Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology


In the middle of the 20th century, American psychology was dominated by two main schools: behaviorist and Freudian. Increasing dissatisfaction with these two orientations as appropriate approaches to the human psyche led to the development of humanistic psychology. Its main exponent was Abraham Maslow who offered a scathing critique of the limitations of behaviorism and psychoanalysis, calling them the first and second forces in psychology, and formulated the principles of a new perspective in psychology.

The main criticism of behaviorism was that the animal study could only clarify those aspects of human functioning that we share with these animals. Leaving aside specific human qualities, such as love, self-awareness, self-determination, personal freedom, morality, art, philosophy, religion, and conscience. This perspective is also, to a large extent, meaningless in regard to some specific negative characteristics of the human being, such as lust for power, cruelty and the tendency to attack intentionally.

In his critique of psychoanalysis, Maslow (1969) pointed out that Freud and his followers reached conclusions about the human psyche mainly through studies in psychopathology, generating a biological reductionism and a tendency to explain all psychological processes in terms of instincts. basic.

On its own, the main concern of humanistic psychology, the third force, dealt with human content. This discipline satisfied the interest in consciousness and introspection as important complements to the objective approach of investigations. It focused on the study of healthy populations, human growth and potential, and higher functions of the psyche.


Despite the popularity of humanistic psychology, its founders Maslow and Sutich were dissatisfied with the conceptual framework they had originally created. They became increasingly aware that they had left out an extremely important element: the spiritual dimension of the human psyche(Sutich, 1976). The revival of interest in Eastern spiritual philosophers, meditation, the wisdom of ancient natives, as well as experimentation with psychedelics, made it absolutely clear that a comprehensive and cross-cultural psychology must include observations of such areas asLike mystical states, cosmic consciousness, psychedelic experiences, trance phenomena, religious, artistic and scientific creativity and inspiration.

In 1967, a small task force that included Abraham Maslow, Anthony Sutich, Stanislav Grof, James Fadiman, Miles Vich, and Sonya Margulies met in Menlo Park, California, with the goal of creating a new psychology that would do honor the entire spectrum of human experience, including the various rare states of consciousness. During these discussions, Maslow and Sutich accepted Grof's suggestion and called this new discipline "transpersonal psychology."

The Fourth Force

Transpersonal psychology, or the fourth force, focused on the main misconceptions of psychiatry and established psychology, regarding spirituality and religion. It also responded to the important observations of modern research on consciousness, as well as other fields for which the existing scientific paradigm did not have a sufficient explanation.

While Western psychology and psychiatry describe the rituals and spiritual life of ancient native cultures in pathological terms, the dangerous excesses of industrial civilization that endanger the life of the planet and that have become an integral part of our daily livesThey rarely attract the attention of clinicians and researchers and are in no way labeled pathological.

Western psychiatry and psychology formulated their theories from the experiences and observations of ordinary states of consciousness and have systematically avoided or misinterpreted the evidence for non-ordinary states, as well as observations from psychedelic therapy, powerful psychotherapeutic experiences, work with individuals in psychospiritual crisis, research on meditation, anthropological field work or thanatology. Data from these areas of research have been systematically ignored and misinterpreted due to their fundamental incompatibility with the dominant paradigm.

Holotropic States

Transpersonal psychology is interested in a significant subset of non-ordinary states of consciousness, those that have heuristic, healing, transformative, and even evolutionary potential. Mainstream psychiatry does not have a name for this very important subset of states, and they all qualify as altered states of consciousness. Stanislav Grof coined the name holotropic (Grof, 1992). This compound word means "oriented towards the whole" or "moving towards the whole."

This term suggests that in our daily state of consciousness, we identify with only a small fraction of who we really are. In holotropic states, we can transcend the narrow barrier of our ego and encounter a rich spectrum of transpersonal experiences that help us regain our complete identity.

Relativistic quantum physics has shown that matter is essentially empty and that all boundaries in the universe are illusory. Today we know that what appears to us as static and discrete objects are actually condensations within a dynamic unitive energy field. The objective nature of the historical and archetypal domains of the collective unconscious has been demonstrated by C.G Jung and his followers years before psychedelic research and new experiential therapies accumulated confirming evidence beyond any reasonable doubt.

It is possible to describe step by step the appropriate procedures and contexts that facilitate access to these experiences This includes non-pharmacological procedures, such as the practice of meditation, music, dance, Holotropic Breathing and other approaches that cannot be seen as pathological agents no matter how much we force our imagination.

Spirituality v / s Religion

It is important to clarify the difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is based on direct experiences of non-ordinary aspects and dimensions of reality. It does not require a special place or officially assigned person to mediate with the divine. Mystics don't need churches or temples. The context in which they experience the sacred dimensions of reality, including their own divinity, is their bodies and their nature. Spirituality requires a special type of relationship between the individual and the cosmos and is, at its core, a private and personal matter.

In comparison, organized religion requires an institutionalized group activity that takes place in an already designated place such as a temple or a church and consists of a system of authorized and assigned people who may or may not have experiences of spiritual realities. Once religion becomes organized, it often completely loses connection with its spiritual source and becomes a secular institution that serves human needs without satisfying them.

Organized religions tend to create hierarchical systems that focus on achieving power, control, politics, money, possessions, and other secular aspects. Under these circumstances, the religious hierarchy, like a norm, discourages direct spiritual experiences from its faithful, because it fosters independence and cannot be effectively controlled. When this occurs, the genuine spiritual life continues only in the branches of the mystical, in monastic orders and in sects. As long as it is clear that fundamentalism and the dogma of religion are incompatible with the scientific world view, be it Newtonian-Cartesian or based on the new paradigm, there is no reason why we could not seriously study the nature and implications of the transpersonal experiences.


Re-Visioning Psychology and Psychiatry

Transpersonal psychology, beginning in the late 1960s, was culturally sensitive and treated the spiritual rites and traditions of ancient native cultures with the respect they deserved, in light of the findings of modern investigations of consciousness. It also included and integrated a wide range of "anomalous phenomena", observations contradictory to the paradigm that academic science has been unable to explain. However, even if thoroughly tested, the new field represented a radical departure from academic thought among professional circles, which could not be reconciled with either traditional psychology and psychiatry, or the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm of Western science.

As a result, transpersonal psychology was extremely vulnerable to being accused as "irrational" or "unscientific," especially by scientists who were unaware of the vast body of observations and data on which the new movement was based. These criticisms also ignored the fact that many of the pioneers in this revolutionary movement had impressive academic credentials. Among the pioneers of transpersonal psychology there were many important psychologists, such as James Fadiman, Jean Houston, Jack Kornfield, Stanley Krippner, Ralph Metzner, Arnold Mindell, John Perry, Kenneth Ring, Frances Vaughan, Richard Tarnas, Charles Tart and Roger Walsh among others. from various disciplines (eg anthropologists, such as Angeles Arrien, Michael Harner and Sandra Harner). These people created and embraced the transpersonal psychology view of the human psyche, not because they ignored the fundamental assumptions of traditional science, but because they found the old conceptual framework seriously inadequate and unable to respond to their experiences and observations.

The influx of this exciting new information began with the profound philosophical implications of relativistic quantum physics, which forever changed our understanding of physical reality. The astonishing convergence between the worldview of modern physics and that of Eastern spiritual philosophies, already foreshadowed in the work of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and so many others, found full expression in Fritjof's book. Capra (1975), "The Tao of physics". Capra's pioneering vision was supplemented and refined in subsequent years by the work of Fred Alan Wolf (1981), Nick Herbert (1979), Amit Goswami, and many others. Of special interest in this matter were the contributions of David Bohm, who collaborated with Albert Einstein and was in turn the author of prestigious monographs on the theory of relativity and quantum physics.

Dr. Stanislav Grof MA., PhD.

Stanislav Grof has been one of the earliest and most accomplished pioneers of modern consciousness research through decades of legal scientific research on the therapeutic use of psychedelics, and his groundbreaking understanding of non-ordinary states, based on experiential forms of consciousness. psychotherapy.

From this work a new cartography of the human psyche has emerged that considers our experiences during birth, as well as the transpersonal levels, typically explored by healers and shamans.

His brilliant mind and encyclopedic knowledge of various schools of psychology, allowed him from the investigation, to integrate everything in a coherent framework.

He is a psychiatrist with more than sixty years of research experience in non-ordinary states of consciousness (with psychedelics and various drug techniques) and one of the founders and leading theorists of transpersonal psychology. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he also received his scientific training - an MD degree from the Charles University School of Medicine and a PhD from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Grof's first investigations into the clinical use of psychedelic substances were carried out at the Research Institute of Psychiatry in Prague, where he was the principal investigator of a program of systematic exploration of the heuristic and therapeutic potential of LSD and other psychedelic substances. .

In 1967 he was invited to participate as a Clinician and Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. After completing this two-year fellowship, he stayed in the USA. and continued his research as Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Center for Psychiatric Research and as Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Henry Phipps Clinic of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

In 1973, Dr. Grof was invited by the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, where he lived until 1987 as a Resident Scholar, giving seminars, lectures, and continuing the development of Holotropic Breathing with his wife Christina Grof. He also served on the Esalen Institute Board of Trustees.

He is the founder of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA) and its former and current President. In this role, he has organized major international conferences in the United States, the former Czechoslovakia, India, Australia, and Brazil. He currently lives in Mill Valley, California, conducting Training Seminars for Holotropic Breathing and Transpersonal Psychology professionals and writing books.

He was also a professor of psychology at the California Institute for Comprehensive Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco and at the Pacifica Graduate School in Santa Barbara, and gives talks and seminars around the world.

In 1993 he received the Honorary Award from the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) for Important Contributions and for the development of the field of Transpersonal Psychology, awarded on the occasion of the ATP 25th Anniversary Call, held in Asilomar, California. He has published more than 140 articles in professional journals, as well as the following books, which have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish, Japanese and Chinese.

Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic Breathing is one of the most powerful and effective deep self-exploration and psychotherapy techniques within Psychology.

Transpersonal and was developed by Grof and his late wife Cristina. It has been used since 1976 in more than 70,000 people with remarkable results. It is based on the findings of modern consciousness research and on the healing and transformative power of Holotropic states of consciousness in therapy. It expands, complements and integrates the understandings of deep psychology and broadens and increases the therapeutic mechanisms of conventional psychotherapy taking it to new heights.

By activating the intrinsic and natural integrative and regenerative capacities of the psyche, in an optimal Setting, holotropic experiential therapy favors and accelerates the natural movement of healing and development in the individual. It allows to carry out a process that unlocks and releases the physical and emotional tensions that are behind a large number of symptoms of psychological origin. By integrating and releasing these charges, we stop experiencing them in the same way in everyday life. Along with this, it facilitates effective access to deep levels of personal transformation with valuable therapeutic results. It is an effective tool for self-exploration and self-discovery, which can nurture and support the psychological and spiritual development of the individual.

The integration of old traumas, including the experience of birth, allows a new, deeper understanding of the most ingrained patterns of symptoms and behavior in human beings, and the real roots of psychological and emotional problems. It reveals a deeper and more truthful image of the structure and magnitude of emotional and psychosomatic disorders.

It is based on the great healing and transforming power of expanded or non-ordinary states of consciousness (holotropic states). These states have been the oldest and most powerful form of healing on our planet. Sometimes they can occur spontaneously or often appear through psychological practices, powerful rituals, use of entheogens, mystical experiences or deep meditation practices and shamanic experiences. They have been used extensively on mystical lines within different religions. In these states, the deep healing, understanding and transformation that we seek so much is usually displayed.

It seeks to achieve greater self-understanding, expansion of the identity of the self and facilitate direct access to the roots of emotional and psychosomatic problems in order to integrate and process them effectively.

This revolutionary self-exploration and therapeutic technique uses breathing, evocative music, focused bodywork when needed, art (mandalas), and group integration. Through breathing and evocative music we activate the psyche and it becomes possible to enter extraordinary states of consciousness (holotropic states). In these states the psyche activates the surprising innate therapeutic and regenerative capacity of the organism, bringing relevant unconscious contents to consciousness for its synthesis and resolution. It usually allows us to work through relevant issues and symptoms in hours or days, rather than years.