Transpersonal psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the spiritual or transpersonal aspects of human experience. William James is credited with the first recorded use of the term “transpersonal” during an introductory course syllabus in philosophy at Harward University in 1905. The term transpersonal denotes an individual’s consciousness, self-actualization, and spirituality. It is sometimes used interchangeably with terms such as “spiritual”, “holistic”, and “self-realization”. The term transpersonal can be defined as “experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos” (Walsh, R. & Vaughan, 1993).
Transpersonal psychology is transpersonal in that it is “beyond the personal”. This means transpersonal psychology deals with transcendent or ultimate concerns such as spirituality, humanity (a sense of connection to other humans), compassion, and understanding.
Transpersonal psychology first began in the 1960s and 1970s when transpersonal questions were introduced into mainstream psychology through the transpersonal psychologies of Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, Robert Assagioli, and William James.
Many transpersonal psychologists embrace spirituality as an essential aspect of being human. The defining question transpersonal psychology asks is “What does it mean to be human?”
Transpersonal questions transpersonal psychologists deal with include:
1. What is the meaning and purpose of human existence?
2. What lies beyond the boundaries of science?
3. How is it possible to integrate spirituality into a scientific paradigm?
4. How can transpersonal inquiry be conducted in an objective manner?
5. Can transpersonal inquiry be conducted as a rigorous science?
6. How can transpersonal themes be integrated into mainstream psychology?
While transpersonal psychologists maintain that some transpersonal phenomena can be examined and verified scientifically, transpersonal questions might be considered as being trans-rational or trans-empirical.
Many transpersonal psychologists believe that transpersonal psychology is a philosophy of life in addition to a school of psychological thought. In transpersonal psychology, people are encouraged to see that each moment in life is potentially transpersonal or spiritual.
In transpersonal thinking, transpersonal psychologists recognize that each human being has a spiritual nature and an unlimited transpersonal potential. The basic transpersonal premise is that everyone has hidden reserves of strength and transcendent wisdom that can be drawn upon in times of need.
To transpersonal psychology, there appears to be no limit to the amount or degree of transpersonal development possible for human beings to achieve. The transpersonal perspective is transhumanistic – that is, the transpersonal point of view emphasizes humanity’s unlimited potential and encourages people not only to accept themselves but also to be actively involved in becoming all that they can be.
Transpersonal psychology is a transdisciplinary approach to human experience, emphasizing personal growth and an expanded state of consciousness that transcends the conventional definitions of “self” and “personality”. While transpersonal psychology shares many concepts with classical psychology, transpersonal psychology also includes a wide range of methods from other disciplines. The many schools of transpersonal study include transpersonal anthropology, transpersonal sociology, ecopsychology, and transpersonal studies in religion.
Some transpersonalists combine non-ordinary states of consciousness with eastern or other approaches to create expanded models of reality. These expanded visions are used as a basis for social action to bring about cultural transformation and spiritual enlightenment for the greater good.
Transpersonal psychology recognizes that transpersonal phenomena can be studied in an objective manner and yet be trans-rational or transempirical (that is, beyond empirical observation). Transpersonal psychology also challenges the idea that only what can be measured or observed should be considered real.
To transpersonal psychologists, the ultimate goal is not just personal growth and mental health, but also spiritual development and self-realization. The transpersonal point of view encompasses nature, human beings, society, and the cosmos as a whole. Transpersonal psychologists attempt to include other dimensions of human experience such as altered states of consciousness and dreams.
Walsh, R. & Vaughan, F. “On transpersonal definitions”. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 25 (2) 125-182, 1993