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The transpersonal theory suggests that there are developmental stages beyond the adult ego. It focuses on the spiritual and moral development of human connections beyond the physical realm. All the while identifying self-actualization between humans and the spiritual components of the universe, transpersonal theory also connects human values with spiritual experience (Barker, 2014). The theory itself does not promote any specific belief system; instead, it views spiritual connectedness as a major part of human experiences across different cultures (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).

Origins of Transpersonal Theory

“While the field did not formally begin until the 1960s, it has its roots in early work by phycologist including William James and Carl Jung” (Cherry, 2018, para. 2). The term transpersonal therapy was introduced in the 1960s by Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl (Cherry, 2018). “This field utilizes psychological methods and theories to examine spiritual subject matter” (Cherry, 2018, para. 1).

William James was a psychologist and philosopher. He studied at Havard Medical School where he later became a psychology professor. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst. He performed assessments on patients at the Burghölzli Asylum of the University of Zürich in the 1900s, which kicked off his career as a psychoanalyst. “Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist perhaps best known as one of the founders of humanistic psychology and for his famous hierarchy of needs” (Cherry, 2019, para. 1). He earned all three of his degrees in psychology from the University of Wisconsin by 1934 (Cherry, 2019). “Viktor Frankl is the founder of logotherapy” (Cunic, 2019, para. 1). Frankl obtained his medical degree from the University of Vienna Medical School, and he was the director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital.

“In addition to using psychology to better understand spiritual experiences, transpersonal psychology also strives to provide a deeper and richer understanding of individuals and to help them achieve their greatest potential” (Cherry, 2019). “The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology began publication in 1969 and in 1971 the Association for Transpersonal Psychology was established” (Cherry, 2019). Robert Frager founded the Institution of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, in 1975. These psychologists studied, and researched transpersonal therapy closely.

Transpersonal Theory

The transpersonal theory focuses on spirituality, high potential, transcendence, and other states of consciousness (Cherry, 2019). It proposes that there are developmental stages beyond the adult ego, which involve connectedness with the spiritual phenomena. The transpersonal theory postulates that individuals possess the capacity to heal themselves through spiritual growth (Vaughan, 1979). Clients are able to access one’s higher level of consciousness, including the soul (Barker, 2014). “It also provides a deeper understanding of individuals to help them achieve their greatest potential” (Cherry, 2019, para. 2). The theory suggests that the “awakening” of an individual includes self-identification and integration, dis-identification with the humanistic ego, and transcendence identification a higher knowledge of self (Vaughan, 1979).

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“The emphasis on individual development in transpersonal psychology is to ensure the effective cultivation of intuitive ways of knowing that complements a person’s unique psychological and spiritual being” (“Transpersonal psychology,” n.d., para 11). Some of the commonly used methods of the transpersonal approach are journal writing, yoga therapy, meditation, regression therapy, and symbolic artwork. These methods are used in a way that clients are able to apply them beyond therapeutic sessions.

Transpersonal Theory in Social Work

Transpersonal theory covers what is sometimes missed in social work practice to ensure the client’s willpower to stay on track, and that is the spiritual aspect of changing one’s lifestyle. Although the theory wasn’t originally introduced by social workers, it inhabits many values and ethical principles of the profession itself. In relation to the dignity and worth of a person, the transpersonal theory helps social workers gain the cultural competence of clients and use their beliefs to help them overcome obstacles. It aids in the understanding and tolerance of diversity as well.

The theory recognizes spiritual and religious diversity, addresses the spiritual dimension of human behavior, and approaches empowerment through practice (“Transpersonal Theory”, 2017). Transpersonal theory focuses on the spiritual domain of a client, allowing the practitioners to develop awareness of diverse cultural and social experiences. Using logotherapy, expressive arts techniques, hypnotherapy, and journaling, the theory enhances self-awareness, personal purpose, and self-understanding.

Works Cited

    • Transpersonal Social Work: A Theory for the 1990s. (1993). Social Work. doi: 10.1093/sw/38.5.527

Transpersonal psychology and theory pertain to the spiritual dimension of human nature and higher states of consciousness. This approach is relevant for the social work practice to combat the social problems in the 1990s. It is the only theory that incorporates the spiritual element of human behavior as healthy and representing human potential. Other theories do not recognize higher levels of consciousness, and so their use may prohibit the optimal development of the spiritual dimension. The practice challenges facing social workers in the postmodern age call not only for the development of a more complex and inclusive understanding of what it means to be fully human. Transpersonal theory allows and assists substantial wholeness in human consciousness.

    • Au-Deane S. Cowley & David Derezotes (1994) Transpersonal Psychology and Social Work Education, Journal of Social Work Education, 30:1, 32- 41, DOI: 10.1080/10437797.1994.10672211

Social workers in the 1990s are facing a postmodern world, with unique practice challenges in both the micro and macro levels of practice. Many of the challenges for social work practitioners today are related to the spiritual dimension or what has been labeled “spiritual malaise,” including values deficits, moral apathy, existential despair, and spiritual emergencies. Transpersonal psychology is the only one of the four force theories that includes the spiritual dimension. Social work education must incorporate comprehension of the transpersonal theory to understand the spiritual dimension of human behavior.


    1. Barker, R. L. (2014). The social work dictionary. Washington, DC: NASW Press.
    2. Cherry, K. (2019, June 29). Abraham Maslow Is the Founder of Humanistic Psychology. Retrieved from 1970-2795524.
    3. Cherry, K. (2018, May 18). The Practice of Transpersonal Psychology. Retrieved from
    4. Cuncic, A. (2019, June 4). An Overview of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy. Retrieved September 27, 2019, from logotherapy-4159308.
    5. Kasprow, M. C., & Scotton, B. W. (1999). A review of transpersonal theory and its application to the practice of psychotherapy. Retrieved September 25, 2019, from
    6. Transpersonal psychology. (2014, June 24). Retrieved September 27, 2019, from psychology. html#howdoestranspersonalpsychologywork.
    7. Transpersonal Theory. (2017, March 15). Retrieved September 30, 2019, from
    8. Vaughan, F. (1979). Transpersonal psychotherapy: Context, content and process. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 11(2), 101-110
    9. Vaughan, F. (1979). Transpersonal psychotherapy: Context, content and process. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 11(2), 101-110
    10. Vaughan, F. (1979). Transpersonal psychotherapy: Context, content, and process. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 11(2), 101-110.

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