Transpersonal psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a school of Psychology, considered by many the '4th force' in the field: according to its adherents and proponents, the traditional division of psychology schools: behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology had failed to include those psychology schools that focus on the transegoic dimension of human existence, dealing with phenomena of religious conversion, altered states of consciousness and spiritual life. However this analysis is controversial: most psychologists would not consider that behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology exhausted the range of current psychological approaches, and in fact none of them are particularly influential in current psychology. Furthermore, the phenomena listed are considered by standard subdisciplines of psychology, religious conversion falling within the ambit of social psychology, altered states of consciousness within physiological psychology, and spiritual life within the psychology of religion.

Transpersonal psychologists, however, disagree with the approach to such phenomena taken by other schools of psychology, and claim that have typically been dismissed either as signs of various kinds of mental illnesses or regression to infantile stages of psychosomatic development.

One must not confuse transpersonal psychology with parapsychology- a mistake frequently made due to the unenviable academic "reputation" of both branches and eerie atmosphere surrounding the subjects of investigation of respective disciplines.

Although there are many disagreements with regard to transpersonal psychology, one could succinctly lay out a few basic traits of the field:

  • transpersonal psychology is rooted in archaic religious psychological doctrines expounded in: Zen Buddhism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Sufism, Vedanta, Taoism and Neoplatonism
  • by common consent, the following branches are considered to be transpersonal psychological schools: Jungian Depth Psychology or, more recently rephrased by James Hillman, a follower of Carl Jung as Archetypal Psychology; Psychosynthesis founded by Roberto Assagioli and schools of Abraham Maslow and Robert Tart.
  • Some transpersonal psychologists claim other authors, for example William James, as supporting their approach. This is controversial; it is unlikely that James ever used the expression "transpersonal" to describe his approach to psychology.
  • Doctrines or ideas of many colorful personalities who were or are "spiritual teachers" in the Western world are often assimilated in the transpersonal psychology mainstream scene: Gurdjieff, Alice Bailey or Ken Wilber. This development is, generally, seen as detrimental to the aspiration of transpersonal psychologists to gain firm and respectable academic status.

All transpersonal psychologies, whichever their differences, share one basic contention: they claim that human beings possess the supraegoic centre of consciousness that is irreducible to all known states of empirical, or, better, "ordinary" consciousness (sleep, waking state, ...). This root of consciousness (and human existence, for some schools) is frequently called "Self" (or "Higher Self"), in order to distinguish it from "self" or "ego", which is equated to the seat of ordinary everyday waking consciousness. However, they differ in the crucial traits they ascribe to the Self:

  • the supraegoic root of consciousness (the Self) survives bodily death in some transpersonal schools; for others, it dies with the body

  • for ones, the Self is dormant and latent; for others, it is ever watchful and precedes empirical human consciousness

  • some think that Self is mutable and potentially expandable; others aver that it is perfect and completely outside of time-space, and that only "ego" is subject to temporal change

Currently, transpersonal psychology (especially Archetypal Psychology of Carl Jung and his followers) is integrated, at least to some extent, to numerous psychology departments in US and European Universities; also, transpersonal therapies are included in many therapeutic practices.

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