Transpersonal Psychology

We cannot approach the salient topic that is so unique like Transpersonal psychology without making reference to the study of psychology itself. Psychology is the study of the science of mind and behavior; the mental and behavioral characteristics of an individual or group; the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity according to the Collegiate dictionary (tenth edition). What then is Transpersonal psychology?

Transpersonal psychology is a branch of psychology that incorporates the spiritual and goes beyond the various human experiences with reference to the concept of hitherto modern psychology. Transpersonal psychology is also known as “Spiritual Psychology”. The concept of transpersonal has to do with certain life experiences, like having the sense of identity or the human consciousness of the self extending beyond normalcy (trans) integrating wider aspects of mankind, the galaxy and life. Transpersonal psychology is also defined as the development that goes beyond normal human experiences which are conventional to a person or group levels particularly. When the subject matter of transpersonal psychology is discussed issues like spiritual self development, systemic trance, peak experiences, self beyond the ego, mystical experience, religious conversion, spiritual crises, evolution of the spirit, altered states of consciousness, ghost practices and other forms of unusual occurrences which are practically experience of living. The study tries to propound a theory from all encompassing description and incorporating spiritual experience associated with modern psychological theories that will bring to a final arrival of a universally acceptable theory with regards to Transpersonal psychology.

Transpersonal psychology has influence in a strong way other branches of psychology such as psychotherapy and psychiatry and has also contributed its own quota to the study of human development, spirituality and the study of the human consciousness.

Many experts in the field of psychology have delved into the subject Transpersonal psychology, each one coming to its own conclusion on the subject matter. For example, in trying to define Transpersonal psychology; Lajoie and Shapiro carried out a critical look at the various academic literature from 1968 – 1991. He discovered 5 key themes that occurred rampantly in the definitions which are; higher or ultimate potential, the state of consciousness, personal self or above ago, the spiritual and the transcendence. It was concluded as thus “Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, comprehension, and realization of a unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness.

Walsh and Vaughan proposed that Transpersonal psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the study of transpersonal experiences and related phenomena. These phenomena include the causes, effects and correlates of transpersonal experiences and development, as well as the disciplines and practices inspired by them. Walsh and Vaughan criticized other previous definitions, citing assumptions that was not all encompassing.

Hartelius, Caplan and Rardin carried out their own study and analysis of defining Transpersonal Psychology. They discovered 3 dominant features in the definition which were beyond-ego psychology, integrative/holistic psychology and psychology of transformation. They suggested that the area of study has gone beyond the earlier study of states of consciousness to a more advanced level of transformation. This discovery has shifted the area of study to the integral approach of Post-Aurobindonian and Ken Wilber theories.

However, transpersonal psychology is a new area of discipline, by the publication of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969 and subsequently followed by the establishment of Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1971, its study was founded based on ancient study of mystical knowledge emanating from heterogeneous traditions. It attempts to incorporate the trends in time with modern Western psychology while translating spiritual principles to scientific based language. The study of Transpersonal Psychology oversees the full knowledge of man’s psychospiritual advancement. The concept of being holy and being in unism are pivotal to the universal view of Transpersonal psychology.

Advancement of the academic field


Early study of the field was initiated by the following people William James, Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli and Abraham Maslow. Later studies were done by Jean Piaget’s and Vich. Vich said that the initial usage of the term “transpersonal” was given by William James in a lecture at Harvard University between 1905 and 1906. Williams Radical approach to the subject, he said, the study was related to the different dispositions and development and radical empiricism of the existence of perceiving subject and perceived subject and the study of psychology of religion, interest in Eastern spiritual system, study of religion and practices and how it shaped the initial study of the area of transpersonal psychology.

A very important person who contributed towards the establishment of transpersonal psychology was Abraham Maslow. Maslow is well known for establshing of a fourth-force psychology called transhumanistic psychology, in a lecture entitled “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature” in 1967. In order to distinguish it from the three other forces of psychology: behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich also carried out studies on the field.

Forming period

Abraham Maslow, Anthony Sutich and Stanislav Grof were the brainchild of the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, a leading academic journal in the field, this prompted the establishment of The Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1972. Followed by the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, founded by Robert Frager and James Fadiman incorporating spiritual approaches to psychology.

From 1980 books and articles were being written and published by Michael Washburn, Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, Frances Vaughan, Roger Walsh, Charles Tart and Seymour Boorstein among these books included books like; The Atman Project, A Transpersonal Theory of Human Development, The Ego and the Dynamic Ground and spiritual emergence and spiritual emergencies. There were also petitions and series of trials for the subject testing the truce about the field of study during the developmental stages of the study.

Later on in the 1990s, other contributors to the field emerged such as Brant Cortright, Stuart Sovatsky, David Lukoff, Robert P. Turner and Francis Lu. Cortright and Sovatsky. The later published works on popular SUNY-series. Lukoff, Turner and Lu, who wrote in the clinical field were brain child of the DSM-manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The study was about “Psychoreligious or psychospiritual problem” and was granted permission by the Task Force on DSM-IV in 1993, by changing its name to Religious or spiritual problem. Wilber is considered an influential writer and theoretician in this area of study, his divergent movement from the field of Transpersonal psychology became prominent by late 1990s when he established the Integral Institute. Membership continued to increase at the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, numbering up to 3000 members in the early 1990s. In 1996 the British Psychological Society (the UK professional body equivalent to the APA) founded a Transpersonal Psychology Department. It was co-established by David Fontana, Ingrid Slack and Martin Treacy, it was the first of its kind in a Western scientific society and has grown rapidly.

Later growth

In early 2000s, there was revisionary project of Jorge Ferrer, an important addition to the field of study. Revisioning Transpersonal Theory – A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality written in 2001 was part of the SUNY Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology. 2012 saw the announcement of the Institute of Transpersonal psychology transforming its name to Sofia University with an inclusion of extended course outline.

Branches and related fields

Other branches of psychology that have influenced transpersonal psychology includes Analytical psychology of Carl Jung, the psychosynthesis of Roberto Assagioli and the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow. Dr. William J. Barry founded transpersonal psychology as tool for action research method in the area of education via his Ph.D. thesis of Transformational Quality Theory. The application to the field of business and management. Some disciplines such as transpersonal anthropology and transpersonal business studies are included in transpersonal disciplines. It is considered by Boucovolas that Transpersonal art is a course that should be listed on how transpersonal psychology may be connected with other field of transpersonal study. Transpersonal art can be related to the themes that goes beyond personal self such as consciousness. This makes transpersonal art criticism germane to mystical approaches to creativity

There are strong relationship between the transpersonal and the humanistic approaches to psychology, as shown by Donald Moss. Transpersonal psychology can be associated with belief of the New Age. Although, Sovatsky and Rowan disagree. They said “The Transpersonal is not the New Age”. Friedman proposes that a responsible Transpersonal science should move towards “New Age”-ideas and philosophies. Much of the considerations of psychology of religion is related with issues that should be considered ‘transcendent’ linking with transpersonal psychology, the two issues are distinct.


Research, theory and clinical aspects

Research interests and methodology

The concepts that have contributed to the study includes: the spiritual traditions such as Christian mysticism, Shamanism, Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism, Kabbalah, and Native American healing to psychology and psychiatry; Anthropology; meditation; Psychedelics; Parapsychology; phenomenon, Spiritual Problem and Diagnosis of Religious; Offensive Spirituality and Spiritual Defenses; and Treatment of Kundalini; Psychotherapy; Near-Death Experiences; Religious Cults; Psychopharmacology; Past life therapy; Guided Imagery; Breath-work; Ecological survival and Social change; age and maturity spiritual development are the aspects that have contributed to the research.

Research of Transpersonal psychology is focused on both quantitative and qualitative approaches. However, the field has not much contribution to empirical knowledge on clinical issues, but is a wide contributor to important quantitative research to meditation.

Ken Wilber and John Battista

Wilber is known as the leading theorist and pioneer of the   transpersonal psychology beliefs and new model called Integral. His understanding of human development was a model of psychology as stated in his book “The spectrum of consciousness” in 1977. The book is regarded as an incorporation of the spiritual philosophies of Hindu-Buddhist traditions with the development and practice of spiritual psychologies of western education.

In 1990s was the period marked by a movement into the world of integral ideas for Wilber, he shifted from the section of psychology to philosophy. Although, psychology is still an important aspect of his project.

Michael Washburn and Stanislav Grof

Contrary to Wilber and Battista, Michael Washburn and Stanislav Grof gave a model of human development that is informed by psychoanalysis, object-relations theory,[ and the depth psychology of the Jungian perspective. Washburn transpersonal development from the principles of an oval pathway. He refers to it as “spiral dynamic perspective”. Focal to this model is the comprehension of a dynamic ground, a deep level of the unconsciousness that the person is in contact with in stages of development up to the age of five. Thereafter this contact is weakened on the long run.

Stanislav Grof propounded the cartography made up of 3 categories of domain (that is the domain of the sensory barrier of personal unconsciousness (psychoanalysis), the birth related realm (organizing principles for the psyche) and the transpersonal domain.



Stuart Sovatsky

The theory of development is also featured in the spiritual psychotherapy and psychology of Stuart Sovatsky. His comprehension of man’s development, which is greatly informed by east-west psychology tradition and hermeneutics of Yoga, puts mankind in the middle of spiritual energy process outlined in yogic thinking.

Jorge Ferrer Transpersonal theory

Jorge Ferrer brought a participatory concept on spiritual disposition. Ferrer interrogated 3 presuppositions for interpretation that is common in transpersonal studies which are: frameworks of experientalism; the transpersonal comprehension as an individual interior experience, internal empiricism, the overview of transpersonal phenomena with reference to the standards of empiricist science of perennialism.

Clinical Issues and diagnostic Issues

Transpersonal psychology also contributed to clinical reference to the topic of spiritual crisis. Psychological problems connected to spiritual crisis are not silenced on by psychology. The problems are that psychiatric complications are sometime said to be related to; near-death experience; Kundalini awakening; shamanic illness; psychic problems etc. The concept of “spiritual emergence” and “spiritual emergency” was propounded by Stanislav and Christina Grof describing it as a gradual unlashing of spiritual signs with disturbance in psychological, social and occupational functions.

Locations, Organizations and publications

A leading institution within the field of Transpersonal Psychology is the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, which was founded in 1972. One of the association’s past president is Alyce Green. The European Transpersonal Psychology Association (ETPA), also established later on also carried out necessary studies in relation to the subject matter. The foremost graduate school is Sofia University (formerly referred to as The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology). The university is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

The Leading publication is the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. Other publications are the Transpersonal Psychology Review, the journal of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. 1996 publications include Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. In 1999 Humanistic and transpersonal psychology was published by Greenwood Press. The latest comprehensive introduction into the field is The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology.

Acceptance and criticism


Acceptance of Transpersonal psychology has experience series of divergent views among other branches and school of psychology. The American Psychological Association had enormous reservations on opening up a Transpersonal Psychology sections.


Critics against Transpersonal psychology has been upwards by a large number of commentaries including writers within the school of thought and other writers representing other fields of psychology or philosophy.

Humanistic psychologist criticism of Transpersonal psychology

This is one of the earliest critics, Rollo May, a Humanistic psychologist, who argued against the conceptual foundations of Transpersonal psychology. Also Eugene Taylor and Kirk Schneider are not left out.

Failure to meet scientific criteria

Critics have criticize the perspective of Transpersonal psychology for failure to meet scientific standards. Among the critics include Cunningham. Philosophers criticize it because the epistemology of the transpersonal psychology is underdeveloped and that its metaphysic is totally naïve. They insinuated that the concepts means different thing to different people.