Transpersonal Psychology Transpersonal Psychology

The transpersonal approach to psychology emerged out of the humanistic and existential traditions, and its increasing popularity at present could have been the result of a counter reaction to the individualistic and self-centered characteristics of traditional Western psychology. Transpersonal means "beyond the person," or more specifically, beyond the head, to enclose something greater that defines who we really are.

In fact, all the approaches to therapy I have presented thus far could be considered transpersonal since they all seek to integrate other parts of the "head self" that are considered essential to proper human functioning. To review, Attachment Theory claims that we need to make emotional alliances with others in order to feel secure and complete. The "I" is really the "we." Ecopsychology asserts that we must incorporate the natural environment as a source of inspiration, direction, and self-identity. Jungian Psychology seeks to bring alive and integrate the collective or world unconscious in our lives so that we can feel fully human.

To some people, however, "that something" greater than the self goes even beyond those other parts that make what we are. Transpersonal in this sense could extend to embrace the supernatural, the "divine" or the mystical. Buddhist practice, and Indigenous Wisdom presented in the next pages, can fall in this category.

To people who are personally committed to their religious and spiritual beliefs, this inclusion of the supernatural in their lives is a reality and a necessity to their well-being and meaningful existence. I certainly do not claim to be an expert in all the religions and spiritual traditions that exist, but my training as a transpersonal therapist allows me to explore with the client how their most personal and enduring spiritual beliefs can fit into their psychological makeup.

My job in this case is not to "psychologize" spiritual manifestations experienced by the client and to attempt to define what they really mean, but to help the client integrate spiritual phenomena into personal issues that may have an emotional or psychological origin.

A transpersonal model that I incorporate in my work with people who are afflicted with different types of addictive behaviors, is the 12 step program which, is based on the concept of a "higher power." Accordingly, one of the most important principles of the program is that when people recognize that they are "powerless" to control their addiction and turn their will over to the care of this "higher power," there is a real chance for recovery.

In more colloquial language, what the program asserts is that the person alone is limited in dealing with the addiction, but that when he or she invokes other forms of support systems in the hope of recovery, he or she will become better equipped to overcome this condition.

What constitutes each person's "higher power" is a personal choice, and for those who do not hold a particular religious or spiritual orientation, a "higher power" could simply mean the power of something else (the program, the therapist, the family, etc.) as an additional power to that of the individual.