“Is Psychosynthesis a bit like psychoanalysis?” This question is often the first thing people ask me when they come across my work.
The association between the two is not accidental, but they are also quite different.
The founder of Psychosynthesis psychology, Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, had started out by practicing psychoanalysis.
Assagioli grew dissatisfied with the limitations of psychoanalysis, however, so he went in search of other sources of insight into the human psyche, including in his search spiritual traditions from around the world. Psychosynthesis grew out of this decades-long search for the heart of the human soul. (The word ‘psyche’ came to us from Greek; it means ‘soul’.)
The ‘House’ of the Human Psyche
Assagioli was a younger contemporary of Freud, and the correspondence between the two practitioners is illuminating.
Legend has it that Freud explained the primary concern of his work in this way (this is not an exact quote):
If the whole of the human psyche were represented by a house, my fascination is with the cellar and what may be lurking there.
Assagioli responded to this (I am again paraphrasing here),
I, too, am interested in the cellar - but I’m also interested in the rest of the house, and especially the roof from which one can gaze at the stars.
I’m interested in how we can help connect the different wings of the house, and maybe build a lift to make it easier to switch between the levels.
In essence, Assagioli’s assessment was that psychoanalysis had pitched its aspirations at helping people reach a state of “functional depressive” as the best outcome one could hope for.
Assagioli was convinced that it should be possible to go much further.
The outlook of Psychosynthesis is essentially optimistic, and considers fulfillment and self-realisation as tangible and achievable goals for you to pursue. Psychosynthesis focused on human potential long before Positive psychology had been coined as a term.
Imagine if you could 'see' (or sense) your Pole Star even in daytime!
Psychoanalysis got its name from the process of distinguishing separate elements within the whole and focusing on these (analysis) as a method to arrive at a keener insight into what’s in play.
The starting point of psychoanalysis is the hope that an expert can tell you what your psychological processes are about. That someone else can know better than you what is going on inside you.
There is an implied hierarchy in this approach, in that you as a client would defer to your analyst to know what’s really going on.
The primacy of interpretation also highlights the dominant intellectual element of psychoanalysis. Its assumption is that, if something can be correctly interpreted and understood, the issues associated with the phenomenon will automatically be resolved by such an understanding.
Psychosynthesis instead provides processes to help you bring to light what is happening for you. As your coach, I may share what occurs to me and what impressions I’m getting, but your direct experience is much more important than any interpretation I could devise.
Psychosynthesis goes beyond intellectual enquiry to encompass the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of being alive. It aims to bring them into harmony with each other.
Where psychoanalysis pursues understanding, Psychosynthesis aspires to transformative experience. The shifts and transformations you experience may occur on any of the four levels, although most likely your experience will involve and affect all of the levels.
The focus on fostering illuminating personal experiences for you is one of the hallmarks of the Psychosynthesis approach.
One central tenet of Psychosynthesis is that we each face the task of bringing together and integrating disparate parts of our psyche. This “coming together” gave rise to the term “psycho-synthesis”.
If you’ve ever felt conflicted about a decision, where one part of you felt strongly drawn to one course of action, yet you were also at least in part opposed to it, you have a direct personal experience of how we can house conflicting impulses and perspectives.
Reconciling these and fostering a fruitful collaboration between them is the task that Psychosynthesis is concerned with as a psychology. It provides swift and potent structures to help you accomplish such a harmonious coming together.
Both Sides of a Hill
One of the things I particularly appreciate about Psychosynthesis is the breadth of its scope.
The ancient Taoists used the image of a hill to illustrate the necessary co-existence of positive and negative aspects to any phenomenon. Imagine looking at the sunny side of a hill, and then peering round to scan the shady side, as well. Now imagine a hill which has a sunny side but no shaded side. Such a hill could not exist. Nor could a hill with a shady side exist without a brighter side.
Psychosynthesis recognises the limitations of a psychology that is preoccupied with only one side of a hill. It avoids the pitfall of getting preoccupied with dysfunction, as has happened with some traditional psychology approaches such as psychoanalysis, and instead offers a model for human flowering and flourishing.
Positive psychology set out to reclaim what had been overlooked by the medical/illness models of psychology. Yet in that quest, it can become too tempting for a discipline to overlook the challenges and hidden depths, the complexities of psycho-logic. Revealing these had been the original gift of psychoanalysis, and it would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Psychosynthesis provides tools to swiftly and deftly connect the hidden depths of your urges and concerns with your aspirations and potential.
In Coaching Practice
Psychosynthesis sees you as an eco-system, in which your spiritual energy, your emotional landscape, your mental processes and your physical expression all flow together and can act as resources for fuller harmony and thriving.
The focus of our work is determined by your goals and aspirations. The coaching process takes as its cue the needs or conflicts that you’re experiencing on the path towards fulfilling your aspirations and goals.
Relevant to Couples
When I work with couples, I use the Psychosynthesis lens to help clients experience the wholesome foundations behind the conflicts between them and within each of them.
At the same time, witnessing each other’s vulnerabilities and courage, and oftentimes each other’s previously unexpressed needs, naturally evokes compassion and tenderness.
Read Clients' Real Experiences →