An interview with Diana Becchetti (Whitmore) about how she got into psychosynthesis and her reflections upon it.
Translated from Italian by Gordon Symons. Diana Whitmore later founded the Psychosynthesis Trust in London. Source: “Self and Society” – Volume 5 – Number 1 – January 1977
Diana, please tell me about your background: how you got into the Growth Movement and Psychosynthesis.
In 1967 I was a drop-out, living in the mountains, when I went to my first group at Esalen and knew that was where I needed to be. I told them “I’m here to stay and I want a job”. I managed to get a job as an organic gardener for one year. I started training with Richard Price in Gestalt. This was purely experiental. I was taught how to do it rather than how to learn about it. I also studied Tai Chi, did some bio-energetic work, ran Encounter Groups, and did massage and bodywork. I was at Esalen for three years. I threw myself violently into it. I literally deluged myself with growth.
Then I spent 18 months with George Brown’s Confluent Education Programme in Santa Barbara and got my Master’s Degree. This involved more Gestalt, Group Dynamics, all the humanistic Psychologies.
Finally I fell into Psychosynthesis. I found that basically the humanistic Psychology movement and Gestalt weren’t expansive enough and I began to explore the spiritual path. Psychosynthesis was really just the right thing that came along and took me beyond the psychological realm. The Californian Institute was at that time 10 years old. I did the basic training. I wasn’t that turned on to Psychosynthesis. I happened to have the opportunity to go to Italy so I wrote to Assagioli and went to see him. The first time I met him and looked at him I knew that Psychosynthesis was my life’s work.
Assagioli was an incredible man. I spent three months in Italy studying with him. He didn’t use techniques because he was deaf. You had to write everything you said to him. You couldn’t have a guided day-dream or a Gestalt working session. He would talk about sub-personalities. He did a complete Psychosynthetic psychoanalysis of me. We did a whole exploration of my unconscious and that happened because I wrote about the various lower unconscious areas like Fear and Sex and Pain. He would read my writing and we would discuss it but he couldn’t really work on any experiental level. When you are in the presence of a very high being like that, something happens energetically which is quite on a level beyond the conscious mind. In technical terms, he opened my heart Chakra, quite clearly. The repercussions of that happening occurred after I left him, of course.
I was with him when he died. He had not had students coming to him for a while before I came because he was old and tired and very sick and for some reason he let me come when no-one else could. I thought I was doing three months with Assagioli but what I see now is that I was going to serve him in the last months of his life. We had a very special rapport, and there was a sort of energetic exchange going on in that I revitalised him and helped him through those last months. Also during his death – I feel that I helped him make that transition, I was nursing him: there were no nurses around. It was a part of my training to share his death with him. It was incredible. I’d never seen anyone die – never been involved with dying people. It was both the most horrible experience of my life and the most beautiful.
In August 1974, after his death, I returned to California, finished up my training and started working with the Institute. I started coming over here and working with Roger Evans. Roberto asked me to be in England and I still feel that commitment to him. In California there were about fifteen qualified Guides. The Institute here was founded by Roger Evans and Tony Cork. Beverly Besmer, Joan Wasserman and I came in in the very infant stages. I became a formal associate of the English Institute about 18 months ago. It has contracted with the California Institute to work with their training programme, and has modelled itself after the California Institute.
Can you tell me about your work now; what is specially important to you in your style of working; and what your plans are?
What I have done in the last three years is to spread my time between England and California, each year spending more time in England. I have done public workshops and private practice and been on the training staff of the Californian and English Institutes. Training is the major focus in my work and working with professionals. I intend to go on working as an independent Psychosynthesist. I’ll be travelling all over Europe during the next six months, doing public groups. Here, I have my private practice, and will be doing groups in Psychosynthesis and Gestalt.
About my work. In Psychosynthesis we call ourselves Guides, not therapists and that is incredibly meaningful to me. I do not believe that I can do therapy to people but I can guide them in their path as they see it as they define it and move them towards self- support away from environmental support. And that’s all I can do. The individual has to find his path and his life’s purpose. I can only be a guide in that purpose. The aim of my work is to make myself extinct. I use primarily Psychosynthesis but I also use every bit of my background when it’s appropriate – Gestalt and so on. My major interest in the work I do with individuals is what I call ‘Self infusion’, bringing them into contact with their Higher Self, and bringing that into contact with their everyday life, and making the split between the Higher Self and the Personality non-existent – a synthesis between the personality and the spirit. Grounding spiritual awareness in everyday life – that’s very important to me.
I want to be present for a client as a soul, and to see that client as a soul and not as a person that is nothing but problems. With that attitude I think that a lot more can happen in a therapeutic situation. It really takes the emphasis away from pathology. Psychosynthesis says “Yes. We have to work on all that and there are positive parts that we have to work on and develop as well”. Assagioli called it “bi-focal vision”. You see the personality and the problems it has to work on and you see that person as a soul. It’s the same as Buber’s “I-Thou”: Carl Rogers’ “Unconditional Positive Regard”.
I see Psychosynthesis not just as a therapy or a psychology but as a cosmology, a philosophy. I look at everything in life from that standpoint, not just my clients or my groups. Basically, it involves always being aware of “purpose” – why I am here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life. So I don’t work on problems for the sake of working with problems. I feel this is a drawback of humanistic psychology – that everyone has to work on their problems, their insecurity. I only work on problems when they are getting in a person’s way, when they are blocking them from their life’s purpose.
Has bodywork and catharsis a place in your Psychosynthesis work?
I look at the process in a lot of groups as emotional indulgence. It’s really just a discharge of energy. I think that catharsis is often inappropriately encouraged in the Growth Movement. I think that it is necessary, but only necessary when a person’s so strongly blocked that you need to push through. People cathart and that opens up a hole in their psyche. Unless you fill that hole with something positive, the negative energy comes right back in. They cathart – they feel better for a while. I did this when I was at Esalen for years! In Psychosynthesis if you cathart, you replace the old negative pattern with a new positive pattern so that the negative energy does not come back in. By affirmation and positive choice the old pattern can be replaced. Or positive lessons can be learned from catharsis. I might bring in meditation and ask the client to meditate on bringing, say, Joy into the area that experienced the catharsis. Or find some way of self-nourishment and self-loving. I work a lot with the body, psychosynthetically. I might use a bio-energetic technique or use a lot of body imagery. I never do only bodywork by itself. I always try to bring in some consciousness and awareness and understanding of what is happening. After all my years at Esalen, I am very comfortable with physical discharge. I’ve been into those heavy spaces myself.
Diana, would you discuss the apparently necessary conflicts that arise between group or institution and individuals?
Define the New Age however you want it, it is really upon us right now in changes of consciousness of the planet and one of the major elements of the New Age is Group Consciousness. Mankind as a whole, collectively, were infants in terms of consciousness for centuries – the major emphasis has been on individuation, in Jung’s terms. We’ve been evolving as individuals. That’s a necessary process for each individual to evolve as a whole. This is the gift of humanistic psychology, and its limitation. Individuality is not the whole picture. We are also part of the greater whole. That brings in Psychosynthesis and that brings in Group Consciousness. Within that greater whole, we can be individual, but there is also universality and oneness with all growth and life.
In practical terms, an institution, a family or any group is an endeavour towards synthesis in group consciousness, in taking a number of individuals and forming a greater whole. Each member of an Institute, for instance, is like a sub-personality of a person in relation to the Institute. Basically, we don’t know much about working in groups, and group consciousness, and becoming a coherent, harmonised group. Mankind as a whole – I mean we don’t have that consciousness yet.
It gives the illusion of being a conflict between the aims of the group and of the individual. I feel very strongly that it doesn’t have to be. The clashes come in working this out in practical terms. I think they are a necessary part of any growth or evolutionary process. Human beings seem to grow by conflict and by pain and problems, and I think that is the same for a group as it is for an individual. The primary ingredients are co-operation, and good-will and love. Sometimes it requires transcending yourself as a individual and thinking “What’s best for the good of the whole?” and this also makes for conflict because people have different ideas about what’s best for the whole!
A group can reach a sort of centre from which it can view the conflicting subpersonalities and it does this by tuning into the purpose of the group. When individuals focus on the group purpose, a lot of the personality problems are not energised. A group project or activity tends to override the individual differences. It has to do with maintaining the higher purpose.
I’d like you to discuss ways in which the Growth Movement in England could cooperate. For instance, more contact. And responsibility to the public. What about certification?
On the question of certification, I feel that England is very poor in terms of qualified trained people. I feel that there are too many people working in England that are untrained – that is, group leaders. People should be very careful when they choose a therapist or group leader – check their qualifications, I don’t mean degrees or diplomas. If a person has been involved in certain programme, it does mean that that person has gone through something. Both the participants and the leader have to take some responsibility. The participant is responsible to meet the leader, feel them and use their own intuitive process when they select a group and to trust their assessments. Not giving their power away. I don’t think that formal certification would be a help. A loosely structured certification might help. One of the first requirements to me is that a person is fully committed to working on their own process. This is the most essential factor. There is no other way of saying “This is a qualified person”. Who is to judge that? And if the Growth Movement started doing this, it would become exactly like other crystallised institutions. You can get a college degree and not know anything. I got my first degree and didn’t know anything about my topic. It was pure bullshit. There is no institution that really sees the whole person. The key is judgement.
Personal judgement and the judgement of growth centres and other institutions. If you are an on-going organisation you have a committment to your reputation. But outside control is not the answer. The control has to come from inside. This is a very big area. The other side of this is that there are a lot of totally untrained people about who are incredibly good. There is no right answer, I am sure.
I feel that Self and Society are doing a real service, for at least you are letting people know Who and What and Where it is happening.
On co-operation in the Growth Movement, I am very interested to know what the other groups and individuals are doing in increased communication. I like the idea of professional get to-togethers. I’m curious and interested in what other people are doing. It’s good for everyone to know about others and what they are doing so that we don’t think that our path is the only path. I think that they are all different paths leading to the same place, and there is no one path. It is very important for everyone to recognise that. What I have seen happen in the past when different people and groups have got together is great competitiveness and a total un-openness to other people’s ways. That’s unfortunately really strong in the Growth Movement. There is a need for more co-operation and recognition among people in the movement.