Transpersonal Psychology Section 2011

2011 proved to be a difficult year for the Transpersonal Psychology Section on account of the passing of our Founding Chair, Professor David Fontana, towards the end of the previous year. David not only had been a seminal figure in the founding of the Section but also continued to play a key role, being a committee member until the time of his death and delivering a keynote lecture at the Section conference just weeks before he died. It might be said that the Section went through a necessary period of mourning during much of 2011, but with a new Chair from September and renewed sense of vitality, the Section ended the year with a flurry of activity and is set to move forward strongly into 2012 and beyond.

The Section’s annual conference included vibrant keynote presentations covering a broad spectrum of areas in which transpersonal perspectives have been influential. Arlene Audergon, a psychotherapist specialising in process-oriented therapy, spoke on the connections between social activism, individual psychotherapy and spiritual development. Her powerful message was essentially that transpersonal psychology can play a key role in enabling a greater understanding and awareness of history in the making, so that personal and collective conflicts may be transformed and creatively transcended. Penny Sartori gave a fascinating presentation on her extensive research into near-death experiences, arguing that it was unlikely that existing scientific explanations could account for all her observations.

As a psychiatrist, Larry Culliford reviewed the reasons for embracing a spiritual dimension in working with clients, and explored links between psychology and spirituality. Mike Daniels gave an insightful overview of the history of transpersonal psychology, leading to a stimulating and timely consideration of the current challenges the discipline faces. A measure of the value of Mike’s presentation may be seen from the fact that it led into an extended discussion of ‘ways forward.’ Given the hiatus in Section activity in the early part of 2011, this discussion proved highly important and should bear fruit over the coming months. All keynote presentations are available from the section’s website.

In November, the Section joined forces with the Spiritual Crisis Network for a one-day conference on Psychosis and Spirituality: Inner Journeys in a Time of Transition. This proved a highly successful event, attended to capacity. The conference was linked to the recent publication of Isabel Clarke’s book Psychosis and Spirituality: Consolidating the New Paradigm. In her keynote presentation Isabel explored the ways that research into cognitive subsystems can enrich our understanding of the psychological basis of spiritual experiences. Isabel emphasised that such experiences can assume considerable importance in the clinical sphere in which she works, and that advancing our grasp of their connections with psychology stands to benefit the clinical practitioner. Isabel’s presentation was complemented by those by Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Mike Jackson, and Les Lancaster, Chair of the BPS Transpersonal Psychology Section, both of whom contributed chapters to Isabel’s book. All the presentations are available from the Section's website.

The Legacy of David Fontana was the topic for a study day resulting from another collaboration, this time with the Society for Psychical Research, an organisation with which David was connected over many years. The event afforded an opportunity for many of those who knew and worked with David to reflect on his illustrious career. Section Chair, Les Lancaster spoke on David Fontana as Transpersonal Psychologist, and our Treasurer, Chris Roe considered David’s standing as Psychical Researcher. The size of the attendance was testimony to the esteem in which David was held by so many, and the day provided a fitting opportunity to celebrate the life and work of a great man.

Those wishing to find out more can visit the Section’s Facebook site (thanks to Hara Willow for setting it up) and/or our website. Thanks are due to Ingrid Slack (Chair), Kendal Wrightson (Treasurer and Webmaster), and Martin Treacy, all of whom retired from the committee during 2011.

Professor Les Lancaster, Chair

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