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EVALUATION

Overview

Transpersonal theory is a fascinating and dynamic field that is fundamentally different from any other major theory of counseling and human development. It stands at the boundary of mental health practice and spirituality and is the lone approach in wide practice to integrate counseling concepts, theories, and methodology with the subject matter and practices of the spiritual disciplines (Davis, 2000; Grof, 2008; Kasprow & Scotton, 1999). However, transpersonalism's very uniqueness has made it difficult to examine in an ideal empirical setting, and for this reason, it draws criticism from researchers and practitioners unprepared to accept on faith what many continue to view as a "fringe" and "radical" theory (Grof, 2008). As we progress further into the 21st century and explore and learn more about human experience and spirituality, transpersonal approaches will likely continue to gain more followers and greater acceptance from traditional theorists.

Supporting Research

When the various phenomena associated with transpersonal theory (connectedness, altered states of consciousness) are considered, the discourse can become excessively abstract, vague, or inaccessible to those unversed in its tenets and even more difficult to objectively examine (W. W. Adams, 1999). It is worth mentioning, however, that there is a large body of empirical evidence suggesting links between spiritual and religious experiences and health (Koening, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Miller, 1999; Pargament, 1997). In addition to this, many of the interventions used by transpersonal counselors are established methods well examined by researchers (such as cognitive-behavioral interventions), yet studies examining the techniques considered unique to transpersonal theory are aged and sparse at best. This, of course, is primarily due to the question: How does one test enlightenment? Some older studies attempted to answer that very question with limited results. For instance, Brown, Porte, and Dysart (1984) examined advanced meditators who had reached at least the first of the four Buddhist stages of enlightenment and found they exhibited enhanced perceptual processing speed and sensitivity. However, in another dated study (Brown & Engler, 1986), "enlightened" subjects given a Rorschach test were not found to be free of the normal psychological conflicts of dependency, sexuality, and aggression, as might be expected of an "enlightened" individual.

Hutton (1994) did not assess the efficacy of transpersonal counseling but did examine its similarities and differences between cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic approaches. He discovered that all three approaches shared the belief in a firm grounding in the traditional theories and practices of counseling, but he found that transpersonal theories were more accepting of other theories, whereas cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic theories accepted mainly their own approaches and disregarded others. Hutton also found transpersonal theory to be far more accepting of clients' spiritual issues than either cognitive-behavioral or psychodynamic approaches.

Although there is a significant dearth of empirical support for the practice of transpersonal counseling, its practitioners are quick to point out that many of its methods have been in use for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but do not easily lend themselves to modern empirical study. However, transpersonal theory is eclectic in nature and often draws from a wide range of empirically validated interventions. Although it is clearly difficult to assess many of its tenets, future research in the field of transpersonal theory may do well to center more on transpersonal counseling outcomes than the examination of such abstract concepts as enlightenment or altered states of consciousness.

 
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