Prima di addentrarmi nell’argomentazione sulla scientificità della psicologia transpersonale cercherò di rispondere all’ostracismo decretato dalla scienza, riassumibile nella seguente motivazione:
La psicologia transpersonale si muove su basi metafisiche non verificabili o falsificabili tramite un procedimento misurabile, oggettivamente osservabile e ripetibile, pertanto si pone fuori dall’ambito della scienza psicologica.
Ontologie a confronto
Confrontiamo le “basi metafisiche” dalle quali muoverebbe la psicologia transpersonale con le “basi scientifiche “sulle quali si baserebbe la psicologia classica.
Pierre Weil (Weil P. 1992 p.21) uno dei padri della psicologia transpersonale suggerisce quattro presupposti che caratterizzano l’ontologia transpersonale:
- La coscienza è un flusso senza fine e senza limiti. I limiti esistono solo nella mente umana.
- La memoria va oltre la filogenesi e può essere rintracciata attraverso l’evoluzione dell’essere vivente fino alla fonte stessa dell’energia vitale.
- L’evoluzione umana non finisce nell’intelletto, ma si muove verso qualità superiori come saggezza, amore, umiltà, simpatia, consapevolezza, ecc.
- La morte è solo un passaggio, un’opportunità per raggiungere nuove dimensioni dell’essere.
Le basi “scientifiche” della psicologia classica si fondano invece sui presupposti del riduzionismo materialista, vediamone i principali:
- La creazione della vita inizia da un punto zero e la morte segna un punto finale in cui tutto è finito: inizio e fine. (Schulthess P. 2017, pagina 14)
- Per quanto riguarda lo studio scientifico della mente, la coscienza e le sue caratteristiche speciali hanno un’importanza piuttosto secondaria. È del tutto possibile, anzi auspicabile, fornire un resoconto del linguaggio, della cognizione e degli stati mentali in generale senza tenere conto della coscienza e della soggettività.
- La scienza è obiettiva perché la realtà stessa è oggettiva.
- L’oggettività della scienza richiede che i fenomeni studiati siano completamente oggettivi e, nel caso delle scienze cognitive, ciò significa che deve studiare il comportamento oggettivamente osservabile.
- Dal fatto che la realtà è in definitiva fisica, e dal fatto che è completamente oggettiva, è naturale presumere che tutto in realtà sia conoscibile da noi. Non c’è posto o almeno molto poco posto per la coscienza in questo quadro generale. (Searle John R. (1994 p 28)
Entrare nel merito delle succitate visioni esula dall’intento di questo lavoro mi limiterò a sottolineare l’evidenza che affermare che tutto sia materia e che la mente possa essere studiata in modo oggettivo tramite il comportamento e che la coscienza non esista o sia un’emergenza dell’attività cerebrale non ha nulla di scientifico.
Il materialismo riduzionista è altrettanto metafisico, se di metafisica si vuole parlare, delle premesse sulle quali si basa la visione transpersonale.
Non è né osservabile, né misurabile, né ripetibile l’affermazione che la realtà ultima sia materica, che nella materia non ci sia coscienza o che la psiche coincida con la mente.
Il problema delle premesse potrebbe facilmente risolversi accogliendo l’invito all’epoché di Husserl (Husserl E, 2006), di fondarsi cioè su un approccio fenomenologico che mette tra parentesi le proprie credenze e giudizi (beleifs).
La linea di demarcazione per considerare valido un approccio si dovrebbe pertanto spostare dall’entrare nel merito del suo sistema di credenze al “modo” col quale le tratta. Una disciplina dovrebbe esporre in evidenza i suoi presupposti ontologici e fornire garanzie epistemologiche su come ha raggiunto tale conoscenza e su come la impiega.
Così facendo si sposterebbe la linea del fronte dalla disciplina alle persone, dalle credenze al metodo.
Si dissolverebbe il confine fittizio tra psicologia scientifica e psicologia transpersonale e lo si sposterebbe sulle persone e le loro affermazioni. I limiti, i compiti e le giurisdizioni sarebbero chiari e fondati sul reciproco riconoscimento delle differenze di intenti, di oggetto d’indagine, di basi ontologiche ed epistemologiche.
Basi che non sarebbero da considerare ne esclusive né tanto meno vere in assoluto, ma viste come presupposti di partenza da verificare, visioni del mondo relative, da sostenere secondo un atteggiamento as if.
As a result, it would become possible to understand that the epistemological approach of transpersonal psychology provides tools and methods that do not invade the territory of behavioral sciences, but rather increase the validity provided by psychological science.
By simplifying the transpersonal practice and relying on a phenomenological approach that suggests leaving behind one’s own beliefs and judgments, transpersonal psychology introduces in the scientific method three elements: exposure, awareness and disidentification.
Exposure suggests declaring the ontological premises or beliefs, placing them between brackets and behaving “as if”, this way overcoming the well-known problem that is reflexivity (Thomas W. I. 1923, Anderson R. 2017), which is the tendency of the researcher to influence the investigation in order to confirm his own assumptions, more or less consciously.
Awareness comes from the consideration that it is possible to observe thinking, offering a further tool that adds supra-rational guarantees, provided by aware thought, to the rational guarantees of critical thought, based on meta-cognition.
Disidentification allows detachment from the objective and therefore from the results of the research, non-attachment to one’s own beliefs and it reinforces the comprehension that it is possible to act “as if”. “As if” I weren’t the content of my perception, my feelings, emotions, needs, desires, thoughts, judgments, beliefs, etc.
Classical epistemology is based on reason and critical thought. Transpersonal epistemology transcends and includes without denying meta-cognition and we could say it is based on exposure, awareness and disidentification.
Thanks to the three mentioned pillars, the researcher, or more generally the professional, can guarantee that he knows what he is doing and, once declared his contents, concept and percept, he is able to leave them behind and not be guided by them.
Transpersonal psychology offers an epistemological map that defines an I, place of concept and percept, and a Self, place of disidentified and aware observation, able to operate “as if” and therefore transcend the cognitive dimension of reason within the aware dimension of insight, which is that new order of comprehension mentioned by Bohm (Krishnamurti J., Bohm D. 1986).
“Only when we have made the world content into our thought content do we rediscover the connection from which we have sundered ourselves. This goal is reached only when the tasks of scientific research are understood much more profoundly than often occurs.” (Steiner R., 1995, p. 33).
“But for everyone who has the capacity to observe thinking—and, with good will, every normally constituted human being has this capacity—the observation of thinking is the most important observation that can be
made.” (Steiner R., 1995, p. 20).
In so doing, anyone can understand that thinking:
“Is a kind of activity that is neither subjective nor objective; it goes beyond both these concepts.” (Steiner, R., 1995 p. 37).
And understand that the appearances of reductionist materialism, which he calls “naïve realism”, are overcome through the knowledge of thinking true essence (Steiner R., 1995 p.53).
Comparing Cognitive Maps
The cognitive map of materialistic science is dual, linear and exclusive and it includes both rational and irrational levels. What is knowledgeable and can be investigated according to a rational method is considered to be scientific, whereas what goes beyond is irrational and therefore anti-scientific.
The cognitive map of the transpersonal approach is ternary, circular and inclusive. Knowledge can be acquired through pre-rational, pre-personal, instinctive, rational, personal, transpersonal and supra-rational modalities.
Exposure, awareness and disidentification represent the main cognitive tools for the evolutionary journey – which takes place through transcendence and inclusion, differentiation and integration – of consciousness from instinct to intuition through reason.
Access to the dimensions of awareness, intuitive consciousness, supra-rational and transpersonal instances of the Self – which transcends and includes without denying, but rather by “purifying” the instinctive and rational dimensions through exposure, awareness and disidentification – provide validity guarantees that are testable and verifiable by anyone who knows the right set of instructions and is willing to follow them.
In order to solve the problems of the fallacy of subjectivity, ineffability of consciousness and evanescence of the soul, psychological science has restricted its area of investigation to behavior and has chosen the reductionist materialistic approach of natural sciences:
– Everything is matter
– Consciousness is a ghost to be left out of the area of scientific investigation
– The psyche coincides with the mind and resides in the brain
– Reason is the tool
– Measurement and replicability are the method
In so doing, it had the chance to develop effective methods for the study and treatment of psychopathology and behavior.
The object of study of the transpersonal approach is the participatory, unitary and interconnected dialogue between subject and object.
The transpersonal approach suggests that:
– Human experience is a participatory dialogue between objectivity and subjectivity and there are various levels of consciousness through which it can be investigated.
– Consciousness has its own independent existence that can be studied by expanding the investigation methods
– The psyche does not coincide with the mind nor reside in the brain
– Awareness and insight are cognitive tools that transcend and include reason as well as offering guarantees for the study of the true nature of the psyche
– The unity of science is not guaranteed “by a utopic reduction of all science to physics and chemistry, but rather by a structural uniformity (regularity of dynamic models) of the various levels of reality” (in Wilber 2011 p.19).
In so doing, it suggests tools and methods for the study and mastery of inner experience, states of consciousness and the development of the highest spiritual potentialities and qualities.
Considering work such as Spiritual Emergency (Grof S. and Grof C. 1993), or the works of Walsh and Vaughan (Vaughan F.E. 1989, Walsh R., Vaughan F., Walsh R. 1999), among others, would be enough to comprehend that the transpersonal approach is able of operate with competence and deal with psychological problems created by the vast world of spiritual research, providing guarantees of validity. Transpersonal psychology represents an efficient answer to the overflow of moral-less spiritual practices, as it offers psychological guidelines, maps and methods that allow studying and mastering the ineffable dimensions of consciousness with due care.
Once again, the problem lies not in metaphysical beliefs but in what a person makes of them, that is to say the cognitive system used to deal and elaborate them. It is possible to approach a spiritual experience with a dogmatic, confessional and fundamentalist attitude or a laic, disidentified and aware one. Transpersonal psychology provides tools for the second kind of approach.
Proceeding with the analysis of the criticism, we now must deal with a topic issue, the personal epistemology about the life.
Does the life start from a zero point and ends with death?
Both the answer, yes or not, are not falsifiable then the question doesn’t pertain to the domain of science.
The question is, what to do with all the people (probably the most) that trust in something beyond matter?
How to lead with states of consciousness or spiritual experience or spiritual emergencies?
Transpersonal Epistemology refers to the shared awareness that apprehension of knowledge, inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender, as a brief analysis of the history of human thought could easily demonstrate?
Perhaps a superficial reading doesn’t allow understanding that transpersonal psychology offers maps and models, tools and methods to guide, without dogmas nor beliefs, anyone who is looking for apprehension of knowledge and takes care of anyone willing to do that and who is lucky enough to lose themselves during the journey, by providing reliable guidance and precise reference points. The research and data on how to develop spiritual competencies in the psychological field are countless (Lukoff D., 2016) (see brief synthesis in references).
A greater knowledge of the scientific documentation and comprehension of the transpersonal approach based on the ternary cognitive map: exposure, disidentification and awareness, might suggest greater care and willingness to engage in dialogue. It would become possible to engage in a true debate based on the aforementioned epistemological differences and agree, as Tart suggests (Tart C.T. 2009), on the fact that there are principles and methods to investigate reality, as if life begins with birth and ends with death, this way obtaining measurable and replicable results within the fields of physio (matter) and bios (life), as well as principles and methods to investigate the Psyché (nous) as if it were an unlimited, synergic and interconnected flow…
As a partial justification for those who are confused, it must be remembered that transpersonal phenomenology, in absence of a map consistent with the territory, might seem to coincide with magical, superstitious and mythological contents, typical of uncritical and pre-rational fusional experiences.
The transpersonal approach offers a non-judgmental kind of listening, maps and tools, words to name things, in order to face the arduous psychological journey into territories at the doorstep of mystery, as well as competencies for a leap of consciousness that makes it possible to face the ineffable experience of the Psyché, beyond a literal reading, towards a further mode, symbolic, dynamic, interconnected, synergic and archetypical.
The ternary cognitive map together with the “as if” epistemology, the tools of awareness and disidentification, the widening of the cartography of the psyche and pre-birth and transpersonal experiences, allows operating with the aforementioned vast phenomenology, integrating it in the field of psychology. Access to super-conscious, transpersonal and transcultural states of consciousness makes it possible to access profound and archetypical structures of consciousness.
As a consequence, the competencies obtained preserve the subjects of experience form the risk of using them in an uncritical, manipulative and dogmatic way, enriching psychology with tools, areas of intervention and research.
“Shamanic intuition and/or the eternal mystical traditions of the high religious cultures (“philosophia perennis”) alienates us from our present culture and also from our profession, as the argument is hardly rational and not externally verifiable.” (Schulthess P. 2017 p. 16)
This is true, statements of philosophia perennis are hardly rational and not externally verifiable.
Once again, what to do with clients that come to us reporting having had ecstatic experiences, kundalini awakening, abduction, contact with their animal of power, astral journey or a sadden enlightenment?
How to avoid both, the ethnocentrism of an attitude that excludes what doesn’t belong to Western culture and a dogmatic adhesion to not verified beliefs?
Why to push this person on the arms of gurus of shamans instead of take care of their problems in a competent and reliable way?
Why to let out of psychology everything that is hardly rational and not externally verifiable instead of study it and get tools to lead with?
Why to exclude what doesn’t belong to Western culture for the mere reason of not belonging to it?
Plato was aware that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. It wouldn’t take much to see the historical evidence that the majority of the current psychotherapeutic practices already existed in ancient shamanic cultures.
Without the technical and cultural heritage of the past psychotherapy would not exist. If anything, the problem lies in the thinking that uses it, which depends on one’s state of consciousness, which in turn, depends on one’s cultural beliefs and emotional experience.
The need to differ from the past indicates an unresolved bond with it, which is a legitimate phase during development, but it must be transcended and included within integration once the conflict is resolved.
It is legitimate to feel overpowered by a heavy unresolved past and therefore act to overcome its shadows, for instance, thanks to the development of reason and the scientific thought that have freed us from the slavery to the superstitious-magical and mythological thought. On the contrary, it is certainly limiting to leave behind the inheritance of the knowledge and tools that those who came before us conquered and it is even more disconcerting to exclude from the community those who are not willing to do that.
The maps of transpersonal psychology, that take into consideration various states of consciousness and evolutionary stages of thought, provide psychology with tools capable of distinguishing and protecting from an inappropriate use of powerful traditional healing technologies.
The transpersonal psychologist’s knowledge of states and stages of consciousness is the necessary resource to face those risks that the psychological community sees as a threat to its own identity.
By expanding its jurisdiction and methods through the contributions of the transpersonal epistemology and methodology, future psychological science could become a reference point capable of protecting the most authentic spiritual areas of human experience.
These areas will become increasingly attractive and it would be deleterious to leave them in the hands of New Age, confessional dogmatism of Religion or even worse the dark objectives of fundamentalism and esoterism.
The “as if” ontology, epistemological maps and methodology of awareness allow traditional tools to cooperate with supra-rational modalities, purifying the process by providing guarantees of ethical and methodological validity.
In so doing, as Boadella warns, it might become possible to prevent “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, giving back to the Psychè its original meaning and to psychology its function for the future.
Psychology or Spirituality
Another singular accusation is that transpersonal psychology contributes to spiritual visions rather than the psychology of spirituality.
Such statement is only possible if you don’t know transpersonal psychology. There are many established clinical methodologies, namely psychotherapeutic transpersonal approaches. Having a vision means supporting the practice with a theoretical model that is both ontological and epistemological. Transpersonal ontology and epistemology inevitably share many statements with perennial philosophy but, as explained before, differ from it in the interpretation and application in therapeutic practice. The distinction between pre-personal and transpersonal contents, the laic, non-confessional, non-doctrinal and non-dogmatic approach favored by the supra-rational and transcultural “as if” reading, the definition of maps and models that indicate the phases of the transpersonal evolutionary process and the use of a clinical methodology that teaches how to reach, master and verify certain transpersonal stages and states, trace a clear boundary with spiritual and esoteric traditions, for anyone who is willing to see the distinction. There are many different psychodynamic, cognitive and humanistic approaches. Similarly, there are various transpersonal psychologies that present transpersonal psychotherapeutic models attributable to common matrices that respect the entire spectrum of human experience and deal both with historically important issues of Western psychology and specific matters of the transpersonal approach. (Tart, C. T., 1992).
From evidence based to attention-oriented methodologies
The evidence-based method starts thanks to the life and work of Florence Nightingale (1820–1910). Nightingale used the collection, analysis, and graphical display of healthcare data from the Crimean War to prove that conditions at the time in military hospitals were not beneficent, but in fact harmful to the lives of the soldiers being treated (Small, 1998).
The transpersonal approach’s suggestion to the scientific community is based on accurate reflections, such as the consideration that evidence-based methods were born within the medical field to study the effectiveness of cures for diseases in a context where it is clear that the disease is objectifiable and there is a method that can be a protocol for external intervention.
As it occurred for the reductionist scientific method – which, after its huge success within the study of matter, was implemented for the study of the living being and the psyche, which was in the meantime reduced to the mind and placed in the brain – the evidence based method was also implemented for the study of behavior, given its usefulness for the evaluation of medical treatment.
Transpersonal ontology and epistemology suggest a wider view that is not reducible only to objective data, the cure of symptoms and study of behavior. The object of investigation of the transpersonal approach is the participatory dialogue subject/object, where the “object symptom” and the “object behavior” are not separable from the “subject inner experience”, where the “object body” and the “object mind” are not separable from the “subject consciousness”, unitary experience of the psyche, dynamic and interconnected.
Moreover, it recognizes in its subject/object of investigation a self-organizing and self-transcending complexity (CAS), as well as a multiplicity of stages and states for which mere objective evidence is limiting. If the psyche is considered an expression of a body-mind unity, stratified in unconscious, conscious and supra-conscious dimensions, pre-rational, rational and supra-rational stages, evidence is interpreted as appearance. Therefore, a deeper and integral investigation is needed; an investigation that respects and recognizes the complexity and mystery and that timidly, humbly and consciously explores the ineffable territories of consciousness and the transpersonal dimension searching for classifiable regularities. These regularities might not coincide tout court with the measurable evidence demanded by behavioral science, but they may be compared within a view of reciprocal respect and synergic collaboration.
Ultimately, the transpersonal approach agrees with the necessity of the experiential guarantees demanded by the reductionist scientific method if limited to the study of behavior.
At the same time, for the study of inner experience, the transpersonal approach claims the most elevated qualities of the human being, the realization of the Self and states of consciousness as well as other methods and forms of guarantee, as for instance the epistemological and experiential ones.
Proof that the transpersonal vision does not deny, but rather transcends and includes evidence based methods, lies in the fact that the methods of treatment and results of transpersonal psychology do not avoid evaluation through specific tools of measurement and diagnosis of the related constructs in the field, as the DSM-VTR classifications or psychometric tools such as the MMPI or the scales of Beck and Hamilton.
There are specific methods of measurement for the transpersonal field, precisely twenty-six different tools that are used for research (Mac Donald D.A., Friedman H.L., Kuentzel J.G. 999, p. 137-154), such as: the Assessment Schedule for Altered States of Consciousness, the Ego Grasping Orientation, the Expressions of Spirituality Inventory, the Hindu Religious Coping Scale, the Measures of Hindu Pathways, the Self-Expansiveness Scale and the Vedic Personality Inventory.
As it isn’t limited to the study of behavior and it deals with issues such as inner experience, the participatory object/subject dialogue and the evolutionary journey of realization of the Self, the transpersonal approach suggests the necessary transcendence and inclusion of measures and falsifications within qualities, the overcoming of correct data through the identification of regularity, as well as investigation and description through attention and awareness. A lot of research within the transpersonal field present and use innovative epistemological and research approaches, as described by Anderson and Braud (Anderson R., Braud W., 2011).
We refer, among others, to the Intuitive Inquiry by Anderson, the Integral Inquiry by Braud (Anderson, R., & Braud, W., 2011), the Organic Inquiry By Clements, the Essential Science by Tart (Tart 2009), the First-Person Science by Varela (Varela 1999), the Integral Science by Wilber (Wilber, 2011) and the Second Attention Epistemology by Lattuada (Lattuada P.L., 2010, 2011, 2012).
Experience Based Guarantees
Scientific research excludes from its area of investigation any subjective data, emphasizes objective data and by choice disregards the subject of experience, if not in order to submit it to a strict experimental protocol.
When dealing with Physio, Bios and behavior receiving credit is relatively easy.
What happens when dealing with inner experience of a spiritual kind or non-ordinary states of consciousness? In this case, academic qualifications are not enough to have credit in the study of the Psyché in its integral conception; it is necessary to explain one’s experience and clinical history and from there deduce the knowledge that one has gained through hands-on experience. I don’t mean that we should give credit to someone only because of his experience and consequently that this person is allowed to obviate the hard task of validation of his statements, but rather that anyone who is willing to embrace a discipline and make statements about it should declare in detail his experience in the matter, so that his history, coherence of method and subjective data can contribute to give value to his statements.
A firsthand science encourages complete transparence about our beliefs, values, motivations and experience related to the subject of research, as well as the exposition of our experience during the investigation.
This way, as Rosemarie Anderson (Anderson R., 2017) suggests, the use of reflexivity might help the researcher rather than represent a problem to dismiss.
Moreover, if it’s true that looks are deceiving and reality is not as it appears, it is necessary to use an experience based method that teaches going beyond appearances, beyond the mind understood as rational thinking, and consequently the researcher will have to explain how he intends to obviate the issue of appearance and the tools he will use to do that.
Experiential investigation uses millenary technologies implemented for centuries by spiritual researchers from all around the world and it is implemented this way:
– Through the laboratory of personal, inner and integral experience, according to declared and validated methods, insights are reached and they are explained to anyone who wants to verify them through the same experiential procedure and therefore recognize the veracity or falseness of the conclusions.
– As Wilber says: “they show that there are higher domains of awareness that include love, identity, reality, Self and truth (Wilber 2011 p. 369).
– These statements are not dogmatic; they are not believed because stated by an authority, but rather because they are based on hundreds of years of experimental introspections and shared tests.
– False statements are rejected on the basis of consensual evidence; successive evidence is used to correct and tune experimental conclusions.
– In other words, these spiritual dimensions are literally purely scientific and the systematic presentations of these dimensions follow exactly the ones of any reconstructive science”.
Following are a few more words about the method, that is to say the type of thinking through which these statements are reached.
The highest states of consciousness that operate according to modalities of supra-rational thinking, such as casual and non-dual, can be explained rationally by those who have experienced them in first hand but cannot be experienced through rational thinking (first attention). They can be reached following a trans-rational and contemplative modality (second attention) (Lattuada P.L., 2010, 2011, 2012).
We can understand the accusations of elitism and non-scientificity, but we cannot agree with them. The scientific community should simply accept that there are states of consciousness and stages of thought whose access demands precise procedures and whose acquisitions can be described and understood with the use of a supra and trans-rational language.
Hereafter, we will report how Wilber describes a process of access to the psychic, subtle, causal and non-dual worlds, providing validity guarantees (Wilber 2011 p. 381)
– Injunction: “If you want to know this, do this”.
– Insight: as mentioned before, insight should be considered as the adequate tool to reach the true nature of knowledge; it is a direct vision that shows things the way they really are, a flash that we have all experienced once, that unveils the veil and reveals the data hidden beyond appearances.
– Shared confirmation or denial: sharing one’s conclusions with a community of equals.
We have tried to emphasize the specificity of the transpersonal approach, characterized by its object of investigation, the participatory dialogue between an individual and the world marked by an evolutionary journey of gradual realization of the Self towards the comprehension of the dimensions of inner experience of a spiritual kind. We have explored the guarantees of transpersonal psychology, offering a brief overview of the benchmark ontological premises, epistemological maps and models that are based on aware observation and the historical roots that support it. We have traced the outlines of an experience-based methodology that can be subject to validation and capable of engaging in debate and integrating with the methods of behavioral science.
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Pier Luigi Lattuada M. D., Psy.D., Ph.D, of the Integral Transpersonal Institute, Milan, Italy, and Sofia University CA and Ubiquity University CA.
Founder of Biotransenergetics, Pier Luigi is the Director of the Transpersonal Psychotherapy School in Milan, which has been fully recognized by the Ministry of Education University and Research since 2002.
Via Villapizzone 26, 20156 Milano
Mobile phone: +393355367498
web site: www.integraltranspersonallife.com ; pierluigilattuada.com
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Integral-Transpersonal-Institute/180932665277603
You tube: https://www.youtube.com/user/biotransenergetica