Psychosynthesis is an approach to psychology that was developed by Roberto Assagioli, M.D. As written on Wikipedia, Assagioli compared psychosynthesis to the prevailing thinking of the day, contrasting psychosynthesis for example with Existential psychology, but unlike the latter considered loneliness not to be “either ultimate or essential”.
In Psychosomatic Medicine and Bio-psychosynthesis, Roberto Assagioli states that the principle aims and tasks of psychosynthesis are:
1. the elimination of the conflicts and obstacles, conscious and unconscious, that block [the complete and harmonious development of the human personality]
2. the use of active techniques to stimulate the psychic functions still weak and immature.
In essence, psychosynthesis can be best represented by an “egg diagram”.
1. The Lower Unconscious
2. The Middle Unconscious
3. The Higher Unconscious
4. The Field of Consciousness
5. The Conscious Self or “I”
6. The Higher Self
7. The Collective Unconscious
For Assagioli, ‘the lower unconscious, which contains one’s personal psychological past in the form of repressed complexes, long-forgotten memories and dreams and imaginations’, stood at the base of the diagram of the mind.
The lower unconscious is that realm of the person to which is relegated the experiences of shame, fear, pain, despair, and rage associated with primal wounding suffered in life. One way to think of the lower unconscious is that it is a particular bandwidth of one’s experiential range that has been broken away from consciousness. It comprises that range of experience related to the threat of personal annihilation, of destruction of self, of nonbeing, and more generally, of the painful side of the human condition. As long as this range of experience remains unconscious, the person will have a limited ability to be empathic with self or others in the more painful aspects of human life.
At the same time, ‘the lower unconscious merely represents the most primitive part of ourselves…It is not bad, it is just earlier ‘Indeed, ‘the “lower” side has many attractions and great vitality’, and – as with Freud’s id, or Jung’s shadow – the conscious goal must be to ‘achieve a creative tension’ with the lower unconscious.
The middle unconscious is a sector of the person whose contents, although unconscious, nevertheless support normal conscious functioning in an ongoing way (thus it is illustrated as most immediate to “I”). It is the capacity to form patterns of skills, behaviors, feelings, attitudes, and abilities that can function without conscious attention, thereby forming the infrastructure of one’s conscious life.
The function of the middle unconscious can be seen in all spheres of human development, from learning to walk and talk, to acquiring languages, to mastering a trade or profession, to developing social roles. Anticipating today’s neuroscience, Assagioli even referred to “developing new neuromuscular patterns”. All such elaborate syntheses of thought, feeling, and behavior are built upon learnings and abilities that must eventually operate unconsciously.
For Assagioli, ‘Human healing and growth that involves work with either the middle or the lower unconscious is known as personal psychosynthesis’.
Assagioli termed ‘the sphere of aesthetic experience, creative inspiration, and higher states of consciousness…the higher unconscious . The higher unconscious (or superconscious) denotes “our higher potentialities which seek to express themselves, but which we often repel and repress” (Assagioli). As with the lower unconscious, this area is by definition not available to consciousness, so its existence is inferred from moments in which contents from that level affect consciousness. Contact with the higher unconscious can be seen in those moments, termed peak experiences by Maslow, which are often difficult to put into words, experiences in which one senses deeper meaning in life, a profound serenity and peace, a universality within the particulars of existence, or perhaps a unity between oneself and the cosmos. This level of the unconscious represents an area of the personality that contains the “heights” overarching the “depths” of the lower unconscious. As long as this range of experience remains unconscious – in what Desoille termed ‘”repression of the sublime”‘ – the person will have a limited ability to be empathic with self or other in the more sublime aspects of human life.
The higher unconscious thus represents ‘an autonomous realm, from where we receive our higher intuitions and inspirations – altruistic love and will, humanitarian action, artistic and scientific inspiration, philosophic and spiritual insight, and the drive towards purpose and meaning in life’. It may be compared to Freud’s superego, seen as ‘the higher, moral, supra-personal side of human nature…a higher nature in man’, incorporating ‘Religion, morality, and a social sense – the chief elements in the higher side of man…putting science and art to one side’.
Psychosynthesis was regarded by Assagioli as more of an orientation and a general approach to the whole human being, and as existing apart from any of its particular concrete applications. This approach allows for a wide variety of techniques and methods to be used within the psychosynthesis context. ‘Dialogue, Gestalt techniques, dream work, guided imagery, affirmations, and meditation are all powerful tools for integration’, but ‘the attitude and presence of the guide are of far greater importance than the particular methods used’. Sand tray, art therapy, journaling, drama therapy, and body work; cognitive-behavioral techniques; object relations, self psychology, and family systems approaches, may all be used in different contexts, from individual and group psychotherapy, to meditation and self-help groups. Psychosynthesis offers an overall view which can help orient oneself within the vast array of different modalities available today, and be applied either for therapy or for self actualization.
One broad classification of the techniques used involves the following headings: ‘ Analytical: To help identify blocks and enable the exploration of the unconscious’. Psychosynthesis stresses ‘the importance of using obstacles as steps to growth’ – ‘blessing the obstacle…blocks are our helpers’. ‘ Mastery…the eight psychological functions need to be gradually retrained to produce permanent positive change’. ‘ Transformation…the refashioning of the personality around a new centre’. ‘ Grounding…into the concrete terms of daily life. ‘ Relational…to cultivate qualities such as love, openness and empathy’.
Psychosynthesis allows practitioners the recognition and validation of an extensive range of human experience: the vicissitudes of developmental difficulties and early trauma; the struggle with compulsions, addictions, and the trance of daily life; the confrontation with existential identity, choice, and responsibility; levels of creativity, peak performance, and spiritual experience; and the search for meaning and direction in life. None of these important spheres of human existence need be reduced to the other, and each can find its right place in the whole. This means that no matter what type of experience is engaged, and no matter what phase of growth is negotiated, the complexity and uniqueness of the person may be respected–a fundamental principle in any application of psychosynthesis.