The Psychology of Spirituality
Some people define “spirituality” as going to church and believing in a monotheistic God.
Others may define spirituality along the lines of one of the Eastern non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism. Others still, may define spirituality simply as becoming a better person, quiet reflection, meditating or going for a walk in the woods.
However you define “spirituality”, the vast majority of people in the world either believe there is something more which goes beyond our immediate experience of the world, or at the very least are seeking some way to grow as a person and to become the “best”, and the happiest, they can become in their careers, hobbies or relationships.
Studies have also shown that higher levels or spirituality or religiosity are strongly associated with a greater sense of meaning in life as well as higher levels of psychological and emotional well-being. In other words, people who hold a belief in some form of “higher power”, something “bigger” than who and what we are, whether defined as “God”, “Energy”, “Source”, “Collective Consciousness” or “Spirit”, tend to be happier, healthier and even live longer.
Although overall belief in God, church attendance and traditional religious affiliations have been declining steadily for years, there has been a corresponding increase in people seeking out non-traditional, “New Age” or alternative paths to personal and spiritual growth. Some of these include yoga, Tai Chi, Shamanic practices, meditation and mindfulness, energy practices, dance, music, art and even the use of entheogens (ayahuasca retreats etc).
What all of these practices share in common from a psychological standpoint is that people are motivated to seek meaning and value in their lives and to transform themselves into the person they wish to become and to attain their highest potential as a human being.
With this growing global interest in seeking personal growth and spiritual development, a field of psychology began to develop over 50 years ago which grew out of the works of Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Stanislav Grof and is called Transpersonal Psychology, which can be succinctly defined as the “psychology of spirituality” or “spiritual psychology”. Transpersonal psychology concerns itself with three primary areas of study (Hartelius, 2007):
(1) Beyond (trans) Ego Psychology
Expansion of self, development of compassion and altruism and our highest potential
(2) Wholistic/Integrative Psychology
Wellbeing and health requires a balance of nurturing the body, mind, heart and spirit
(3) Psychology of Transformation
Personal and spiritual growth is about transformation of the self, the person, towards higher and more optimal ways of experiencing, perceiving and living in, the world
Transpersonal psychology is about the pursuit and cultivation of our highest personal or human values which often lead to profound psychological transformations, higher or expanded states of consciousness and expansion of the self which encompasses all persons, all life and the entire planet. Transpersonal psychology is the study of spiritual or psychological transformation and awakening to these expanded states of self and consciousness.
Spiritual or Psychological Awakening
Whether we follow a traditional religious practice or a contemporary spiritual path, personal transformation often involves states of “awakening” which can occur spontaneously or gradually over time. These states of awakening are characterized by a psychological shift in the person’s consciousness, values and perception of themselves and the world. Some of the core features of awakening include:
- Decreased concern for material possessions, fame or financial wealth
- Decreased sense of ethnic, national or group identity
- Decreased sense of separateness from all persons, all life, all matter (non-duality)
- Decreased psychological chatter, noise or turbulent emotional reactivity
- Decreased fear of death
- Increased concern for global or universal values
- Increased sense of union or interconnectedness with all persons, all life, all matter
- Increased compassion and altruism towards others
- Increased states of inner stillness, calm and well-being
- Increased appreciation, gratitude, for all life
In his book “The Leap – The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening”, Steve Taylor (2017) defines awakening as follows:
“In many ways, awakened individuals experience a higher-functioning state that makes life more fulfilling, exhilarating, and meaningful than it may appear in a normal state of being. As a result of this internal shift, they often make major changes to their lives. They begin new careers, hobbies, and relationships. They feel a strong impulse to make positive contributions to the world, to live in meaningful and purposeful ways, rather than simply trying to satisfy their own desires, enjoy themselves, or pass the time” (Taylor, 2017. Introduction, The Structure of This Book, para. 4).
Careers and Degrees in Transpersonal (Spiritual) Psychology
Given the broad and human-growth-centred focus of transpersonal psychology, a degree or certificate in transpersonal psychology opens many doors to different careers in counselling, coaching, spiritual guidance, shamanic practitioner, energy healer, business leadership, health and wellness and many others.
A degree or certificate in transpersonal psychology is also much more than a career, it is a transformational learning experience where you not only develop the academic and practical skills for a new career or to supplement an existing one, but you are also intimately involved with the learning process through your own personal and spiritual development and transformation.
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The Alef Trust offers online PhD, Master’s as well as postgraduate certificates in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. The courses and programmes are offered in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), UK. The programme is validated/accredited by LJMU, meaning that the university ensures the quality of the MSc. The MSc is further enhanced by our partnership with the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), UK, a worldwide professional community for open-minded, rigorous and evidence-based inquiry into themes bridging science, spirituality and consciousness. Alongside the graduate programs Alef Trust also offers individual courses through the Open Learning program which cover the following specialty areas:
- Creativity and Transformation
- Contemporary Spirituality
- Meditation & Mindfulness
- Transpersonal Ecopsychology
- Transpersonal Psychology
- Transformational Leadership
- Consciousness and Spirituality
- Kabbalistic Psychology
- Shamanistic Psychology
- Transpersonal Dreaming
- Transpersonal Psychotherapy & Counselling
- Transpersonal Coaching Psychology
Barber, N (2013). Do Religious People Really Live Longer? Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/jhPy3h
Diamond, S. (2013). The Psychology of Spirituality. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/kUwQQq
Hartelius, G., Caplan, M., & Rardin, M. A. (2007). Transpersonal psychology: Defining the past, divining the future. The Humanistic Psychologist, 35(2), 135-160.
Routledge, C. (2016). Are Americans Really Becoming Less Religious? Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/wG2wNj
Taylor, S. (2017). The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Taylor, S. (2015). Transpersonal Psychology: Exploring the Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/QkbhlR