The transpersonal psychology is interested in non-ordinary states of consciousness: the ecstasy, the sense of connection with the universe, the acute awareness of his inner being, mysticism, etc. Although they are often regarded with suspicion, these states would not only be healthy, but would represent the actualization of the higher needs of the human being. As the name suggests, the trans -Personal respect that exists beyond the personality, his conditioning and his little world.
As a practice, this psychology is about the ” full realization ” of the person. It is concerned, for example, with the disturbances resulting from the confinement of the so-called “unlimited” potentials of consciousness in the limited structures of the ego – as can be seen in times of existential crises or so-called crises. of spiritual emergence.
The transpersonal movement goes beyond the scope of individual psychology to touch all spheres of human activity that can be inspired by a sacred conception of the world: economy, ecology, philosophy, etc.
By way of Esalen
The territory of transpersonal psychology is not a modern “invention” since it has been extensively explored by oriental and shamanic traditions. Many philosophers of Greek antiquity were also sensitive. In modern Western perspective, great thinkers and scientists of XX th century, as Carl Jung, Emmanuel Mounier 1 and Roberto Assagioli 2 (the founder of psychosynthesis), are fundamental references. But there are some specific events of the 1960s that led to its emergence. First, American humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) established his famous pyramid of human needs . 3
Now recognized almost worldwide, this one presents the needs common to all humans in a hierarchical progression to 5 levels, the highest of which is the ” realization ” or the ” actualization of oneself “. This dimension concerns the aspiration to concretize one’s abilities and talents, to “grow”, to develop one’s potential (hence today’s common terms of “personal growth” and “human potential movement”).
Later, Maslow refined this last level to incorporate notions of ” surpassing oneself ” or ” transcendence “. Many thinkers have then seen fit to create a 6 th separate level at the top of the pyramid 4-5 . This level is defined by the aspiration to live experiences of unity with the Cosmos and unconditional love for humanity.
In 1969, Abraham Maslow founded the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology , while the Association for Transpersonal Psychology was established 2 years later, just after his death (see Sites of Interest). The mission of this association was, and still is, to provide a forum for scholars and practitioners of the transpersonal movement, as well as to promote a vision of the universe as a sacred entity.
In addition, as Maslow conducts his research, the Esalen “alternative educational center” opens on the California coast and becomes “the Mecca” of transpersonal exploration. Hundreds of scientists, artists and spiritual masters have stayed at one time or another. We conducted workshops of very innovative therapeutic practices and all kinds of spiritual investigations, especially with Eastern spiritualities. Many psychospiritual approaches are born from these eclectic encounters.
As for the reflection on the movement, it was continued by Charles Tart, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis; by Stanislav Grof, psychiatrist and co-creator of holotropic breathing; by Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry; and Ken Wilber, a scholarly philosopher who is certainly the main theorist.
It should also be mentioned that, seeking to explore the various manifestations of consciousness , the transpersonal movement has been very interested in paranormal phenomena: testimonies of people believed to have been abducted by extraterrestrials, experiences of imminent death, premonition, telepathy, shamanic practices etc.
Beyond the ego
The transpersonal psychology is not limited to personal problems. It does not play so much in the territory of the ego, but where the ego fades and abandons its dominant place. If, in classical psychology, the models are men and women who are efficient, motivated, effective, well integrated socially, those of the transpersonal are saints, sages and heroes of humanity. Which does not mean that this approach denies the importance of a healthy ego, on the contrary: it is from a solid and balanced foundation that the human being could reach other dimensions.
According to Ken Wilber 6 , “the opening of consciousness” is normal and natural: primitive in children, consciousness develops gradually, goes through the stage of identification with the ego, then should be open to the whole of creation, as Carl Jung has described in his books. At its stage of ultimate development, consciousness is similar to the awakening or enlightenment of which many mystical traditions speak.
The transpersonal is not a method, it is a conception of the human being and the world around him. Psychotherapists who share this conception can practice a classical approach and simply allow the spiritual dimension to occupy the space that is due to it in human development. But, generally, transpersonal work consists in provoking in individuals uncommon states of consciousness (Maslow called them peak experiences or paroxysmal experiences). These experiences are intended to break down mental or emotional limitations and to give access to a much broader awareness of reality.
Several techniques are used for this purpose, most borrowed from or adapted from oriental spiritual or shamanic traditions: various forms of meditation, hypnosis, sacred dances, sweat lodge , quest for vision, regression in previous lives, dreams, lucid dreams, breathing and energy techniques from yoga or Qi Gong, ritual work, holotropic breathing, art therapy, creative visualization, sophrology, rebirth, etc.
Most of these techniques are powerful and must be practiced in a proper and safe environment. The psychotherapist must be able to help the person to decode his experiences and integrate them. We must carefully choose the therapist with whom we want to embark on such an adventure.
Remember, however, that transcendent experiences can occur spontaneously through natural phenomena, such as being in front of a landscape or a beautiful work of art, attending the birth of a child or on the death of a loved one. On the other hand, dance, singing, sport, science, courage and devotion are also pathways to this type of experience.
Although there are several researchers and weight writers, transpersonal psychology remains marginal. It is not taught in the university faculties of psychology and the professional orders of psychologists rarely recognize the practices associated with it. It must be said that, in “official” psychology, there already exists an existential / humanist orientation which aims at the actualization of the self, but without the work being directed towards the search for transcendence