Transpersonal Psychology


The Beginnings of Transpersonal Therapy

Since its inception in the 1960s, transpersonal therapy has remained somewhat informal in its structure and approach. For this reason, finding an exact definition of transpersonal psychology is troublesome. In his initial presentation of the subject in the premier issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Anthony Sutich said, “The emerging transpersonal psychology (‘fourth force’) is concerned specifically with the empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the findings relevant to, becoming, individual and species-wide meta-needs, ultimate values, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, values, ecstacy, mystical experience, awe, being, self-actualization, essence, bliss, wonder, ultimate meaning, transcendence of the self, spirit, oneness, cosmic awareness, individual and species-wide synergy, maximal interpersonal encounter, sacralization of everyday life, transcendental phenomena, cosmic self-humor and playfulness; maximal sensory awareness, responsiveness and expression; and related concepts, experiences and activities [Some Considerations Regarding Transpersonal Psychology (1969)].”

Sutich’s very detailed view of transpersonal psychology provides a glimpse into the widespread possibilities and potential uses for this type of approach. It includes a very comprehensive outline of the types of experiences that Wikipedia simply describes as mystical. Moreover, the voice of the piece is decidedly more scientific.

Psychotherapy and Transpersonal Experiences

Unfortunately, the detailed description given by Sutich is extremely cumbersome. Therefore, over time, various researchers have attempted to create a more compact definition. In Observations on the Teaching and Supervision of Transpersonal Psychology (1985), Bruce Scotten writes, “Transpersonal psychotherapy can be defined as psychotherapy which seeks to establish a conscious and growth producing link between the patient and transpersonal experience.”

Transpersonal Psychology, A Modern Concise Definition

Denise Lajoie and Sam Shapiro later re-examine this issue in Definitions of Transpersonal Psychology: The First Twenty-Three Years (1992) and come up with a slightly longer and more accurate description. It reads, “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.”

Despite that Sutich’s explanation was far more detailed, Lajoie and Shapiro’s entry is much more concise. Not only does this later description mention the mystical and spiritual aspects studied by transpersonal psychologists but also brings forth the notion of a non-dualistic whole. There is also a suggestion in this later version that transpersonal matters are not just restricted to a small percentage of the population. This line of thinking illustrates an evolution of thought over the years relative to the definition of transpersonal psychology.