A short definition from the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology suggests that transpersonal psychology "is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness" (Lajoie and Shapiro, 1992:91). Issues considered in transpersonal psychology include spiritual self-development, self beyond the ego, peak experiences, mystical experiences, systemic trance and other occult experiences of living.
Transpersonal psychology developed from earlier schools of psychology including psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. Transpersonal psychology attempts to describe and integrate spiritual experience within modern psychological theory and to formulate new theory to encompass such experience. Types of spiritual experience examined vary greatly but include mysticism, religious conversion, altered states of consciousness, trance and spiritual practices. Although Carl Jung and others explored aspects of the spiritual and transpersonal in their work, Miller (1998: 541-542) notes that Western psychology has had a tendency to ignore the spiritual dimension of the human psyche.
Origins and definition of the discipline
Lajoie and Shapiro (1992) reviewed forty definitions of transpersonal psychology that had appeared in literature over the period 1969 to 1991. They found that five key themes in particular featured prominently in these definitions: states of consciousness, higher or ultimate potential, beyond the ego or personal self, transcendence, and the spiritual. Walsh and Vaughan (1993) have criticised many definitions of transpersonal psychology, for carrying implicit ontological or methodological assumptions. They also challenge definitions that link transpersonal psychology to healthy states only, or to the "Perennial Philosophy". These authors define transpersonal psychology as being the branch of psychology that is concerned with transpersonal experiences and related phenomena, noting that "These phenomena include the causes, effects and correlates of transpersonal experiences, as well as the disciplines and practices inspired by them" (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993, p203).
Caplan (2009: p. 231) conveys the genesis of the discipline, states its mandate and ventures a definition:
"Although transpersonal psychology is relatively new as a formal discipline, beginning with the publication of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969 and the founding of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1971, it draws upon ancient mystical knowledge that comes from multiple traditions. Transpersonal psychologists attempt to integrate timeless wisdom with modern Western psychology and translate spiritual principles into scientifically grounded, contemporary language. Transpersonal psychology addresses the full spectrum of human psychospiritual development -- from our deepest wounds and needs, to the existential crisis of the human being, to the most transcendent capacities of our consciousness."
Amongst the thinkers who are held to have set the stage for transpersonal studies are William James, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Roberto Assagioli (Miller, 1998: 541-542.) Research by Vich (1988) suggests that the earliest usage of the term "transpersonal" can be found in lecture notes which William James had prepared for a semester at Harvard University in 1905-6. Another important figure in the establishment of transpersonal psychology was Abraham Maslow. Maslow had already published work regarding human peak experiences, and was one of the people, together with Grof and Frankl, who suggested the term "transpersonal" for the emerging field. Gradually, during the 1960s, the term "transpersonal" was associated with a distinct school of psychology within the humanistic psychology movement (Chinen, 1996:10).
In 1969, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich were among the initiators behind the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the leading academic journal in the field (Chinen, 1996:10). This was soon to be followed by the founding of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) in 1972. Past presidents of the association include Alyce Green, James Fadiman, Frances Vaughan, Arthur Hastings, Daniel Goleman, Robert Frager, Ronald Jue, Jeanne Achterberg and Dwight Judy. In the 1980s and 90s the field developed through the works of such authors as Jean Houston, Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, Michael Washburn, Frances Vaughan, Roger Walsh, Stanley Krippner, Michael Murphy, Charles Tart, David Lukoff, Vasily Nalimov, Margret Rueffler and Stuart Sovatsky. While Wilber has been considered an influential writer and theoretician in the field, he has since personally dissociated himself from the movement in favor of what he calls an integral approach.
Today transpersonal psychology also includes approaches to health, social sciences and practical arts such as process art. Transpersonal perspectives are also being applied to such diverse fields as psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, pharmacology (Scotton, Chinen and Battista, 1996) and social work theory (Cowley & Derezotes, 1994). Transpersonal therapies are also included in many therapeutic practices. Currently, transpersonal psychology, especially the schools of Jungian and Archetypal psychology, is integrated, at least to some extent, into many psychology departments in American and European Universities. Institutions of higher learning that have adopted insights from transpersonal psychology include The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (US), California Institute of Integral Studies (US), John F. Kennedy University (US), University of West Georgia (US), Atlantic University (US), Burlington College (US), Essex University (UK), Liverpool John Moores University (UK), the University of Northampton (UK), Leeds Metropolitan University (UK), Naropa University (Colorado), Pacifica Graduate Institute (CA), and Southwestern College (NM). There is also a strong connection between the transpersonal and the humanistic approaches to psychology. This is not surprising since transpersonal psychology started off within humanistic psychology (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000: 23-24).
By common consent, the following branches are considered to be transpersonal psychological schools: various depth psychology approaches including Analytical psychology, based on Carl Jung, and the Archetypal psychology of James Hillman; the spiritual psychology of Robert Sardello, (2001); psychosynthesis founded by Roberto Assagioli; and the theories of Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, Timothy Leary, Ken Wilber, Michael Washburn and Charles Tart.
One must not confuse Transpersonal psychology with Parapsychology. This may sometimes happen due to the overlapping and unconventional research interests of both fields. In short; parapsychology tends to focus more in its subject matter on the "psychic", while transpersonal psychology tends to focus on the "spiritual" (relatively crude though these categorizations are, it is still a useful distinction in this context). While parapsychology leans more towards traditional scientific epistemology (laboratory experiments, statistics, research on cognitive states), transpersonal psychology tends to be more closely related to the epistemology of the humanities and the hermeneutic disciplines (humanism, existentialism, phenomenology, anthropology), although it has always included contributions involving experimental and statistical research.
Transpersonal psychology may also, sometimes, be associated with New Age beliefs (Friedman, 2000). Although the transpersonal perspective has many overlapping interests with theories and thinkers associated with the term "New Age", it is still problematic to place transpersonal psychology within such a framework. Transpersonal psychology is an academic discipline, not a religious or spiritual movement, and some of the field's leading authors, among those Sovatsky (1998:160-61), have criticized the nature of New Age discourse. Associations between transpersonal psychology and the New Age have probably contributed to the failures in the United States of America to get transpersonal psychology more formally recognised within the professional body, the American Psychological Association (APA). A significant breakthrough in this context was the successful establishment of a Transpersonal Psychology Section within the British Psychological Society (the UK professional body equivalent to the APA) in 1996, co-founded by David Fontana, Ingrid Slack and Martin Treacy, "the first Section of its kind in a Western scientific society" according to Fontana (Fontana et al., 2005, p. 5)
Robert Frager, of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and James Fadiman, of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, provide an account of the contributions of many of the key historic figures who have shaped and developed transpersonal psychology (in addition to discussing and explaining important concepts and theories germane to transpersonal psychology) in a textbook on personality theories (Frager and Fadiman, 2005) which serves to promote an understanding of the discipline in classroom settings. An example which points to the possibility that awareness and discussion of transpersonal psychology in mainstream classroom settings may be on the rise can be seen by the inclusion of a section on transpersonal psychology for the first time in a textbook by Barbara Engler (2009) in which she asks the question, "Is spirituality an appropriate topic for psychological study?" Engler offers a brief account of the history of transpersonal psychology and a peek into its possible future in noting that G-H Jennings (1999) "suggests that transpersonal psychology, using Jung's typology, expresses the neglected inferior function in American psychology, needs to be incorporated into it, and offers great potential and promise for the development of psychology in the third millennium (2009, p. 377)."
Development as a "fourth force"
Transpersonal pyschology is many times regarded as the fourth wave force of psychology which according to Maslow even transcends the self actualization of Humanistic psychology(1968). Unlike the other first three schools of psychology i.e. psychoanalysis, behaviorism and humanistic psychology which more or less deny the transcended part of soul, transpersonal psychology integrates the whole spectrum of human development from prepersonality to transpersonality. Hence transpersonal psychology can be considered the most integrated complete psychology, a positive psychology par excellence. From personality to transpersonality, mind to meditation, neuroscience to Nirvana it is a complete wholesome science for all round development and treatment.
The transpersonal perspective spans many research interests. The following list is adapted from Scotton, Chinen and Battista (1996) and includes:
- The contributions of spiritual traditions - Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism, Vajrayana, Zen, Taoism, Tantra, Shamanism, Kabbalah, Sufism, Spiritism and Christian mysticism - to psychiatry and psychology
- Native American healing
- Aging and adult spiritual development
- Meditation research and clinical aspects of meditation
- Consciousness studies and research
- Psychedelics, Ethnopharmacology, and Psychopharmacology
- Cross-cultural studies and Anthropology
- Diagnosis of Religious and Spiritual Problems
- Offensive spirituality and spiritual defenses
- The treatment of former members of cults
- Transpersonal Psychotherapy
- Music Therapy
- Addiction and recovery
- Guided-Imagery and Visualization Therapy
- Guided Imagery and Music
- Dying and near death experience (NDE)
- Past-Life therapy
- Ecological survival
- Social Change
Contributions to the academic field
Transpersonal Psychology has made several contributions to the academic field, and the studies of human development, consciousness and spirituality. Transpersonal Psychology has also made contributions to the field of psychiatry. One of the demarcations in transpersonal theory is between authors who present a fairly linear and hierarchical model of human development, such as Timothy Leary and Ken Wilber, and authors who present non-linear models of human development, such as Michael Washburn and Stanislav Grof. Timothy Leary, who was originally a professional psychologist and a professor of psychology, made a significant contribution to transpersonal psychology with the formulation of his "Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness", outlined in his 1980 book Info-Psychology, referenced below.
Ken Wilber's primary contribution to the field is the theory of a spectrum of consciousness consisting of three broad categories: the prepersonal or pre-egoic, the personal or egoic, and the transpersonal or trans-egoic (Miller, 1998: 541-542). A more detailed version of this spectrum theory includes nine different levels of human development, in which levels 1-3 are pre-personal levels, levels 4-6 are personal levels and levels 7-9 are transpersonal levels (Cowley & Derezotes, 1994). Later development of the theory also includes a tenth level (Wilber, 1995, 1996). Wilber has portrayed the development of human consciousness as both hierarchical and circular. His model is hierarchical in the way that development progresses from matter to body to mind to spirit. It is circular and uneven in the sense that the various developmental lines (e.g. morality, cognition, emotion, self-sense, etc.) don't always develop in tandem and thus progress can involve circling back to pick up the process. According to this theory different schools of psychology address different levels of the spectrum. Also, each level of organization, or self-development, includes a vulnerability to certain pathologies associated with that particular level (Cowley & Derezotes, 1994; Walsh & Vaughan, 1996:62-74).
Wilber also describes a situation called the "pre/trans fallacy". According to Walsh and Vaughan (1996:63) western schools of psychology have had a tendency to dismiss or pathologize transpersonal levels, equating them with regressive pathological conditions belonging to a lower level. The pre/trans fallacy describes a lack of differentiation between pre-rational psychiatric problems and valid transpersonal problems (Cowley & Derezotes, 1994).
In contrast to Leary and Wilber, Michael Washburn (1994, 1995) and Stanislav Grof (1975, 1985, 1998) present models of human development that are not hierarchical or linear. Washburn presents a model that is informed by the Jungian perspective, and brings forth the idea of a U-turn. Central to this model is the idea that the ego initially arose out of a "source" or "ground". Therefore, transpersonal development requires a return to this origins, before it can move on (Walsh & Vaughan 1996:64). Finally, Grof applies regressional modes of therapy (originally with the use of psychedelic substances, later with other methods) in order to seek greater psychological integration. This has led to the confrontation of constructive and deconstructive models of the process leading to genuine mental health: what Wilber sees as a pre/trans fallacy does not exist for Washburn and Grof, for pre-rational states may be genuinely transpersonal, and re-living them may be essential in the process of achieving genuine sanity (Rothberg & Kelly, 1998).
Transpersonal Psychology has also brought clinical attention to the topic of spiritual crisis . A spiritual crisis has to do with a person's relationship to existential issues, or issues that transcend the mundane issues of ordinary life. Many of the psychological difficulties associated with a spiritual crisis are not ordinarily discussed by mainstream psychology. Among these problems are psychiatric complications related to mystical experience, near-death experience, Kundalini awakening, shamanic crisis (also called shamanic illness), psychic opening, intensive meditation, and medical or terminal illness (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1996:236-39).
The terms "Spiritual Emergence", and "Spiritual Emergency", were coined by Stanislav and Christina Grof (1989) in order to describe a spiritual crisis in a person's life (precedents of Grof's approach in this regard are found in Jung, Perry, Dabrowski, Bateson, Laing, Cooper and antipsychiatry in the widest sense of the term). The term "Spiritual emergence" describes a "gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with no disruption in psychological-social-occupational functioning"(Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1996:238). In cases where the spiritual unfoldment is intensified beyond the control of the individual it may lead to a state of "Spiritual Emergency". A Spiritual Emergency may cause significant disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning. Many of the psychological difficulties described above can, according to Transpersonal theory, lead to episodes of spiritual emergency (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1996:236-39; Turner et al., 1995) .
Because of the overlap of spiritual crisis and mental health problems, authors Lukoff, Lu & Turner (Turner et al., 1995: 435) made a proposal for a new diagnostic category entitled "Psychoreligious or Psychospiritual Problem" at the beginning of the 1990s. The category was approved by the DSM-IV Task Force in 1993, after changing the title to "Religious or Spiritual Problem" (Turner et al., 1995: 436). It is included in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) under the heading "Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention", Code V62.89 (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Lu et al., 1997). According to Chinen (1996:12) the inclusion marks "increasing professional acceptance of transpersonal issues". Besides signifying a greater sensitivity towards spiritual issues, and spiritually oriented narratives, (Sovatsky: 179,187) the new V-Code may also contribute to the greater cultural sensitivity of the manual and could help promote enhanced understanding between the fields of psychiatry and religion/spirituality (Turner et al.:443)..
Criticisms of transpersonal psychology have come from several commentators. One of the earliest criticisms of the field was issued by the Humanistic psychologist Rollo May, who disputed the conceptual foundations of transpersonal psychology (Aanstos, Serling & Greening, 2000:25). Another early criticism regarded the relationship between Transpersonal Psychology and the ideas of William James. Although the ideas of James are central to the Transpersonal field, Alexander (1980) thought that Transpersonal Psychology did not have a clear understanding of the negative dimensions of consciousness (such as evil) expressed in James' philosophy. This serious criticism has been absorbed by later Transpersonal theory, which has been more willing to reflect on these important dimensions of human existence (Daniels, 2005). Criticism has also come from the cognitive psychologist, and humanist, Albert Ellis (1989) who has questioned transpersonal psychology's scientific status and its relationship to religion and mysticism. Friedman (2000) has criticized the field of Transpersonal psychology for being underdeveloped as a field of science, placing it at the intersection between the broader domain of inquiry known as transpersonal studies (which may include a number of unscientific approaches) and the scientific discipline of psychology.
Doctrines or ideas of many colorful personalities, who were or are spiritual teachers in the Western world, such as Gurdjieff or Alice Bailey, are often assimilated into the transpersonal psychology mainstream scene. This development is, generally, seen as detrimental to the aspiration of transpersonal psychologists to gain a firm and respectable academic status. It could also be argued that most psychologists do not hold strictly to traditional schools of psychology — most psychologists take an eclectic approach. This could mean that some of the transpersonal categories listed above are considered by standard subdisciplines of psychology; religious conversion falling within the gambit of social psychology, altered states of consciousness within physiological psychology, and spiritual life within the psychology of religion. Transpersonal psychologists, however, disagree with the approach to such phenomena taken by traditional psychology, and claim that transpersonal categories have typically been dismissed either as signs of various kinds of mental illnesses, or as a regression to infantile stages of psychosomatic development. Thus, as illustrated by the pre/trans fallacy, religious and spiritual experiences have in the past been seen as either regressive or pathological and treated as such.
From the standpoint of Buddhism and Dzogchen, Elías Capriles (2000, 2006, 2007, 2008) has objected that transpersonal psychology fails to distinguish between the transpersonal condition of nirvana, which is inherently liberating, those transpersonal conditions which are within samsara and which as such are new forms of bondage (such as the four realms of the arupyadhatu or four arupa lokas of Buddhism, in which the figure-ground division dissolves but there is still a subject-object duality), and the neutral condition in which neither nirvana nor samsara are active that the Dzogchen teachings call kun gzhi (in which there is no subject-object duality but the true condition of all phenomena (dharmata) is not patent (and which includes all conditions involving nirodh or cessation, including nirodh samapatti, nirvikalpa samadhis and the samadhi or turiya that is the supreme realization of Patañjali’s Yoga darshana). In the process of elaborating what he calls a meta-transpersonal psychology, Capriles has carried out conscientious refutations of Wilber, Grof and Washburn, which according to Macdonald & Friedman (2006, p. ii) will have important repercusions on the future of transpersonal psychology. However Lord Sri Akshunna a master of siddha sampradaya in favour of transpersonal psychology as a psychological science of spirituality says with a same ground "They (Elias Capriles and others) too misses the game 'cause don't they know what Nagarjuna among many buddhist siddhas say "Where there is neither an addition of nirvana nor a removal of samsara; There, what samsara is discriminated from what nirvana?"
Transpersonal psychology has been applied to areas such as counselling, Health, spiritual development,mind expansion and to provide psychological security for self growth. Applications to the areas of business studies and management have been developed. Other transpersonal disciplines, such as transpersonal anthropology and transpersonal business studies, are listed in transpersonal disciplines.
Transpersonal art is one of the disciplines considered by Boucovolas (1999), in listing how transpersonal psychology may relate to other areas of transpersonal study. In writing about transpersonal art, Boucovolas begins by noting how, according to Breccia and also to the definitions employed by the International Transpersonal Association in 1971, transpersonal art may be understood as art work which draws upon important themes beyond the individual self, such as the transpersonal consciousness. This makes transpersonal art criticism germane to mystical approaches to creativity. Transpersonal art criticism, as Boucovolas notes, can be considered that which claims conventional art criticism has been too committed to stressing rational dimensions of art and has subsequently said little on art's spiritual dimensions, or as that which holds art work has a meaning beyond the individual person. Certain aspects of the psychology of Carl Jung, as well as movements such as music therapy and art therapy, may also relate to the field. Boucovolas' paper cites Breccia (1971) as an early example of transpersonal art, and claims that at the time his article appeared, integral theorist Ken Wilber had made recent contributions to the field. More recently, the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, in 2005, Volume 37, launched a special edition devoted to the media, which contained articles on film criticism that can be related to this field.
- Abraham Maslow
- Helen Bonny
- Humanistic psychology
- Human Potential Movement
- Music Therapy
- Near-Death Studies
- Positive Psychology
- Psychology of religion
- Richard Bucke
- Roberto Assagioli
- Spiritual crisis
- Transpersonal anthropology
- Transpersonal chakras
- Caplan, Mariana (2009). Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path. Sounds True. ISBN 1591797322, 9781591797326. Source:  (accessed: Wednesday May 5, 2010), p.231
- Cowley & Derezotes (1994) note that transpersonal theory has an understanding of spirituality that is somewhat different from the popular understanding of spirituality as a statement of belief, or as a measure of church attendance; features that could rather be seen as indications of the religious dimension. Religious problems have to do with possible psychological conflict resulting from a person's involvement with the beliefs and practices of an organized religious institution. Among these problems are experiences related to changing denomination, conversion to a new religion, intensification of religious belief or practice, loss or questioning of faith, and joining or leaving a new religious movement or cult (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1996:234)
- In addition, Whitney (1998) has also made an argument in favor of understanding mania as a form of spiritual emergency.
- The construct validity of the new category has been assessed by Milstein et al. (2000)
Shambhala: Do you consider yourself part of the transpersonal movement today?
KW: No, I don't.
Shambhala: Tell us about that.
KW: Well, the basic difficulty is that transpersonal psychology, to its great credit, was the first major school of present-day psychology to take spirituality seriously. Yet because there is a great deal of disagreement as to what actually constitutes spirituality itself, there is a great deal of disagreement as what constitutes transpersonal psychology. These are not minor inner tensions as one might find in, say, the various schools of psychoanalysis or Jungian psychology. They are instead major internal divisions and barbed disagreements as to the nature, scope, and role of transpersonal psychology itself. This makes the field more rife with political schisms and warring ideologies. This is why, I believe, that in three decades, and aside from one or two specific theorists, the actual school of transpersonal psychology has had no major impact outside of the Bay Area, and it is today, many people agree, in an irreversible, terminal decline.
What's left of the four forces (behavioristic, psychoanalytic, humanistic, transpersonal) will survive, if they survive at all, only by being taken up and into a fully integral approach [see "A Summary of My Psychological Model," section "The Death of Psychology and the Birth of the Integral," posted on this site.]
- Ken Wilber, A sociable God: toward a new understanding of religion, 51 
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- Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
- Kona University
- Manchester Academy of Transpersonal Studies
- AHP - John Rowan's Guide to Humanistic Psychology - Transpersonal Psychology
- WWW Virtual Library - Transpersonal Psychology: links
- John Davis's Transpersonal Psychology website
- International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Organ of the International Transpersonal Association
- Journal of Transpersonal Research Organ of the European Transpersonal Association
- European Transpersonal Association
- Three books on Meta-Transpersonal Philosophy and Psychology
- Transpersonal Science Michael Daniels' Transpersonal Science website.
- Transpersonal Psychology: A bibliography A bibliography of more than 1000 pages by Andre Lefebvre
- British Psychological Society - Transpersonal Psychology Section
bg:Трансперсонална психология cs:Transpersonální psychologie de:Transpersonale Psychologie es:Psicología transpersonal it:Psicologia transpersonale nl:Transpersoonlijke psychologie ja:トランスパーソナル心理学 pl:Psychologia transpersonalna pt:Psicologia transpessoal ru:Трансперсональная психология sk:Transpersonálna psychológia sv:Transpersonell psykologi tr:Transpersonel psikoloji uk:Трансперсональна психологія zh:超個人心理學