Transforming Energy Psychology into a Comprehensive, Transpersonal Psychotherapy

Sun Behind Temple of Poseidon(by Michael Mayer, PhD)

“The origin myth of any thing determines the way it is seen and its destiny, and creates a magical, incantational, hypnotic power,” says Mircea Eliade, (1963).

The origin myth of current energy psychology approaches is rooted in the traditions of some of the field’s founders. Among these, for example, are chiropractor George Goodheart’s use of muscle testing and applied kinesiology; psychiatrist John Diamond’s use of muscle testing and holistic medicine; Roger Callahan’s thought field therapy (TFT) and tapping on the ends of acu-meridians; and Gary Craig’s emotional freedom techniques (EFT), which derived from Callahan’s methods (using acu-point algorithms, but eliminating muscle testing). Though the energy psychology field has broadened since those early years, most practitioners still associate energy psychology with these foundations and the field is built upon them. The trainings in energy psychology for health professionals emphasize these foundational elements, and the general public most often associates energy psychology with such methods as EFT and muscle testing. A potentially valuable minority of energy psychology practitioners, however, have their own views about what should be included in a comprehensive energy psychology.

In my previous presentations at ACEP annual conferences and in various publications of mine (Mayer, 2007, 2009, 2012) I have shown how the origins of energy psychology can also be found in:

  1. The Western mystery traditions (Mathews, 1988) and in particular in symbolic process modalities.
  2. In the East, it can be seen to have roots in Qigong and traditional Chinese medicine.
  3. Cross culturally, energy psychology can be seen to have roots in shamanic and indigenous traditions of postural initiation (Goodman, 1990; Tomio, 2000; Mayer 2004), which can include focus on chakras and various forms of static and dynamic forms of meditation.
  4. Energy psychology’s sphere is related to many key Western psychotherapeutic energetic concepts such as libido, arousal levels, affect regulation (Schore, 2003), character armoring (Reich, 1980), and “focusing” (Gendlin, 1978) on the felt sense and energetic felt shift in psychotherapy.

In what I see to be an important effort to broaden and deepen the origin myth of energy psychology, energy psychology can be seen as a form of transpersonal psychotherapy. In major overviews of the field of transpersonal psychotherapy, energy psychology is not included (Friedman, 2013); and in the field of energy psychology the connection with transpersonal psychotherapy has not been mentioned in its major overview books (Gallo, 2002). I have put forth in my publications one perspective on how this integration can be done (Mayer 2007, 2009, 2012), and for others to do so in their way seems to be fertile ground for cross-pollination.

As with the field of energy psychology, each transpersonal psychotherapist may have their own definition of what constitutes the field. When I was training therapists at John F. Kennedy University I used this definition: “Transpersonal Psychology, often called the fourth force of psychology, contains an integrative psychotherapy that includes all forms of psychotherapy as well as methods that focus specifically on connecting us with the wider whole of which we’re a part. This experience of the wider whole can be accessed through energetic pathways (which can be activated through various altered states of consciousness practices: breathing, acu-point touch techniques, methods of postural initiation such as Qigong, etc.), spiritual practices from East/West/indigenous traditions and symbolic process modes of healing.”

By incorporating symbolic process methods of psycho-energetic healing (a key element of transpersonal psychology), into the domain of energy psychology, the view that energy psychology is too mechanistic (Pignotti, 2009) could be countered. Such an expansion of definition could offer the field of energy psychology a way to include tapping into the archetypal energies of the psyche, a key element of non-mechanistic depth psychotherapy. Dream-work (Gendlin, 2004) and waking dreaming (Watkins, 1998) are examples of symbolic process modalities that could be incorporated into energy psychology, particularly when a psycho-energetic view is included. An example of such a psycho-energetic symbolic process modality, is “the mythic journey process (Mayer, 1982, 1993, 2007),” a narrative, archetypal, energetic method, which integrates Gendlin’s Focusing, psycho-mythology, and Qigong stances. The energetic view of the psyche is depicted well in Carl Jung’s (1960) view of the psyche as like a spectrum going between red (the energetic instincts) and ultraviolet (the archetypes).

Adding to the idea that each different lens gives a different view of the origins and elements of a tradition, here’s an interesting tidbit about the origins of the word “transpersonal.” Long before Anthony Sutich, et. al. used the word “transpersonal,” an astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, used the term “transpersonal” in 1930 in a small magazine called The Glass Hive.  In Rudhyar’s definition he meant a double meaning, both “beyond” and “through.” This has important implications for the field because most transpersonal theorists use the term “transpersonal” to mean an ascent to attain greater heights and peak experiences (Lajoie & Shapiro,1992; Fadiman, 2005); whereas a transpersonal process may also imply a descent of spiritual energy through a person, as a solar light is focused through a lens. This later definition is oriented more towards including symbolic process traditions in transpersonal psychology, as well as somatic and energetic traditions including traditions of postural initiation (such as Tai Chi and Qigong).

By incorporating a wider dimension of transpersonal psychology methods, energy psychology’s root system can be expanded. For example, standing meditation qigong has been used for centuries in China to help practitioners to change their life stances. So, an integrative approach that combines standing meditation with Western energy psychology can be explored to help in healing, spiritual unfoldment, self-defense, and changing one’s life stance psychologically (Mayer, 2004). Regarding medical qigong, energetic methods from this branch of Chinese medicine can be explored to be a complement in the healing of various psycho-physiological disorders (Mayer, 2009). Likewise symbolic process methods of healing, a key element of transpersonal psychology, can add much to enrich the field of energy psychology (Achterberg, 2002; Hillman, 1997; Jung, 1960; Mayer, 1996, 2007).

If you look at Lajoie and Shapiro’s review (1992) of forty definitions of transpersonal psychology in the academic literature from 1968- 1991, they found five key themes: states of consciousness; higher or ultimate potential; beyond the ego or personal self; transcendence; and the spiritual. Based upon this study, the authors proposed the following definition of transpersonal psychology: “Transpersonal psychology is 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, 1992).” In this definition, we can see a transcendent bias of many transpersonal theorists that leaves out the “immanent orientation” and the importance of “the soul” (Hillman, 1997) in the spirit/soul dialectic, which includes symbolic process orientations and cross-cultural somatic therapies. Such a more holistic view has been emerging regarding transpersonal psychology in more recent times with authors such as Daniels (2009) calling for an “all vector approach” to transpersonal psychology.

In summary, one can see that origin myths and the contents of a tradition, whether they are in the field of transpersonal psychology or in energy psychology, are often written by majority views that can leave out significant minority views. From my perspective, as expressed in my book Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy, it is important to include the energetic and immanent elements of psychology into the definition and practice of transpersonal psychotherapy; and in terms of energy psychology it is important to look at what are its origins and wider contents in this pre-paradigmatic phase (Kuhn, 1962) of energy psychology’s development.


About the author:

Dr. Michael Mayer was a co-founding faculty member of the first accredited Transpersonal Psychology Program in the United States at JFK University, where he trained therapists for twelve years. His approach to transpersonal psychotherapy can be found in two of his books: Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy: Ancient Pathways to Modern Health (Bodymind Healing Publications, 2007); and Energy Psychology: Self-Healing Practices for Bodymind Health, (North Atlantic/Random House 2009). His latest Ben Franklin award-winning book, The Path of a Reluctant Metaphysician: Stories and Practices for Troubled Times, traces his journey through the transpersonal psychology movement over three decades and his quest to create an “all vector approach” to transpersonal psychology, energy psychology, and psychotherapy.

Dr. Mayer will be presenting a training in this form of transpersonal energy psychotherapy in his pre-conference workshop called, Transforming Energy Psychology into a Comprehensive Energy Psychotherapy, at the 2015 International Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology Conference in Reston, VA.


Selected Bibliography:

Achterberg, J. (2002). Imagery and healing: Shamanism and modern medicine. Shamhala Publications.

Callahan, R. 2001. Tapping the healer within. Using thought field therapy to instantly conquer your fears, anxieties, and emotional distress. New York: Contemporary Books..

Clinton, A. (2000). Seemorg matrix work, Princeton, Energy Revolution.

Craig, G. (2008). The EFT manual, Energy Psychology Press.

Daniels, M. (2009). Perspectives and vectors in transpersonal development, Trans. Psych. Rev., 13(1), 87-89.

Eden, D. (1998)Energy medicine. New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam.

Fadiman, J. (2005). Transpersonal Conversations. Online video:, Copyright: Page 3 Productions, World Ayahuasca Conference.

Feinstein, D. (2012). What does energy have to do with energy psychology, Energy Psychology 4:2, November.

Feinstein, D. (2004). Energy Psychology Interactive.Ashland, Or.: Innersource.

Flemming, T. (1999). You can heal now: The Tapas Acupressure Technique. TAT Intl.

Friedman, H. & Hartelius, G.(2013).The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology. Wiley-Blackwell

Gallo, F.( 2002). Energy psychology in psychotherapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Gendlin, E. (1978). Focusing. Bantam Books

Gendlin, E. (2004). Let your body interpret your Dreams. Chicago: Chiron Publications.

Goodheart, G. (1969). Collected Published articles & reprints.

Goodman, F. (1990). Where spirit rides the wind. Indiana University Press.

Hillman, J. (1997). Revisioning psychology. William Morrow.

Kuhn T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jung, C. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. Vol. VIII. Princeton University Press.

Lajoie, D, and Shapiro S. (1992). Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenety three years. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 24

Mathews, C. and J. (1988) The western way: A practical guide to the western mystery traditions. Penguin.

Mayer, M. (1982). The mythic journey process. The Focusing Folio, 2(2).

Mayer, M. (1993). Trials of the heart: Healing the wounds of intimacy. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts

Mayer, M. (2004). Secrets to living younger longer: The self-healing path of qigong, standing meditation and Tai Chi. Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications

Mayer, M. (2007). Bodymind healing psychotherapy: Ancient pathways to modern health. Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications

Mayer, M. (2009). Energy psychology: Self-healing practices for bodymind health, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic/Random House.

Mayer, M. (2012). The path of a reluctant metaphysician: Stories and practices for troubled times, Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.

Rudhyar, D. (1975). From humanistic to transpersonal astrology, Palo Alto: The Seed Center.

Pignotti, M., Thyer, B.A.,(2009). Some comments on “Energy psychology: A review of the evidence”: Premature conclusions based on incomplete evidence? Psychotherapy. 46(2):257-6.

Reich, W. (1980). Character Analysis. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Schore, A. (2003). Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Sutich, A. (1968).Transpersonal psychology: An emerging force, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 8, 77-78.

Tomio, N. (2000). The Bodhistattva Warriors: The origin, inner philosophy, history and symbolism of the Buddhist martial art within India and China. Motilial Banarsidass.

Watkins, M. (1998). Waking dreams. Spring Publications.


  1. a fine well-researched article

  2. Philippe Isler says:

    Michael this is such an important subject and I appreciate the how well you write about it. My first exposure to working with energy in psychotherapy was in the 80’s in the context of integrating various forms of work including Gestalt, Bioenergetics, Jungian imaginal work, yoga, mediation, chanting, ceremony, and hands-on bodywork. (In fact, this was my first exposure to psychotherapy at all; you can imagine how disappointed I was when I discovered it was not the norm!!) The process was truly holistic and intrinsically – and explicitly – transpersonal.

    It has been a concern to me that within EP there is a risk of missing out on this “pre-TFT” history, with its rich and deep roots, including the transpersonal dimension. Even in EP there is a risk of falling into reductionist and mechanistic frames of thinking. I think that the more we acknowledge the points you are making the more we can cultivate a field that is truly holistic and integrative.

    • Hi Phillippe, Thanks for your supportive comment. I’d be interested in other people’s comments also about what they think should be included in a comprehensive energy psychology. To get the ball rolling on this potential discussion, my opinion is that to be included as an EP tradition it would need to explicitly include both a psychological method as well as an energetic method. So for example, some bodywork traditions (such as massage without talk), though an important implicit method of EP, could be an important adjunct to EP but not an EP tradition per se. Whereas, Reichian work usually uses touch and breath plus it has a psychological working-through component, so I would include it as an EP tradition. Also relevant is the “transcending-transmuting dialectic” (Mayer, 2007); so methods that emphasize getting in touch with transcendent energy (such as pranayama) but don’t emphasize the soulful (Hillman, 1978) dimension would not be considered EP because as Hillman points out the “psyche/soul” has to do with the transmuting of psychological issues not just the transcending of them. Likewise there are symbolic process traditions, such as guided imagery that may not emphasize the energetic component so they would not be considered to be an EP method though they can implicitly produce an energetic state (as Jung, 1960 has pointed out). But some imagery methods do explicitly have an energetic component, such as the “mythic journey process” and the “river of life process” (Mayer, 1982, 2007), and they can be part of an EP tradition. For example my Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (2007) integrates both Qigong, Gendlin’s Focusing, and other traditional psychological methods, imagery/ symbolic process methods, so I consider it to be a EP tradition. Regarding symbolic process, in my Energy Psychology book (2009, pp. 110-125), under the subheading ” Full Spectrum Symbolic Process Methods,” I suggest which symbolic methods I think are energy psychology methods (such as the ones I mention above). Gendlin’s Focusing (1978) due to its working-through and energetic felt shift would be an EP tradition. You’ll notice in this outline that I’m making a distinction between an EP tradition, which I am saying needs both a psychological and energetic component to be an EP tradition, versus an EP method, which can be an implicit or explicit energetic modality. Likewise some methods of transpersonal psychology may contain energetic methods, or be EP traditions, depending upon how they meet the above criteria. These are just some off the cuff thoughts to stimulate conversation with the goal of creating a more comprehensive EP; I go more into all this further in my book, Energy Psychology (2009).I wonder what others think should be included in Energy Psychology methods and traditions…

  3. I think the form authentic movement should be included in the modalities of EP. I am recently finishing my dissertation in transpersonal Psychology and researched this form of moving. Several of my coresearchers commented about the energy moving in their bodies. This was part of the embodiment of a lived experience that was the focus of our discussions. Mary Francis Hoffman

  4. Thanks Mary for your addition. I agree that Authentic Movement should be considered to be an “energy psychology.” Though most people trace its origins to Martha Graham,Mary Wigman, and Mary Whitehouse (dancers and Jungians) with its subsequent variations continuing to develop psychological processes with kinesthetic responses, I believe the tradition can be seen to have roots in the Aesclepian theater of Dionysis at Epidaurus. Here the initiate would take a psychological (nootherapeutic) issue or physical disease, put on a mask and act out the healing of the disorder. So yes, indeed, the energy that comes from such an enactment and the psychological driving force behind it would certainly qualify it (and its modern embodiments) as an energy psychology tradition according to the definition I gave that includes both energetic and psychological/psychotherapeutic processes.

  5. Addendum to my last comment about the Aesclipian Dionysus theater being one root of the tradition of Authentic Movement: One of the parts of my upcoming pre-conference presentation on integrating transpersonal psychology and energy psychology at the ACEP conference in Virginia will be a powerpoint presentation on the roots of “energy psychology” in the Western and Eastern mystery traditions. A few of the slides that I have from my leading two trips there will be of Aesclepius’ Dionysian theater at Epidaurus where “authentic movements” were enacted for healing.

Leave a Reply to Dr. Michael Mayer Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: