Transpersonal Psychology in Europe

by Marc-Alain DESCAMPS

Transpersonal psychology existed in Europe well before the creation of the transpersonal movement. It originated in the lengthy tradition of mystics from Plotin, Proclus, Jamblique and the Pseudo-Denys Aeropagite, then developed through various schools: the English (the cloud of unknowing), the German (from Hildegarde of Bingen,to the Beguines and on to Meister Eckhart and his school: Suso, Tauler, Jacob Boehme, Angelus Silesius..), the Spanish (Ibn Arabi and the Andalousian sufis, John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila), the Italian (the Fioretti, Catherine of Sienna) and the French (Marguerite Porette, Francois de Salle, Madame Guyon, Therese de Lisieux)….

Transpersonal psychotherapy at its roots is a typically European structure with the Swiss C.G. Jung (who was the first to use the term “ueberpersonlisch” [transpersonal] in 1916), the Italian Roberto Assagioli’s psychosynthesis, the French Robert Desoille's Awakened dreaming and Pierre Weil’s cosmodrama, the Austrian Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, the German Graf Duerckheim’s Initiatic therapy……..

The development of original transpersonal European thought continued with the Italian school (Laura Boggio Gilot, Anna-Maria Turi) the German school (Elizabeth Philipov, Edith Zundel), the English (Jan Gordon-Brown, John Rowan) as well as Spanish, French…

Laura Boggio Gilot defined transpersonal as going beyond dualistic thinking towards the non mental state and Unity. Her idea of the transpersonal Self originated in Vedanta.

John Rowan defined four positions in spiritual growth: the mental self, the individual self, the soul and the spirit. He insisted on distinguishing the three first levels that remain personal and voluntary going all the way to the summit of Maslow from the fourth (the causal Self) which is the state of attainment achieved by mystics of all countries.

In France transpersonal psychology became known with the invention of body psychotherapies and humanistic psychology. Starting in 1972, within the framework of the French Association of Humanistic Psychology a section of transpersonal psychology already existed. This association was dissolved and in 1985 the French Association of Transpersonal Psychology was established. By organizing a yearly colloquium different branches of therapy were born and integrated.

In Marc-Alain Descamps’ book Qu’est-ce que le transpersonnel ?, he was able to map out four concentric circles. In the middle were the practitioners of the traditional mystical ways of the East and the West which transpersonal psychology studied and sought to unite (Yoga, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism and Shamanism). Then came different transpersonal psychotherapies with the Holotropic Breathwork of Grof, spiritual psychoanalysis etc. The third circle was formed by scientists who came to join the new transpersonal paradigm and their lecturers (Capra, Pribram, David Bohm, Charles Tart, Rupert Sheldrake….. and then France Stephane Lupesco, Olivier Costa de Beauregard, Jean Charon, Bernard d’Espagnat, Basarab Nicolescu, Rene Thom, Therese Brosse, Hubert Reeves…) The last outside circle corresponds to the study and the experience of non ordinary conscious states and it includes esotericism, alchemy, astrology, healers, parapsychology etc. Descamps’ central thesis is that to the horizontal personal axis (an exchange from one person to another, better known as “interpersonal”) you have to add the vertical transpersonal axis (the passage from ego to Self, spirituality, the mystic way and the meeting between the sacred and the divine). One must not confuse Transpersonal Psychology with parapsychology or New Age thought. Lucien Alfille studied different kinds of transpersonal experiences.

In La Revolution Transpersonelle des Reves, he picks up and continues the study of the lucid dreams, affirmations and visions of truth that he arrived at in 1972 in his book La Maitrise des Reves. Christian M Bouchet showed how a state of consciousness is augmented and Pierre Weil studied the transformation of dreams in his experiences during a three year Tibetan retreat.

L’Amour Transpersonnel shows how love was invented in Occitaine with the troubadours and their pure love (Fin Amor) as opposed tocathartic love. But it was the Beguine nuns from Flanders who put into practice divine love with Marguerite Porete, Beatrice of Nazareth, and Hadewijch d’Anvers. Marie-Madelaine Davy and Jean Yves Leloup show well how these persecuted women invented the concepts, which were taken up by Meister Eckhart. True love is generous and disinterested, it gives instead of demanding.

Mystique et Transpersonnel details how the transpersonal movement originated in the research of mysticism with the works of Elisabeth Andres on Hiduism, Pir Vilayat Khan on Sufism and Jampa Tarchin on Tibetan Buddhism. This was preceded by the important work of Lilian Silburn on Kasmiri Shivaism and Buddhism and by Eva de Vitra-Meyerovitch on the Sufis.

In Les Psychotherapies Transpersonnel, Marc Alain Descamps gives us a new metapsychology of spiritualistic psychoanalysis with a fourth level of consciousness which is the superconscious and the fourth point which is the pole of realization. The pull to realization draws us by this process to the pole, which plays the role of global attractor. The essential moment of a cure is in this mutative experience; it establishes itself by the meeting of the sublime. This will engender a transformation that can be envisioned on three levels of sublimation: metanoia, valorisation, and metamorphosis. Sublimation is the orientation towards and for the sublime or the transparency of infinity, metanoia is the discovery of the soul beyond the mental state, valorisation is putting into service disinterested values, and metamorphosis is the change of identification which goes from the ego to the Self. So this constitutes advanced psychoanalysis.

Art is an elected domain for transpersonal psychology. The masterpiece is that which emanates from the Self and not from the ego of the artist and it awakens contemplation of the self in the viewer. This also engenders creativity.

Finally transpersonal change is completed by renewing an educated vision. Society is built entirely on the conception of infancy, and Marc Alain Descamps asks that we distinguish the divine child who is connected to the Source, from the infant who is prisoner of his complexes. L’education Transpersonnel is already being put into place in the works of the Belgian Christine Dierkens, the Swiss Jacques de Coulon and by the French Canadian Constantin Fotinas.

In conclusion, several original positions become apparent:

1) It would be advisable to define and transmit transpersonal concepts with rigor and precision to obviate
a) Accusations of eclecticism and syncretism,
b) Confusion with related movements (Holism, New Age, Humanistic Psychology, personal development etc.) and
c) Commercial exploitation..
2) Transpersonal psychology is not a collection of voluntary techniques automatically producing a result, which does nothing but inflate the ego.
3) The model for transpersonal psychology is found in mystical experience.
4) Transpersonal experiences (Maslow’s Peak Experience) should not be confused with the transpersonal state attained by mystics or continuous work in a traditional vein.
5) The challenge of Transpersonal Psychology in Europe today is that it not to be confused with the horizontal holistic concept, New Age thought, the spiritual supermarkets and commercial gadgets.


Boggio Gilot Laura, Forma e sviluppo della coscienza, A. Vidya, Roma, 1987
Boggio Gilot Laura, Il Se transpersonale, Roma, 1991
Descamps Marc-Alain, Qu’est-ce que le Transpersonnel ?, Ed. Trismégiste, 1987, avec Alfillé, Nicolescu
Descamps M-A,La révolution transperonnelle des rêves, Ed. Trismégiste, 1988, avec Boucher et P. Weil
Descamps M-A. L’amour transpersonnel, Ed. Trismégiste, 1989, avec M-M. Davy, de Vitray-Meyerovitch Descamps M-A,Les psychothérapies transpersonnelles, Ed. Trismégiste, 1990, avec Cazenave , Filliozat.
Descamps Marc-Alain, Mystique et Transpersonnel, Ed. Trismégiste, 1991, avec Andrès, Pir Vilayat, Tarchin
Descamps Marc-Alain, Art et créativité, Ed. Trismégiste, 1991, avec J. Donnars et René Huyghe
Descamps M-A, L'éducation transpersonnelle, Ed. Trismégiste, 1993, avec de Coulon, Dierkens, Fotinas
Rowan John, The Reality Game, RKP, London, 1983,
Rowan John, The Horned God, RKP, London, 1987,
Rowan John, Ordinary ecstasy Routledge, London , 1988,
Rowan John, Subpersonalities, Routledge, London, 1990