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: Transpersonal Theory

Jonathan W. Carrier and Nathanael G. Mitchell

Transpersonalism is a developing and controversial field that includes a group of approaches made possible only in the late 20th century as ancient Eastern religious traditions became exposed to and eventually blended with modem psychotherapies in a historically unprecedented way (Sutherland, 2001). The term transpersonal has been seen to mean beyond (trans) the personal, ego, or self (Strohl, 1998). An effort has been made recently to further define transpersonalism by exploring the historical tenets of the field as well as current definitions (Hartelius, Caplan, & Rardin, 2007). There are three different meanings of the Latin word trans: beyond, pervading, and changing (Caplan, Hartelius, & Rardin, 2003; Tarnas, 2001). These three meanings, when applied to the term transpersonal, correspond to three overarching themes of the field: beyond ego, pervading personhood, and changing humanity (Hartelius et al., 2007). Applied in this way, transpersonal theory is now best defined as an approach to human nature and counseling that "1) studies phenomena beyond the ego as context for 2) an integrative/holistic psychology; this provides a framework for 3) understanding and cultivating human transformation" (Hartelius et al., 2007, p. 11).

Transpersonal theory stands at the interface of mental health practice and spirituality and is one of the few approaches to integrate psychological concepts, theories, and methods with the subject matter and practices of the spiritual disciplines (Davis, 2000). Transpersonal approaches have been called "the first of modem sciences to take human spirituality seriously" (Kelly, 1991, p. 430) and attempt a synthesis that rethinks both spirituality and the practice of counseling.

Generally known in the literature as transpersonal psychology, transpersonal theory as it applies to mental health practice is concerned not only with the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems associated with normal human development but also with difficulties associated with developmental stages beyond that of the adult ego (Grof, 2008). It is the idea "that there are stages of human growth beyond the ego (hence the term transpersonal) that sets these theories apart from other models of human development and psychopathology" (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999, p. 12). The practice of transpersonal theory can include discussions and interventions pertaining to spiritual experiences; mystical states of consciousness; mindfulness and meditative practices; shamanic states; ritual; the overlap of spiritual experiences with disturbed mental states such as psychosis, depression, and other psychopathologies; and the transpersonal dimensions of interpersonal relationships, service, and encounters with the natural world (Davis, 2000).

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