Transpersonal psychology, also known holistic psychology, is a form of psychology which embraces the role of mystical states, psychedelic experiences and other forms of non-ordinary and exceptional states of consciousness in the practice of personal transformation.
The term “transpersonal” was first used in print by William James in 1905, but the application of spiritual, self-transcendent and exceptional states of consciousness in human psychology dates back much further. The field of transpersonal psychology was formally established around 1967.
In The Psychic Side of Sports, Michael Murphy, co-founder of Esalen, and Rhea White, discuss how many athletes in the same kind of extreme athletic performance actually go into powerful trans-like state where they can start showing supernormal abilities.
Prior to transpersonal psychology, these kinds of experiences would receive the psychiatry diagnosis of psychosis. “When I discovered this enormous healing and transformative potential of these states, I couldn’t believe that psychiatry would not have a special category for them,” explained Stanislov Grof in his course Psychology of the Future.
“Mystics have the feeling that they actually got something extra that after those experiences they actually have deeper understanding of themselves,” Explains Dr. Grof. “In our everyday life, we experience only a small fragment, only small fractions of our whole experiential potential. In these [transpersonal] states, we move beyond our usual ego and body; sometimes in small steps, sometimes in major breakthroughs.”
Self-transcendent states are also one aspect of what are known as “awakening” experiences. Though they were attributed to religious or spiritual practices, “awakening” experiences were shown to occur outside a religious or spiritual context, typically evoked by psychological trauma, contact with nature, or contemplative practices like meditation.
These states brought/bring with them sense of harmony and meaning, dissolution of ego or self-transcendence, along with an increased sense of connection and unity. These states are also known to create pro-social behaviors like altruism, compassion and other activities associated with service to others.
After transpersonal psychology became a recognized area of study in the 60s, there has been an explosive growth of scientific investigations into the psychological nature of spirituality. Transpersonal psychology has been at the forefront of this research, leading the way in identifying the conditions and practices which may contribute to the non-ordinary, self-transcendent and awakening states which occur most often outside a religious or spiritual context.