The Humanistic/Transpersonal Orientation
The discipline of Psychology encompasses the work of those conducting experiments in laboratory settings, those who interpret and bring new meaning or insight to bear on observations of humankind, those who seek to alleviate suffering via therapeutic interventions, and those who foster personal and professional growth and transformation in educational, community, organizational, and/or global contexts.
As knowledge and understandings in the discipline of psychology evolved, some psychologists became increasingly concerned “that along with the many contributions made by [various] schools of thought, there were also significant restrictions and distortions” (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993, p. 2). In too many instances, preoccupation with “observable, measurable behavior” led to the neglect of the significant but “unobservable world of inner experience” (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993, p. 1). Additionally, conceptualizations of positivistic, rationalistic and deterministic psychologies were found to be inadequate for understanding the complexity of human functioning and seemed particularly lacking with regard to an “unfettered respect [for] and emancipation of the full range of [optimal] human possibility” (Aanstoos, 1994, p. 11).
In the 1960s, it became evident that economic and technological success in American culture had not brought with it concomitant progress towards the personal or collective experience of fulfillment. The development of the humanistic/transpersonal orientation at West Georgia was but one expression of the fundamental social changes which emerged from such realizations (including the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Potential Movement). Humanistic (“Third Force”) and subsequently Transpersonal (“Fourth Force”) psychologies focused attention on assumptions and methods which reaffirmed in all areas of human endeavor a dignity which had been undermined in previous centuries by reductionistic perspectives. Under the dominance of ultrarationalist positions, human beings had been seen as reducible to an expendable commodity, a predictable laboratory datum, or a controllable social pawn.
Instead of viewing persons as objects to be manipulated, studied, and analyzed, Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists understood human beings to be engaged, both intrapersonally and interpersonally, in a process of becoming or transformation. Representatives of these emerging forces in psychology took issue with the mechanistic assumptions of human functioning and the ways in which scientific methodology proved wanting when confronted with realities associated with the development of more effective social, educational and business practices. It was, in fact, in the business and industrial setting that Humanistic Psychology gained much of its early impetus --at such centers as the Sloan Institute (M.I.T.), the Harvard Business School, and the National Training Laboratories (Bethel, Maine).
As an academic approach, Humanistic Psychology encourages approaches to the study of human being which are the most compatible with that unique subject matter. Humanistic psychologists view experience as fundamental to their science. This view explains the appreciation that Humanistic Psychology has for a rigorous approach which takes human experience as its primary source of data. Likewise, this view naturally aligns Humanistic Psychology with the arts, humanities, and philosophy. Such an alignment has meant a continuing dialogue with developments in the humanities, including an affinity with art, literature and a view of humanity concordant with an aesthetic sensibility. More recently, Humanistic Psychology has also entered into dialogue with recent developments in literary theory, including such perspectives as cultural studies, feminist analyses, and other interpretative paradigms from hermeneutics to postmodernism.
While Humanistic Psychology loosely embraces a wide range of views, methods, theories and specialties, Amedeo Giorgi (1970) suggests that persons moving in a humanistic direction may broadly be characterized as follows: emphasizing the fundamental uniqueness of human life; stressing integration of the “whole person”; concerned with balancing reductionistic/mechanistic understandings of life with holistic ones; giving attention to topics often dismissed by other psychologies, such as love, choice, self-realization, cultural context, fantasy and creativity; considering awareness of intentionality, social context and values as crucial to understanding human action; committed to the development of methods of understanding and expanding human experience; giving primary attention to the experiencing person and to meaning in understanding humans; being concerned with the unique and the exceptional rather than seeking to study only the normative; dedicated to the exploration of “synergistic” relationships in groups, communities and institutions; holding to a fundamental commitment to psychology as both art and science.
The interests and concerns of Humanistic Psychologists have provoked fruitful research into human possibilities for expanded consciousness, e.g., research into “altered states of consciousness” and expanded capacity for and exercise of individual freedom and choice. This emphasis has led to explorations of “experiences . . . recognized across history [in Eastern traditions] . . . called mystical, spiritual and unitive experiences” which previously had been underestimated or pathologized (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993, p. 2) and to the development of a “Fourth Force” known as Transpersonal Psychology.
Broad humanistic educational objectives are rooted in traditional Greek views of consciousness or minds that are opened or opening and include their development through Renaissance Humanism as well. Socratic-like dialogue or its modern psychological counterparts are seen to foster this type of understanding. Teacher and learner are viewed as fellow travelers in the learning process, and deepening personal and collective insight is seen as the ultimate goal. Learning is viewed as a shared search for understanding geared toward human welfare. Education grounded in such perspectives seeks to address not only the specialization needed to perform a task, but also the interdisciplinary nature of learning and the approaches through which greater human sensitivity, wisdom or insight can be fostered. The current terms that humanistic and transpersonal psychologists use to characterize this insight-centered education are “personal growth” (Combs, 1999) or “transformation” (Hart, 2001).
Consistent with the visions and aims of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, this Department supports Dodson’s (1999) concerns that psychology
* call humanity toward [identifying and] fulfilling its deeper, more encompassing values and possibilities
* stand . . . for freedom, healthy choice, expression, and creativity
* quest after community and human interconnection, both locally and across the globe
* sense and appreciate the ongoing interweaving of our minds, our bodies, our spirits and the world around us
* give voice to life’s fundamental riddle, and . . . seek after its charm, subtlety, and meaning
* expand humanity’s boundaries, and . . . [capacity to create a peaceful world] (p. 10).
Humanistic/Transpersonal psychologists recognize the self-creating and co-creating capacities of human beings, with whom lie the responsibility for the quality of individual and collective life. Such psychologists seek to foster social responsibility, resilience, and personal and collective empowerment. Since the human being is not conceptualized as an isolated thing, but as a self-transcendent process oriented toward the fullness of reality, human experience is understood as an intersubjective phenomenon. The collective nature of the human condition requires respect for others and for human diversity; it calls for “I-Thou” relationships which open onto human community. Reminiscent of a Hindu “jewel net,” each jewel simultaneously enlightens and reflects the light of every other jewel (Helminiak, 2000). Or, put differently, transpersonal psychologies are “concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness” (Lajoie & Shapiro, 1992, p. 91).
Implementation of the Humanistic/Transpersonal orientation in programs offered by the Psychology Department at the University of West Georgia
Departmental programs rest upon an integral psychological approach that extends from traditional phenomenology and humanistic psychology to current advances in critical psychology, discourse analysis, transpersonal theory, contemplative studies, and participatory action research. From varying perspectives, these theories all regard matters of critical reflection and subjective experience as fundamental to transformative and socially engaged action. Said otherwise, the program’s theoretical focus is the study of consciousness or human experience in an interpersonal and social context. As Claxton and Arons (1984) have put it, “The values underlying the program[s]” offered by the Psychology Department at the State University of West Georgia “have been vital to Western thought since Socrates: to examine life, to know oneself. These values were incorporated at West Georgia within an atmosphere pointedly encouraging personal and scholarly exploration” (p. iv).
The Humanistic/Transpersonal orientation informs both undergraduate (BA) and graduate (MA) programs offered by the department and encourages exploration and understanding of experience, consciousness and meaning aimed at fostering human fulfillment. Departmental programs afford space and challenges to those who have begun to question themselves and are interested in self-exploration and inquiry into what being more fully human can mean. These programs engage such areas of exploration through a psychology that draws from its own relevant resources and from the philosophy of East and West, literature, the arts and other humanities, religious studies, the social sciences, and the neuro-sciences. These programs encourage all students toward individual exploration through classroom experiences, independent studies, and community and cross-cultural experiences. In addition, through an original thesis, those so inclined explore in greater depth a theme of personal interest.
The Department is considered to be on the “leading edge” as psychology moves from a mechanistic to a more holistic view of the person and has a tradition of innovation for which it has become known and of which it is proud. Its faculty share a common mission of self-searching in the broadest educational sense. Its current programs are attuned to those seeking self-awareness and understanding and who wish to imagine through and beyond the conventional into “the further reaches of human nature.” Faculty and students form a community that converges with the curriculum to foster exploration, self growth, challenging scholarship and innovative service to the community. The Department emphasizes methods of inquiry appropriate to distinctly human questions (e.g., experiential, phenomenological, interpretive, critical or transpersonal).
At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the Department presumes that both students and faculty know best what they need, what is their “growing edge.” So, within a supportive framework, at each level it offers students the opportunity to design their own programs of study, and offers faculty opportunities to design innovative courses.
At the undergraduate level, students must take PSYC 1101 (Introduction to General Psychology) as they enter the major and, to better understand the department’s orientation, PSYC 2000 (Humanistic Psychology). Students can then select up to 28 credit hours of courses of particular interest to them, 8 hours of which are within a “psychology core.” To provide closure on their experience, seniors majoring in Psychology are required to take PSYC 4884 (Integrative Seminar), a capstone course.
At the graduate level, there are two required courses: PSYC 6000 (Foundations of Humanistic Psychology), an exploration and examination of the conceptual bases of contemporary humanistic psychology; and PSYC 6010 (Human Growth and Potential), emphasizing personal growth and awareness in an experiential context. Beyond these, students can choose classes consistent with their interests and career goals. There are two options to complete requirements toward graduation. Under Option I, students must complete a minimum of 33 hours of coursework and write an acceptable original thesis. Without special permission, up to 9 hours of coursework can be taken in graduate courses in departments other than psychology. Under Option II, students must complete a total of 45 hours of coursework. Without special permission, up to 12 hours can be taken in graduate courses in departments other than psychology.
All students must demonstrate their ability to conduct exploratory research, design appropriate projects, and engage in creative reflection within the field of psychology. In addition, students must pass an oral comprehensive exam based on coursework and individual research or projects developed over their course of study. For students writing a thesis, oral defense of the thesis fulfills the requirement of an oral comprehensive exam. Under Option II, a student must submit a written theme paper as directed by his or her committee. This document articulates the student’s personal focus of interest and provides a basis for dialogue during the oral examination. Under both options, a language requirement or cross-cultural experience acceptable to the department is required.
The Department supplements learning experiences in the classroom with regularly scheduled colloquia which engage the imagination and spark dialogue. The Department also serves these ends through brown-bag seminars, Philo-Café dialogues, and the annual Jim Klee Forum. The latter brings presenters of national renown (e.g., Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof, Jean Houston, Stanley Krippner, Clark Moustakas) to campus. The Department has repeatedly hosted conferences on campus, and members of the Department have been instrumental in founding national associations (including a Division of the American Psychological Association).
Aanstoos, C.M. (1994). "Mainstream psychology and the humanistic alternative." In F. Wertz (Ed.), The humanistic movement. Recovering the person in psychology (pp. 1-12). Lake Worth, FL: Gardner Press.
Claxton, R.H. and Arons, M. (1984). "Foreword." In C. Aanstoos (Ed.)., Exploring the lived world: Readings in phenomenological psychology. West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, 23, pp. iii-vi.
Combs, A.W. (1999). Being and becoming: A field approach to psychology. New York: Springer.
Dodson, E. (1999, October/November). "Visions and aims of AHP." In AHP Perspective, p. 10.
Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science. New York: Harper & Row.
Hart, T. (2001). From information to transformation: Education for the evolution of consciousness. New York: Peter Lang.
Helminiak, D. (2000, May 14). Humanistic psychology’s vision of being human (Core Beliefs). Carrollton, GA: Old Saybrook 2 conference committee report.
Lajoie, D.H. & Shapiro, S.I. (1992). "Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenty-three years." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 24(1), 79-98.
Walsh, R. & Vaughan, F. (1993). Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.