There is an arena of study in which psychology and spiritual experience overlap; it is the realm of transpersonal psychology. The field offers a psycho-spiritual perspective on health, development, and therapy. This arena is of particular interest to me as a psychologist, psychotherapist, and person – my doctoral dissertation was on the topic of mystical experience and mental health. Transpersonal psychology is – in essence – the study of consciousness, and it is concerned with psychological and spiritual practices, disciplines and experiences. It provides a perspective in which psychospiritual and nonordinary topics can be addressed in psychotherapy.
As a field, it acknowledges the validity and relevance of mystical states, mindfulness and meditative practices, ritual, nonordinary or paranormal experiences, the overlap of spiritual experience and distressed states such as depression or anxiety, and the transpersonal dimensions of relationships, service, or encounters with the natural world… as well as many other topics.
Psychotherapy from a transpersonal perspective helps clients explore what supports or hinders the growth, healing, unfolding, and evolution of consciousness. The transpersonal can be a part of psychotherapy as context (i.e., how therapy is approached), as content (i.e., transpersonal experiences are discussed during therapy), and as the process in therapy (i.e., the client moves beyond previous identifications in a way that can include them).
Body-mind and bioenergetic psychotherapy offer holistic approaches to the person – and respect both experiences of embodiment and transpersonal experiences. Somatic approaches to therapy view mind, body, emotions and spirit as integral aspects of the person. Body psychotherapy, in fact, often taps into and helps ground psychospiritual energy and experience. Alexander Lowen, in fact, wrote a book called “The Spirituality of the Body: Bioenergetics for Grace and Harmony.”
Clients who might benefit from this perspective in psychotherapy would be those who are:
- Pursuing a spiritual discipline or a nontraditional spiritual path and are facing issues of how to integrate that practice into effective functioning in everyday life
- Not sure they can talk about their spiritual practice or nonordinary experiences in the context of a therapy relationship for concern their nontraditional approach or nonordinary experience won’t be validated or understood
- Struggling with having different “compartments” for aspects of themselves. For example, people who struggle with understanding and integrating where their sexuality, gender, aggression, and so forth, fit into their life and development
- Facing issues of depression, anxiety, loss of meaning, or difficulties in career or relationships – issues that everyone faces – but need an environment where those issues can be dealt with in a transpersonal context
If this approach to therapy is important to you, remember that in the proper practice of psychospiritual disciplines and psychotherapy, the ego, the personality, one’s everyday life, work, relationships, body, and sexuality, are seen as important aspects of one’s whole self. Transpersonal work treats these domains as integral aspects of the great work that embraces spiritual practice and everyday life.