Pioneered by Freud around 100 years ago, the field of Western psychology has concentrated on the outer self-mind, heart, and body as the foundation for an individual’s growth and experience. Psychotherapy has mostly focused on healing the fragmented self, a repercussion of childhood psychological wounding. With the conception of Humanistic Psychology in the 1950’s, Maslow, an instrumental force in widening the scope of psychology, studied the healthy individual’s desire for greater self-awareness and self-actualization. Responding to the evolutionary nature of the psyche, Maslow and other theorists like Carl Rodgers and Carl Jung introduced a spiritual dimension to psychology, thus giving birth to Transpersonal Psychology. Transpersonal psychology includes the psychoanalytic, cognitive/behavioral, and humanistic/existential schools and extends beyond to include timeless shared spiritual wisdom from the ages.
In this paper, I will describe a transpersonal or psychospiritual approach to psychotherapy highlighting the main principles of transpersonal psychology, including the therapist consciousness, the client’s orientation and various techniques/modalities commonly practiced in a session. Furthermore, I will share how I plan to personally integrate these practices in my life to use with myself and others.
What is Transpersonal Psychotherapy?
Though difficult to fully define because of it’s all-inclusive and evolving nature, Transpersonal psychotherapy can be described as an integrative experiential depth psychotherapy that synthesizes developments in modern psychology with wisdom from the perennial spiritual traditions of the world. More concisely, the transpersonal approach merges the psychological with the spiritual, the personal with the transpersonal, self with spirit and the ordinary with the extraordinary. Within this framework, the importance is on both the understanding and healing of the fragmented self as well as the exploration of the source and depth of our own being, or soul. Transpersonal psychology, so importantly, includes and integrates parts of the human experience that was before kept separate or thought unimportant.
Special to transpersonal psychotherapy are the underlying principles of a deeper spiritual existence. Instead of “labeling” or “fixing” the client, transpersonal psychotherapy sees psychological processes as a part of the spiritual unfoldment of the individual. Even though every being is innately “whole”, the quest for the embodiment of this wisdom takes time. In connecting to this greater reality, a deeper meaning for the soul’s advancement can easily be gleaned as an experience on the path in the expansion of consciousness. When one is devoted to living the spiritual process, a new dimension to the sacredness of everyday life can be sensed with each moment bringing more clarity, truth and fulfillment within the divine plan. With this new awareness, the individual can see, feel and experience their relationship in the interconnectedness to the Whole. This is an exciting opportunity for the Self who aspires for Self-Actualization and oneness with the Divine. Ultimately, the goal of Transpersonal Psychotherapy is to support each client’s process of mind, body, spirit integration for emergence of their soul or authentic nature. When the soul fully embodies the being, a joyful, pure, peaceful presence guides the liberated Self.
What is the consciousness of a transpersonal psychotherapist?
More important than the specific technique administered in a session, the consciousness of the therapist is influential to the client’s inquiry into the self. Unlike psychoanalysis in which the therapist is dominant and energetically distant from the client, the transpersonal therapist sees the client within a non-dual orientation as an equal companion on the same level of shared consciousness. Within this connected state, the therapist’s loving empathic presence supports a deep heart space for the client to get in touch with their feelings. This deep palpable energy field invites the client to directly experience their inner feelings while connected to their deeper spiritual essence. In order for the therapist to fully engage the consciousness of the client, the therapist’s own inner depth exploration is essential to navigate the client through the realms of multi-dimensional consciousness. The therapist’s own meditation and spiritual practices contribute to content of the session as well as the underlying evolving spiritual development of therapist.
What type of clients are attracted to transpersonal psychotherapy?
Like traditional psychotherapy, some clients are attracted to transpersonal psychotherapy to address common issues such as childhood wounding, depression, trauma, personal growth and other life challenges. For these clients, the integrated transpersonal approach adds a spiritual dimension of consciousness to expand, deepen and reframe their lives. Other clients are called more specifically for guidance with questions along their own unique spiritual path. Many spiritual seekers that have experienced “Spiritual Emergencies”, Kundalini awakening, Altered States of Consciousness, and Near Death Experiences find meaningful grounded professional support in a transpersonal therapist, often difficult to find in conventionally oriented psychotherapists. Sometimes, shifts in consciousness resemble disturbing psychopathologic states, though are actually breakthroughs in the soul’s emergence towards greater self-awareness. Additionally, meditators on the path to self-realization can benefit from having an educated spiritual companion assist them in incorporating psychological issues that arise with spiritual development. Similarly, transpersonal psychotherapy can assist more psychologically oriented people to see beyond their limited blocks and expand toward a more expansive range of human potential. Most importantly of all, these clients are interested in a psychospiritual style of therapy in which all aspects of their multi-dimensional being-emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual-are seen, welcomed and encouraged to blossom.
What does a transpersonal psychotherapy session look like?
Like an artist has a palette of colors available to use, the transpersonal therapist has a wide spectrum of experiential mind, body and heart techniques to assist the client in bringing more coherence to the surface self and full emergence of their soul. Instead of having particular specific techniques, sessions are guided by an all-inclusive theoretical transpersonal framework creating spaciousness for a variety of explorations. Depending on the content, context, process, and experience of the therapist, a therapist will usually draw on conventional psychotherapeutic processes such as Psychoanalysis, Cognitive/Behavioral and/or Humanistic/Existential therapy while also incorporating more experiential techniques such as mindfulness meditation, visualization, and somatic practices (breathwork, hakomi, bodywork) and other exploratory exercises. Because the goal is expansion of consciousness, the technique provides the initial structure or “launch pad” for the client and therapist to begin the inquiry.
What psychological orientations, spiritual traditions and practices would I like to incorporate into my work?
As a budding Transpersonal psychotherapist in the world today, I feel grateful to have such a vast array of theories and practices available to use on this journey into consciousness. The eclectic framework of transpersonal psychotherapy allows me to continuously grow as an integrated being incorporating my own unique collection of mind, body, and spirit modalities to use with a client. Within the spirit of the Purna Advaita Ventanta path, I feel my body, heart and mind mostly connected to Somatic practices, Humanistic/Existential psychology, the Diamond Approach along with the universal wisdom of Carl Jung. Central to my practice, I will focus on the present state of the body as the window into the unspoken truth of the soul’s process. Through a blend of energetic bodywork (Rosen Method), breathwork, mindfulness meditation and movement, the body has an opportunity to access hidden thoughts, memories and feelings the right side of the brain may be unconscious to. In my opinion, tapping into body awareness creates a wonderful foundation for the therapist-client to move in and out of the mind and heart space. From this experiential place, the therapist-client can investigate what is happening in consciousness underneath the surface allowing the intuition of the therapist to guide the session. With a positive client-centered humanistic/existential focus, personal needs, desires and life questions can be addressed connecting the client within. Tapping into unmanifest creativity, imagination, dreams and the “conscious collective” can also unlock doors to the higher spiritual realms bringing more of one’s fullest potential forward.
In conclusion, Transpersonal Psychotherapy is continuously being molded, formed and shaped as consciousness, practices and techniques evolve through time. Could transpersonal psychotherapy be the “norm” in psychotherapy in the next 20 years? I believe so. As consciousness wakes up to itself and sees all life grounded in the sacred, possibly the patterns of thought and behavior which alienate us from the divine can be understood and addressed. When the sacred ground which we are all part of is recognized, then psychotherapy can be truly Transpersonal.