Many individuals are stuck between mere survival and the feeling inside that there is a greater person trying to get out. This is the healthy, albeit uncomfortable, impulse to grow – an impulse that is only resolved by exploring the physical, mental, and spiritual territories between where you are and where you want to be.
What is Transpersonal Therapy?
Transpersonal therapy focuses on the full developmental potential of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. The defining feature is the premise that human life is characterized by the compulsion to continually grow in each of the six human areas of potentiality: the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and creative. Individuals naturally develop in these areas, although not always uniformly.
The point of transpersonal therapy is to guide the patient through an exploration of these six areas, nurturing them to reignite and deepen growth, leading to greater self-understanding and unlimited possibilities. It is a type of therapy that initiates transpersonal experiences, using them to inform patients’ conscious lives.
Understanding the Transpersonal World
The primary assumption of transpersonal therapy is that all humans have a part that exists beyond what is perceptible. It has been termed the soul, the higher consciousness, and the higher self, among other names. Psychologists refer to it as the transpersonal or “beyond the person,” and experiences in the transpersonal or soul realms are called transcendent, meaning beyond the limits of ordinary experience.
Although the soul or transpersonal realm exists outside space and time, the experience is one of inner space, often termed “the divinity within.” Exploring the soul expands the self to include new understandings of personal potential. This exploration also gives patients a better understanding of why some of their issues exist and how to resolve them.
Since humans are spiritual beings, or elements of the divine, transpersonal therapy uses a framework to understand patients that differs from other forms of therapy. The dynamics of therapeutic sessions are drastically different if therapists feel that when looking into the eyes of patients, they are looking into the eyes of God. This reverential approach causes patients to feel valued rather than broken.
Within a context where both patient and therapist are aspects of the divine, the therapy is more of a journey than a process, a journey expanding individuals rather than pathologizing them. Virtually all other therapeutic approaches have historically viewed transcendent experiences, such as feelings of oneness with nature, the spiritual experience of seeing Jesus, or the blissful sensations of meditation, as mental aberrations – hysterical or psychotic states.
Transpersonal psychology was founded to provide empirical evidence on the validity of these transpersonal experiences. Thousands report these experiences each year, and numerous scientific studies now contribute important insights and interpretations of their plausibility. The transpersonal therapist is always watchful for serious mental illness, yet patients’ transcendent experiences are now viewed as normal transpersonal investigations rather than symptoms of mental illness.
Experiencing the Soul – The Inner Space
Researchers have observed that patients seem to have three dominant types of experiences in this transpersonal or soul exploration.
The first type of transcendence relates to space. Patients experience a sense of becoming one with the earth, nature, or humankind. This unitive experience often happens in beautiful settings or spiritual atmospheres, and includes peak or transcendent experiences where patients have a greater sense of themselves as part of the whole universe rather than as isolated beings. This experience imparts feelings of greater fulfillment, peace, contentment, or love.
The second type of transcendence relates to time. Patients experience a sense of themselves in other times – perhaps a forgotten childhood experience or a previous incarnation. This is also typified by the instantaneous awareness of information, such as through clairvoyance, telepathy, or similar psychic experiences.
The third type of transcendence relates to the encountering of angels, spirit guides, gods and goddesses, and archetypal concepts, or symbols. These concepts exist in what psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. In simple terms, the collective unconscious describes the shared experiences of all humans, collective experiences that influence behaviors, attitudes, and belief systems. Jung believed that all individuals have a unique personal unconscious, and a shared collective unconscious.
The contents of the collective unconscious are concepts that Jung called archetypes. Archetypes include events, such as birth, death, and marriage, symbols, such as crosses. They also include figures, such as the great mother, God, and victim – among many others. Jung and other psychologists maintain that symbolic archetypes play out in personality traits and over-arching issues in individuals’ lives.
Transpersonal psychology draws its methodology from the spiritual traditions of the world, including eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, the Yogic traditions of India, shamanistic practices from indigenous people, and Western contemplative traditions. Depending on patients’ beliefs, therapists might use a variety of contemplative practices to help patients with their inner work.
States of non-ordinary consciousness are doorways to transcendent experiences. Patients’ transpersonal or soul realms are often accessed through induced states of non-ordinary consciousness – such as hypnosis – with the help of therapists. Through talk therapy, therapists then help patients explore their transpersonal realms and discuss the information they discover. Learning more about who they are often brings about transformation and healing.
These states of consciousness will vary in depth and intensity depending on the methods used. Typically, therapists begin with light alterations of consciousness such as guided imagery or meditation. As patients progress in their transpersonal work, therapists will determine if deeper levels of consciousness need to be accessed.
Meditation has become one of the primary therapeutic modalities of transpersonal therapy. Quieting the mind has the diagnostic value of helping patients see their habitual mental processes. This Buddhist mindfulness practice allows patients the time and mental space to learn how to be attentive and present in each moment.
Meditation has several other advantages. It alters brainwave states to frequencies that allow greater access to different aspects of non-ordinary consciousness, and it is a good tool for decreasing stress. Certain meditative exercises aid patients in contemplating compassion, love, and forgiveness.
Shadow work is a process of exploring those aspects of self that aren’t fully acknowledged. These aspects can be positive or negative, but they are repressed – that is, they are invisible to patients even though they are issues, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of their active personalities. Jung termed it an “unconscious snag thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
A common example is the excessive control issues of a mother whose intense fears for her child’s safety are phobic reactions to her own frightening childhood. Therapeutic shadow work might reveal that although she was intellectually aware of the dangers of her home and showed maturity beyond her years in extricating herself from the situation, she might harbor deep emotional wounds because she was only a child and no one was there to help or protect her.
Belief work seeks to resolve old beliefs that stand in the way of an individual’s progress. Beliefs such as ‘life is hard’ or ‘nothing is true for me’ are imbedded in the unconscious, determining an individual’s expectations.
Guided imagery is a process that depends on the imagination. It’s an exploratory tool as well as an actualizing tool for the patient. A therapist asks a patient to imagine a particular situation, such as the death of a parent, and then guides the patient through various reactions. During this exercise, the therapist asks the patient to voice what he or she is thinking or feeling with the goal of helping resolve issues of abandonment.
Professional and Olympic athletes have used guided imagery as a training tool for many years. Skiers imagine their runs, how it feels to turn at different flags, and how they feel as they win. Imagery is said to be the language of the body. Visualization of goals or outcomes create changes in biochemistry, behavior, and helps individuals address challenges.
Affirmations are similar to the use of guided imagery in that they evoke an outcome or change. Affirmations are verbal declarations that describe the conditions of change. A good affirmation is positive and expressed in the present tense. It’s personal, visual, and emotional.
Dreamwork uses the language of the unconscious. Dreams contain archetypes that affect how patients react to their worlds. While only the dreamer knows the true meaning, certain images are universal and a therapist trained in dreamwork guides patients in exploring the different meanings.
Art therapy uses different forms of artistic expression to allow patients to explore mental, emotional, and spiritual issues. It is an especially powerful format for the expression of nonverbal, pre-verbal, and archetypal impressions. Therapists read the various results and make determinations about a patient’s well-being. (For more information, see the article Art Therapy https://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/art-therapy.html)
Transpersonal therapy doesn’t treat sick people, but people in transition who are looking for ways to explore their inner-realms of potentiality. Patients understand that these are essential levels of development that, if nurtured, will lead to greater self-understanding, the consequent resolution of problems, and the revitalization of their beings.
If you desire to help individuals explore their souls, understand their self-limiting behaviors, and use transpersonal experiences to live more meaningful, purposeful lives, consider a career as a transpersonal therapist.
Transpersonal therapists must have a PhD in most states to practice, and certain licensing requirements might also apply. Contact schools ror more information on psychology degrees and entering the field of Transpersonal Therapy.
Integrative Medicine’s Diverse Palette of Therapies
Science has proven that the body, mind, and soul are inextricably connected. Thought has a direct influence on the biochemistry of the body, movement has profound effects on both physical and mental health, and spirit provides tenacity, courage and vision. Transpersonal therapy is a synergistic effort and draws upon a diverse offering of therapies that provide many different approaches to healing.
Aikido is a Japanese martial arts form that blends movement with breathing 0in an effort to achieve harmony. Roughly translated as “the way of combining forces,” Aikido seeks to integrate philosophy, spirit, and the body in a way that increases the strength of all three.
Tai Chi and chi quong (Qigong) are Chinese movement forms that focus on working with the energy of the body and moving it around to increase health and counteract the effects of stress. These movements also help the balance of the body/mind/spirit energy.
Traditionally chi quong was the primary form with advanced students moving on to learn Tai Chi. However Tai Chi – foundational to Chinese medicine and considered to be very healing – has become the more practiced form, especially in the U.S.
Yoga is a Hindu movement-based meditation that can take many different forms. While all forms unite the various aspects of the body, mind, and spirit, some forms are more physical, emphasizing various postures, and others are more meditative. Yoga is widely accepted as a method of alleviating stress, calming the mind, building strength, and increasing flexibility.
NLP – Neuro linguistic programming is based on the highly complex and individualized process of how the brain sequences and uses environmental sensory inputs, such as words, movements, and sounds. For example, eyes see words on a page. Some people hear the words one at a time as they read, some see and recognize individual words, some see clusters of words, and some see the images the words represent. Still others use combinations of these processing strategies depending on the situation.
Every person has unconscious strategies or programs for organizing information that directly affect behaviors and styles of communication. By observing eye movements, skilled NLP therapists know how to identify individual sequences and strategies for all types of sensory inputs.
Overcoming phobias and harmful habits both exemplify the types of problems well suited for NLP. A trained therapist treats these problems by identifying and replacing less desirable processing strategies with more healthy ones.
Holotrophic breathing helps patients achieve trance and transcendent states that are similar to those achieved with psychedelic chemicals. The difference is that this technique doesn’t use any chemicals instead relying on lengthy sessions of breathing, music, and relaxation to achieve different levels of awareness. It is considered to be a powerful experience that should only be undertaken with an experienced therapist.
Hypnosis is defined as a trance state in which patients respond to suggestion and demonstrate increased imagination. Experts believe the hypnotic trance state bypasses consciousness, connecting directly with the subconscious..
Shamanism is a form of healing mediated by a shaman invoking the energy of spirit-beings in other dimensions. As the original form of healing, shamanism is present in every civilization. Shamanism has been shown to be effective despite scientific explanation.