Transpersonal Psychology

transpersonal psychology

Charles Tart (1975), of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, defined Transpersonal Psychology as dealing with higher human processes that includes spirituality and the development of human potential. Sutich (as cited in Tart, 1975, p. 2) defined the field of Transpersonal Psychology as being “concerned with the empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the findings relevant to becoming, and individual and spiritual meta-needs, ultimate values, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, B-values, ecstasy, mystical experience, awe, being, [and] self-actualization”.

Theoretical accounts of self-actualization and self-esteem are considered aspects of Transpersonal Psychology. In addition, Transpersonal Psychology expands upon other movements in psychology. The first movement is commonly referred to as psychoanalytic, the second, behaviorist, and the third force is the humanistic movement (Goble, 1976). However, in contrast to these forces, “[t]ranspersonal approaches draw upon the first three forces while going beyond to see humans as intuitive, mystical, psychic and spiritual. Above all, humans are viewed as unifiable, having the potential for harmonious and holistic development of all their potentials” (Hendricks & Weinhold, 1982, p. 8).

Accounting for the personal and transpersonal growth that occurs in nature, Brown (1989) approached outdoor adventure pursuits from the Transpersonal Psychology perspective. In common with those before him, Brown suggested an increased sense of awe, inner calm and other spiritual needs as a process of transformation. In addition, to enhance personal transformation and growth, Brown described specific practices that individuals can employ. These include meditation, relaxation, and the use of myths and symbols. These practices and concepts are custom to eastern religions and indigenous spiritual practices, and are essential aspects of Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal experiences, attained through being in nature, have been validated by numerous other studies (Bellotti, 2006; Brown, 1989; Coburn, 2006; Cosgriff, Little, & Wilson, 2010; Cronon, 1995; Davis, 1998; Dowdall, 1998; R. Kaplan & S. Kaplan, 1984; Wuthnow, 1978). Contributing to transpersonal development include factors such as thorough embodiment and integration of one’s body, mind, and spirit; and moving beyond one’s ego to embrace a world beyond and much greater than the self (Goodman, 2008; Scotton, Chinen, & Battista, 1996; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Harper (1995) noted that being in wilderness cultivates “a more focused awareness . . . attentiveness . . . on the stream of awareness itself” (p. 189). In addition, Harper indicated, “in wilderness, we begin to develop a sustained continuum of mindfulness” (p. 189), and Tart (1994) implied that mindfulness has been linked to transpersonal development.

McDonald, Wearing, and Ponting (2009) indicated that “wilderness settings provide a mix of aesthetic pleasure and renewal that can lead to a triggering of peak experience that provides a basis for individual spiritual expression” (p. 370). McDonald et al. defined peak experience using Maslow’s (1964, 1968) definition as moments, predominately short in duration, yet of revelation or mystical elucidation. These moments are usually emotional and cognitive, encompass happiness and fulfillment, and frequently contain insights and/or meaning for the recipient. Maslow (1964) determined that particular settings, such as solitude, meditation, prayer, and being in nature (principally water, wild animals, sunsets, and mountains), were more likely to produce peak experience. Laski (1990), through her in-depth examination and research of ecstasy in secular and religious experiences, concluded that  “taken as a whole the people . . . responded most frequently to nature” (p. 187). Supporting Maslow’s conclusions, Laski’s participants found water and heights were features of nature most frequently associated with peak experiences. Abraham Maslow was the first president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology.


Bellotti, C. (2006). Contact with nature and the experience of interconnectedness: Exploring the natural world as inspiration for community service.

Brown, M. H. (1989). Transpersonal psychology: Facilitating transformation in outdoor experiential education. Journal of Experiential Education, 12, 47–56. Retrieved from internal-pdf://1989_JExpEd_Brown-3441498112/1989_JExpEd_Brown.pdf

Coburn, M. J. (2006). Walking home: Women’s transformative experiences in the wilderness of the Appalachian Trail.

Cosgriff, M., Little, D. E., & Wilson, E. (2010). The nature of nature: How New Zealand women in middle to later life experience nature-based leisure. Leisure Sciences, 32, 15–32. Retrieved from internal-pdf://2010_LeisureSci_Cosgriff-3754974976/2010_LeisureSci_Cosgriff.pdf

Cronon, W. (1995). The trouble with wilderness; Or, getting back to the wrong nature. In W. Cronon (Ed.), Uncommon ground: Rethinking the human place in nature (pp. 69–90). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. Retrieved from internal-pdf://1995_Uncommon Ground_Cronon-1934829568/1995_Uncommon Ground_Cronon.pdf

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. The Humanistic Psychologist, 26, 69–100.

Davis-Berman, J. & Berman, D. S. (1994). Wilderness therapy: Foundations, theory and research (Kindle Edition.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

Dowdall, S. A. (1998). Roots of the spirit: Interrelationships among ecological actions and attitudes, nature-related exceptional human experiences, spirituality, and well-being. Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, United States — California.

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Goodman, M. F. (2008). The transpersonal body: Engaging embodied research to generate a mind-body theory of human transpersonal development.

Harper, S. (1995). The way of wilderness. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 183–200). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Hendricks, G. & Weinhold, B. (1982). Transpersonal approaches to counseling and psychotherapy. Denver: Love Publishing.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1984). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Laski, M. (1990). Ecstasy in secular and religious experiences. Los Angeles: Tarcher.

Maslow, A. H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak experiences. New York: Penguin Compass.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being (2nd ed.). New York, NY: D. Van Nostrand.

McDonald, M. G., Wearing, S., & Ponting, J. (2009). The nature of peak experience in wilderness. The Humanistic Psychologist, 37(4), 370–385. doi:10.1080/08873260701828912

Scotton, B. W., Chinen, A. B., & Battista, J. R. (1996). Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry and psychology. New York: Basic Books.

Tart, C. (1975). Transpersonal psychologies. New York: Harper and Row.

Tart, C. T. (1994). Living the mindful life. Boston: Shambhala.

Walsh, R., & Vaughan, F. (1993). Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

Wuthnow, R. (1978). Peak experience: Some empirical tests. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18(3), 59–75. doi:10.1177/002216787801800307