The Consciousness Research of Stanislav Grof : A Cosmic Portal Beyond Individuality
Richard Yensen & Donna Dryer
Stanislav Grof began his research in Prague, Czechoslovakia, as a psychiatric resident, in the late 1950’s. His initial observations seemed to confirm and offer a laboratory proof for many of the basic tenets of Freudian psychoanalytic thought.
At that time his conclusion was politically unsettling because psychoanalysis was repressed in the iron curtain countries. Forty years later the outcome of Grof’s continued research is a theoretical framework for understanding human consciousness. His theory has evolved into a wide-ranging description of the relationship between the individual ego and the cosmos. He uses empirical evidence from his clinical studies to boldly challenge accepted Western beliefs about the psyche and its relationship to physical reality.
In the United States the accounts of this research further inspired two psychologists, Abraham Maslow and Anthony Sutich to conclude that there was a spiritual dimension to human existence that transcended the limits of humanistic psychology. After a number of meetings with Grof, they joined with him to found transpersonal psychology, a new orientation toward research and practice. Transpersonal psychology became known as the fourth force in psychology following psychoanalysis, behaviorism and humanistic psychology.
Over the development of his career Grof has steadily moved from the reductionistic stance of psychoanalysis toward holism. He has come to re-evaluate some forms of mental illness as a crisis in spiritual evolution. His view of human development is holotropic: All individuals are moving toward wholeness. Grof’s psychology is teleological in the sense first introduced by Carl Jung: Our individual evolution can best be understood in terms of a trajectory that considers both where we have been
and where we are going, rather than past history alone. Grof has applied these ideas to develop a new approach to psychotherapy and personal growth that he calls holotropic therapy. Grof’s initial work involved the use of the much maligned and controversial drug, LSD. Yet his theories were able to gain some measure of acceptance during a time when psychedelic drug research has been officially repressed.
Grof’s theoretical contributions are firmly grounded in the careful observation and scholarly description of clinical experiences with thousands of patients undergoing psychotherapy during the effects of psychedelic drugs. He holds that the effects of these drugs on consciousness resemble those of an amplifier or catalyst for the unconscious (Grof, 1976, p. 6). With this analogy he introduces the use of psychedelics as tools for the observation of psychological processes. His research attempts to
understand the dynamics of the unconscious mind, using LSD as an amplifier of unconscious mental processes. He does not use LSD as a drug that induces hallucinations or delirium1, but rather as a cartographic tool to reveal and map the human psyche. Grof mirrors the conclusions of shamans across cultures and throughout history in his acceptance of psychedelic experience as not only valid, but
also as more useful or deeper than ordinary experience (Yensen, 1988; Yensen, 1989).
Grof was born in 1931 and raised in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He graduated from Charles University with an M.D. degree in 1956. Between 1956 and 1959 he specialized in psychiatry and trained in psychoanalysis between 1962 and 1967. He came to the United States in 1967 on a Foundations’ Fund for Research in Psychiatry Fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. He joined the psychedelic research team at Spring Grove State Hospital and in 1969 was appointed Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. In 1973 he left his research and academic posts to become scholar-in-residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Dr. Grof has never returned to formal academic research, but continues to teach and write. He currently resides in Mill Valley, California.