Transpersonal psychology focuses on the mind-body connection, blending traditional concepts like behaviorism and humanism with philosophy, mindfulness, and mysticism.
Sometimes referred to as spiritual psychology because of its blend of spiritual and scientific concepts, the theory of transpersonal psychology argues that people’s psychology is about much more than behaviors.
Transpersonal psychology suggests that your current beliefs, life purpose, interests, values, and environment play important roles in your mental and physical well-being.
The transpersonal theory led to the practice of transpersonal psychotherapy, an intervention approach that incorporates traditional therapy techniques with holistic practices like meditation, journaling, and music therapy.
A theory introduced in the 1960s, transpersonal psychology evolved out of humanism, a concept first introduced by Abraham Maslow.
Humanistic psychology suggests all aspects of an individual should be considered when evaluating their mental health, not just the behaviors witnessed.
Maslow and colleagues later took humanism a step further, looking at everything that could influence the mind-body connection, especially spirituality and feelings in the present.
This process led to transpersonal psychology and the International Transpersonal Association (ITA) founding in 1978.
“The word transpersonal means to ‘go beyond’ the material person,” explains Dr. Cynthia Shaw, a clinical psychologist from Chicago. “There is a strong focus on the mind-body connection, spiritual transcendence, personal values, and purpose.”
The ITA identifies three fundamental concepts in the term “transpersonal:”
- connection to a larger sense of existence
- recognition of what’s sacred
- drive to find a greater sense of being
Other foundational elements of transpersonal psychology include:
No rigid structure in therapy
Because transpersonal psychology aims to consider the individual as a whole, it doesn’t focus on specific tools or methods.
“Transpersonal psychotherapy is rooted in an ideology and a basic humility that operates behind the scenes,” says Jeffrey Sumber, a licensed psychotherapist from Chicago. “It is less about a particular tool or methodology and more about an intention that motivates the intervention.”
Relationships are the foundation
Sumber explains that transpersonal psychology looks to understand how your mind works by studying it through your relationships with family, friends, and even therapists.
The therapist, in this context, isn’t viewed as “the expert.”
“The only room for expertise is the therapists’ ability to reflect the client’s truth to them with as little of the therapist’s own baggage as possible,” says Sumber.
In this way, the therapist acts as your facilitator, helping you uncover your truths through your process of discovery.
There is no judgment of others
The view of therapist and client as equals in transpersonal psychology means there’s no room for judgment of others’ experiences.
Sumber explains that the “client and the therapist both have their own experiences, and neither is right, wrong, correct or incorrect, healthy or unhealthy.”
“Transpersonal therapy aims to increase one’s sense of self and improve one’s overall quality of life via spirituality and self-understanding,” says Shaw.
She notes it’s a therapy often used to address conditions with challenges related to self-worth and life purpose, such as:
- low self-esteem
- identity confusion
- relationship distress
- spiritual or existential questioning
The lack of consistency in transpersonal therapy approaches may make obtaining large-scale evidence of the theory and therapy effectiveness difficult.
Is transpersonal psychology pseudoscience?
Pseudoscience is a process of explanation that may make sense but isn’t backed by scientific research or method.
To date, the research on transpersonal therapy is limited, with some approaches backed by science and others considered experiential.
A 2021 study involving 10 cancer patients found it was an effective intervention option for:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- depression among those living with a cancer diagnosis
Similarly, a 2022 small-scale study involving breast cancer patients found that transpersonal therapy was effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
“Given the spiritual elements of transpersonal therapy, therapists trained in transpersonal therapy can be found at medical facilities, rehabilitation centers, spiritual centers, universities, and private practice,” says Shaw.
She explains they utilize many methods, including:
- guided imagery
- relaxation techniques
- stress reduction techniques
- dream interpretation
- experiential process (such as art, music, and journaling)
Transpersonal therapists may thrive in many areas as school counselors, classroom aides, corrections officers, shelter managers, performance artist counselors, and life coaches, to name a few.
Transpersonal psychology is a concept that combines traditional psychological concepts with spirituality and present individual experiences.
While difficult to determine its effectiveness due to the variety of methodologies used, transpersonal therapy may be an option if you’re searching for purpose in life, feel lost, or want to explore your sense of identity.
Music therapy, meditation, and hypnosis can all be a part of transpersonal therapy, as can traditional behavioral approaches.