What I like about psychosynthesis is the fact that, certainly with the practitioners I have met, they help their client look at the future. Many psychoanalysts focus on the fact that if you have experienced a difficult childhood—suffered abuse, emotional neglect or other forms of conflict—this will affect functioning in later life. Psychosynthesis psychologists (or psychotherapists) believe that repressing one’s ability to adapt and harness one’s healing potential, this will do still more damage and will be as debilitating as child trauma.
I have a client who has been sold the idea that he has no sense of self because he was cared for by his parents. He tells me, week after week, that he has had psychoanalysis for years and that his analyst told him that he was suffering from the fact that his parents didn’t give him the emotional support that he needed. But the analyst did not offer solutions. I feel that, one of the main premises of the training at the National College is that we offer solutions. We move into the future. Assagioli claimed that there was a higher level of consciousness in which individuals can experience a peak of potential. Later transpersonal therapists took on board some of these ideas.
Now there are lots of different types of therapists. There is now a huge organization of transpersonal psychotherapists and psychosynthesis therapists. I don’t think that Assagioli himself wanted to set up a huge organization like this, following his thoughts and evidence. But people often like to follow a leader. They did it with Milton Erickson with his form of hypnosis in psychotherapy, Francine Shapiro with EMDR, national socialism with Adolf Hitler, and so forth. But what I think Assagioli did want to do was to move people forward in their therapy. And, even though the bulk of psychosynthesis work involves an exploration of the past—particularly, childhood experiences—therapist trained in this form of therapy help their clients to resolve childhood trauma. There are countless examples in the literature of helping patients to re-frame past traumas to help them with phobic anxiety, other anxiety disorders and psychosomatic manifestations. We are, quite rightly, told at the National College to be careful when using regression, and that we should use some form of protective or dissociative mechanism in place—for instance, a bubble (Alden, 1995; Biddle, 2012), a magic carpet (Williamson, 2003) or film screen (Yapko, 2003). Sometimes going back to the past has its uses. What psychosynthesis practitioners do is o help their clients to discover rich inner resources of the self. I call this the ‘best self’ and find that this is a very good way of discovering inner potential (Callow, 1998).
The website for the Institute of Psychosynthesis talks about the importance of the self. It states the following:
‘Assagioli recognised a powerful integrative principle acting within the human psyche – the Self. While in transpersonal psychology there is a well-defined personal and collective unconscious, psychosynthesis as a psychospiritual psychology, adds the distinction of a ‘spiritual consciousness’ - that of the Self. This psychology regards the Self as a reality, a living entity, direct and certain knowledge or awareness of which can be had. It recognises that the Self is a Spiritual Being imbued with Love which can be present to us both in its immanent and in its transcendent state. The Self is seen to form ego structures within which the ‘I’ – personal identity – becomes conscious. The Self also continually invites and guides that ‘I’ to levels of healing and wholeness in the process of becoming conscious.
Psychosynthesis points to a Self which is distinct, but not separate from, any contents of the psyche. Thus the Self is a profound source of being which can be present to us in our brokenness as well as in our wholeness. This Self also stands on the boundary between the personal and the universal’.
As a psychotherapist I can understand the importance of this. I have a client who has a very difficult, over-controlling set of parents who try to anticipate and direct his movements, thoughts and words. Consequentially, he feels out of control at their home. He loves walking very much. When he is walking, he told me, he feels like himself. I suggested to him that he could take the countryside with him wherever he goes, and that this is himself—the ‘I’—which is a core which will be with him in all different situations. A psychosynthesis practitioner might call this an ‘inner spirit’. I am not so keen on this term, but I can see the importance of this for some people in therapy. This is, of course, closely related to one’s belief system, which may include one’s philosophy or religion.
There are many aspects of this theory, but here is a start at it.