My Passion for Transcendental Psychology

My original interest in psychology at 12 years old was in parapsychology, or ‘ghost busting’. So it is of no surprise that my passion for transcendental psychology emerged when I first discovered this area soon after completing my degree in psychology and the philosophy of consciousness in the 1990s. What attracted me to transcendental psychology was the systematic psychological exploration of spiritual practice throughout cultures across our planet.

What is Transcendental Psychology?

Transcendental psychology looks at the psychology behind spiritual practice without being influenced by religious dogma. This study enquires into what is happening for the person mentally, emotionally, physiologically and spiritually, in religious and spiritual practices. This includes the psychology of altered states of consciousness, the unconscious and states of meditation.

There was a surge of interest in transcendental psychology and investigations of altered states of consciousness in the 1960s, which included some of my favourite thinkers and writers in this area, such as Stan and Christina Grof (psychiatrists), Ken Wilber (psychologist) and John Welwood (clinical psychologist and psychotherapist). Each of these people contributed a wealth of knowledge through scientific investigation and their own psycho-spiritual practice, to Western science about Eastern and other non-Western spiritual practices and altered states of consciousness.

Therapeutic Implications of Transcendental Psychology

One aspect of transcendental psychology that is important beyond enquiry and research is the therapeutic implications of the non-Western approach of spiritual emergence, and Western concepts of mental illness. We can learn a lot about alternative ways to understand and approach mental illness from other cultures and non-Western spiritual practices. The Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) was founded in 1980, which aimed to increase awareness about spiritual emergence and promote alternative treatment approaches to mental illness, apart from Western psychological and psychiatric practices (Stanislav & Christina Grof, Spiritual Emergence, 1989).

An interesting finding from transcendental psychological research is that spiritual emergence and a psychotic episode have very similar symptoms, however Western and a lot of non-Western outlooks are completely different in their approach. People in some non-Western cultures who are seen to be transitioning through a spiritual emergency are thought to be on a shamanic journey or “a dark night of the soul”. They are not perceived as sick, mentally ill or deficient in their community and they are supported until they emerge from ‘facing inner or outer demons’. The whole process is simply allowed to run its course without community condemnation. Ironically, it is found that there is a higher rate of people who emerge from “psychosis/spiritual emergence” in non-Western cultures than from Western mental health wards and from using psychiatric medication (Stanislav & Christina Grof, Spiritual Emergence, 1989).

So while transcendental psychology is often seen as a fringe area of psychology, its clinical implications could be profound!

Apart from psychosis, transcendental psychology could also have implications for treating depression and anxiety. Alternative therapies that are based on Eastern practices and world-views, such as acupuncture, kinesiology and chiropractic practice, all embrace an understanding of energy flow, chakras, meridian systems, pressure points and multidimensional sources of memory that affect current psychological patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. These sources of memory include unconscious archetypal memories and past life memories. So based on Eastern medicine and world views, depression and anxiety can stem from deeply held unconscious memories that are outside the sight of the conscious mind.  Again, these types of approaches could have a far reaching and revolutionary impact on contemporary psychological theories and therapies.

The Approach Taken at Conscious Solutions

At Conscious Solutions, when working with the human mind, I recognise unconscious sources of information that could affect people’s patterns of thought, emotion and action that repeat themselves throughout people’s lives. When I work with people to decrease depression and anxiety, I help them to increase awareness of sources of memory that underlie their patterns of behaviour, so they can break free from them. Simply by holding an open mind and liberal philosophy as to sources of these patterns from contemporary psychology, allows my work with many people to flourish.

This is also why I often highly recommend that clients access alternative therapies as well as psychotherapy, to help shift stubborn and pervasive patterns. I have also seen the opposite take place, where no psychotherapeutic work was accessed, only energy work. Likewise, from what I have witnessed, the outcomes were not as successful. In my experience, the best outcomes often come from combining psychotherapy and alternative therapies when it comes to depression and anxiety.

“Western psychology has neglected the spiritual domain, to its detriment, while the contemplative paths have lacked an adequate understanding of psychological dynamics, which inevitably play a major part in the process of spiritual development. As long as these dynamics are not recognised, they affect the spiritual practitioner and the spiritual path in covert ways that can exert a distorting influence on the whole understanding. So, in certain ways, [spiritual] awakening needs psychology as much as psychology needs awakening.”

(John Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, 2002, Page xvi)

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