What is Transpersonal Counselling?
Transpersonal counselling practice is multidimensional and experiential work which engages clients in a way that safely leads them to their edge, the place where meaningful life insights and transformation can occur.
Transpersonal therapists use altered states of consciousness to help clients gain access to resources they may not have access to in ordinary waking reality. Navigating human consciousness is central to this work. Our work as transpersonal practitioners is client-centred, heart-centred and optimistic. It's oriented towards helping clients lead a more authentic life and realising their full potential, beyond even notions of personal growth and healing. We hold our clients with unconditional positive regard no matter what their personal circumstances or history.
The use of symbols, mythology and imagination is also an important focus of transpersonal work. As transpersonal therapists, we listen closely beyond the presenting symptoms to see what symbols, myths, and images might emerge as a meta-story. We look at the whole life journey and personal mythology that is being lived out and work with a framework that views psychological work within the context of spiritual unfolding.
The roots and development of transpersonal counselling
Transpersonal counselling is rooted in transpersonal psychology, an academic discipline which formally emerged in the late 1960s. While relatively new as a therapeutic modality, the roots of this work are found in ancient shamanic practice and the cosmologies of our indigenous ancestors. The word transpersonal literally means, beyond the personal, or beyond the ego. Our work as transpersonal counsellors is related to the work of the shaman in this way... that is, we take into account an individual’s relationship with the world as a whole, not just the presenting personal problems. Likewise, as in shamanic medicine, healing is not about returning the patient to the state they were in before the problem existed. Rather, it is about helping clients to be in the world in a way that is more whole, integrated and expansive than they may have even imagined before.
Transpersonal psychology is considered by some as the fourth wave of psychology which is more comprehensive and expansive than the previous three schools of psychology which were its predecessors: psychoanalysis, behaviourism, and humanistic psychology. Abraham Maslow anticipated this fourth wave, when he said:
“I consider Humanistic, Third Force Psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still “higher” Fourth Psychology, transpersonal, transhuman, centred in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interest, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization and the like”.
It wasn't until the late 1950s and 60s that cultural changes and creative developments paved the way for the emergence of the transpersonal movement. Some of the leading thinkers whose work eventually contributed to the birth of transpersonal psychology include William James, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Robert Assagioli.
In such a broad and encompassing field, definitions of transpersonal psychology have been problematic. A 2007 study (Hartelius, Caplan, and Rardin) looking at common themes in the definition of transpersonal psychology found that the following three themes emerged:
1. Transpersonal psychology is about working beyond the ego
2. Transpersonal psychology is integrative / holistic (concerned with the whole person)
3. Transpersonal psychology is transformative
According to Stanislov Grof, one of the co-founders of transpersonal psychology, “what truly defines the transpersonal orientation is a model of the human psyche that recognises the importance of the spiritual or cosmic dimensions and the potential for consciousness evolution”.
Cunningham, Paul. (2007). The Challenge, Prospects, and Promise of Transpersonal Psychology. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. 26. 10.24972/ijts.2007.26.1.41.
Glenn Hartelius, Mariana Caplan PhD & Mary Anne Rardin MA (2007) Transpersonal Psychology: Defining the Past, Divining the Future, The Humanistic Psychologist, 35:2, 135-160, DOI: 10.1080/08873260701274017