Psychotherapy and Spirit

After finishing my blog post yesterday I decided to dive into some of the Transpersonal therapy material that I’ll need to get familiar with over the next few years. To assist with my understanding I will occasionally use my blog as a place to share thoughts and notes on the readings. So, this might be kind of dull or boring to some people.

The first book on my list is “Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy” by Brant Cortright, and thanks to the magic of technology it only took a handful of seconds to purchase the Kindle version and have it on my phone and computer. I choose this book to start with because Naropa University requires you to reference it in their Statement of Interest, which makes me think it is pretty important to be familiar with it.

Chapter One of PaS is simply titled Basic Assumptions. One of my concerns about Transpersonal Psychotherapy is that it could be used to justify pseudoscience, but so far so good. This chapter defines the terms (always a good sign), presents assumptions, breaks things into theory and practice, and highlights some problem areas.

Transpersonal psychology is a merging of spiritual teachings and practices with modern psychological understanding. It “studies how the spiritual is expressed in and through the personal, as well as the transcendence of the self”. The spiritual aspect might give some science-minded individuals (including myself) some pause, but you can have spiritual experiences and believe that spiritual growth is important without a belief in the supernatural. Spiritual can simply be an aspect of the human experience that is nurtured and strengthened through meditation, psychoactive drugs, altered states of consciousness, or other spiritual practices. I believe it can be completely part of the mind. Instead of ignoring or pathologizing spirituality (as some psychological schools have done in the past) you can integrate spiritual practice into psychology. Spiritual practices have often neglected psychology as well and would rather only use dogma, holy books, prayer, or spiritual practices to help with mental healing and prosperity.

Unlike some schools of psychology, transpersonal psychotherapy does not have a particular writer or founder. It is much broader than specific viewpoints and, like all theories, is a way of viewing reality but it is not reality itself. Transpersonal psychotherapy is still realitively new on the scene and there are still much to be tested, but that also makes it an exciting time to get involved with it. In the past TP has focused on “high end” experiences like bliss, ecstasy, and awe, but neglected “low end” experiences like day-to-day life. This is changing though as TP grows and more data becomes available.

Transpersonal psychotherapy is also able to integrate practices from other schools of psychology because it is more of a relationship than a structured set of rules. It is a viewpoint. “Transpersonal therapy lies not in what the therapist says or does, but in the silent frame that operates behind the therapist’s actions, informing and giving meaning to specific interventions. It is thus a wider container which can hold all other therapeutic orientations within it.” Transpersonal therapists may use psychoanalytical, behavioral, or humanistic techniques as they are appropriate for a certain circumstance.

The transpersonal approach makes several basic assumptions:

  1. Our essential nature is spiritual. This is the merging of the spiritual practice and psychological traditions, with primacy going to the spiritual.
  2. Consciousness is multidimensional. We can gain knowledge about ourselves and happiness by tapping into other dimensions of consciousness that aren’t accessible in our standard experience. This can come through drugs, fasting, hypnosis, meditation, etc. These experiences can be beneficial and enlightening.
  3. Human beings have valid urges toward spiritual seeking, expressed as a search for wholeness through deepening individual, social, and transcendent awareness. As humans, as individuals and as a society, become more advanced we no longer need to spend as much time and energy on “base” needs like food, water, and shelter. Instead, we can pursue higher “spiritual” needs like self-actualization, belonging, passion, fulfillment. Spiritual practices are a valid way to reach the upper levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
  4.  Contacting a deeper source of wisdom and guidance within is both possible and helpful to growth. There is more knowledge within us that we can easily access consciously and it is beneficial to access it to have a more blissful life.
  5. Uniting a person’s conscious will and aspiration with the spiritual impulse is a superordinate health value. It is harmful to have any part of our being be unfulfilled, including spiritual pursuits (which I think can vary in depth among people). If someone feels a spiritual drive they will be better off if they look into that and practice spiritual growth. Transpersonal therapists should not subscribe to any specific dogma as being “true”, but should honor the paths each person chooses for themselves.
  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. Maybe not in some cosmic sense, but they are meaningful to us and can have a great impact on those we love.
  8. The transpersonal context shapes how the person/client is viewed. In the transpersonal approach is more “heart centered” than many practices and views the client as an evolving being and, along with the therapist, a fellow seeker.

Transpersonal therapy, like all practices, have challenges, particularly being rigorous in the development and testing of theory. Spiritual experiences are subjective and it is important that they are grounded in sound theory, and hopefully it can create “a more psychologically-informed spirituality and a spiritually-based psychology”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s