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Book review: Transpersonal Medicine:
A New Approach to Healing Mind-Body-Spirit.
M. Allan Cooperstein, Ph.D.

Cooperstein, M. A. (1997) Book review: Transpersonal Medicine: A New Approach to Healing Mind-Body-Spirit. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 91(3), 247-251. TRANSPERSONAL MEDICINE: A NEW APPROACH TO HEALING BODY-MIND-SPIRIT. By G. Frank Lawlis Boston: Shambhala, 1996. Pp. xxi + 245. $23.00, Cloth. L.C. 95-48803 ISBN 0-87773-988-9.

In my roles as a clinical and forensic psychologist, peer reviewer, and disabilities evaluator, I am frequently exposed to the sometimes devastating effects of emotional traumas, physical injuries, and their treatment. Too often patients are managed with routine detachment, typically prescribed similar sedating or soporific analgesics or muscle-relaxants and given only temporary relief of symptoms through physical therapy.

G. Frank Lawlis’s Transpersonal Medicine offers a refreshing alternative to "cut-and-dried" care in this turbulent era of "bottom-line," "managed care" treatment. Lawlis correctly asserts that "the power of love, compassion, and intention are as important to healing as any of our pills and medicines, and possibly more powerful (p. xvii)." He cautions that "if the health care system continues to stumble blindly without awareness of the power of human consciousness, we will see the collapse of the faith of the people in the present institutions and watch them turn to those who offer something more than a seven-minute consultation and prescription" (xviii). These values remind us that, in these unsteady and threatening times, the conditions under which medical and mental health practitioners must operate often militate against such worthy principles in practice.

Having researched transpersonal healing (see Cooperstein, 1990,1992), I was very interested in learning how another clinician and researcher applied transpersonal principles in a clinical setting. For example, Lawlis observes that, in rare cases, patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses are capable of making more than a mere change in role, or adjustment to an illness or injury, transcending limitations because they have "gotten in touch with a part of themselves that is much bigger than mere roles and much more important to them than their physical being" (p. 4). He explains that transpersonal psychology "depicts evolutionary growth as coming from beyond the self, as a power larger or bigger than the individual" (p. xvi, italics added):
Transpersonal approaches assume within each individual planes of wisdom beyond the primary intellectual strength of the ego. They use therapeutic strategies that attempt to bring out from inner sources the knowledge of the unconscious…It sees fellowship with others—community--as one of the strongest influences on our own transformational potential (p. xvii).

Transpersonal medicineTranspersonal medicine, Achterberg’s (1992) term, is used by Lawlis to refer to healing from beyond the self, to some extent resembling my earlier (1990) definition of transpersonal healing methods:

These methods are presumed to involve the induction of nonordinary (or an altered state of) consciousness, resulting in a temporary restructuring, or transcendence, of the healer’s typical world view and personal identity. The healer’s abilities and experiences are often described in terms of transpersonal phenomena; i.e., seeming to originate from beyond, surpassing, or being at variance with the familiar roles, abilities, and/or personal attributes associated with the healer’s ordinary sense of self. (pp. 14-15)

Transpersonal Medicine Transpersonal Medicine Transpersonal Medicine is divided into three sections. The first, "Beyond the Self in Horizontal Space," presents discussions of transpersonal medicine, group ritual, ritual-building, and descriptions of transpersonal imagery and the influence a person or group has upon the well-being of another. Part II, "Beyond the Self in Vertical Space," discusses interpersonal processes whereby one accesses "inner strengths and wisdoms" and explores the alteration of consciousness and use of personal ritual and imagery. Part III focuses on special transpersonal and universal issues: death, humor, and pain. In an attempt to illustrate how transpersonal concepts and approaches are applied, each chapter is followed by a brief interview with a researcher or practitioner in the fields of medicine and psychology. Larry Dossey, Dean Ornish, Stanley Krippner, and Jeanne Achterberg are among those included.

Ritual is presented as the principal, although not exclusive, means of encouraging a transpersonal experience. According to Lawlis, ritual "reenacts in the outer world what is experienced in the invisible, imagistic world of vision and feeling…[enabling] people to transcend their self-boundaries" (p. 22). Ritual facilitates hope, awareness of "sacred space," increases interconnectedness, extends influence beyond the normal impact of psychological influences, and creates conditions necessary for transformation. Lawlis’s description of creating ritual is informative and useful for clinicians interested in exploring this treatment modality.

Lawlis cites four features that he has identified during his use of ritualistic processes: (1) an awareness of universality, (2) severance from the normal framework of one’s life, (3) a transition in which one’s state of being is altered and life is experienced in a manner at variance with the ordinary, and (4) a return to the community from which the individual came. These are reminiscent of Neher’s (1980) references to transcendent consciousness in which mystical and ecstatic states are produced and mentally elicited physiological processes facilitate healing and maintenance of a state of health. They also echo Heinze’s (1991) discussion of shamanic practices as involving the intentional induction of alternate states of consciousness in fulfillment of the needs of the community while incorporating the use of rituals and symbols to mediate between implicit and explicit realities, or "the sacred and the profane" (p. 13).

Another parallel is found in the psychological processes used by spiritual or "psychic" healers (Cooperstein, 1990, 1992). Here, individual or group rituals mobilize a preparatory set that is amplified by conscious self-regulation of attention, inducing altered awareness and, at times, an encounter with one’s co-consciousness (mentioned by Lawlis). Ultimately, there is setting-aside of the personal self and immersion within a mythic consciousness constructed from personal and cultural symbols leading to an accession of ordinarily latent capabilities and consequent empowerment:

When incorporated into ritualistically-induced ontologic alterations, however, myths function as transpersonal pathways: projections of belief in which one becomes wholly "immersed" through a dissolution of the ordinary self and absorbed involvement/identification (Cooperstein, 1990, pp. 212-213).

[Accession is] the capacity that serves to make available more ‘remote,’ or ego-dystonic, forms of awareness and information processing....[There is] a personal coming-to-power through the self-conscious mind's attunement with ordinarily remote intrapsychic resources necessary for the innovative reorganization of one's self, environment, or some aspect of the environment....Accession first requires a (regressive) withdrawal from consensus reality, with its social and cultural organizing principles of space, time, causality, and personal definition. (Cooperstein, 1985, p.31)
In his concept of "Resonance"-- "the transpersonal moment"--there is, Lawlis asserts, the "recovery or rediscovery of the state of true union with another person, with family, the community, the world, and the universe" (p. 64). Unfortunately, this subject, a significant aspect of the transpersonal experience, is dealt with only briefly and could have been expanded by introducing similar experiences reported by religious and spiritual figures and other healers. Again, there is a similarity to the empathic "merging," union, or "at-onement" of transpersonal healers as described, for example, by LeShan (1975).

Although there is considerable valuable information in Transpersonal Medicine, there are also notable flaws and deficiencies. One striking weakness is Lawlis’s lack of descriptive clarity of terms and concepts. Early in the book he asserts that "ritual provides a space in which the individual and the community can focus their intention, incorporating multiple dimensions of collective consciousness and invoking invisible forces for the sake of a person’s well-being" (p. 16, italics added). This appears to be a vague and obscure way of describing a key concept of transpersonal healing while linking it to other (also unexplained) key concepts, such as intentionality and consciousness. Further, if transpersonal healing results from a movement beyond the "self," what is the nature of the "self" that one moves beyond? How does the "self" unfold or evolve in an evolutionary sense? Love, another key factor in the transpersonal experience, is not explained until the reader has completed almost one-third of the book. "Spiritual relationships," the spiritual self, and spiritual factors are mentioned without informing the reader how Lawlis defines the meaning of the word spiritual.

Approximately 40% of the book is devoted to group ritual, imagery, and a case study. Lawlis emphasizes cross-personal, "horizontal" space over interpersonal, "vertical space," the imbalance seeming to depict personal leanings or tendencies. This neglects other extremely important aspects in the induction and experience of intrapersonal experience, such as "resonance," the co-consciousness, altered states of consciousness, and the role of transcendence in pain treatment; these constituted only a little over 10 % of the book. Another important area found wanting was material dealing with creative processes in relation to consciousness, mental processes, and healing. Although Barbara Dossey underscores the importance of creativity in her interview, this is not reflected in the body of the text.

Lawlis’s discussion of co-consciousness does not take into account the non-personal self that sometimes emerges alongside the personal self when transpersonal consciousness is induced. Unlike distinct multiple personalities, percipients are ordinarily aware of its presence, describing it as an undefined, impersonal "self," or "presence." Both spiritual healers and meditators (see Goleman, 1988) report an "access level" (or transegoic threshold) at which a co-consciousness appears, marked by the presence of two apposing types of cognitive processing. Visionary experiences may occur at this level in both groups, along with feelings of joy or rapture. An understanding of this phenomenon could shed further light on the dual nature of human consciousness and its relationship to healing.

I am of the opinion that Lawlis’ hope, that his book will serve as a "guide for a new field of therapists," may have been realized only in part. It is an interesting, inspiring attempt and the thrust of his message is a valuable and necessary reminder of the humanistic values presently threatened by current trends and our pitifully limited understanding of human potentials. The book provides provocative glimpses into Lawlis’s practice of psychology and may serve as a guide for motivated readers who will explore other writings and research mentioned in its pages. As it stands, however, Transpersonal Medicine is more of an appetizer, whetting one’s longing for the main course: a definitive exploration and application of healing and human consciousness with a more even distribution of attention directed towards the healing aspects of mind that embraces the intra- and interpersonal with equal breadth, depth, and emphasis.


Achterberg, J. (1992) Transpersonal medicine: A proposed system of healing.
    ReVision, 14, 158-164.
Cooperstein, M. A. (1985). Creativity and consciousness. Saybrook Review, 5 (2), 28-36.
Cooperstein, M. A. (1990). The myths of healing: A descriptive analysis and taxonomy
    of transpersonal healing experiences. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Saybrook
    Institute, San Francisco, CA.
Cooperstein, M.A. (1992). The myths of healing: A summary of research into
    transpersonal healing experience. Journal of the American Society for Psychical
    Research, 86, 99-133.
Goleman, D. (1988). The meditative mind. Los Angeles: Tarcher.
Heinze, R.-I. (1991). Shamans of the 20th century. New York: Irvington.
LeShan, L. (1975). The medium, the mystic, and the physicist. New York: Ballantine.