Origins (from the Institute of Psychosynthesis website)
At the beginnings of modern psychology stands the discovery that human beings are conditioned by their childhood experiences. Freud and others spoke of the unconscious, a normally inaccessible realm of the psyche which contains our past experiences and which produces very real effects on present feeling, thought and behaviour. Thus psychoanalysis sought to treat psychological disorders by analysing their roots in the past.
In 1911, as a pioneer of psychoanalysis in Italy, Roberto Assagioli began developing the insight that even as the psychological past exists in the present, so too does the psychological future. In other words, just as childhood is affecting our present living, so too is our vast human potential for healing and change. Indeed, repression of this higher potential can lead to psychological disturbances every bit as debilitating as repression of childhood trauma.
Assagioli maintained that just as there is a lower unconscious, there is also a superconscious. He describes this as a realm of the psyche that contains our highest potential – the Self, the source of our unique human path of development. This is the realm of values and of peak experiences, later to be studied by Abraham Maslow, which gave birth to the field of Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology.
Assagioli formulated his discoveries into an approach he called psychosynthesis. This term of course distinguishes it from psychoanalysis, but Assagioli did not mean thereby to replace the insights of psychoanalysis, but rather to include the past within the context of the awakening of the Self.
Plumbing the depths of the past and healing childhood traumas is as crucial to psychosynthesis as it is to other psychological orientations. In psychosynthesis this uncovering work is carried out within the context of discovering and expressing the rich inner resources of the unfolding Self.
Psychosynthesis then is not simply a model of pathology and treatment, but a developmental approach which can help guide a person to understand the meaning of their human life within the broad context of synthesis – the drive towards the harmonisation of all relationships, whether intrapersonal, or interpersonal, between individuals and groups.
Reading about Roberto Assagioli and Psychosynthesis (Aubyn’s view)
A very good starting point to understanding the man and his ideas can be to read an article in Psychology Today by Sam Keen, based upon an interview with Roberto Assagioli shortly before his death. Click on this link to download the pdf: The Golden Mean of Roberto Assagioli – Sam Keen.
If you want more reading, click here to see my Goodreads list of Psychosynthesis related books. This includes the three books published of Assagioli’s work ; Psychosynthesis, The Act of Will and Transpersonal Development.
Psychosynthesis as a psychology for coaching (an introduction, by Aubyn Howard)
Psychosynthesis is an integrative, holistic and depth psychology that builds upon the foundations of psychoanalytic, Jungian, humanistic and developmental psychologies.
By holistic, we mean that this is a psychology that concerns the whole human being, the self in all its dimensions, all levels of consciousness including post-rational or spiritual levels of self-experience (in common with transpersonal psychologies), both healthy and pathological states. Within this context, the focus is on how to help people realise their full potential and actualise themselves in the world, as well as how to address issues of identity, purpose, meaning and values and negotiate crisis in whatever form it appears in people’s lives.
Psychosynthesis is also a psychology of human development, illuminating the different phases of how the self develops, and guiding the synthesis of our disparate parts, with the goal of becoming more whole as human beings. This is very important for coaching, which is about helping relatively healthy and functional people actualise their potential and achieve their goals. At the same time, the depth dimensions of the psychology will enable you to deal with neurotic and dysfunctional aspects of your clients that become barriers to success, working at sub-conscious and un-conscious levels which behavioural (e.g. CBT, NLP, TA, neuro-scientific) approaches only address superficially.
The holistic aspect is what sets Psychosynthesis trained therapists apart from their more conventional psychoanalytic colleagues. They hold awareness of their clients higher self as they guide them to both self-realise and self-actualise, as well as working at regressive levels to heal past wounding or address particular pathologies.
However, given the origins and nature of therapy or counselling, negative regressive connotations are difficult to dispel. Coaching is set within a more positive context with an absence of stigma, given its orientation towards future goals rather than healing the past. With the increased popularity of coaching and the growth of the profession, the time has come for more positive and holistic psychologies. We believe that Psychosynthesis psychology is at least as relevant to coaching as it has been to therapy.