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Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section

About this Section

Background

At the turn of the last century, Wundt, James and the other founders of scientific psychology took it for granted that conscious experience was the discipline's central phenomenon. In the behaviourist period (roughly the first 50 years of the 20th Century) the study and even the mention of consciousness was largely suppressed. With the reintroduction of "mind" in cognitive psychology (over the second half of the 20th Century) mention of consciousness was gradually reintroduced, usually in connection with studies of selective attention and short-term memory. It was generally assumed however that consciousness was nothing more than a form of information processing, with little attention paid to how its rich phenomenology is experienced. The effort to develop an understanding of the mind that paid closer attention to the phenomenology of consciousness gathered pace from the early 1990's, along with a growing understanding of how the methods used to understand consciousness affect the ways that we think about it. In 1994 the founders of CEP were motivated by the conviction that the study of consciousness should be fully reincorporated into mainstream psychology. Official approval for CEP was announced on April 4th 1997, during the BPS Annual Conference. The ballot attracted over 3,000 votes (about 10% of BPS membership) - an overwhelming majority in favour. The study of consciousness is now firmly re-established at the heart of the discipline. 

There are now many consciousness research groups, for example the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, the Science and Consciousness Review and the Tucson Conferences. Not only psychologists, but individuals from many different disciplines study consciousness, including philosophers, neuroscientists, physicists, engineers working in artificial intelligence, anthropologists, and artists. There are also many ancient traditions for investigating consciousness that have developed in the East. 

Journals

Journals, such as Journal of Consciousness Studies and Consciousness and Cognition have appeared (including the e-journal, PSYCHE) and there are literally hundreds of books on the topic. Here’s our recommended reading list.

There are also many additional resources available on the web. Particularly useful collections of on-line papers can be found in the CogPrints archive and on the website of the philosopher David Chalmers.

Areas of interest

We invite theoretical and empirical papers, reviews, research reports, comment and news on Consciousness Studies and Experiential Psychology, for example:

  • Consciousness studies

Conceptual and methodological issues, reconceptualisation of consciousness, biological bases of consciousness, conscious and unconscious processes, evolution of consciousness, evaluation of phenomenological accounts

Phenomenological psychology

Subjective experience, self-exploration, creativity, intuition, flow, peak experience, exceptional experience, altered states

  • Positive psychology

Psychology of well-being, practical psychology of living, developing wisdom, joy, psychological health, personal development, change processes, transformational psychology, evaluation of spiritual practice

  • Cultural and ecological perspectives

Psychology of belief and value systems, philosophies of life and their psychological consequences, role of myth, morals, aesthetics, indigenous psychologies, changing values, cross-cultural perspectives, ecopsychology

The Committee

Chair: Jane Henry

Jane Henry was founding chair of the CEP section and organised its conferences on wellbeing, positive psychology and change. Her interests include adult development, exceptional experience and creativity. Her research includes work on long-term outcomes of personal development strategies. Her books include Parapsychology: research on exceptional experience, European positive psychology, and Creativity, perception and development. She was head of the Experiential Research Group and the Human Resources and Change Management Centre at the Open University, a founding member of the European Network for Positive Psychology, on the board of Thinking Skills and Creativity and a member of the BPS and SPR councils.

Honorary Secretary, Communications Officer and BPS SCC Section Representative: Natalie Gough

Natalie Gough is Director of Client Services for iOpener, a strategic people development consultancy that enables individuals and organisations to  make  the  most of  themselves at work through exploring mindsets and behaviours. Natalie holds a first-class honours degree in psychology from the University of the West of England, specialising in consciousness studies, psychopharmacology, the psychology of appearance and embodiment, and counselling theory and practice. Natalie’s research interests are broad, including perceptions and beliefs, exceptional experience, organisational behaviour and psychophysics, to name a few. As an avid communications specialist, Natalie is Communications Officer for the Section, maintaining the Section’s online presence, and also attending, presenting, promoting, coordinating and reviewing events.

Ordinary Member: Austin Caffrey

Austin is a doctoral candidate in existential psychology at the University of Middlesex. He is researching the experiences of significant personal transitions in mid-life. Austin has undertaken client work as an employee counsellor within an NHS Hospital Foundation Trust and for general patients within a PCT setting. He also works with The Mitchell Practice, a City of London firm of specialist psychologists and is the Lead Psychologist for Feel Good Co., one of the UK's leading wellbeing consulting companies.  In this context, Austin is primarily concerned with work-related pressures and the relationship between resilience, wellbeing and performance.

Ordinary Member: Max Velmans

Max Velmans is currently Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Visiting Professor in Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and the Academy of the Social Sciences, and has been involved in consciousness studies for around 40 years. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness, and, more recently, on East-West integrative approaches. His book Understanding Consciousness (2000) develops Reflexive Monism, a distinct analysis of consciousness that was short-listed for the British Psychological Society book award in 2001 and 2002, and is now in its second (2009) edition. He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011.

Representative of Independent Scholars: John Pegler

John Pegler is studying on a Masters conversion course in Psychology at the University of East London, having formerly completed a Masters degree in Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and worked for 7 years as a Mechanical Designer. His interests are in understanding the operation of worldviews, and how they influence wellbeing and conflict in everyday life, particularly by bringing together diverse perspectives from the human sciences and philosophy, as well as therapeutic, meditative and spiritual approaches.