Expanded States of Consciousness in Therapy

by | Apr 23, 2022 | Article, Holotropic Breathing | 0 comments

This is my first post in a series of professional articles that aim to provide a holistic arc on expanded states of consciousness and how to use them therapeutically. At its core, my work is about the emotional resolution of traumatic events that can lead to depression and even physical illness, for example.

In this in-depth session, I will discuss techniques and methods that have proven helpful in the course of my work to reach such emotional blockages. These include craniosacral therapy and holotropic breathing, which are excellent ways to access old traumas and ultimately neutralize them through integration. However, let’s start with what expanded states of consciousness are. For this purpose, I will also share my personal experiences.

What are expanded states of consciousness?

My introduction to the topic

Exactly eight years ago, I became aware of the remarkable healing and transformative powers of extraordinary or expanded states of consciousness – first, through several profound personal experiences with the technique of Holotropic Breathwork, and second, through clinical observation of the effects of CranioSacral Therapy (CST) in me. In addition, I saw similar expanded states of consciousness during CST treatment in my clients.

I have been fascinated by Holotropic Breathwork (HB) since then to such an extent that, at the same time as I started training as a CranioSacral Therapist, I also started the Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) to become an HB facilitator. Of course, I have also extensively studied the work of the founder of Transpersonal Psychology, Dr. Stanislav Grof, and the developer of the Holotropic Breathwork technique, together with his wife Christina Grof, which has significantly enriched my work as a CranioSacral Therapist.

I want to share some of my experiences, findings, and insights here. Of course, this is a model in which I have personally recognized many valuable connections, complements, and links between these two approaches.

Personal experiences

I had my first profound experience of an expanded state of consciousness during Holotropic Breathwork in 2014. This was the beginning of a deep process of self-exploration for me. It was a powerful and, at the same time, fascinating experience, though I had no idea yet to what extent it would change me.

A few months later, I completed the CranioSacral Therapy – CST I. course in 2015. In doing so, the exact same feeling of inner knowing surfaced within me that this approach was just right for me as a therapist. At that time, I did not know to what extent in my own process in life. Anyhow, these two techniques would complement each other and broaden my horizon more and more.

So I started to learn and practice two self-exploration techniques simultaneously. In the process, I became more and more curious, and my knowledge was more and more nourished and expanded through various experiences. I started training as a CranioSacral Therapist and the so-called Grof Transpersonal Training to become a “facilitator” for the Holotropic Breathwork technique.

Definition of the Alternative States of Consciousness

A definition of states of consciousness still widely used today goes back to Charles Tart. He takes his cue from Arnold M. Ludwig, who in 1966 took subjective changes in experience relative to a “normal consciousness” as the basis for altered states of consciousness. Tart defines an altered state of consciousness as a significant change in the content and quality of the pattern of mental processing or the nature of cognitive functions.

Thus, on the one hand, he distinguishes it from mere changes in feelings and other contents of consciousness. On the other hand, this definition focuses on subjective experience and makes no direct reference to empirical measurements or behavioral observations. Nevertheless, expanded states of consciousness may also be accompanied by subjectively and objectively altered parameters.

“An altered state of consciousness is a temporary change in the overall pattern of subjective experience such that the individual believes his mental functions to be markedly different from certain general norms of his normal waking consciousness.”


G.W. Farthing, 1992

Summarized to the essentials

Broken down to my personal understanding, expanded states of consciousness are a realm of cognition of our reality that leaves the context of everyday perception. Depending on the intensity, one can access deeper subconscious layers—one could also speak of soul level. This perspective allows us an alternative view of life and our “selves.” Here we enter the realm of transpersonal dimensions, which we can work on therapeutically in order to dissolve psychic blockages. We call this holotropic procedure therapy.

Inducing alternative states of consciousness

Known methods for expanding consciousness

Throughout history, humanity has developed countless methods to enter alternative states of consciousness. Each culture has its own ways of opening up to these dimensions. Shamans of all times used certain substances and techniques to put themselves into a trance state. Even today, dance is used to separate oneself from the ordinary state of perception.

To cite a few examples, LSD, ayahuasca, various mushrooms, and marijuana are the most well-known substances in Western culture for inducing deep transpersonal states. However, these methods are not the focus of my series of articles, as I am personally concerned with the natural, inner mechanisms of achieving these states of consciousness and using them therapeutically.

Holotropic Breathwork and Craniosacral

In my series of articles, I will still detail Holotropic Breathwork and Craniosacral Therapy because they are essential tools in my work. At the beginning of my staggered explanations, I want to point out that these methods can lead to unique experiences without any substance. Both ways trigger an inherent mechanism that allows us to access a deeper core of our being and work on inner conflicts that we could only inadequately reach from the surface of everyday consciousness.

Moreover, in this series, I am also interested in pointing out the parallels of both methods and how Therapists can combine both approaches. In addition, I still use homeopathy as a gentle accompaniment. These essential tools form my trinity of sustainable trauma therapy.

Therapeutic continuation

Holotropic Therapy

Since we have roughly outlined the topic of alternative or expanded realms of perception, I will now move on to present my preferred techniques for inducing these states of consciousness and explain what their common denominator is. Before we get to that, however, it is essential to understand where to locate the therapeutic benefit and thus the purpose of why we should enter these deeper levels in the first place. To that end, my follow-up article will focus specifically on holotropic therapy.

You can go to the following article now or jump directly to the topic of Craniosacral Therapy and Holotropic Breathwork. Furthermore, you will find an overview of all articles on the more critical issue here.

Questions relevant to the topic

Continue to the following article in the series >

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