Roberto Assagioli was one of the first psychologists who recognized the spiritual nature of man, along with Abe Maslow. His work has come to be known as Psychosynthesis which was a more clinically applied form of psychotherapy incorporating the transpersonal aspect of human experiences.
Battista (1996) summarizes Assagioli's work:
Assagioli saw that people had two major phases to their psychological growth. The first was the development of the "I" or the center of the personality. There are "subpersonalities" within an individual which are internal structures that are formed through conflicts of normal human experience. The healthy development of an individual integrates and balances these subpersonalities into the I . Therapeutically, this process can be helped by "mapping" the unconscious through dreamwork , and psychological testing. He called this phase "personal psychosynthesis." (pp. 57-58)
The second phase in psychological growth according to Assagioli occurs as a "spiritual psychosynthesis" when the personal psychosynthesis is completed. It is a phase where the individual begins to locate their superconscious , transcendent self or spiritual center which is when a sense of connection to all of humanity and nature and is experienced as unity. This process is also fostered in psychotherapy through techniques such as meditation, inner dialogue with an inner sage or teacher, and active imagination exercises (Battista, 1996),.
Assagioli recognized that moving from the personal psychosynthesis phase of development to the spiritual psychosynthesis phase often was prompted by a spiritual crisis. Battista (1996) compares this to an existential crisis, where the individual begins to actively question their existence. He finds similarities of psychosynthesis with humanistic psychology by both begin concerned with the growth and development of consciousness; existential psychology where both are concerned with values, meaning, identity and choice; Jungian psychology where there are subpersonalitites and tension of opposites; and eastern practices of yoga and Buddhism where the therapist is the sage or teacher to the person undergoing psychosynthesis in therapy.
In The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust's introduction to Psychosynthesis (2002), the phenomenology of the synthesis is summarized.:
We find when the various elements of our being are in conflict, our energy becomes blocked, and this causes pain. However, each time that a synthesis of two or more parts of our personality occurs, energy is freed and we experience a sense of profound well-being. This is the essence of psychosynthesis: the harmonious integration of all our component parts around a unifying centre. The tendency towards synthesis is inherent within us. Psychosynthesis, rather than being an artificial imposition of techniques, simply unblocks and stimulates a process that is more closely allied to us than any other: becoming who we are.
Whenever I run across work or quotes by Robert Assagioli, I have to pause and I feel captured. I am not so much interested in his ideas of " subpersonalities " although I can understand them in the sense of internal constructs developed through patterns of reactions to experiences of living. However, I am very wary of using labels which are similar to "ego", "id", and "superego" am even a little suspicious of the term "unconscious" and I'm sure this comes from my layman's interpretation of Freud at an earlier age where primitive drives rule the human encounter. What I am captured by is the idea that healing or growth occurs through the integration of these aspects, with a fully realized spiritual self. I like the simplicity of his stages, being just two, although I would not split them into distinct parts or levels of experience. I also like the therapeutic practices he has developed and hope to learn more about them in time.
Battista, J. (1996). Abraham Maslow and Roberto Assagioli: Pioneers of Transpersonal Psychology. In B. Scotton , A. Chinen , & J. Battista (Eds.), " Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry and psychology " pp. 9-18. New York : Basic Books.
The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust. (2002) . "What is Psychosynthesis?" Retrieved 10/21/03 from www.psychosynthesis.edu/psychosynthesis.html.
Other Resources with Excerpts
The Association for the Advancement of Psychosynthesis:
Roberto Assagioli died quietly on August 23, 1974. his spirit, his thinking and his active collaboration formed the basis of SYNTHESIS. We remember him with deep gratitude.
His life had a wholeness offered to few men or women; whole, in the sense that the bold innovator born nearly a century ago lived to see his ideas take form in hundreds of articles, books in many languages, students in numerous countries, a body of theory pregnant with new implications and consequences, and centers continuing to develop his work in the United States, Canada, England, Italy, Switzerland, France, Greece and Argentina.
Such outer completeness, the struggle well-won, and the legacy left to his fellow men would be enough. But there was - and equally precious for those who knew him personally - an inner wholeness about this man that was itself a continuous, living triumph over death. He had the achievement of joy, of a dynamic serenity and wisdom. And he was complete in that he himself did not fear death: so vital, he never worried his passing, despite his own physical frailty during the last twenty-five years. It was as if he sensed that nothing important would be taken away, as if, in the joy he achieved, there was some personal knowledge of immortality.
Be that as it may, the achievement of the man, both public and personal, recalls our attention and deserves to be remembered.
Psychosynthesis Web Page:
Works by Assagioli, R.
(1991). Transpersonal development : the dimension beyond psychosynthesis .London : Crucible.
(1993). Psychosynthesis : a manual of principles and techniques .London : Aquarian/ Thorsons .
(1994). The Act of Will : a guide to self-actualization through psychosynthesis .London : Aquarian/ Thorsons .
The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust:
If this first task of self-knowledge is undertaken in the right way (avoiding the danger of losing oneself in a labyrinth of endless investigations), we become aware that within us there are many more or less conscious aspects, roles and attitudes with which we from time to time identify ourselves, to the point of forgetting or repressing the rest of our personality.
When we are identifying this way with one single part of ourselves, we become ruled by it, we are enslaved by an illusion. For example we have all seen someone dominated by anxiety or depression, or by a prejudice, or by ambition, and we have all felt ourselves at times to be prisoners of oppressive psychological patterns which appeared to be beyond our control.
Such identification is a universal process which can be reversed only by its opposite: disidentification , an attitude whereby we consciously detach ourselves from all the various aspects of our personality, thus allowing ourselves to discover our true îI', our centre. This experience of being centred gives us a clear impression of inner freedom, helps us to perceive who we really are, and opens innumerable psychological possibilities; and so it evokes joy.
Assagioli was clear that psychosynthesis
could not pretend to be a spiritual teaching, but it could attempt to
re-interpret universal spiritual wisdom into psychological insight. Although,
like many spiritual teachers he made much of testing things out through
experience rather than just believing them, his was not truly an empirically
based psychology - despite claims to the contrary by such as Ferrucci
. He took key principles from different esoteric spiritual approaches
and put them into a psychological context. Assagioli based psychosynthesis
on esoteric psychology and the work of Alice Bailey in particular.
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