Liberation Psychology:

A Visionary Mandate for Humanistic,

Existential, and Transpersonal Psychologies


Royal E. Alsup Ph.D.

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The author has asked for comments and dialogue. Royal Alsup can be reached by e-mail at <>

God, who can turn our worries into wings of joy and our sorrows into songs of thanks, let not our hearts be so troubled by the tragedies of this life's moment that we lose sight of the eternal life in Your Kingdom. Give comfort and solace to our brothers and sisters who suffer almost unbearable losses every second, minute, and hour in our nation and world. Strengthen our resolve to replace hatred with love, tension with trust, and selfishness with caring and community. Heal, O God, all our children so that those who hate and those who are hated, those who hurt and those who are hurt, may grow up in an America and in a world of peace, opportunity and justice.

Marian Wright Edelman, 1995, p. 142


The discourse concerning the nature of the "self," between humanistic, existential, and transpersonal psychologies, is dynamic and necessary for the continuing vital growth and development of these three changing fields of psychology. It is important to hold a creative tension between the inward self-actualization of humanistic psychology and the ascending levels of the self in transpersonal psychology. The existential dialectic of being-in-the-world and being-beyond-the-world (Heidegger, 1949) can bring a reconciliation between humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology.

"Liberation psychology" is my attempt to systematize and synthesize a perspective that includes the best of humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologies. The development of liberation psychology took shape through my dialogues with Native Americans of Northern California over a period of twenty-one years working as a psychotherapist and advocate for the rights of Native American children and their families. During this time the Indian Child Welfare Act and the law that guarantees Native American religious freedom were passed by Congress. A main concern was to make sure the psychological services looked at self-determination in light of these Native American laws and included necessary social activism because of the negative and often destructive influence of mainstream psychology in the lives of urban and tribal land-based Native Americans.

With the help of Dr. Arthur Warmoth and Sonoma State University, I began training several Native American students in humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychology. Over the years I worked for Native American self-determination with the largest indigenous tribes in California. Tribal traditions of native languages, dance ceremonies, and shamanism (Krippner, 1992) were and are still being practiced. These tribal traditions are attractive and they bring people from many different indigenous groups from the United States to visit the area. Through talking with, indwelling among, living with and servicing Native Americans, I learned that the practice of psychological genocide of Native Americans by mainstream psychologists, including humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologists as well, was prevalent in the United States. This experience made me aware that the discipline of psychology needed to be liberated from its Euro-American roots in order to serve Native American self-determination. During twenty-one years of communicative social activism (Habermas, 1987) I used both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as models for methodologies to stop the psychological genocide and to use creative social action to achieve psychological self-determination for Native American tribes.

During the adolescent and young adult development of the humanistic, existential, and transpersonal movements, proponents from these schools of psychology offered the excitement and the hope for freedom, self-actualization (Maslow, 1954), and Self-realization (Assagioli, 1973). Humanistic, existential, and transpersonal psychologies have now entered a more mature stage of their development. As advocates and supporters from these three schools of psychology, we need to free ourselves from the elitist attachments and power structures that we serve so that we can deliver on the magnificent promises of self-actualization and freedom that we inherited from our elders. Who does our power and knowledge serve? (Foucault, 1970) We need to "wake-up" and stop resisting the creative visions of our traditions and courageously confront mainstream psychology and the evils that cause basic need deficits in our society (May, et. al., 1986).

Our ancestors, Rogers, Maslow, May and Assagioli, passed the traditions on to us by addressing the pressure of conformity with their bold studies about the self-actualized person, the fully functioning person (Rogers, 1980) and the Self-realized individual. Traditions help us to be creative, not dogmatic (Gadamer, 1991). These intellectual warriors became activists working to get their schools of psychology accepted as legitimate and viable. They also became constructivists talking about what constitutes health and wellness in the individual personality and in the community. Have we, the descendants of advocates and activists for healthy personalities and healthy communities (Jourard, 1974), become too alienated and impotent to influence our modern institutions, communities and society?

I see liberation psychology as an engaged, proactive psychology that makes use of the power, knowledge, and unity of the transpersonal, vertical search for Self-realization and the horizontal pursuit of humanistic self-actualization to confront the evil of our society. Practical idealism, the basic stance and ongoing process of liberation psychology, uses the deep seated values of humanistic, existential, and transpersonal psychologies as a standard or template with which to evaluate the human condition in our communities. The liberation psychologist's practical idealism is always in process, demanding his or her action to be grounded in a strong foundation of scientific, humanistic, existential and transpersonal perspectives. Her or his actions go beyond, but include, scientific measurement, speculation and introspection to confront the political and economic injustices that are responsible for basic need deficits in our communities.

The direct action of confrontation makes possible the liberation of both the oppressor and oppressed from the societal conditions that stifle human potential in our insane society of the anonymous self and concern for public opinion (Fromm, 1955). Liberation psychology leans on the knowledge of humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologies to free the discipline of

psychology from the power and money structure of mainstream American society. What are the conditions in the American culture that frustrate human development and create deficient need motivation and the lack of B-values in our institutions and communities? (Maslow, 1954)

Liberation psychology evaluates how the members of a community use their social creativity on the path of life. The social creativity of Mahatma Gandhi revealed a concrete, genuine human path of love through his life of spiritual and existential combat for human rights for all mankind. His model of a creative, viable, vital community based on love would enable the world to strive for the greatness that we all can become. He worked to make possible the establishment of an egalitarian community based on prayer, liberation, and truth.

Gandhi's hope for a nonviolent, democratic community was constructed within the context of a world full of hatred. The forces of evil that were destroying personality flourished in the form of political and economic oppression (King, 1967). The evil side of the daimonic (May, 1969) fed the growing "plague" of the contagious, communicable diseases of poverty, sexism, racism and war. Gandhi maintained and demonstrated that the practice of nonviolent social action could transform the oppressed from self-hatred to self-love, and could move the oppressor from violence to empathy and compassion. Gandhi, an authentic liberation psychologist, embodied in his social creativity model the virtues of kindness, selflessness, civility, firmness, courage, lawfulness, self-mastery, love, and Truth. It was on the risky and consuming themes of love and justice that the lover of God/Truth and mankind, Mahatma Gandhi, showed us that the fully functioning person can become one with the Beloved in a community of solidarity.

The following quote by Gandhi (1980) states his devotion to a life of commitment and Truth:

To me God is Truth and Love; God is ethics and morality; God is fearlessness. God is the source of Light and Life and yet He is above and beyond all these. God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist. . . . He transcends speech and reason. . . . He is a personal God to those who need His personal presence. He is embodied to those who need His touch. He is the purest essence. He simply is to those who have faith. He is all things to all men. He is in us and yet above and beyond us. (p. 53)

A deep inner awareness, the distinctions of humanistic and existential psychology, and the mindfulness of a larger reality of transpersonal psychology, are represented in Gandhi's (1980) following statement:

To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means. (p. 53)

Gandhi demonstrated that the self-world is a context in creative tension and dialogue can bring about a level of self-awareness that corrects and heals the distorted inner world of the actors (Friedman, 1992). Combating distorted thinking in the world of action brings the participants closer to self-actualization and Self-realization and the healthy perceptions that replace "I and It," with "I and Thou," to ensure an ethical community (Buber, 1970).

Mahatma Gandhi's everyday community work for basic need satisfaction for all the people who lived in his beloved community (King, 1967) was worship and ritual in which his actions reminded him of the Love Force at the center of creation. The foundations of his ecological creativity were the path of love and selfless action. Gandhi had the amazing ability to be one-pointed and self-disciplined in his devotional service to the transcendent Self or Universal Will (Assagioli, 1973) and to accomplish his goal of basic need satisfaction for self-actualization of all humanity. His existential commitment to his path of life is testified to and demonstrated by his willingness to lose his life for the values and human needs that he believed were necessary and essential qualities of a good life.

Liberation psychology, a systems and individual psychology that is interrelated and interactive, is concerned with basic human needs and the transpersonal dimensions of human life. Fulfilling basic needs is an economic, social and political requirement to repair broken community. Basic need satisfaction is more than a state in which individuals find and express their potential. It is a context and an environment that gives direction to one's growth, and that increases one's ability to be creative, altruistic and self-determined. In this container of basic need fulfillment, potential is discovered through dialogue within a loving, caring community, exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi's beloved community. Because Gandhi's basic needs were fulfilled, he felt a calling--an undeniable expectation--that demanded of him to work selflessly to bring about a matrix and container in which all human beings, regardless of skin color, could live and love together.

Liberation psychology has six foundational themes that encapsulate the dialogical relationship between the person, the community and the creative cosmos. The themes were influenced by the Native American tradition as outlined in The Sacred Ways of Knowledge by Beck and Walters (1996). The six themes were embellished to express the main mythological and metaphorical foundations that embrace the practical idealism of liberation psychology as follows:

l. Action and interaction are based on a belief in or knowledge of the Creator or of unseen powers and the underlying structure of all creation.

2. All things and persons are interrelated and connected.

3. Worship is a personal commitment to the sources of life and to the tradition of the prophets.

4. Morals and ethics set the limits and boundaries of personal and social behavior.

5. Humor is a necessary part of the sacred and of gaining a holistic perspective on self and world.

6. The human sciences have a responsibility to pass on knowledge of how to heal the individual and society.

Liberation psychology outlines ten categories of qualities for a good life that are both individual and contextual. Importantly, these qualities are not hierarchical. They are as follows:

l. Physical requirements

2. Trust and hope

3. Safety, security and competence

4. Uniqueness, gender and culture

5. Respect, love and nonviolence

6. Courage, creativity and exploration

7. Belonging, affiliation and attachment

8. Power and justice

9. Liberation, freedom and self-determination

10. Spirituality, prayer and service

The development of the ten categories of qualities for a good life was inspired by the writings of Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Carl Rogers and Roberto Assagioli. More influence came from the humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychological traditions and the imperative for freedom and self-determination, the struggle for which, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. lost their lives. Liberation psychology punctuates both an individualistic and a systemic approach to self-actualization and Self-realization via communicative action that includes the individual, as well as, the social, political and economic aspects of life and community. This position paper focuses on liberation psychology and the interplay between the fulfillment of the ten categories for a good life and the six themes of spiritual and existential life. These are presented as a hermeneutic to understand the needed deconstruction of mainstream psychology's adherence to the dictates of the rich and powerful in our society. Humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologies have participated in the subordination of true self-actualization to the dominance of the corporate and political structures that invade the safety of modern life. Are we really socially constructed? (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) It is time to use what we have inherited, to actualize and realize the freedom and self-determination inherent in humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychology. Is truth in trouble because of the saturated self? (Gergen, 1991)

The visionary mandate proffered herein is a reminder that humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologies have the obligation to bring the opportunity to all people in our societies to become a fully functioning person, self-actualizer and Self-realized individual. The Liberation psychologist is mindful of putting his or her prestige, status, and life on the line for the welfare of all, especially for the poorest of the poor. Existentialism was born out of and was brought to fruition in this dialectic of rich and poor, have and have nots. What have humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologies become if they have gained the whole world but have lost their soul.




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