Integrating Eastern Philosophies, Transpersonal Theories, and Phenomenological Approaches into Developmental Lifespan Psychology



  • Universalities and Cultural Differences.
  • Closing Holes in West-centric Researches.
  • Eastern Philosophies and Transpersonal Psychology.
  • Expanding Consciousness and Phenomenological Ways of Knowing.

Universalities and Cultural Differences

Carl Jung is considered to be the first renowned psychologist of the West who integrated cross-cultural views into his theories [1]. Early findings revealed the tendency of individuals in Eastern cultures to relate in a more interdependent way compared to a more individualistic Western understanding of the self [2]. At the same time though it was found that even in the East the desire for some autonomous identity is a universally inherent human feature [2]. Similarly, Parental over-control frustrates children both in the US and China, but they also highlight a different nature and strength of the effect, which called for more direct research related to the nature and reason of cultural differences in child rearing [3].

Closing Holes in West-centric Researches

Differences about what kind of developmental facets are unique to a certain culture, historically and contemporarily, are subject to ongoing research. 19th and 20th century Western and Eastern artists were analyzed and it was found that Eastern artists tend to arrive at their artistic peak achievement later in life, reflecting the Eastern tradition to emphasize the process to excellence rather than the more Western focus on originality and delivery [4]. Research in Eastern populations is closing gaps between West-centric and Eastern approaches, as, for example, the new media related study of the use of the Internet in citizen development in Eastern countries [5].

Eastern Philosophies and Transpersonal Psychology

Eastern concepts relevant for developmental psychology enrich Western approaches. Low self-esteem is agreed to be linked to depression and reduced subjective well-being, but on the other side, heightened self-esteem risks to degenerate to narcissism and the need to be better than others, which results in separateness [6]. Instead of such a discriminatory pathway to self-worth, Eastern philosophies, such as mindfulness practices from Buddhism that are promoting self-compassion instead, are (re-)discovered [6]. People who are suffering from developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability can be taught in psychotherapeutic interventions on the Buddhist Four Noble Truths to transform reflections on suffering as part of their life into wisdom that is effective in increasing their well-being [7]. Transpersonal psychology offers a developmental theory influenced by Eastern philosophy that extends the development to personality with a further stage going beyond the ego-centric personal functioning [1].

Expanding Consciousness and Phenomenological Ways of Knowing

Developmental psychology that focuses on successive lifespan development stages is discarding concepts of expanded consciousness such as the already decades old self-actualization theory [8]. It seems that developmental psychology continues to try to integrate more phenomenological ways of knowing based on inner experience in addition to the experimental and psychoanalytical approaches [8]. Indeed, considering the multitude of different theories in developmental psychology across life and related hypothesis testing, phenomenological research might help in understanding individual’s life journeys based on the qualitative description of lived experiences [9] and therefore add to a more person-centric and contextual perspective in studying lifespan development.


[1] Best, K. C. (2010). A Chakra System Model of Lifespan Development. International Journal Of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 11-27.

[2] Oerter, R., Oerter, R., Agostiani, H., Kim, H., & Wibowo, S. (1996). The Concept of Human Nature in East Asia: Etic and Emic Characteristics. Culture & Psychology, 2(1), 9-51. doi:10.1177/1354067X9621002

[3] Pomerantz, E. M., & Wang, Q. (2009). The Role of Parental Control in Children’s Development in Western and East Asian Countries. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 18(5), 285-289. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01653.x

[4] Kozbelt, A., & Durmysheva, Y. (2007). Lifespan creativity in a non-western artistic tradition: A study of Japanese ukiyo-e printmakers. International Journal Of Aging & Human Development, 65(1), 23-51.

[5] Lin, W., Cheong, P., Kim, Y., & Jung, J. (2010). Becoming Citizens: Youths’ Civic Uses of New Media in Five Digital Cities in East Asia. Journal Of Adolescent Research, 25(6), 839-857.

[6] Neff, K. D. (2009). The role of self-compassion in development: A healthier way to relate to oneself. Human Development, 52(4), 211-214. doi:10.1159/000215071

[7] Kim, J. (2016). Effects of Buddhist ontology focused (BOF) meditation: pilot study with mothers of children with developmental disabilities on their EEG and psychological well-beings. Asia Pacific Journal Of Counselling And Psychotherapy, 7(1-2), 82-100.

[8] Gordon, S. (2012). Existential time and the meaning of human development. The Humanistic Psychologist, 40(1), 79-86. doi:10.1080/08873267.2012.643691

[9] Walters, K. A., & Auton-Cuff, F. P. (2009). A story to tell: the identity development of women growing up as third culture kids. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 12(7), 755-772. doi:10.1080/13674670903029153

  • I personally see the Eastern philosophical way not as completely appropriate for people in the socalled “West” while it depends on other social and cultural backgrounds which are typically Asiatic. The Christian crusade starting in the 5th century has destroyed a lot of socalled “primitive” beliefings in Europe which are however still active in a lot of traditions everywhere in Europe. So an anthropoligical, ethnological, etc. pp. remembering to these European myths and deeper roots is in my opinion also very important, fruitful and more nearby. This does not mean that Eastern philosophy or techniques (Yoga, Tai Chi, etc.) can not enrich such a process or is/are effective against certain diseases. But, I really appreciate very much the Era of Enlightenment starting in the 18th century here in Europe which has till today not fulfilled its mission. May be this process will never be finished ….

    • Thank you for your great addition. Much appreciated. I agree, there are many valuable sources of inspiration, and the feasibility/appropriateness of ideas depends on context too. I think so as well; human development is an ever evolving process. History till today teaches me that better ways are still to be found, that change is possible, and that we have many sources that can enrich “best of all” and innovative approaches to advance the development of all humanity. Thanks again and all the best!