Understanding A Transpersonal Approach in Psychotherapy
ll By Michelle LaBorde, MA, LPCC
In his book, “A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose” Eckart Tolle teaches that our “inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that. You share that purpose with every other person on the planet – because it is the purpose of humanity”. This is the basic, fundamental aspiration of transpersonal psychotherapy… for the transpersonal counselor to walk with the client in whatever way and to whatever degree or level that supports the client’s spiritual journey toward awakening and connecting with their highest Self.
There are eight basic assumptions about a transpersonal approach to psychology that can be viewed as the “underlying principles that unite transpersonal therapists” according to Brant Cortright in his book “Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychology”. While there are many approaches that come under the umbrella of transpersonal psychology, they all assume that:
1. Our essential nature is spiritual.
2. Consciousness is multidimensional.
3. Human beings have valid urges toward spiritual seeking, expressed as a search for wholeness through deepening individual, social, and transcendent awareness.
4. Contacting a deeper source of wisdom and guidance within is both possible and helpful to growth.
5. Uniting a personal conscious will and aspiration with the spiritual impulse is a superordinate health value.
6. Altered states of consciousness are one way of accessing transpersonal experiences and can be an aid to healing and growth.
7. Our life and actions are meaningful.
8. The transpersonal context shapes how the person/client is viewed.
Cortright argues that “Traditional psychology has focused on motivational hierarchies – survival needs, sex and aggression, the need to integrate feelings and impulses, finding intimacy, developing a cohesive self, and actualizing the self’s potentials through meaningful work and activities. Transpersonal psychology completes the process by putting this motivational path into the context of a spiritual journey”. The goal of the spiritual journey is greater consciousness for us as individuals and “from a transpersonal perspective, consciousness heals”.
Religions, philosophies and healing traditions throughout human existence have played a role in shaping how we view our life’s purpose during our short time here on Earth and all these wisdom traditions have given direction with regard to our spiritual journey. “As soon as you rise above mere survival, the question of meaning and purpose becomes of utmost important in your life”, Tolle says. The field of transpersonal psychology seeks to, via scientific research, integrate mind, body and spiritual practices in support of transcendent experiences that offer access to what might be referred to as the soul, the spirit or our deeper, ancient wisdom in this essential search for meaning and purpose. Carl Jung, who is recognized as the founder of transpersonal psychology was deeply interested in transpersonal phenomena from the time he was a child and spent his career mapping the human psychological evolution toward individuation or wholeness. Thanks to Jung’s work, a transpersonal psychotherapist might recommend dream work, with its rich language of symbolism, archetypes and collective metaphor, for example, as way of offering a client a window into their interior life. As the field has evolved, a variety of practices and experiences have been identified that serve to open the window to our greater awareness and consciousness. Mindfulness practices, including meditation, are probably the trendiest and most touted by the mainstream right now but yoga, exercise, hypnosis, psychedelic substance induced experiences and even sex all present opportunities to help break us free from our heads and the trappings of the world and introduce us to our own higher nature or as Tolle says, invites us into “the peace of God”.
The simplest moments – admiring a sunset, watching a baby sleep – can be seen as a holy instant where we are gifted with an opening to our true essence. “The world can penetrate us if we let it. If we relax our habitual anxieties for a moment and all our ideas about the world, all our interpretations, and just let ourselves see and hear it as it is, then we can feel the living energy of the world. We connect ourselves directly to it. This experience of direct connection might seem extremely simple, but it can affect us profoundly” writes Jeremy Harward. This wisdom is transpersonal. It invites us to step out of grasping, habitual thought patterns which keeps us separate from receiving divine direction and from connecting with our higher Selves and others. Connecting to the living energy of the world is our work as human beings, and this work is well facilitated by a transpersonal psychotherapist.
Cortright, B, (1997). Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychology, New York: State University of New York Press.
Friedman, H. L., & Hartelius, G. (2013). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology, NY, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Hayward, J.W. (1998). Discovering basic goodness. In Sacred world: The Shambhala way to gentleness, bravery, and power (pp. 1-13). Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Tolle, E. (2005) A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose. New York: Penguin (Kindle version)
Michelle is a mother, a partner, a friend, a spiritual seeker, a licensed psychotherapist and someone who enjoys connecting with herself and her higher Self within a mindfulness meditation practice. She has a BA in Communications and Humanities from the University of Colorado and an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Psychology from Naropa University. Michelle’s practice, Soul Care Counseling, offers mindfulness-based practices that support clients seeking to become less anxious, less stressed, less reactive and more grounded, present and connected with their own inner ally. As a result of their work together, clients are able to communicate with themselves and others with greater clarity, care and compassion. https://michellelaborde.com/