The harmonious development of our psychological functions is one of the primary goals of psychosynthesis counseling because deficient functions may cause many problems
By Roberto Assagioli, Course of Lectures on Psychosynthesis 1933, (Unrevised notes), from the Assagioli Archive in Florence. Original Title: Sviluppo delle Facoltà Carenti. Translated with Notes by Jan Kuniholm
In our exposition on the practice of psychosynthesis so far we have talked about how to use the psychic energies that are existing and active in us. But to arrive at a harmonious psychosynthesis of our personality there is often another task to be done: that of actively developing the weak or deficient psychological functions. Without this we would remain one-sided and incomplete. Therefore, by sincere and dispassionate examination we must first clearly recognize which psychological elements and functions are weak and insufficient in us.
But this is only the first step. The insufficiency of a psychological function in our personality may be due to two different causes, thus requiring different remedies. Such an insufficiency may first stem from a constitutional or original weakness, connected with the particular psychological type to which a person belongs. Thus, for example, one who belongs to the practical, concrete and positive type may almost entirely lack imagination, artistic sense, feeling or intuition. One who belongs to the emotional type may have basic intelligence but lack practical skills. One who is completely extroverted has no psychological understanding either of himself or of others. Those who are excessively introverted do not know how to create vital and harmonious relationships with the outside world and with other people.
But the inadequacy of a given aspect of the personality often depends on a different cause: that aspect may have been repressed in the unconscious, cut off from the normal personality, and thus has not been able to develop regularly, but has remained at an infantile and primitive state. Here we are talking about quality, and not quantity or intensity. The repressed aspect may in fact be quantitatively very strong, indeed exuberant, but it is in its raw state, so to speak.
Today we will examine the first type of deficiency: those due to constitutional weakness. The methods of remedying such weakness are different, depending on the nature of the faculty to be developed. For faculties of the cognitive and active type, the method is simple and direct: systematic training and psychological calisthenics.
Just as by methodical and constant exercise one can strengthen muscles and acquire amazing physical abilities in various sports, or the superior abilities of the violinist or singer, so by suitable exercises one can develop various psychological gifts to a very high degree. Let us begin with the most basic, but also among the most useful and necessary.
I. ABILITY TO PERCEIVE AND OBSERVE WELL
Generally, our sense organs are healthy and apt to give us a right perception of the corresponding objects; but usually our ability to make good use of those sense organs is very imperfect, much more so than we are likely to believe. In fact, if we study what happens in everyday life, and especially if we make a critical examination of the testimonies given in court trials and on other occasions as well, we can see that the depositions of various witnesses about the same event very often differ not only in details, but also in essential points — not only symbolically and spiritually, but also literally. One witness omits a decisive circumstance, while another claims to have heard or seen something that actually never happened. These falsifications are made, it should be noted, not only by people who are ignorant and uncultured, or troubled by strong emotions, but also by intelligent and educated people.
Psychological experiments on the soundness of testimonies, done in quiet university classrooms, have fully confirmed this. I will mention only one experiment done by the well-known psychologist Eduard Claparède from Geneva. The majority of his students denied the existence of a window which they passed twice a day on their way to the university halls. This defect in our power of observation has had, and can have, serious, even tragic consequences, as in cases where innocent people have been wrongly convicted on the basis of unintentionally mistaken testimony.  But even leaving aside these cases, errors of observation are frequent causes of mistakes and misunderstandings in all of our lives.
But the faculty of good observation can be improved and developed like any other psychological or physical faculty, with suitable training. Various exercises suitable for this purpose can be found described in Ramacharaka’s book Raja Yoga (Turin, Bocca). Some of the simplest are as follows:
- Face a room that is unfamiliar or unknown to you. Observe what it contains for a few seconds, then write down an account of everything you were able to see; then return to the room and compare it. You will see that sometimes you will have missed some object that is bigger than you are!
- Stop for a few seconds in front of a store window, look at what is displayed there, and then write an account and compare it with reality.
- Do the same with a painting or drawing.
- Take a somewhat complex object, such as an animal, a painting with various figures and details, etc., and observe it for a long time until you have noticed everything there is to observe in it. Write down the results of your observation, then return to observe the object very carefully, and you will be surprised to discover how many details you had missed on your first examination. An amusing example of this is found in the story of a great naturalist — Agassiz —and the student whom he had assigned the task to observe a fish for three days. 
II. ABILITY TO FOCUS THE MIND
It is common experience that we are not at all masters of our mind, which often works on its own in an exaggerated, inappropriate and annoying way. Just think of what happens in us after an event that has made a great impression on us, or before an event to which we attach great importance, such as an examination, a contest, etc. This disordered work of the mind, which uselessly consumes precious psychic and nervous energies, and sometimes goes so far as to disturb our sleep, can be greatly curbed and disciplined, provided we take the trouble to do the exercises suitable for it.
Those exercises already mentioned are also useful for this purpose, but even more so are the following, in which there is no help from external objects, but which all take place in the internal field. They consist in the evocation of various images, made as vividly as possible, and maintained for as long as possible. It is appropriate to begin with the simplest ones, such as those of a number with one or a few digits, a letter of the alphabet, short words, or geometric shapes, and gradually move on to more complex images, always of a static character, such as a person’s appearance, a landscape, or a picture. Then one can move on to a series of images following one another, such as something we have seen while traveling along a road that we know. Impressions of touch, smell and taste can also be evoked. A series of these exercises was done by groups in the meetings of this Institute two years ago.
III. ABILITY TO THINK OR REASON
This, too, is less common and developed than we think, and Linneaus’ definition of man should be corrected more closely to the truth, calling him “a sometimes reasoning animal!”
Various philosophers have pointed out quite well the innumerable fallacies of human thinking. We limit ourselves here to mentioning Francis Bacon, who enumerated four classes of “idols” and “phantoms” of the human mind, Malebranche, and others. (They can be found summarized in Chapter IX of E. Taglialatela’s excellent book L’arte di studiare [The Art of Studying], Carabba, Lanciano, p. 89 ff.). 
Indeed, passions, desires, interests and imagination continually tend to lead our reason astray. It has been an undeniable merit of the positive and experimental method of modern science that it has sought to eliminate those disturbing elements, and to create a strict mental discipline in the study of natural phenomena and their relationships. But scientists are also “people,” and they have not infrequently been unfaithful to their noble purposes of impartiality, dispassion, and absence of bias. Thus they have, not infrequently, neglected or devalued psychological and spiritual elements — elements that are at least as real as physical ones — for example in medicine.
Thinking and reasoning can also be developed by methodical exercise and exact knowledge of their laws and requirements. In this regard Dimnet’s The Art of Thinking may usefully be read and studied. Some simpler forms of inductive reasoning may also be fostered by reading certain detective stories, meaning those of a more serious and insightful type, such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Conan Doyle; the novels of Van Dyne and some by Agatha Christie.
IV. FACULTY OF EMPATHY WITH OTHERS, OF PSYCHOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDING
Given the great number of unnecessary disagreements and painful misunderstandings people become involved with due to the lack of psychological understanding, the development of this faculty should have a very important place in the education of young people and . . . in the self-education of adults.
Here, too, it is a matter of temporarily setting aside, as much as one can, one’s own personality, one’s own ideas, preferences and feelings, and approaching others with a sincere desire to understand their personality — trying to trace it back from its various hand gestures, facial or verbal expressions, and so on; with a sincere interest in getting inside or identifying with someone; trying to penetrate from within, as it were, into the soul of another.
In these ways one can truly come to understand those who are very different from us, to discern the reason and justification for many actions, and thus to greater sympathy, to a clear-eyed forgiveness or mercy that does not ignore lower aspects but frames them within the whole of the complex and living reality of a human personality. This method was very effectively expounded by Chesterton in his novel The Secret of Father Brown.
For another group of faculties of a different character, namely feelings and spiritual qualities, active training is not needed, or rather, it must be done by another method: that of evocation and direct suggestion.
- DIRECT SUGGESTION, or rather CREATIVE AFFIRMATION.
Through its use latent energies are awakened. It must be done effortlessly:
Calm, resolute, convinced and repeated assertion of words or phrases likely to arouse the desired feeling or quality.
Evocation of suitable images and musical motifs; assuming the physical attitude corresponding to the mood to be aroused and strengthened.
- INDIRECT SUGGESTION.
Exposing oneself voluntarily and methodically to suitable external influences:
Images (paintings, statues, etc.)
All the exercises mentioned above also serve to train the will.
The education and development of the will is in a sense the central task of psychosynthesis, because the will is the unifying and directing principle of all the various personal psychological faculties. We cannot pursue this topic now, and we refer to the special course on it that was conducted a few years ago at our Institute.
From what has been alluded to today, I hope it will become clear how much we can do to improve ourselves, to eliminate serious deficiencies that are the cause of dissatisfaction and even practical failure; to become complete, to implement a broader and more harmonious psychosynthesis.
We express the wish and firm hope that these admirable possibilities will be more and more understood and appreciated; that these methods will spread widely, so that “psychological calisthenics” and internal workouts will acquire the place they deserve, and become for the educated part of humanity at least what gymnastics and physical sports are for the masses.
 Modern forensic psychology has amassed a great amount of evidence to support Assagioli’s statements concerning the lack of reliability of sworn testimony by eyewitnesses. According to innocenceproject.org, 69% of wrongful convictions that were overturned by post-conviciton DNA evidence in the USA were the result of mistaken eyewitness identifications.—Tr.
 At first the student could only see “a fish;” but after the results of many hours of observations he thought he saw a lot more, but this was rejected by Professor Agassiz as “not right.” The student then studied the specimen ten hours a day for an entire week, and was then able to see an “astonishing” amount of detail. A first-person account by the student (Nathaniel Shaler, who eventually became a dean at Harvard) was published in his autobiography, and can be found at https://www.phy.ilstu.edu/pte/209content/agassiz.html —Tr.
 Eduardo Taglialatela (1875-1937) was an Italian Methodist minister, teacher, translator, and author. This book is available at the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/taglialatela-arte-di-studiare —Tr.
 Ernest Dimnet (1866-1954) was a French priest, writer and lecturer who moved to the United States after World war I. His The Art of Thinking was originally published in English in 1929 and in French as L’Art de penser in 1930. It has gone through many editions and is still in print.—Tr.
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