According to Bateman, Brown & Pedder (Bateman, et al., 2000) psychotherapy is about helping those in trouble understand and resolve their predicaments.  The UKCP (UKCP, 2013) agrees in that that the aim is to help clients gain insight into their difficulties or distress, to gain a greater understanding of their motivation, and to enable them to find more appropriate ways of coping or of bringing about changes in their thinking or behaviour.  Both of these broad definitions, I believe, correlate with the understanding of the general public, the people who make up our client base; for the vast majority of them surely seek a “therapist” if they have a psychological difficulty which they want eased, or cured; without direct reference, or indeed understanding of the particular school, methodology or therapeutic philosophy the therapist was trained in, or indeed believes in.  For them, what is probably more important is the “fit”, the relationship, trust and rapport that is there within the relationship.  This, however, raises questions within my mind as to whether all therapists are trained to deal with whatever is placed before them?  Certainly, some therapists, irrespective of the initial training, decide to specialise, some will concentrate on particular age groups, such as children or adolescents, others may concentrate on specific psychological problems, such as PTSD, or bereavement and will seek to become expert within their particular field; whilst, probably the vast majority, of therapists see themselves acting as “general practitioners” and be willing to work with whatever the client brings.  However, for me, this brings into question some of the training approaches taken (within the UK at least) and TA in particular, as this is the one of which I have direct experience.  Does the curriculum truly enable the therapist to develop to be able to work with the “whole person” as urged by John Rowan (1993, p. 122)?

The focus of this essay is one which I have been interested in for many years, both from a theoretical and personal perspective and appears to be an area of psychology that is, on the whole, overlooked within the TA world, that area is Spirituality and the Transpersonal.  Trying to fully define spirituality from a theoretical perspective and then to show some relationship with TA concepts is probably beyond the scope possible within this essay, however what the essay will provide is a definition of Spirituality and the Transpersonal, and to try and show where relationships have occurred between the TA world and that of transpersonal psychology.  From this I will draw together some conclusions together with a few suggestions as to how this essay could be extended into wider research.

Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychotherapy

The DSM-IV-TR provides therapists with a diagnostic category of “Religious or Spiritual Problem” and suggests that examples of such include:  “distressing experiences that involves loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of spiritual values that may not necessarily be related to an organised church or religious institution” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).  And Spirituality is becoming increasingly important in the lives of many people, indeed in America they have been talking about a “Spiritual Awakening” for a number of years (Sperry, 2012); is currently has over 90,000 books (excluding Kindle editions, Hardbacks and Audiobooks) discoverable from using the search word “Spirituality” with nearly 4,000 having been published within the last 90 days (, 2013).  Unfortunately, as Sperry (2012) says there is no real consensus as to what defines or constitutes spirituality, in fact there are apparently over 300 different descriptions and definitions  which run the gamut from “a feeling state” or , “ a striving”,  through to “a peak or mystical experience”  or “integrating one’s self toward ultimate value” (Sperry, 2012).  In my opinion there are probably as many definitions as there are people as Spirituality, as it is appears to be such a phenomenological construct.  This provides this essay with a problem, in how the concept actually coincides with psychology and therapy in particular, and one way of, hopefully, making this clearer is through the lens of “Transpersonal Psychology”.

Transpersonal Psychology emerged as the “fourth force” in psychology in the late 1960’s, taking its place alongside Psychoanalytic, Behaviourist and Humanistic psychologies (Sutich, 1969).  Word count prevents showing the full original definition (but is added as an appendix for information) however, trying to put it succinctly, it is concerned with levels of consciousness (Rowan, 2009) and levels that are above (trans) the normal levels of operating for most people.  In a therapeutic context transpersonal psychotherapy is an “open-ended endeavour to facilitate human growth and expand awareness beyond the limits implied by most Western models of mental health” (Vaughan, 1979), and aiming at “expanding the field of psychological inquiry to include areas of human experience and behaviour associated with extreme health and well-being” (Walsh & Vaughan, 1980).  Implicit within this notion are the concepts of development and growth through a full spectrum of levels of consciousness (Wilber, 1977 / 1993), from the lower and middle stages most often found in Western psychology through to the highest levels that have, historically, tended to be the province of Eastern philosophy and spiritual approaches (Wilber, 1979).  Rowan (1993) has carefully plotted these upper levels and shown how various forms of therapy or approach may match against particular levels (his table is reproduced in the appendices).

Transactional Analysis, Spirituality and the Transpersonal

Despite Trautmann’s (2003) widely extravagant claims that “many wise and experienced [TA] practitioners have written books or articles”, TA authors have actually paid very little attention to the concept of Spirituality in human development or therapy (Massey & Dunn, 1999).  A search within articles from the Transactional Analysis Journal archives (as made available on the TAJ Disc) reveals a mere three articles that have “Spirituality” within their title, and none that talk about the “Transpersonal”.  Also, Karnac Books, the UK’s leading psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy book store currently lists 42 books and journal editions under the broad heading of Transactional Analysis, whilst listing 68 under the heading of “Transpersonal Therapy” (Karnac Books, 2013).  Of the 42 TA books listed only one makes direct reference to the notion of the transpersonal; Petruska Clarkson discusses the transpersonal relationship that can occur between the “analyst” and their “patient” (Clarkson, 1992) a relationship that she expands on further within a later book (Clarkson, 2003) which Karnac Books catalogue under “Individual Psychotherapy.”

As far as I can find, there is one other TA book, however one that is hard to find, that discusses Spirituality and the Transpersonal, and this time taking these to be a major theme within the book; this is Gordon Law’s all-encompassing “Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit in Transactional Analysis” (Law, 2006).

Exploring these few articles and books does provide some insight as to why there is so little mention within the wider TA canon of spirituality and the transpersonal.  Massey and Dunn (1999) suggest that one reason is the mere fact that Eric Berne paid very little attention to the concept and that TA is a “socially orientated theory” and as such spiritual experiences and processes fall without its remit.  Muriel James (1981), who uses the phrase “inner core” rather than spirituality (which apparently can be “misconstrued”), suggests that, whilst TA is a widely accepted paradigm, it is one within which the notion of spirituality and the spiritual self “does not fit into the paradigm of three stacked circles enclosed in an oval line (representing the body)”.

Kandathil and Kandathil (1997) suggest that spirituality is implicit within certain aspects of TA theory; they especially latch on to a short chapter right at the end of Eric Berne’s “Games People Play” (Berne, 1964 / 1968) where he talks about “autonomy”, the attainment of which being the goal of transactional analysis.  Autonomy is one of the prime values within Wilber’s “Centaur Level” of consciousness ( (Rowan, 2009) and it is possible that TA’s aim in strengthening the Adult ego state may help the client to, at least, glimpse this level.  However, it may be that as the Adult ego state is primarily concerned with the logic of the “here and now” (Tilney, 1998) merely strengthening this ego state may rather be just aiding the client to reach the previous level (Personal / Shadow) (Rowan, 1993).

Gordon Law (2006), who is a self-confessed fan of both Ken Wilber and John Rowan, states that whilst Wilber regards TA as “a therapy of choice for issues up to and relating to Level 5 of the spectrum of consciousness” (P282) TA does not adequately account for the development of ego states:

“… it offers a very plausible description of second-order analysis of ego states, and although there are accounts of the growth and development of the ego states of children through infancy, latency, adolescence to adulthood these stages are presented as “GIVENS”.  True they may be mapped with stages of growth and development described by other writers but unlike Wilber, these writers do not correlate psychological development with stages of the development of consciousness.” (Law, 2006, p. 289)

Law (2006) is probably one of the very few authors who is actively striving to use TA concepts to aid the development of consciousness; Massey and Dunn (1999) offer some suggestions on how TA constructs such as ego-states, strokes, transactions etc. can be aligned with spiritual processes, however their arguments appear to be rather tenuous.

Conclusion and Personal Observations

I have a deep interest in the transpersonal aspects of psychology, I was first introduced to Ken Wilber’s writings by a Psychosynthesis therapist in 1995, and since then I have actively pursued knowledge within this area, I have read all of Wilber’s work (and the works of many other transpersonal writers), attended training with him and the Integral Institute in the USA and have a Post-Graduate Certificate in Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology from John Moores University in Liverpool.  All of this knowledge and interest I have brought with me onto the TA course only to find that there was nothing there.  Perhaps naively, I had somehow thought that the training one received to become a therapist would encompass the whole person, would cover all aspects of developmental stages and enable me, as therapist, to work with the person sitting in front of me.  Unfortunately, I now recognise that the course is about producing Transactional Analysts first and therapists second; in saying this I do not necessarily mean it to be a direct criticism of TA and the training I have received, I am sure that I would be saying very similar if I was undertaking training in Gestalt, or even Psychosynthesis.  Each of the different schools of psychotherapy theory are great, they all offer profound insights into clients, their world, their problems, and offer great ways of working with them – however, for me I need to add the word “partially” to each of these.  They offer partial insights, provide partial solutions etc.

What has made this essay hard is that, whilst there is a richness of material on spirituality and even transpersonal psychology; and also a richness of material on Transactional Analysis, there is, as I have mentioned, very little that combines the two, or even, within the TA world, that acknowledges the very existence of spirituality, let alone the notion of stages of consciousness, the ability to develop along these and the fact that the higher levels are beyond the personal, are ‘transpersonal’.  It is this very paucity of material that has made this essay hard to write, I have no space to discuss many of the other elements that make up transpersonal psychotherapy or to talk about so many of the influential writers such as Assagioli and Psychosynthesis (Assagioli, 1974 / 2002)  (Assagioli, 1965 / 1993), the Braziers and Buddhist and Zen psychotherapy (Brazier, 2003) (Brazier, 1995), or even one of the most influential, Carl Jung (Jung, 1933 / 2001).  All of the richness and depth of the insights contained within this psychology appears to be closed off to the Transactional Analyst by the fact that they contain much which is far beyond the three circles.

In conclusion I return to Gordon Law and John Rowan; Law claims that the:

“price tag of potentially over-rigid attempts to fit client’s experience into an ego state (or any other model), is that TA has missed out on significant aspects of what clients will often present”. (Law, 2006, p. 274)

Whilst Rowan, in discussing the four columns (in appendices) says that they:

“… show how the therapist has to develop himself or herself if the intention is really to be able to handle the whole person who is there in the consulting room.  The therapist who soes not develop, who gives in to the contraction which prevents progress along the scale, will be unable to help the client move to the next level.  Thus the therapist can be a block in the way, rather than a facilitator, helper or guide.” (Rowan, 1993, p. 122)

Personally, I have no intention of being a block!

Bibliography, 2013. Books: Spirituality. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 14 April 2013].

American Psychiatric Association, 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th Text Revision ed. Washington DC: APA.

Assagioli, R., 1965 / 1993. Psychosynthesis. London: Thorsons.

Assagioli, R., 1974 / 2002. The Act of Will. London: the Psychosynthesis & Education Trust.

Bateman, A., Brown, D. & Pedder, J., 2000. Introduction to Psychotherapy. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Berne, E., 1964 / 1968. Games People Play. London: Penguin Books.

Brazier, C., 2003. Buddist Psychology. London: Robinson.

Brazier, D., 1995. Zen Therapy. London: Constable.

Clarkson, P., 1992. Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy: An Integrated Approach. London: Routledge.

Clarkson, P., 2003. The Therapeutic Relationship. 2nd ed. London: Whurr.

James, M., 1981. TA in the 80’s: The Inner Core and the Human Spirit. Transactional Analysis Journal, 11(1), pp. 54 – 65.

Jung, C. G., 1933 / 2001. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London: Routledge.

Kandathil, G. & Kandathil, C., 1997. Autonomy: Open Door to Spirituality. Transactional Analysis Journal, 27(1), pp. 24 – 29.

Karnac Books, 2013. Transpersonal Therapy Books. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 14 April 2013].

Law, G., 2006. Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit in Transactional Analysis: and Integral Approach to Relationships. 1st ed. Malvern: Impact.

Massey, R. F. & Dunn, A. B., 1999. Viewing the Transactional Dimensions of Spirituality through Family Prisims. Transactional Analysis Journal, 29(2), pp. 115 – 129.

Rowan, J., 1993. The Transpersonal: Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Routledge.

Rowan, J., 2009. Transpersonal and Integral in Psychotherapy. Journal of Transpersonal Research, 1(1), pp. 65-76.

Sperry, L., 2012. Spirituality in Clinical Practice. New York: Routledge.

Sutich, A. J., 1969. Some Considerations Regarding Transpersonal Psychology. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1(1), pp. 11 – 32.

Tilney, T., 1998. Dictionary of Transactional Analysis. London: Whurr.

Trautmann, R. L., 2003. Psychotherapy and Spirituality. Transactional Analysis Journal, 33(1), pp. 32 – 36.

UKCP, 2013. About Psychotherapy. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 April 2013].

Vaughan, F., 1979. Transpersonal Psychotherapy: Context, Content and Process. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 11(2), pp. 101-110.

Walsh, R. N. & Vaughan, F., 1980. Introduction: The Emergence of the Transpersonal Paradigm. In: R. N. Walsh & F. Vaughan, eds. Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology. Los Angeles: J.P.Tarcher, Inc., pp. 15-24.

Wilber, K., 1977 / 1993. The Sprectrum of Consciousness. 2nd ed. Weaton: Quest Books.

Wilber, K., 1979. A Developmental View of Consciousness. The Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 11(1), pp. 1 – 21.


Definition of “Transpersonal Psychology”

Transpersonal (or “fourth force”) Psychology is the title given to an emerging force in the psychology field by a group of psychologists and professional men and women from other fields who are interested in those ultimate human capacities and potentialities that have no systematic place in positivistic or behavioristic theory (“first force”), classical psychoanalytic theory (“second force”), or humanistic psychology (“third force”). The emerging Transpersonal Psychology (“fourth force”) is concerned specifically with the empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the findings relevant to, becoming, individual and species-wide meta-needs, ultimate values, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, Bvalues, ecstacy, mystical experience, awe, being, self-actualization, essence, bliss, wonder, ultimate meaning, transdendence of the self, spirit, oneness, cosmic awareness, individual and species-wide synergy, maximal interpersonal encounter, sacralization of everyday life, transcendental phenomena, cosmic self-humor and playfulness; maximal sensory awareness, responsiveness and expression; and related concepts, experiences and activities. As a definition, this formulation is to be understood as subject to optional individual or group interpretations, either wholly or in part, with regard to the acceptance of its content as essentially naturalistic, theistic, super naturalistic, or any other designated classification.

(Sutich, 1969)


John Rowan’s Comparison of Four Positions in Personal Development

  1 2 3 4
Self I am defined by others I define who I am I am defined by the Other(s) I am not defined
Motivation Need Choice Allowing Surrender
Personal Goal Adjustment Self-Actualisation Contacting Union
Social Goal Socialisation Liberation Extending Salvation
Process Healing –Ego-Building Development –Ego-Enhancement Opening –Ego-Reduction Enlightenment –Questioned ego
Traditional role of helper Physician / Analyst Growth facilitator Advanced guide Priest(ess) / Sage
Representative Method Hospital treatmentChemotherapyPsychoanalysisDirective behaviour modification

Cognitive behavioural

Some transactional analysis

Crisis work

Rational-emotive therapy

T-Group methodGestalt therapyOpen encounterPsychodrama

Horney etc.

Bodywork therapies


Person-centred counselling


Psychosynthesis approachSome JungiansSome pagansTranspersonal

Voice dialogue

Wicca or magic


Some astrology

Some Tantra

Zen methodsRaja YogaTaoismMonasticism

Da Free John

Christian mysticism


Goddess mystics

Some Judaism

Focus Individual and Group Group and Individual Supportive Community Ideal Community
Statement I am not my bodyI am not my emotionsI am not my desiresI am my intellect

To say anything more would be presumptuous

I am my bodyI am my emotionsI am my desiresI am my intellect

I am all these and more

I am not my bodyI am not my emotionsI am not my desiresI am not my intellect

I am a centre of pure consciousness and will

Not this, not that
Questions Dare you face the challenge of the unconscious? Dare you face the challenge of freedom? Dare you face the loss of your boundaries? Dare you face the loss of all your symbols?
Key Issues AcceptabilityRespect AutonomyAuthenticity OpennessVision DevotionCommitment

(Rowan, 1993, pp. 120-121)

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