"Transpersonal Psychology might loosely be called the psychology of spirituality and of those areas of the human mind which search for higher meanings in life, and which move beyond the limited boundaries of the ego to access an enhanced capacity for wisdom…It honors the existence of transpersonal experiences, and is concerned with their meaning for the individual and with their effect upon behavior."
—The British Psychological Society
As I believe I’ve made clear throughout the past several blog entries, I am a firm believer in therapeutic counseling as a tool of personal growth and transformation as well as a means to address existing or emerging mental/emotional challenges. Too often therapy falls into a myopic fixation with the self—the purely personal experience while ignoring (or even pathologizing) experiences which seem to transcend the self.
The broader mental health field, with its fixation on illness, generally fails to acknowledge, let alone address, the transpersonal aspect of the human experience—the recognition that we are engaged with a whole that transcends our limited capacities and touches on a sense of the sacred (be that in a religious or irreligious sense).
Enter Transpersonal Psychology, described by The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology as, “a full spectrum psychology…(with) a serious scholarly interest in the immanent and transcendent dimensions of human experience: exceptional human functioning, experiences, performances and achievements, true genius, the nature and meaning of deep religious and mystical experiences, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and how we might foster the fulfillment of our highest potentials as human beings.”
Transpersonal psychotherapy endeavors to assist human beings in connecting with the sacred, however that may manifest in our lives, as a means of exploration, sustenance, support and challenge. From dreams to meditation, experiences in the natural world, and deep experiences with others, when we are able to tap into that sacred element we are able to help infuse our lives with a meaning that is not possible in its absence.
I want to stress once more that this need not be a religious experience. Whether fervent theist or adamant atheist, the experience of the sacred, of that which transcends our view of self, that connects us to the larger world and to one another is available to all. And a potent tool in your own work in healing, transformation and empowerment!
For more information on Transpersonal Psychology and how it may benefit you, please contact me directly!
February 14th has come and gone. And in the aftermath of overpriced roses and questionable chocolates, couples are left with the task of navigating lives and relationships that fail to follow the staid and predictable travails of most romantic comedies. What to do?
Open, honest and direct communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. When people stop communicating, even minor stressors can produce a challenging disconnection with a partner. As long as healthy communication takes place, opportunities for change, growth and support remain. This doesn’t mean your relationship will be without its trials and travails, it simply means that you will have an effective tool for navigating the bumps that will inevitably rise in the road.
Strong communication is rooted in one’s own experience. When speaking with a partner, focusing on your own thoughts, feelings and sensations is paramount. Compare, “You never tell me what’s going on! You are so selfish!” to “I feel frustrated when I’m not sure what you are planning. I would really like to be a part of making this decision.” The first is all about the other “YOU are, YOU do,” etc. The second is about the speaker’s experience. “I am, I feel,” etc.
When navigating challenging times, a simple protocol that supports more clear and direct communication is as follows: I feel---- about ---- because---. For example, my partner and I are arguing over a bill left unpaid. We each thought the other had made the payment. Tempers flair until my partner takes a deep breath and says. Bryan, I feel angry about this bill being unpaid because this is the third time this has happened.
This is clear, simple and direct. It is a factual representation of what my partner is experiencing. I don’t have to agree with it, yet it is important that I acknowledge it. I look at my partner and say “I hear that you feel angry about this bill being unpaid because it has happened before.” My partner nods. If my reflection of her statement was inaccurate, here is the place where she can restate. For example, I might have reflected, “So, you feel angry because I screwed up again?” No, she would reply. “I feel angry about this bill being unpaid because this is the third time it has happened.” I now have a chance to reflect back what she said, hopefully this time more clearly. Now I have an opportunity to use the model in response. “I hear you. I feel ashamed about not paying the bill because I know it was my responsibility this month.” My partner would reply, “I hear that you are feeling ashamed about not paying the bill because it was your turn.”
From here we can continue the discussion, using the model when necessary or when emotions flair, and dropping it when we both seem to be tracking one another clearly. Awkward? Potentially. Clarifying? Absolutely! Give it a shot with your significant other and let me know how it goes!
It is a refrain of mine that skillful humanistic counseling is far too potent to reserve solely for those in a state of crisis. I believe that well timed therapeutic counseling interventions can assist all of us in navigating challenging experiences, find meaning in difficulty, navigate what previously seemed unnavigable and emerge from the experience stronger, wiser, and more connected to ourselves and those around us. And of course, for those suffering from unusually strong, diagnosable mental and emotional distress, psychotherapeutic counseling can likewise be a tool of transformation. But what happens when the human experience itself becomes pathologized?
The newly released DSM-5 (that would be the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders produced by the American Psychiatric Association) has been released and, since January of 2014, is being used by clinicians across the country in diagnosing mental health disorders in the general public.
As per the criteria of the DSM-5, it is believed that about 50% of U.S. Citiznes could be diagnosed as “mentally ill” at some point during their lifetime. Are you experiencing grief at the death of a loved one? Is your child throwing tantrums three or more times per week? Are you over eating? Do you experience PMS? Are you experiencing chronic yet difficult to diagnose pain? An affirmative answer to any of the above can now add you to the ranks of the mentally disordered.
When the common experiences of life (death and loss, sadness, common anxiety, pain etc.) become pathologized, it impacts not only the very functional, yet temporarily distressed person experiencing such, but takes vital resources away from those truly struggling in the depths of unusual mental and emotional malaise.
Dr. Allen Frances—who chaired the task force committee for the previous version of the DSM (the DSM-IV ) and author of Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life states, “Funding for mental healthcare has already been cut in many states, and many people who are mentally ill or even suicidal aren’t getting the help they desperately need.”
Yet the American Psychiatric Association has dismissed DSM-5 opponents as overly alarmed. "All the good epidemiological studies unfortunately show that one in five people have a psychological disorder. ... They're prevalent, they're just all over the place, and that's very disturbing to some people," said Dr. Carl Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist and University of Illinois School of Medicine director of public health and community psychiatry.
However, Dr. Joel Paris, professor of psychiatry at Mcgill University and author of Prescriptions for the Mind: A Critical View of Contemporary Psychiatry counters this view, stating, "The DSM-5, in many ways, reflects the politics of psychiatry these days...Everybody has a kind of investment in certain diagnoses. Those who are studying a particular disorder often are saying, 'Well, this is much more common than you think they are. Oh, the prevalence is very high.' But we risk losing legitimacy because of over-diagnosis...The fact is that most people get by with bad patches in their lives. They recover."
And it is to this sentiment that I turn. All of us will experience emotional challenges and difficulties in our lives. Some more than others. We live in a profoundly fractured and all-too-frequently alienating society. Yet to pathologize the human experience itself strips the very meaning from our lives. It is through challenge and difficulty that character is built and strengths emerge. In extremely challenging situations, supplementation and pharmaceutical medication have their place, I'm not denying it. However, when the common experiences of human life become pathologized, then the meaning of what it is to be human becomes muddy and unclear. And when we are medicated in an effort to insulate ourselves from the common pains of human existence we threaten the very core of what makes us human. The only “winners” of such a zero sum game are those who stand to profit from the over diagnoses of our times.
Being a human being in the 21st century isn't easy. Therapeutic counseling is a tool that can be utilized to assist in moving through the confusion and disquiet of difficult emotional times and a great boon to personal growth and human potential. Never doubt it. But overpathologization need not be a criteria. You are a free, whole and wondrous entity. Never doubt that, either!
Bryan Dieterich, MA, LPC