, enhancing consciousness, facilitating self-discovery and actualization – these are all the goals of therapists trained in a field of psychology that takes patients on an interior voyage, a voyage within themselves.
Transpersonal psychologists are the therapists who take patients on this singular voyage using a holistic therapeutic approach aimed at integrating the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of life.
These therapists help patients create a “better self” by guiding them in the therapeutic work that facilitates a more complete understanding of who they are. This process of self-actualization, according to Abraham Maslow, Harvard psychologist and a founder of transpersonal psychology, is “becoming everything that one is capable of becoming.”
A fusion of Eastern, Western, and indigenous philosophical and spiritual thought, transpersonal psychology provides therapists with an extensive palette of therapeutic techniques to achieve their goal of guiding patients toward self-actualization. The appropriate choice of therapies requires the therapist to have a clear diagnostic understanding of how the patient sees himself, the world around him, and his particular life situation.
Assumptions of the Transpersonal Psychologist
The transpersonal psychologist employs not only standard psychological principles, but also embraces important spiritual assumptions – assumptions which are well outside the scope of standard psychology but which the transpersonal therapist must accept without reservation. These assumptions define the context within which the therapist helps the patient find new perspectives and healing.
First Assumption - Humans are Spiritual Beings with Physical Experiences
Spirituality of all descriptions is at the core of transpersonal psychology, requiring that therapists be prepared to treat a diversity of patients without bias, judgment or agenda.
Second Assumption - Human Consciousness is Multidimensional
The basic dimensions of human life are the body, mind and soul. While the idea of the body is straight forward, the mind in transpersonal psychology is thought to have three levels or depths: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind -although some psycho therapeutic approaches combine the subconscious and the unconscious.
The dimension of the soul simply refers to the patient's spiritual beliefs – whatever they may be. From a therapeutic perspective, the patients' 'body-mind-soul' dimensions hold conflicting information and self-defeating beliefs that need to be accessed and resolved as part of their therapy. This is an integral part of the self-actualization process.
Third Assumption - Humans are Capable of Transcending their Personalities
The understanding that human are capable of moving beyond who they are right now – and communicating with their souls. These transcendent experiences are often induced and guided by the therapist using whatever techniques are part of the patient's spiritual beliefs, such as chanting, drumming, praying or meditating.
Sometimes, patients can achieve a transcendent state on their own. For instance, a patient may reach a transcendent state while painting or writing – and find themselves in a place where forgotten memories surface, wonderful new ideas arise, or inner wisdom resolves long-standing problems.
Fourth Assumption - Each Human has an Internal Source of Wisdom
Some call it the soul, but many simply consider it to be the part of all humans that is normally not heard above the noise of the world.
Transpersonal therapists facilitate deeper experiences and understandings through a process that is positive and constructive, using cognitive activities that often become lifelong tools for their patients.
These tools include long-term practices such as meditation or yoga. They also use hypnosis to move more rapidly into areas that need immediate investigation.
The choice of the appropriate tools depends on the patient and his or her spiritual predilections. A therapist might prescribe meditation, journaling, chanting, drumming, dream interpretation, guided imagery, or prayer. In some cases altered states such as hypnosis might be in order. Or, a therapist might recommend body work such as biofeedback, sensory awareness, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or Aikido.
Goals of a Transpersonal Therapist
A transpersonal therapist establishes therapeutic goals for each patient. First and foremost, a therapist must guide the patient toward good mental health. The use of transpersonal experiences to explore spiritual issues within a psychological context enables a more holistic perspective on critical issues, blockages, or conflicts.
As patients become more aware of the content within their own minds, the therapist helps them focus on - and understand - the dynamics that have fueled experiences. The goal of changing behavior is predicated on understanding the causal factors and setting new directions. The successful resolution of issues such as addictions or phobias is one of the most empowering experiences a patient can have.
Exploring concepts of self and identity under the guidance of the therapist is instrumental in helping patients clarify many self-image issues. This discernment gives patients greater understanding about who they are and who they want to be. The process of embracing and resolving internal conflicts allows patients to be more fully expressive, and feel more fulfilled.
As patients begin to change, all relationships come into question. The therapist's perspective helps the patient understand the dynamics of each relationship including the understanding that the other person is also a spiritual being having a physical experience. Concepts of compassion and forgiveness become more important as patients begin to see people in their lives through different eyes.
Resolving relationship issues between the patient and society is often the next step in psychological maturation, and is especially powerful in changing attitudes. A transpersonal therapist is uniquely skilled in leading patients through dimensional aspects that make them mistakenly think of themselves as separate. The discovery of the true non-duality of existence – that is, the fact that we are all part of the same source - is often a life-changing step.
The coalescence of the all the unique, creative aspects of “self” gives patients new ways of understanding their own lives. The ability to disengage and go within often brings new calmness, reducing stress, creativity, and peace. As the therapist helps patients become more comfortable with transcendent aspects, patients become more centered, more grounded, and more capable.
The experience of the transpersonal therapist is profound. As he or she helps the patient discover the path to self-actualization, the therapist's commitment to the patient mirrors that path as he or she also makes new discoveries. Exploring transpersonal realms with a patient continually stretches the therapist's understanding of the ascendant qualities of all men and women, enabling the therapist to also become a better “self.”
If you desire to help individuals with many of life’s challenges, including workplace stressors, family life, career decisions, relationship issues, and especially personal growth concerns, consider a career as transpersonal psychologist.
Transpersonal psychologists must have a PhD in most states to practice, and certain licensing requirements might also apply. Contact psychology schools for more information on acquiring educational qualifications required to enter the field of transpersonal psychology.
What are the three Levels of the Mind?
If we think of the mind as an ocean where the surface is accessible and the deepest areas are inaccessible, we have a good analogy of the mind. There are no obvious separations, but years of observing patients have allowed psychologists to acknowledge at least three general mind levels: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. The definitions of these words are not absolute. Some psychological approaches interpret these words only slightly differently and while others make greater distinctions.
The conscious mind – is what we use every day. Its content is accessible, although some information may be buried.
The subconscious mind - exists (figuratively) right below the conscious level. Although it isn't normally available to the conscious mind, it can be accessed by taking the patient to the theta level of brain consciousness in hypnosis. (See box on Brain Waves – Change your brain) Many psychologists feel it contains personal material, such as – attitudes, moods, behavior – and as we go deeper - childhood traumas, and even other personalities.
The unconscious mind– never rests, and individuals don't have any control over it. It's the home of the autonomic nervous system that keeps the body functioning without our thinking about it. It is thought to be the place where most of the brain's processing takes place because of the tremendous speed with which it analyzes and stores data. The content of the unconscious mind is often extreme emotion, wrong beliefs, and blockages that can be dissolved when accessed with hypnosis through the delta brain wave state. In transpersonal psychology, the unconscious is also thought to be the connection with the collective unconsciousness of humanity, the place of unity where all thought exists.