Stanislav Grof is a Czech-born psychiatrist, doctor of philosophy, psychoanalyst, co-founder of Transpersonal Psychology and founder of the International Transpersonal Association. He was a professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins Hospital. While working in Czechoslovakia on psychiatric research in 1954, a sample of LSD-25 arrived from the Sandoz laboratory in Switzerland, with a note requesting a study of the possible uses of this new substance.
Following that contact with LSD, Grof began to work and spent the next twenty years conducting clinical research with different teams in Europe and the USA, mainly in relation to the origin and treatment of various psychiatric conditions, using LSD and other psychedelic substances, at a time when they were completely legal tools in psychiatry. At that time he worked with more than 3,000 patients in psychedelic therapy individually, being able to work with practically all known psychopathologies (depressions, psychoses, sexual disorders, neuroses, phobias, psychosomatic problems, etc.), and the results obtained with this new therapeutic form were remarkable and without parallel in psychology or psychiatry. Many people were healed of very severe chronic problems that could not be tackled with verbal therapy.
Revolution in psychiatry
The scientific research of Stanislav Grof (creator of Holotropic Breathwork) revolutionised psychoanalysis and psychiatry. Grof, with his clinical research, empirically verifies important insights of psychoanalysis, placing them in an expanded map of the psyche, which allows to properly integrate the understandings of several of its main exponents, previously incompatible, such as Freud, Jung, Rank, Reich, Adler, and frames it in a spiritual understanding of existence, showing a more complete picture of the human psyche and its relationship with reality, from rigorous clinical research. He adds to the usually biographical mapping of the psyche a “perinatal” level (a term for the recording of what happened around birth), as people literally relive their gestation and birth, and a “transpersonal” level, which links us to the whole of existence of which we are a part, and which confirms and expands the collective unconscious described by C. G. Jung.
We cannot ignore the whole history of psychology and what we already understand. Every real theoretical advance includes and contextualises the knowledge that precedes it. In this way we generate more inclusive frameworks with greater explanatory and practical capacity. The history of science consists of this and Grofian Transpersonal Psychology does the same. His contribution in relation to depth psychodynamics, psychopathology and spirituality puts Grof on a par with S. Freud and C.G. Jung.
Grof’s research and model is decades ahead of the current understanding of psychiatry and psychology, which is why many refer to it as the psychology of the future.
Holotropic breathing session.
It is of great theoretical importance, as it allows a more complete, integral and realistic picture of the human psyche in all its grandeur, complexity and depth, but even more importantly, it offers us the possibility of working with patients in noticeably shorter periods, and in greater depth and effectiveness most of the emotional, relational, psychosomatic and even spiritual problems that are not effectively addressed in verbal therapy.
The technique used, by modifying and expanding the normal state of consciousness, as many cultures have been doing for millennia, can catalyse, accelerate and deepen therapeutic processes in a remarkable way. It often allows profound changes to be achieved in hours, or in a few sessions, rather than years.
Many powerful therapeutic mechanisms, as yet unknown to traditional psychiatry and psychology, unfold from the intrinsic self-healing capacity of the organism. This allows us to work through the symptoms, integrating, overcoming and releasing them, thus achieving a real solution on a causal level, which eliminates the cause of the problem or symptom. This is much better than continually striving to mask the symptoms with drugs, which produces a merely palliative effect and not really therapeutic. This is why Holotropic Therapy allows for a therapeutic alternative that transcends the slowness and superficiality of verbal therapy, and allows for a process of self-exploration and inner work that avoids the need for medication. Therefore, anyone with emotional or psychosomatic difficulties should first try this approach, and only if it does not work should they be medicated. It is quite possible to grow through our difficulties and symptoms, and in the process get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. This process of self-discovery and healing as it deepens leads gradually and naturally to a spiritual awakening.
Another very relevant aspect of Grof’s work has to do with “spiritual emergencies”. This work enables us to understand the emergence of the natural and inherent spirituality of the human being and the powerful crises of psycho-spiritual transformation that can occur, to distinguish them from psychopathologies and to support them in an intelligent way. When these people are not understood and are unnecessarily medicated, a process with positive potential can be blocked which, if supported correctly, can culminate in a true healing of symptoms and a profound positive transformation of the personality. Along with a logical theoretical integration based on clinical observation, it delivers a practical methodology that delivers what it promises, and will probably change our ideas about how psychotherapy is effectively conducted in the future. This is described in detail in Grof’s books on the subject.
I consider Grof to be many years ahead of where we are today in psychology and psychiatry. Everything he proposes is so revealing and revolutionary that it will take us a long time to integrate the conclusions and implications of this modern research on consciousness. The picture of reality and the structure of the mind it provides is even more comprehensible when contrasted with the understandings of modern physics, with ancestral maps of the mind and with Eastern systems. Importantly, he is not only an important theorist, but also an exceptional clinician who delivers a concrete therapeutic methodology, based on serious, well-documented scientific research, regarding the structure of the human psyche and its dynamics, the architecture of psychopathology, new perspectives on psychotherapy, self-exploration, and its relation to our survival as a species. He has also published over a hundred articles on related topics in peer-reviewed journals.
In short, Stan Gof, as Ken Wilber acknowledges, is probably one of the greatest psychologists of all time, and history will eventually recognise him.
Having experienced many times in my sessions biographical experiences, my gestation, birth and many transpersonal experiences, and having accompanied many thousands of people in holotropic states of consciousness for 25 years, having listened attentively to their stories, I have no doubt that Grof’s map and method is the most interesting and relevant thing that has happened to psychology in the last century. It provides a concrete key to unlock your inner universe, and what you find in this adventure of self-discovery will transform you forever.
Javier Charme is a psychologist and Holotropic Therapy trainer. Charme has designed and will teach, together with Stan Grof, the Training in Grofian Psychedelic Therapy, which Beckley Med Foundation will offer from March 2020.
Find out more about the Training in Grofian Psychedelic Therapy, that will be starting in March 2022.
Think Tank founded in Great Britain in 1998 by Amanda Feilding, a pioneer in psychedelic research in the field of mental health and on Drug Policy reform.
The world’s leading psychedelic research organisation. Rick Doblin’s MAPS is a global leader in training programmes for psychedelic therapists.
The figure of Stan Grof in the history of psychedelics has reached legendary status. His legacy takes the form of a comprehensive psychedelic psychotherapy training programme.