Roberto Assagioli was exposed to many creative outlets at a young age, such as art, and music, which were believed to have inspired his work in Psychosynthesis. By the age of 18, he had learned eight different languages: his native Italian, English, French, Russian, Greek, Latin, German, and Sanskrit.
Roberto Assagioli received his first degree in neurology and psychiatry at Istituto di Studi Superiori Pratici e di Perfezionamento, in Florence in 1910. It was during this time he began writing articles that criticized psychoanalysis, in which Assagioli argued a more holistic approach. Once he finished his studies in Italy, Assagioli went to Switzerland, where he was trained in psychiatry at the psychiatric hospital Burghölzli in Zürich. This led to him opening the first psychoanalytic practice in Italy, known as Instituto di Psicosintesi. However, his work in psychoanalysis left him unsatisfied with the field as a whole, as he felt that it to be too incomplete.
In 1938, Assagioli was arrested and imprisoned by the Fascist government, due to his Jewish heritage, and his humanistic writing. He was placed in solitary confinement for over a month, until he was released and returned to his family. During World War II, his family’s farm in Florence, Italy was destroyed, and both he and his family fled underground. Tragically, his son died at the age of 28 from lung disease, which was accredited to severe stress from the harsh living conditions during the war. Once the war had ended, he returned to his work, and began his legacy, known as psychosynthesis.
The years after the war were relatively calm, and it was during this time that he founded various foundations dedicated to psychosynthesis, in Europe and North America. Assagioli lived a long and prosperous life, and had a happy forty-year marriage, until he died at age 86 on August 23d, 1974.
Roberto Assagioli is famous for developing and founding the science of psychosynthesis, a spiritual and holistic approach to psychology that had developed from psychoanalysis. Assagioli insisted that psychosynthesis was a legitimate science, which was continuously developing, and which agreed and disagreed with theories formulated by other psychologists, particularly Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Trained in psychoanalysis but unsatisfied by what he regarded as its incompleteness as a whole, Assagioli felt that love, wisdom, creativity, and will, were all important components that should be included in psychoanalysis. Assagioli’s earliest development of psychosynthesis started in 1911, when he began his formal education in psychology. He continued his work on psychosynthesis right up until his death.
He was largely inspired by Freud’s idea of the repressed mind and Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious. Freud and Assagioli were known to have corresponded, although they never had the chance to meet. Assagioli considered Jung’s theories to be closest in the understanding of psychosynthesis.
Roberto Assagioli accredited much of his inspiration for psychosynthesis to his month-long incarceration in solitary confinement in 1938. He used his time in prison to exercise his mental will, by meditating daily while in prison. He concluded that he was able to change confinement into an opportunity for inner-investigation.
In the December 1974 issue of Psychology Today, Assagioli was interviewed by Sam Keen. Assagioli also highlighted the differences between psychoanalysis and psychosynthesis: Perhaps the best way to state our differences is with a diagram of the psychic functions. Jung differentiates four functions: sensation, feeling, thought, and intuition. Psychosynthesis says that Jung’s four functions do not provide for a complete description of the psychological life. Our view can be visualized like this: We hold that outside imagination or fantasy is a distinct function. There is also a group of functions that impels us toward action in the outside world. This group includes instincts, tendencies, impulses, desires, and aspirations. And here we come to one of the central foundations of psychosynthesis: There is a fundamental difference between drives, impulses, desires, and the will. In the human condition there are frequent conflicts between desire and will. And we will place the will in a central position at the heart of self-consciousness or the Ego.
Roberto Assagioli also asserted about the will: The will is not merely assertive, aggressive, and controlling. There is the accepting will, yielding will, the dedicated will. You might say that there is a feminine polarity to the will –the willing surrender, the joyful acceptance of the other functions of the personality.
Roberto Assagioli’s works include:
* 1906 – Published in Farrari’s Magazine – Gli effete del riso el le loro applicazioni pedagoiche a.k.a., Smiling Wisdom (Italian)
* 1909 – Doctoral dissertation, La Psicosintesi (Italian)
* 1965 – Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings by Roberto Assagioli ISBN 0-9678570-0-7 (English)
* 1974 – The Act of Will by Roberto Assagioli ISBN 0-670-10309-8 (English)
* 1993 (posthumously) – Transpersonal Development: The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis by Roberto Assagioli ISBN 1-85538-291-1 (English)