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The Process of Change

It is often mistakenly thought that transpersonal counseling is oriented solely toward spiritual transcendence. Transpersonal leader Sylvia Boorstein (1996) warned against this, stating that zeal for work in the transpersonal realm should not come at the expense of overlooking relevant personal issues. Should a counselor gloss over the client's personal problems, without working through them and making them fully conscious, there will be no foundation from which spiritual work can begin (Small, 2000). In essence, it is impossible to transcend something that has never developed or become integrated (Small, 2000). Thus, the process of change in transpersonal counseling is marked by the overcoming of personal problems and life issues, allowing for primary work toward spiritual integration. As the client moves from normal functioning to transpersonal work, the process of unification and deepening the experience of connection usually engenders the highest human qualities, such as creativity, compassion, selflessness, and wisdom, all of which are indicative of psychological health and adjustment (Bimbaum et al., 2008; Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).

Traditional Intervention Strategies

Wilber (2000) called for an integrative therapy that takes a holistic approach: investigating and addressing each of the developmental lines or stages by using interventions that range from changing nutrition and exercise to cognitive restructuring or Jungian individuation to specific spiritual disciplines, depending on the client's developmental stage and pathologies. The transpersonal therapist must be ready to draw from all traditions, both Eastern and Western. "A truly integrative and encompassing psychology can and should make use of the complementary insights offered by each school of psychology" (Wilber, 1977, p. 15). According to Wilber (1997), the transpersonal counselor must be an expert in most forms of intervention, regardless of the theoretical modality. This extent of expertise is necessary, because guiding clients through the maze of developmental possibilities is certain to require a wide range of interventions, based on the client's personality, lifestyle, and personal experiences.

The core practice of transpersonal counseling includes meditation, mindfulness, intuition, yoga, biofeedback, breath training, contemplation, inward focusing, visualization, dream work, guided imagery, and altered states of consciousness (Ajaya, 1997; Bimbaum et al., 2008; Boss, 1981; Davis, 2000; Hutton, 1994). Other practices that are associated with transpersonal psychology, but not as commonly used as others, include shamanism, lucid dreaming, and psychedelic drugs (Davis, 2000; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Arguably, of all the interventions available to the transpersonal counselor, the most central is meditation. Comparing the role of meditation in transpersonal psychology with the role of dreams in psychoanalysis, Walsh and Vaughan (1993, p. 200) referred to meditation as "the royal road to the transpersonal." Meditation and related practices have a range of uses, including self-regulation, relaxation, and pain control, but are most commonly used in transpersonal counseling for self-exploration and self-liberation (Shapiro, 1994). Meditation allows the clients to "disidentify" from their masks or egos and realize their fundamental nonduality, leading to the liberation and transcendence of the self (Bimbaum, 2005; Goleman & Ram, 1996).

Another key aspect of transpersonal counseling, of which meditation is a part, is the exploration of human experiences known as altered states of consciousness. Metzner (1995) defined an altered state of consciousness as a change in thinking, feeling, and perception, in relation to one's ordinary, baseline consciousness, that has a beginning, duration, and ending. Delirium, hypnosis, deep meditation, and intoxication are all examples of altered states of consciousness (Walsh, 1994). Historically, Western theories have been slow to recognize the wide scope and enormity of altered states of consciousness as seen by the transpersonal theorist and have viewed many of these states as being pathological such as delirium and intoxication (Davis, 2000; Grof, 2008; Walsh, 1994; Wilber, 2000). According to Walsh (1994), one of the most dramatic examples of this Western resistance was that of the reaction to hypnosis and the Scottish physician, James Esdaile. During his station as a medical doctor in India over a century ago, Esdaile discovered the remarkable capacity of hypnosis to reduce pain and mortality in surgical patients. Esdaile's findings were so dramatic and foreign that Western medical journals refused to publish his reports. Upon his return to Britain, Esdaile arranged a demonstration before the British College of Physicians and Surgeons during which he amputated a gangrenous leg while the patient, under hypnosis and without any anesthetic, lay smiling calmly. Instead of marveling at what could have been a revolutionary new find to modem psychological and medical practice, his colleagues concluded that Esdaile had paid a hardened rogue to pretend he felt no pain! Fortunately, over time, Western theory has become more accepting of alternate states of consciousness, and it has become appreciated that many of these may be beneficial to counseling practice and the enrichment of human experience (Strohl, 1998).

When she or he deems the client ready, the transpersonal counselor is likely to attempt to aid the client in experiencing a range of altered states, through a variety of methods, after which they will examine and discuss together. Because many of these experiences can be quite varied, transpersonal counselors use a method known as phenomenological mapping to aid clients in organizing and understanding their experiences during the altered state (Wilber, 1997). The key point to phenomenological mapping is that it allows the client and counselor to map, compare, and differentiate states of consciousness on not one but multiple experiential dimensions and with greater precision than one could achieve by lumping them all together as one experience (Walsh, 1994). The result is that the individual can better appreciate the richness and variety of transpersonal states as well as clearly differentiate them from psychopathological states such as schizophrenia, with which they can and have sometimes been confused (Walsh, 1990). Although some claim that all altered states are essentially the same, transpersonal theorists argue that different methods of attaining altered states lead to different altered states, requiring the need for differentiation and organization (Wilber, 2000). For example, Buddhist meditation, hypnosis, and intoxication may all lead to a different type of altered experience and must be discussed and examined separately to search for differences and commonalities (Wilber, 1997). Phenomenological mapping is absolutely necessary, according to Walsh (1994), because when key dimensions such as mental control, awareness of the environment, concentration, arousal, emotion, self-sense, and content of experience are compared, multiple differences between states come into view.

Once the altered states have been experienced and mapped, Wilber (1995) stated that the individual must then undergo a process known as deep structure analysis. The purpose of deep structure analysis is to attempt to make coherent sense of the various alternate states of consciousness, identify possible commonalities among states, bring any developmental implications of the states into view, and reveal any hidden meanings among the states that may have an important impact on the individual's life (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993; Wilber, 2000). Deep structure analysis, according to Wilber (1997), allows the individual to cluster alternate consciousness states and experiences and identify a number of deep structures, which Wilber has classified into a number of hierarchical states. Although Wilber (1997) classified alternate consciousness experiences into a number of overarching deep structures, his three main deep structural states, according to Walsh (1994), are subtle states, causal states, and the ultimate condition:

Subtle states: Once conscious mental activity has calmed, one may experience a range of altered consciousness states that fit into the category of subtle states. The experiences in these states can include experiences of light or sound, emotions such as love and joy, or visions of archetypes (which can vary by culture) such as shamanistic power animals, Christian angelic figures, and a range of others.

Causal states: After subtle states have deepened and stabilized, then causal states devoid of any objects, images, or phenomena can arise. These states are the realm of pure consciousness and the transcendental source of all existential experience. These can be culturally described as the experience of Nirvana in Buddhism and the Tao of Taoism, among others.

The ultimate condition: In this final state, objects and emotions from the subtle states reappear but are instantly recognized as expressions, projections, or modifications of consciousness. This is the final enlightenment and realization of consciousness in all things. It is connectedness with the entire universe and all things in it. This state is the highest goal and greatest good in all human existence. This experience can be culturally known as salvation, Zen's One Mind, and Hinduism's Brahman-Atman, among others.

It is important to note here that before advancing into alternative counseling methods such as altered states of consciousness, transpersonal counselors must gauge the readiness of their client carefully. For the unprepared individual, experiences of deep connectedness can fragment necessary ego boundaries and produce chaos, terror, and confusion (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).

 
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