Transpersonal psychology started developing in the 1960s with the advent of many important changes in society; consciousness studies, the rediscovery of spiritual practices from many wisdom traditions, the sexual revolution, environmental activism, psychedelic drugs, feminism – all of these philosophies had an important impact on the development of the Transpersonal philosophy.
The word transpersonal is made up of two parts. Trans literally means ‘beyond’ and persona means ‘mask’. So the whole word together means “beyond the mask”. What this means is that Transpersonal work often moves us into a space that is beyond our normal, everyday understanding of ourselves, beyond our everyday ego or persona (the mask that we wear to get by in the world) and into a Self that is a deeper source of wisdom. A transpersonal therapist does this by utilising techniques that can temporarily alter the normal everyday state of consciousness that an individual may be limited to in their daily life. In practice this means that, in an altered state of consciousness they have access to different resources they can bring back to their everyday self.
A simple example of this might be when a person is dreaming vs. when they are awake. By exploring the symbols that a dream contains, a person can become more aware of hidden potentials that lie within them and incorporate these into their self-image. Another example could be facilitating a meditative technique for a client to explore and/or address a problem. Transpersonal therapists are therefore trained in many different types of state change technologies and therapeutic techniques. Transpersonal therapy has a lot in common with shamanism, in that a shaman helps to facilitate a journey into a different reality for someone seeking healing. Just so, a transpersonal therapist facilitates an altered state of consciousness for a client and assists them to retrieve personal resources.
Transpersonal therapy is also a holistic framework. It sees the body, the mind and the environment as an interconnected whole and works help clients achieve integration between these parts. Transpersonal work is also psycho-spiritual, meaning it acknowledges both the psychological and spiritual domains of life as equally real and equally important. So a good transpersonal therapist has training in providing good psychological support to people, but also in developing their spiritual nature. Transpersonal therapists draw on techniques from many of the world’s wisdom practices, like meditation and ritual, to facilitate change for clients.