The Founder of Psychosynthesis
Psychosynthesis was founded by Dr. Roberto Assagioli, who trained in psychiatry with Eugen Bleuler. Assagioli was involved with the early psychoanalytic movement in Europe, writing a critique of psychoanalysis for his doctoral thesis, becoming a member of the Freud Society in Zurich, and the only Italian member of Jung’s study group in 1910.
Assagioli practiced as a psychiatrist in Italy and developed his own thinking and practice in the creative cultural milieu of Florence. In 1926 he founded an Institute there which in 1933 became the Institute of Psychosynthesis. Fascist hostility towards his international humanitarian activities forced him to close the Institute in 1938 and he was imprisoned for a month. He and his son Ilario had to take refuge from Nazi persecution for a time, the privations of which may have caused Ilario’s premature death in 1951.
Michael Murphy (one of the founders of the Esalen Institute at Big Sur) is quoted in The New Yorker as saying:
“What Aurobindo called yoga, what Abe Maslow called self-actualization, what Fritz Perls called organismic integrity, Assagioli called psychosynthesis. All these share basically the same idea – that there is a natural tendency toward evolution, towards unfoldment, that pervades the universe as well as the human sphere, and that our job now is to get behind that and make it conscious. But the disciplines that emerge to deal with this unfoldment have to reflect the many-sidedness of the human psyche, and this is why psychosynthesis is so valuable. Assagioli himself was really a man of very wide European culture. He was the truest sage I’ve ever met.”
The context and challenge of change
There is an idea that is beginning to take hold in our personal and collective awareness. It is not a new idea, but in returning to it, we are having to turn upside down a cherished and convenient notion of the world and our place in it.
Whether in the fields of agriculture or economics, education or politics, medicine or manufacturing, what is increasingly having to be acknowledged is a context that assumes, rather than denies, the idea of interrelatedness. Such a context extends to the greater connections inherent in spiritual practices and also to those implied in quantum and virtual hypotheses.
At personal, local, national and global levels, we are living with a growing realisation of this interrelatedness. This is because technology is not only increasing the amount of change people experience but also the amount of information about such change.
The most creative human response to incoming information is to look for the ordering pattern, or context, that enables the information to cohere. Old mechanistic and separative ways of thinking which deny interrelatedness can no longer satisfactorily order the information we are receiving about ourselves and our world.
An evolutionary response is being demanded that seems to require us to think in new ways. The challenge of change is to liberate more of our creative potential, engage the loving wisdom of our hearts, and express the highest sense of our values powerfully and in such a way that this response is made.
Psychospiritual psychology and psychosynthesis
One aim of psychology is to help us understand the nature of human consciousness. In the West, initial understanding was derived from studying pathology (mental illness) and animals. These approaches were increasingly challenged as being too limiting, and people like Assagioli and Maslow articulated the need to study healthy people in order to develop comprehensive models of human experience.
From this broader base of humanistic psychological understanding, it then made sense to look at people who seemed particularly creative, self-actualised, and in touch with a deeply transcendent experience of life – which has long been the study of Eastern psychospiritual traditions. This became the context of transpersonal psychology, though not its sole focus.
Psychospiritual psychology addresses the spectrum of human experience from undifferentiated, pre-personal consciousness, through development of a healthy personality and centre of identity in the world, and beyond. It explores opening to, and integrating, higher states of consciousness. This involves the process of contextualising ego within a more spacious sense of personal identity, and the emergence of an expanded sense of Self, both individual and universal, knowing boundaries yet not limited by them. It is an evolutionary psychology, most relevant to our present day need to discover and express the best in human consciousness for the well-being and healing of person and planet.
Psychosynthesis is widely acknowledged as one of the most coherent and effective frameworks of psychospiritual psychology. It was first formulated in 1910 by Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist and contemporary of C.G. Jung. Initially working in the analytic frameworks of the time, Assagioli found his experience also kept pointing him towards the higher reaches of what came to be called ‘self-actualization’ which was little addressed in the pathology-based practices of the time. He began to integrate Western analytic depth psychology and Eastern meditative ‘height’ psychology into a comprehensive approach to human growth and development.
Psychosynthesis has continued to evolve its holistic perspective and unifying principles and can be successfully applied not only therapeutically and in self-development, but also in any context of systemic organisation and process.
The Institute of Psychosynthesis New Zealand
The Institute was founded in 1986. It was established to offer the powerful, transformative principles of psychosynthesis in a number of ways to the community. Over the last 30 years we have offered courses and workshops, a professional training programme for counsellors and psychotherapists, counselling and psychotherapy for individuals, organisational consultation, and supervision for counsellors, psychotherapists, and other helping professionals.
However, we have made the decision to close the Institute in December 2018. We have current training programmes in counselling and psychotherapy that allow all students to complete their training and gain their psychosynthesis qualification. We are no longer offering the Fundamentals or Foundation Year programme, nor any other short courses. This decision comes after a year of review and consideration of many issues. A major factor has been what we consider to be the shortsighted and bureaucratic decision by NZAC to make a degree in counselling the minimum requirement for membership of NZAC from 2019. We offer the only psychospiritual training in Aotearoa NZ, with rigorous academic, clinical and experiential components.Our training has had NZQA validation for 20 years, is known to NZAC, and our graduates acknowledged to be of high calibre. The decision to privilege an academic qualification shows NZAC does not seem to understand, or support, experiential learning. This is of deep concern to us. Such a privileging is not in keeping with an evolutionary context and challenge of radical social and cultural change, based on the need for profound interrelatedness.
Psychosynthesis counsellors and psychotherapists will continue to make the powerful and transformative principles of psychosynthesis accessible. If other self-development and training initiatives emerge, we will provide links on this website.
It has been a wonderful 30 years. We acknowledge all those who study, teach, practise, and supervise out of a psychosynthesis context, and all those who support the vision of the Institute.