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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Psychology and the New Age


Vanina Papalini*
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios sobre Cultura y Sociedad, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientcas y Tcnicas,
Crdoba, Argentine

Keywords
Psychology; Psychoanalysis; Jung; Gestalt; Transpersonal psychology; Person-centered approach; Peak
experiences

Definition
Psychology is one of the most important disciplines upon which the New Age draws. As the focus of this
religiosity is fundamentally subjective, psychology provides a conception of the individual that is an
indispensable component of New Age cosmovision. The individual and his or her interior dimension is a
crucial point in the New Ages obligatory macromicro articulation; it is both the location of everyday
experience and the path to accessing the numinous. Given that many of the rituals and actions of New Age
religions tend toward the expansion of consciousness, psychic processes are a subject of inquiry and
reection.

Introduction
The New Age tends to assimilate varied sources and authors in a fragmented manner, which facilitates the
integration of contradictory positions, recontextualized from ones own perspective. This modality of
composition of an extensive vision, combined in a patchwork, is applied to New Ages foundations,
including the numerous psychological theories that it absorbs, incorporated to different degree and in
different ways. In this sense, the theories or perspectives that have lent notions and concepts that are
partially revisited can be classied as indirect inuences, while the theories that are more closely related
and combine fully with the New Age can be classied as direct inuences.

Indirect Influences
Carl Jungs Analytic Psychology
According to Paul Heelas (1996), Carl Jung is one of the three key theorists in the formation of the New
Age. Initially a disciple of Freud, he cut ties with his teacher in 1913. Jung explores and reformulates in a
heterodox way a set of notions distanced from the canon of psychoanalytic theory, establishing connections between the psyche and religious beliefs. His conception of spiritual meaning is broader than that of
institutionalized Western religion: Jung explores other sources of spirituality, such as Gnosticism,
alchemy, and Eastern religions. His ideas are rened and broadened through numerous trips outside of
Europe, where he came into contact with and studied the religions of the Pueblo Native Americans,
*Email: vaninapapalini@gmail.com
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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

various tropical African ethnicities, Arabs, Orthodox Christians, classic Latin and Greek culture, and the
diverse religions of India. The notion of archetype owes a debt to these travels: archetypes are
transcultural; they are the identical psychic structures common to all the archaic heritage of humanity,
molds with which human consciousness perceives the world and its processes, condensing a set of
unconscious processes in an image. This leads to postulating the collective unconscious, which is
accessible only in a derivative manner, through the symbolism of dreams, delusions, religion, myths,
and cults. The trip to exotic worlds and the tracing of parallels among world religions and rituals, as well
as between the worship of Buddha and Christ, are classic themes that the New Age takes from Jung.
Jung makes an early outline of Western civilization that is compatible with the emergence of the New
Age: he announces a resurgence of paganism, the integration of opposing elements in a greater whole, the
emphasis on individual experience, the possibility of using paths different from institutional religions to
reach unity with divinity, the ascent of the principle of the feminine, the reenchantment of the world, the
weakening of the superego, and a greater permissiveness toward the manifestation of impulses. For David
Tacey (2001), Jung foresees the rise of the New Age as a compensatory archetypical current, without
necessarily identifying its postulates. According to Tacey, Jung believes that individuation must necessarily resist identication with a collective psyche and that spirituality requires discipline that allows one
to distance oneself from and not succumb to the ego and its caprices and that totality does not mean
amorphous or chaotic indistinction, but rather recognizes differences. His admiration for mandalas, which
preserve the difference of the geometric, organic, and symbolic forms that make them up, harmonizing
them in their interior, expresses this ideal of totality to which he subscribes.

Freudo-Marxist Psychology
A set of notions of psychoanalytic origin, used habitually in the New Age, come from thinkers who take
up and recreate the legacy of Sigmund Freud from a Marxist perspective, as is the case of Herbert
Marcuse, Norman Brown, and Erich Fromm (Fromm, Suzuki 1964). These authors, caught up in the
counterculture of the 1960s, indirectly form a part of the neo-Freudian New Age platform. Subjects such
as love, repression, drives, emancipation, the unconscious, self-esteem, criticism of consumerism,
alienation, happiness, and desire come from these sources. Of the three, Marcuse and Brown are the
ones that manifest opinions of open rejection of capitalism. However, this political current of countercultural thought is not taken up in the reading of the New Age.
The projection of Marcuse and Brown in Latin America is indirect and mediated by intellectual circles
with little connection to the New Age, while Fromm has a larger following that is decisively associated
with the beginnings of the New Age in Latin America. His trilogy Escape from Freedom (Fear of
Freedom outside of North America), The Art of Loving, and The Heart of Man are works frequently
read by New Agers, as well as Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, in which he presents the ideas of
Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki and his own synthesis. This book, as Fromm states in the prologue, was born of a
seminar on Zen Buddhism and psychoanalysis held under the auspices of the Department of Psychoanalysis of the College of Medicine of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, for its
Spanish initials) in August 1957, in the city of Cuernavaca. Fromm develops an intense activity in
Mexico, forming part of the UNAM faculty from 1957 to 1961.

Psychoanalysis and Anti-psychiatry


Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis are, in principle, psychologies far removed from the New Age.
The privilege given to words as well as to rationalization, the scarce consideration of the body in therapy,
the critical nature of psychoanalysis, the accent on self-reection as a path to accessing ones own
unconscious, and the skepticism of religious beliefs oppose psychoanalysis to the New Age on various
issues. However, the reception of the New Age in Latin America varies in function of the social diffusion
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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

of psychoanalysis, as, on one hand, psychoanalysis puts into circulation a vocabulary and makes familiar
a code for understanding subjective processes (Plotkin 2001) which favor the later introduction of the
New Age. On the other hand, they share the same cultural telos and the same target: modernization,
individualization, and psychologization (Russo 2004), received by the educated urban middle class. There
are two cases in Latin America where the diffusion of psychoanalysis precedes and, in a certain sense,
facilitates the propagation of the New Age: Argentina and Brazil. In these countries, the diffusion of
Freudian psychoanalytic theory begins in the early twentieth century and solidies in the second half
(Visacovsky 2009). This reception is accompanied by a movement or circulation of ideas that propagates
structuralism, existentialism, Marxism, and aesthetic vanguards, making up a leftist and progressive
intellectual space open to new tendencies. Around 1960, these same countries warmly embrace the antipsychiatry movement, which questions the connement of the mentally ill, the use of aggressive
techniques such as electroshock, and the abuse of psychopharmaceuticals.
The makeup of a psychoanalytic culture, which in Brazil is linked to the health sciences, while in
Argentina it is linked to the social sciences, allows for an understanding of everyday situations from the
point of view of the emotions or the internal world, which opens the way for the reception of the New Age
in a manner that is more therapeutic than religious.

Direct Influences
Gestalt
Gestalt psychology begins in Germany in the early twentieth century and includes among its principle
exponents Max Wertheimer, Kurt Lewin, Wolfgang Khler, and Kurt Koffka. The version most disseminated in Latin America comes from its interweaving with the New Age. One of the most important
convergences of Gestalt psychology with the New Age is the work of Friedrich Perls, who also receives
inuences from Martin Bubber, existentialism, and phenomenology. In 1951, he writes Gestalt Therapy
together with Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline. But the greatest changes occur beginning with his
taking up residence in California. Inspired by the New Age, the beginning of the recreation of Gestalt
psychology occurs with the association of Perls with the Esalen Institute, in 1964 (Velzquez 2001). This
new version of Gestalt theory is introduced early in Chile, through Carlos Naranjo, who participates in the
Esalen Institute. His work in Chile is continued by Adriana Schnake (who in 1980 founds the Anchimalen
Institute on the Island of Chiloe, Chile) and Francisco Hunneus (founder of the Cuatro Vientos publishing
company, which translates and publishes Gestalt theory). From Chile, Gestalt psychology is introduced to
Peru, Brazil, and Argentina; in Argentina it is received in the heart of the psychoanalytic community. Even
during the military dictatorships, educational groups interested in deepening their knowledge of Gestalt
theory come together. Around 1990, Gestalt psychology enters into the ofcial educational programs for
psychiatry and psychology in various Latin American countries.
Gestalt refers to a conguration or totality that, as a unied whole, has properties that cannot be derived
from the sum of the parts. This notion of totality is embraced by the New Age, which adds to this theory
the perception of a spiritual dimension: awareness is the point where both meet (Koening 2007). From this
perspective, the Gestalt totality is coincident with the New Age notion of holism. Gestalt psychology, as a
theory of perception, plays with the differences and confusions between gure and ground. New Age
Gestalt proposes transcending polarities, dissolving limits (Williams 2006). Unication and integration
are represented by the yin-yang symbol, which seeks to recognize oppositions, the dark side or the
shadow (according to Jung), contact them and experience them, establishing their complementarity
based on a process of dialectic interaction. The objective is to reach greater levels of development and
stimulate personal growth through awareness cultivation.
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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

The accent placed on experience leads to dismissing acquired beliefs (exoteric spirituality) xed on
external forms, credos, rituals, dogmas, and images of divinity. In contrast, privilege is given to a direct
encounter with the divine or numinous (esoteric spirituality), and to do so injunctions designed to bring
about particular experiences are used. This is what peak experiences are about: they are ways of reaching a
direct understanding of the experience of the sacred. These experiences are sometimes induced through
ritual use of psychoactive substances, meditation, or mystic searching. In this way, they seek to expand the
sense of personal identity to include that which is beyond it and which the person lacks in order to favor
connection.
This position is divided in some other precepts (Ingersoll, ONeill 2005):
Direct pointing: This is participating in the experience, not intellectualizing it, avoiding the tendency
for abstraction and judgment. Capturing the experience implies living it as a somatic, cognitive, and
emotional totality.
Trust in nature: This drives one to trust in the capacity of organisms to self-regulate, to pay reverence to
an organisms natural processes. Focusing on the ego results in a sensation of being separated from the
environment that we interact with.
Here-and-now orientation: This refers to existing in the current moment, avoiding the tendency to
speculate about the future or remember the past. It is being in ones own body. The disassociation of
the present leads to illnesses.

Humanist Psychology
Humanist psychology or the person-centered approach, whose principle referent is Carl Rogers, is born in
the eld of clinical psychology. The concept of person upon which it is based is considered proactive,
capable of taking ones own life in ones own hands; it is about autonomous individuals full of potential
and capabilities, with a natural tendency to self-actualization. Humanist psychology is based on an
empathic attitude and the development of listening; in contrast to other psychotherapies, it does not
emphasize professional interpretation, but rather the patients lived experience (Rogers 1972). Humanist
psychology also undergoes transformations beginning with Rogers participation in the Esalen Institute;
later he moves to La Jolla, California, and in 1969 opens the Center for Studies of the Person. A peculiarity
of this psychology is the adhesion that it achieves in Catholic circles, especially among Latin American
Jesuits, and its incorporation in the eld of education (Villegas Besora 1986).
Humanist psychology lays down strong foundations in the Ibero-American University of Mexico (UIA,
for its Spanish initials), based on the dissemination and institutionalization achieved by Juan Lafargue,
Pablo Morales, and Ana Maria Gonzalez Garza. The UIA is the rst university in the world to include
humanist psychology in its programs and even implements a masters program in human development
under this inspiration. This focus also enjoys great development in Brazil, where there are eminent
representatives such as Victoria Moreira and Elias Boanain Jr.

Transpersonal Psychology
Transpersonal psychology also comes out of the Esalen laboratory, sharing with other currents many of
the aspects developed in the relation Gestalt-New Age (Ingersoll, ONeill 2005). One of the principle
gures is Abraham Maslow, who begins with a criticism of behaviorism (which he criticizes because it
derives the functioning of the human psyche from animal behavior), of psychoanalysis (which he
criticizes for basing its psychotherapy on verbal strategies through which it explores the individuals
history and unconscious motivation), and of humanist psychology. From a new perspective, Maslow is
interested in phenomena of supernatural consciousness not observed by psychology. His approach
postulates a multidimensional perspective, oriented toward the totality of a person and underlining the
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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

capacity unique to human beings of obtaining for themselves self-realization and the development of
their potential. Pre-personal, personal, and transpersonal instances are distinguished. In transpersonal
instances, a connection is produced with a reality that is larger and more signicant, a spiritual reality.
Other thinkers contribute to this school, such as Roberto Assagioli, Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, and
Anthony Sutich (Grof 2008; Sutich 1968). The psychotherapy proposed is based on the direct expression
of emotions, the interconnection of the psyche and the body, and in the processes developed by patients in
the here and now. Psychotherapeutic action is associated with peak experiences, which are achieved
through the shamanic path, the use of synthetic hallucinogens or natural hallucinogens belonging to
Amazonian, Andean, or Mesoamerican religions, mystic trances, or psychedelic therapy, and whose
potential is heuristic, curing, and evolving. Through these experiences that lead to unordinary states of
consciousness, the spiritual dimension is reached and human potential is developed.
This perspective has been attacked in Latin America by the Catholic Church, which denounces its
pagan character and the use of psychoactive substances. The Latin American New Age exhibits certain
peculiarities in the way in which peak experiences are proposed, with syncretism with beliefs and
therapies of native peoples (worship of Pachamama, Saint Daime, neo-shamanism, ritual use of peyote)
producing a peculiar synthesis that includes the thesis of transpersonal psychology. There are courses in
transpersonal psychology in the Anthropological University of Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Badaracco
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Argentina.

Cross-References
Counterculture
Holism
New Age and Native Spirituality
Psychoactive Substances

References
Fromm E, Suzuki DT (1964) Budismo zen y psicoanlisis. Fondo de Cultura Econmica, Mxico D F
Grof S (2008) Brief history of transpersonal psychology. Int J Transpersonal Studies 27:4654
Ingersoll RE, ONeill B (2005) Gestalt therapy and spirituality. In: Woldt AL, Toman SM (eds) Gestalt
therapy: history, theory, and practice, 1st edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 133150
Koening HG (2007) Religio, espiritualidade e psiquiatria: uma nova era na ateno sade mental.
Revista de Psiquiatria Clnica 34(supl.1):57
Paul H (1996) The new age movement. Blackwell, Oxford
Plotkin M (2001) Freud in the Pampas: the emergence and development of a psychoanalitic culture in
Argentina. Stanford University Press, Stanford
Rogers C (1972) El proceso de convertirse en persona. Paids, Buenos Aires
Russo J (2004) Uma leitura antropolgica do mundo psi. Mnemosine 1:3843
Sutich AJ (1968) Transpersonal psychology: an emerging force. J Humanist Psychol 8:7778
Tacey D (2001) Jung and the new age. Brunner-Routledge, New York
Velzquez LF (2001) Terapia Gestltica de Freidrich Solomon Perls. Psicologa desde el Caribe
7:130137
Villegas Besora M (1986) La psicologa humanista: historia, concepto y mtodo. Anuario de Psicologa
34:746
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Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_69-1
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Visacovsky S (2009) La constitucin de un sentido prctico del malestar cotidiano y el lugar del
psicoanlisis en la Argentina. Cuicuilco 45:5179
Williams L (2006) Spirituality and gestalt: a gestalt-transpersonal perspective. Gestalt Rev 10(1):621

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