What is psychosynthesis?
Psychosynthesis is a type of therapy focused on personal development and growth, where it is believed that people can synthesise several aspects of their personalities to become more evolved and self-realised. It can be considered a transpersonal approach as it integrates many aspects of the human experience, including spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects. It has also been described as a psychology of the self, as it comprises spiritual and soul elements, together with physical, emotional and cognitive experiences.
Psychosynthesis was created in 1910 by Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist, and contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Since psychoanalysis was central during that time, psychosynthesis has its roots in it. Assagioli developed psychosynthesis because he believed Freudian psychoanalysis was limited in terms of its views of nature and human potential. He wanted a therapy that included spirituality, intuition, and imagination; he wanted a therapy that could help people to grow and achieve self-realisation. The psychiatrist thought that the main task of human beings was to find a sense of connexion and inner wholeness with something larger than themselves, like the world or the community.
As a result, people that seek therapy to learn more about themselves or feel more connected to their world can benefit from this approach, as well as those with an existentialist curiosity.
Psychosynthesis comprises several central ideas, the first one being des-identification or the idea that we can separate ourselves from our thoughts, emotions, desires, and behaviours. Des-identification is the action of focusing on a more integral sense of self, rather than its parts.
The opposite to this concept is identification, the tendency to identify, or believe we are our thought, emotions, desires, or behaviours. When someone is des-identified, she can freely move and observe what is happening in the brain, instead of being trapped in the thoughts, emotions, desires, and behaviours.
This idea might remind you of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) idea of defusion, which also adheres to the belief that we can distance ourselves from the content of our minds. Psychosynthesis suggests a different method to find des-identification is achieved, and that is empathy. When a person is completely seen and understood by a peer, then she can explore their emotional experience and be their true self without limits.
The second principle is the idea of the self and the conviction that individuals can explore their personal experiences by becoming aware through introspection. Introspection is then essential and this process can provide a sense of identity. Assagioli also argued that to avoid unconscious repetition and start making changes, people should use their will, as the will provides the capacity to make conscious decisions about where to direct the consciousness and how to act.
A third principle is synthesis, which is tied to the idea that people are comprised of several subpersonalities. Synthesis is, then, a process where these subpersonalities become a whole that is bigger than its parts, a unified totality of the self. This unified totality is made of its parts, and although these subpersonalities might not always exist in harmony, synthesis is about finding a way to relate empathetically to each aspect of the self.
Under this idea, Assagioli suggests people can have characteristics that seem to be opposites on a pole (e.g., brave and fearful, resilient and vulnerable, hard work and playful, adventurous and conservative, etc.). People tend to like and encourage one part of themselves and reject another (e.g., I like when I am adventurous, but not when I am conservative). However, by rejecting specific traits we are preventing ourselves from some good qualities (e.g., being conservative can keep your family safe when travelling for holidays) and the balance that comes with it (e.g., being adventurous and conservative at the same time creates the right balance between risk and safety). Assagioli encourages the integration of all the subpersonalities, including the opposite poles, to create a more balanced and whole human being.
While Freud was focused on the unconscious, Assagioli was interested in the superconscious, another central element in psychosynthesis. The superconscious is described as a higher level of consciousness that can’t be accessed directly, but it is inferred through peak experiences. Connecting with the superconscious is a deep moment where the person feels connected with the world, where she finds a larger meaning in life.
Steps in psychosynthesis
The first step in psychosynthesis is becoming self-aware and connecting with the inner world of thoughts, emotions, desires, and memories. This includes connecting with elements of our mind that we have repressed because they were too painful. The aim is to bring clarity and light to what is confusing (thoughts, emotions, behaviours, etc.).
Acquiring self-knowledge and self-awareness are central to discovering the parts of ourselves we are identified with, at the expense of other elements of our being. When we identify ourselves with one of our subpersonalities, we are governed by it. For example, that can be identified with our anxious self, or with our negative thoughts.
To reverse this identification, the person needs to work on de-identification, the process of stepping back from all the different aspects of the self. This process leads to the discovery of the true “I” or centre, that is a self not identified with its parts.
Psychosynthesis recognises that discovering the “I” through self-awareness and des-identification is necessary but not enough to achieve lasting change. Old habits are more difficult to break due to unconscious repetition. For this reason, it is needed the use of the will, that is the capacity to choose our actions and direct our attention. When we make a courageous and difficult decision based on our values, or when we persevere in a project, even if we want to quit, in those moments we are exerting the will.
The superconscious is a different state of consciousness that is experienced when we go beyond the limits of our individuality and see reality as universal and larger. A sense of unity with all beings in the world, a deep comprehension of the meaning of life, and a sense of belonging to something larger. Psychosynthesis studies these experiences and uses tools to facilitate this state of mind.
Being part of something larger involves being able to navigate the world with others. For this reason, we need interpersonal skills, such as empathy, communication and assertiveness, that will allow us to relate with others successfully and navigate conflict. Psychosynthesis teaches the tools and skills needed for development.
The core of psychosynthesis is the integration of the subpersonalities into a unified and balanced whole. When the parts conflict, this conflict causes suffering. In contrast, when all parts of our self are integrated, energy is freed, and we experience inner peace.
This theory argues that integration is the nature of human beings, and that psychosynthesis only facilitates what is already in our core being.
Psychosynthesis presents itself as the unification of different models, rather than another school itself. While it has its tools and techniques, it gathers the ideas and methods of different theories and therapies.
How can psychosynthesis therapy help?
As the wide psychology theory that it is, psychosynthesis can help with a wide range of issues and with human potential in general. Assagioli believed it can treat psychological issues, such as anxiety, or depression. Since it focuses on the person’s development, it can help people that struggle to understand themselves or finding meaning and purpose.
Psychosynthesis can also be used as a life-coaching model, to help individuals to find purpose, set up goals, and achieve them.
Psychosynthesis therapy techniques
Psychosynthesis is a type of talk therapy that focuses on introspection and the exploration of the unconscious. The introspection, or empathetic self-exploration, allows one to discover several aspects of the self, which leads to increased knowledge and enables development and growth.
Some of the tools used in psychosynthesis therapy include guided visualisations, symbols images and journals. Therapists practising psychosynthesis believe that any method that helps the person with her development can be useful.
Although each person is unique, the process of psychosynthesis therapy can be divided into two stages:
- Personal psychosynthesis: the person works and reaches a healthy level of performance in terms of work, relationships, and life, in general.
- Transpersonal psychosynthesis: the person learns to keep aligned with the transpersonal self, which includes energies coming from love, wisdom, purpose, a global perspective, or the spirit of cooperation.
Psychosynthesis allows a wide range of techniques coming from different models. What it provides is a general view that serves as guidance among a large number of different modalities available. Techniques coming from cognitive-behavioural therapy, drama therapy, family therapy, or art therapy, to mention some, can be used in different contexts. For example, tools like guided imagery, meditation, affirmations, Gestalt methods, or dialogue are powerful tools that can help with integration.
Psychosynthesis allows the validation of any human experience, from trauma to addictions, compulsions, the search for meaning and direction, or day-to-day difficulties. All of these aspects of the human experience have the right place in the wholeness that is the self. The person is always respected for her complexity and singularity.
Psychosynthesis in a nutshell
In a nutshell, psychosynthesis is a psychology theory and a type of therapy that helps people to develop and achieve their maximum human potential through introspection and the integration of their sub-personalities. Using a variety of techniques, allows people to separate from their thoughts and emotions and connect with themselves and the larger world at a spiritual level.
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