Confounding Perception – use of collage for transpersonal psychotherapy

Any good definition of transpersonal psychotherapy includes something about how we can consolidate, ground, and embody moments of transpersonal knowing.  Over time, these moments can begin to come together in to a coherent pattern, a change of heart which opens new vistas of awareness and understanding for the person. Transpersonal approaches to psychotherapy seek to give value to these more expanded ways of knowing. One of the problems faced by therapists working with this material is how elusive it is, how hard to give words to.

Adopting creative approaches is of immense value to psychotherapists working in this way. Making a piece of art, whether it is a poem, drawing, sculpture, or collage, can be a way of communicating the ineffable. The glorious history of religious art is testament to this way of knowing. An art piece can hold things beyond the conscious awareness of the maker, which can then be thought about, felt through, known more fully, by the maker themselves and by others with whom they want to communicate.IMG_8979

A feature of collage is that is captures fragments. The fragments are then brought together in to a new image within wIMG_8980hich a new form, a cohesion, can be seen. Things are brought together in a new way. This is particularly helpful in psychotherapeutic work, of any kind, but in transpersonal psychotherapy the value is especially pronounced, as the person grapples with expanded ways of knowing.

Collages have to be viewed with an open and flowing awareness, otherwise they can just seem jumbled, irrational, confusing ragbags of only loosely connected imagery. This is similar to dream work. When we first begin to look at a dream, it can seem non-sensical. It is only through sitting with the imagery, feeling our way in to it, allowing intuition to operate to guide us through it, that gradually the dream yields to awareness.  We begin to make sense of it, and even see the guidance it is offering. Working with collage can have a similar effect.

To work with collage effectively it is important to allow intuitive process to guide the work. Have a theme which is being worked around – perhaps the description of a spiritually meaningful experience or arising knowing, or perhaps a problem or issue which seems to have a greater significance than the personal, egoic struggle. Pick a few magazines at random (2 or 3 is enough), and go through them quickly, tearing out the pages and images which speak to the problem. Spend more time in refining the cutting out process, and placing and sticking on the page, but don’t think too much. Then sit with the result. What is new? What is coming forward in the new synthesis here? I sometimes then take a further step of writing a poem or piece of prose about the collage.

Alchemical imagery is often presented in collage form. In creating collages in transpersonal work, the person is building up their own treasure trove of alchemical emblems, describing stages and aspects of the process of transformation.

Here is a poem written when contemplating the otter collage – a poem which remains part of a process, but takes the understanding one tiny stage further on, in this case in to a prayerful and surrendering place (from an initial starting point of discomfort with the ‘sea-change’ happening in life at that time).

Otter Song


My heavy bones will bring me to the sea bed

To prey. To pray.

My heavy bones will bring me down

To pray.

And from this place so close to earth, as I press my face to the mineral place in me, I can plant seeds. Enormous acorns.

Deep in my body, deep in my bones, the secret places under the sea.

If I pray with all of me

If I prey with all of me

Stalking surrender…

Sea and land and sky…

If I pray with all my heavy bones.

So I would commend the use of collage as in intervention in any form of psychotherapy, but in particular in transpersonal psychotherapy. It can offer new ways of bringing together hard-to-articulate material, it offers a conduit for intuition, and a container for non-ordinary ways of knowing. By using collage you are joining a long and illustrious line of alchemists (transformation experts par excellence!), and religious art makers (in all traditions) in honouring intuition and creativity.

The Ten Commandments for transpersonal researchers

What if scripture points you to how to develop your inner life? Your reflexivity? Adopting an esoteric reading of the Ten Commandments, we can find reflexive ways forward.  The thinking here is a development of the work of Edward Edinger in ‘The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament'(1). I have extended and applied his work to qualitative research practice. So what follows covers both a psychological view of the ten commandments, and also an extension for qualitative researchers (I am getting deep in to my doctorate…..!)

This post is taken from the appendix to my 2015 paper on Self Inquiry, which you can see on the ‘Papers’ section of my blog. For the uninitiated, Self Inquiry can be understood as a spiritual practice, as a way of thinking about psychotherapy, and as a research method (where it is often called auto ethnography or heuristic inquiry, or where it is found as an aspect of other research methods).



1.You shall have no other gods except me. At a psychological level this can be thought to refer to the Self, the fundamental feature of which is that it is integrated, and whole. It is the All. In research using Self Inquiry we can understand this as an injunction to obey that which arises from the centre, to be rigorous in our integrity and authenticity in approaching our research.

2.You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. Psychologically this can refer to the tendency to separate and worship one part of the psyche at the expense of the whole. Spiritually perhaps it refers to a tendency to want to split the divine in to something we can manage or understand. In research this refers to the need to question and move on from any proposition set out, questioning and challenging as we go.

3.You shall not utter the name of Yahweh your God to misuse it, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it. Psychologically this can refer to the false claim that one is whole or in some way ‘enlightened’, as Edinger  says ‘the presumptuous assumption that one is operating out of wholeness’. In Self Inquiry as a research method this could be understood to be  a warning against assuming a piece of content is arising from your Self, when in fact it is unverified by inner process and may in fact be tinged with shadow, with egoic material.

4.Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy as Yahweh your God has commanded you For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for Yahweh your God…For in six days yahweh made the heavens and the earth and the sea and al that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the sabbath day and made it sacred. The advice for Self Inquirers here is clear – take time away from your labours. The importance of incubation is stressed by many writers on the research methods which most use Self Inquiry such as the heuristic inquiry of Clark Moustakas and the Intuitive Inquiry of Rosemarie Anderson (see the 2015 paper for more detail). At the level of inner work, there are cycles of action and rest.

5.Honour your father and mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that Yahweh your God gives to you. Respect your sources. That which sources you and resources you. Take care of your body, your environment, and the shoulders of the giants on which you are standing. And do so with an attitude of humility. Reference properly. Be nice.

6.You shall not kill. Psychologically this injunction requires us to allow unconscious contents to emerge and not be repressed. In research it refers to the same situation – allow what is difficult, consider your outliers .

7.You shall not commit adultery. This means to ensure that what emerges is not adulterated, but psychologically this relates to material which proceeds from the conjuncito, that which follows union or marriage at an inner level. Edinger says ‘psychological adultery is a violation of ones highest perceived value, a regressive back-sliding’. In Self Inquiry as a research tool this refers to the process of discernment in your research, the ability to  know when to bring in other material, and when not to.

8.You shall not steal. At a psychological level this refers to the necessity to know what is yours and what is not, or not yet, yours. It might also refer to the necessity for sacrifice and exchange on the inner path. In research we know about the importance of not plagiarizing the work of others. How does this relate to Self Inquiry? how might the Self be stolen from by the ego?

9.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. In psychological inner work this commandment can be understood as relating to the shadow, and to the process of projection. We are required to be honest about the parts of ourselves with which we are less comfortable, and to own them as our own and not to project them out on to our neighbour. In research using Self Inquiry this teaches us the discipline of drawing each insight back in to the self and testing it against one’s inner compass, finding the inner resonance.

10.You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, you shall not set your heart on his house, his field, his servant – man or woman – his ox, his donkey or anything that is his. Not only must we not steal what is not ours we must not want it either. We must not even want what is not ours. Do not compare yourself to others, but be willing to find your own path. In Self Inquiry we follow our own path, wanting that which is ours, uniquely, our own subjectivity.



  1. Edinger, E. F. (1986). The Bible and the psyche: Individuation symbolism in the Old Testament. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.





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