What is Transpersonal Art Therapy?

Written by Michael Franklin, PhD, ATR-BC, Coordinator of the Naropa graduate Art Therapy program and Mimi Farelly-Hansen, ATR, LPC.


Transpersonal Psychology is a field within the larger field of psychology. It is a researched discipline of study that integrates established models of psychology/psychotherapy with spiritual disciplines and contemplative traditions. This integration results in a valuable assimilation of mind, body, and spiritual dimensions that ultimately defines a comprehensive, integrated model of psychology.

Transpersonal art therapy, as taught at Naropa University, draws on this wide-ranging premise through its core value to mindfully embrace the creative process as a transformational healing opportunity. This approach is both a perspective and a path. As a perspective it encourages one to hold and blend spiritual convictions with therapeutic work. In terms of assessment and treatment, the transpersonal art therapist works with clients to address body, mind, and emotional connections including spiritual aspirations. This practical approach, or path, begins with oneself. It is essential that the transpersonally-based art therapist self-examine herself/himself, be open to the fruits of contemplative and creative practices, and stay up to date with advances in the field by striving to integrate diverse scholarly viewpoints. This systemic approach to learning connects us with the notions of spiritual well being first articulated in the Humanistic Counseling literature of the sixties and seventies as well as thousands of years of world wisdom traditions. These contemplative traditions see healing as a return to "right relations" with all living systems on our planet.

In terms of practice, a transpersonal art therapy perspective invites open evaluation and assessment of extreme emotional states such as psychosis or existential despair. These states can serve as possible indicators of clinical diagnostic categories or spiritual emergence. Training prepares one to discern these differences and plan appropriate interventions.

The transpersonal approach to art therapy embraces a visionary perspective for the field without ignoring traditional therapeutic applications of art and psychotherapy. As flexible as the creative process itself, transpersonal art therapy mindfully integrates traditional and new paradigms with the wisdom of ancient spiritual systems such as meditation. The discipline of creating art, which has been the inspiration for the field, invites one to enter into an authentic relationship with culture, self, process and product. The living image that results from the art process is the true teacher, leading the way towards greater personal understanding. An art therapist working within the transpersonal approach strives to remain open to differences and to work for change at the personal and cultural level. Her/his work is offered with thoughtful intentions, compassion, and the desire to serve.


To learn more about the field of Art Therapy Education, read "Transpersonal Art Therapy Education," written by Michael Franklin, PhD, ATR-BC, Mimi Farrelly-Hansen, ATR, LPC, Bernie Marek, MFA, Nora Swan-Foster, ATR-BC, and Sue Wallingford, LPC, ATR-BC.

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