What Is Transpersonal Psychology?

History, Popularity and Research Areas

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Transpersonal psychology is a field or school of thought in psychology centered on the spiritual aspects of human life. The term transpersonal psychology was first introduced in the 1960s by psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Victor Frankl. This field utilizes psychological methods and theories to examine spiritual subject matter.

History of Transpersonal Psychology

The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology began publication in 1969 and in 1971 the Association for Transpersonal Psychology was established.

While the field did not formally begin until the late 1960s, it has its roots in early work by psychologists including William James and Carl Jung who were deeply interested in the spiritual aspects of human nature. In addition to using psychology to better understand spiritual experiences, transpersonal psychology also strives to provide a deeper and richer understanding of individuals and to help them achieve their greatest potential.

Defining Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a label for a type of psychological theory that embraces a wide variety of ideas that have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the mind and behavior. Transpersonal psychology looks at the whole human experience. 

While not all definitions of transpersonal psychology are exactly the same, researchers Lajoie and Shapiro have suggested that there are several key factors that figure into most explanations of this field.

These include spirituality, higher potential, transcendence and other states of consciousness. 

In her 2009 book Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, Mariana Caplan wrote:

"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."

Transpersonal Psychology is Multi-Dimensional

Instead of focusing on one school of psychological thought, or even just one discipline, transpersonal psychology seeks to incorporate a broad array of ideas, disciplines and theories like philosophy, literature, health theories, art, social theory, cognition science and different spiritual traditions, says Sofia University, formerly the Insitute of Transpersonal Psychology. Sofia University is a private institution that was initially founded to educate students in transpersonal psychology and continues to pass on transpersonal values.   

Popularity of Transpersonal Psychology

Although transpersonal psychology is not often explored in traditional psychology programs, there is increasing interest in this perspective and how theories and ideas from this field can be applied to different subfields of psychology. Mindfulness meditation, for example, is one element of transpersonal psychology that is becoming more popularly used.

The Difference Between Transpersonal Psychology and Parapsychology

Transpersonal psychology is sometimes confused with parapsychology, although it is important to note that the two are not the same.

While transpersonal psychology focuses on the spiritual side of human nature, parapsychology is concerned with the paranormal, such as psychic phenomena, including precognition, clairvoyance, near death experiences and psychokinesis.

Research Areas in Transpersonal Psychology

The following are just a few of the areas of research interest:

Sources:

Caplan, Mariana (2009). Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Davis, J. (2000). "We keep asking ourselves, what is transpersonal psychology?" Guidance and Counselling, 15 (3), 3-8.

"History of Sofia University." Sofia University (2016).

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