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Transpersonal psychology is a branch of psychology which focuses on the spiritual and mystical aspects of the human mind. It can be a slippery field to define, because many transpersonal psychologists integrate a variety of disciplines into their practice, but essentially it is about transcending or moving beyond ordinary human existence. Transpersonal psychologists also acknowledge the existence and role of altered states, trances, and spiritual experiences. This school of psychology is often confused with new age or metaphysical beliefs, perhaps because some adherents of these concepts do include transpersonal psychology in their beliefs.
A transpersonal psychologist may work directly as a therapist with clients on various issues, or he or she may choose to explore research opportunities. In both instances, a transpersonal psychologist believes that spiritual experiences are an important shaping factor in personality development and general state of mind. Therapists help their clients reach states which promote spiritual experiences, while researchers study these experiences in a wide range of cultures and environments in the hopes of learning more about people as a whole.
The groundwork for the field of transpersonal psychology was laid by a number of prominent minds in the field of psychology, including Freud, Jung, Maslow, and Grof. Many of the founding psychologists of this movement believed that all humans have the potential to reach a higher state. Rather than treating all people as fundamentally diseased or twisted, many people in the field of transpersonal psychology believe that people are simply trapped in themselves. Studies of people who have transcended their own egos are an important aspect of transpersonal psychology.
Some transpersonal psychologists lean more towards the mystical and the divine in their work, while others focus on modern psychological and psychiatric theory. Many believe that transpersonal psychology is a complement to more scientific aspects of psychology, promoting more understanding of the human psyche while also exploring the workings of the mind.
A transpersonal psychologist who focuses on the mystical may look at trance states, altered levels of consciousness, rituals, and shamanic practices in cultures around the world. These practices may have a profound impact on the people who experience them, and a transpersonal psychologist believes that this impact is important. Others may integrate more studies of chemical and electrical activity in the brain for answers to questions about the development of the human psyche.