Stanislav Grof, Life and Work

Stanislav Grof is one of the current pioneers of transpersonal psychology. One of his main contributions was the exploration of diverse states of consciousness.


One of the most influential people in psychology today is Stanislav Grof. His name has become a niche in this science thanks to his research on altered states of consciousness and holotropic breathing. In addition, he is one of the creators of the strength of the most recent psychology, transpersonal psychology.

Stanislav Grof was born on July 1, 1931 in Prague, he studied medicine and specialized in psychiatry. In addition, he was trained in Freudian analysis for more than 7 years. His experience is unparalleled, since he has been working in the clinic and in research for more than 50 years. Incredible true?

In this article, we will talk about the life and work of Grof. We will explore the world of the researcher who studied the mind through psychedelic substances and we will make a tour of his main contributions to the world of psychology.

“The problem of Western psychotherapy is that each researcher has fixed his attention on a certain level of consciousness and has generalized his discoveries to the totality of the human psyche.”

-Stanislav Grof-

Transpersonal psychology and Stanislav Grof

In 1969, the term transpersonal psychology was coined, and it was Grof who promoted it along with other authors. Grof developed these questions together with: Jamer Fadiman Miles Vich, Sonya Marguiles and Anthony Sutich. In addition, he worked with Abraham Maslow and Ken Wilber. And in 1978, Grof founded the International Transpersonal Psychology Association.

Grof emphasizes that the other forces of psychology place little emphasis on spirituality. Moved by this belief, he began to approach different practices that he believed could be integrated into the study of the human mind and conducted research with patients in these areas. Thus, he rescued spirituality as a legitimate aspect of our psyche.

Thanks to his clinical practice, his research in transpersonal psychology and the contributions of other creators, we currently have a psychology that has a broader vision and covers different approaches and theories.

Stanislav Grof and the psychedelic substances

Stanislav Grof was a volunteer in a study that was carried out at the Prague School of Medicine where he had his first experience with LSD. After his experience, he became interested in the investigation of this type of substances and the effects they could produce in our brain. Together with a group of researchers, he began to study psilocybin, LSD and mescaline in a group of 40 people.

During the process, they performed various psycho-technical tests and biological tests. The purpose of this activity was to investigate if each of the substances produced specific effects or if together they produced similar states. Also, in Grof’s words, to get to see if an “experimental psychosis” was produced, would be of great help to solve the enigma of psychosis.

For 20 years, Grof was working in the laboratory doing psychotherapy with psychedelic substances in Prague and the United States. But after the prohibition of these investigations by, among other things, what could lead to the use of these substances in the chromosomes, he moved to the Ealen Institute, where he wrote his first book.

Holotropic breathing

After moving, he also developed, together with Christina Grof, the holotropic breathing technique. This technique, of a non-pharmacological type, produces states similar to those that are produced by psychedelic substances.

If we turn to etymology, the term holotropic comes from the Greek holos, which means totality, and trepein which means to go forward. That is, holotropic would mean the path to totality or move towards it. It is, therefore, a way of self-exploration in which one works with the conscience and that integrates diverse wisdoms of spiritual traditions.

This transpersonal psychotherapeutic technique classifies symptoms, blockages or problems as the product of forgotten or repressed contents that can be accessed through expanded states of consciousness or holotropic states.

Now, the issues that are discussed during a holotropic breathing session have to do with different states of consciousness, which includes areas such as the perinatal and the ancestral.

Works of Stanislav Grof

As explained on the page dedicated to Grof, among its publications, there are more than 160 articles in professional journals and books. Therefore, we have decided to select those that, from our point of view, may be of greater interest:

  • The stormy search for being: a guide for personal growth through spiritual emergency. It is a personal development guide. In this book, it describes states that are considered psychotic in some cultures. And make suggestions for those who experience this type of sensations. Thus, it shows how these complex states of mind can be beneficial.
  • The holotropic mind. In this work, Grof makes a description of different experiences with this type of transpersonal psychotherapy technique. At the same time, it shows the integration of past experiences, mystical experiences and the relationship between death and rebirth.
  • Psychotherapy with LSD: the healing potential of psychedelic medicine. Perhaps, this is the job that has given Grof greater recognition. It contains a comprehensive guide on the use of LSD in the psychotherapeutic field.
  • When the impossible happens: adventures in non-ordinary realities. It is a psychophysical autobiography by Grof. Thanks to it, you can access the author’s inner world through the cases and experiences he narrates throughout his professional career.
  • Transpersonal psychology: birth, death and transcendence in psychotherapy. In this text, Grof expresses the foundations of the fourth force of psychology. In addition, he discusses the therapeutic models of different schools of psychology and psychiatry. And it rescues the contributions made by transpersonal psychology.

Currently, Stanislav Grof is a professor of Psychology at the Institute of Integral Studies of California (CIIS), in San Francisco. In April 2016, he married Briggitte Grof, his traveling companion. Both travel the world organizing seminars and holotropic breathing workshops in order to make known and give greater accessibility to this technique. In short, Stanislav Grof is one of the living authors that has revolutionized the world of psychology in the last decades.