Transpersonal psychotherapy can differ from other forms of talk therapy because it adds a spiritual aspect to your your exploration of self.
What is transpersonal psychotherapy?
Transpersonal psychotherapy integrates spiritual tools and traditions with modern psychological thinking.
The idea is that it’s not just the mind and body that can need healing and looking after, but also your spirit itself, or however else you want to call the less definable and transcendent part of yourself that connects you to everything else.
Transpersonal therapy works to answer such questions as:
How can we alleviate own suffering by deeply re-connecting with who we really are?
How can we then feel more connected to others, the world, and the greater whole?
How can our spiritual selves help us and guide us through difficult times?
How can we find meaning and purpose in a changing world, and how can spiritual traditions and tools help with this?
How can we find our own true worth and potential, and by so doing recognise humanity’s highest potential?
How is transpersonal therapy different than other forms of therapy?
There is a greater focus on the spiritual experience of being human. This said, things like mindfulness meditation are now used by many mental health practitioners.
While transpersonal psychotherapy might have once seemed very non-traditional, its way of seeing individuals as connected to a greater whole, and its tools such as meditation and visualisation, are now becoming more mainstream.
Another way that transpersonal therapy can differ is that it is less interested in seeing someone as ‘diseased’ or on focussing on what is ‘wrong’ with you. It is more interested in taking a positive look at your human potential. You are seen as bigger than any difficulties or issues you might have.
Finally, transpersonal therapy is not just focused on the individual. In fact the word ‘transpersonal’ refers to how we have experiences in life that place us beyond just our own self, but where we feel connected to others and to a greater whole.
A brief history of transpersonal psychotherapy
Transpersonal psychotherapy was birthed in the 1960s, although it only made its way into academic journals in the 1970s. It was influenced by such big figures in psychology and psychotherapy as Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli, and Abraham Maslow, the latter of whom actually became seen as the founder of transpersonal psychotherapy.
Some would argue that transpersonal psychotherapy is still an extension of humanistic therapy (perhaps not helped by the fact that Maslow was originally the spokesman of humanistic therapy). But transpersonal psychology was meant as a break away from humanistic psychology.
Maslow and his colleagues were interested in a new movement that included all forms of human experience, including non-ordinary states of consciousness, mystical states, psychedelic experiences (it was the 60s, after all), creativity, and inspiration.
It was at a meeting in 1967 that they came up with the term ‘transpersonal psychology’, which they saw as as the ‘fourth force’ in psychology, after psychoanalysis, behavioural psychology, and humanism.
Others in the group included Stansilav Grof and Anthony Sutich, who together with Maslow published the first issue of the longstanding “Journal of Transpersonal Psychology”.
What sorts of tools does transpersonal psychotherapy use?
Like all types of talk therapy, the main tool of transpersonal psychotherapy is talking with your therapist, and creating a therapeutic bond of trust within which you can feel comfortable exploring your thoughts and feelings.
The other tools that transpersonal psychotherapy uses might once have been seen as non-traditional, but are now increasingly commonplace.
Dreamwork is not at all uncommon with therapy, being a tool that both Freud and Jung, the forefathers of talk therapy, used with all clients.
Meditation, which might once have seemed different, is now also a normal tool of therapy. The rise of mindfulness and the huge amount of research that has made it evidence-based for things like anxiety, depression, and PTSD has seen most mental health practitioners train in it. (Your transpersonal practitioner might use slightly different approaches to meditation, but the basics will be the same.)
Hypnosis is a tool which might have once seemed a bit revolutionary but is now rather common. For example, many therapists nowadays use ‘visualisation’, where you relax and see things in your mind’s eye. This sort of technique arises from hypnosis.
Further tools your transpersonal therapist might use could involve creativity, breathwork, trance states, and any number of approaches inspired by spiritual traditions both ancient and modern.
Related forms of therapy to transpersonal psychotherapy
Jungian therapy, which influenced transpersonal therapy, can also have a spiritual element. And Jung was of course one of the fathers of psychotherapeutic dreamwork.
Existential therapyis about helping you find what matters to you and to create a life that aligns with what you believe is important about being alive. It could look at your spiritual wellbeing if that is something you value.
Humanistic therapy shares the idea of focussing on the strength and resilience of the individual, over focussing on what is wrong with someone.
Integrative therapymeans a therapist is trained in several schools of psychotherapeutic thought. So some integrative therapists have transpersonal training or use similar tools, like meditation and visualisation.
Psychosynthesispyschotherapy is actually the same thing as transpersonal psychotherapy, and comes under the transpersonal umbrella. The difference is that it is more aligned with the work of Robert Assagioli than Maslow.