PSYCHOSYNTHESIS AND GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY
By, Roberto Assagioli, From Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Newsletter
“As to the difference between Psychosynthesis and Gestalt Psychology—both of which emphasize the reality and value of ‘wholes’ it can be briefly said that the latter is essentially a theory about the organization of perceptual processes into ‘wholes’ and ‘configurations’, while psychosynthesis is first a dynamic conception of the whole bio-psychological life based on the trend towards synthesis, and, secondly, a collection of techniques by means of which we can eliminate in ourselves and in others the conflicts and other obstacles which prevent or delay synthesis, with special application to education and psycho-therapy. Finally, psychosynthesis stresses the importance and the value of the super-conscious and of the Self, which are not dealt with by Gestalt Psychology. This is not to deny the valuable contributions which Gestalt Psychology has made to individual and group dynamics.” (From letter written by Dr. Assagioli)
“It is the specific application to each individual; that is distinctive of Psychosynthesis. We have no one pet technique. I accept every valuable technique which I can find. I test it and I see how it works. Making an exaggerated and oversimplified analogy, for clarity’s sake; no dentist uses only one instrument; he needs a whole array of instruments, using one or another in succession for the special need of the cure. The trouble with some psychotherapists is that they use one pet technique and say that it’s best, and applying it to everybody. Instead each technique may be useful and valuable if well-applied and to the proper situation; therefore, psychosynthesis includes every technique. Transactional Analysis had some good points, but it is not the whole; it doesn’t answer all the needs. And that applies to Gestalt and to all others. Each may be useful, well applied by the right person to the right case. (Assagioli in the interview: The Gentle Synthesiser,)
“Dr. A. – I would like to ask a general question which you probably cannot answer now. I would like to know, in your opinion, what the psychology of form has for psychology and psychiatry
(R.A. – Ah, Gestalt Psychologie, yes).
It may be that you intend to speak about this in some future lesson
R.A. – I don’t think so, because it is a very interesting concept, but one that does not have important practical applications, neither for psychotherapy, nor for self-training, and therefore for me it has a peripheral interest.
Dr. A. – Could it have applications, or does it not have them due to its essence?
R.A. – There is also a Gestalt Therapy book, but I have not found any data that really can be particularly useful. It is more interesting theoretically than anything else.
What would be very desirable is a self-psychosynthesis, an auto-synthesis, the ideal would be a didactic psychosynthesis, but in the absence of this, if everyone seriously starts to do an auto-synthesis at least partially, which includes a self-analysis. As I said, there is a book on Horney’s self-analysis, but it’s very limited from a psychosynthetic point of view because it always stops at these two levels and does not include the reality and the problems of the superconscious and of its relationship with consciousness. (Assagioli in: DOCTORS MEETING APRIL 64)
“We started going to him once or twice a day, and he gave us instructions. We had to write down our questions and show them to him because he was hard of hearing. He was incredibly alert and gave his answers with a twinkle in his eyes. Some of the things he said troubled me a lot: he told me that the fundamental method of psychosynthesis was to develop in people the innate (but not used) ability to act from their own superior center. This sounded so opposite to what is taught in the “encounters” and in the “Gestalt” that I accused him of betraying human experience; I told him that he recommended “falsehood”. He then explained to me that there was not necessarily any contradiction between psychosynthesis and methods such as “encounters” and “Gestalt”, but that first of all it is important to clarify well what is “artificial” and what is “real”. Being real, he explained, is not the same as adhering to a neurosis, or to one’s negative elements. These, he said, cannot be ignored or repressed, but they are not real in the same sense in which our true Self, the part of us that is the seat of our consciousness and our aspiration and higher knowledge, is real. “Of course!”, You will say. But I had forgotten it. Being all taken up by some of the methods of self-improvement, I had forgotten the purpose of many of the techniques associated with Esalen. The purpose was, presumably, to develop myself, thus making me a better being. It was for this reason that I wanted to learn how to get in touch with my anger in a “group encounter”, or to investigate my demons with “Gestalt” therapy. But I had forgotten the purpose and was lost in mere technique. The first important thing that psychosynthesis did for me was to free me from the bondage of my negative emotions and thoughts. I remembered what I had always known, namely that at the center of my being, as well as of every other being, there is to some extent divinity, however latent. Since these first meetings, Assagioli and Psychosynthesis have helped me to remember who, essentially, I am in reality, although I must confess that I still forget this more often than I would like. With all this emphasis on the positive aspects of me, the wonderful thing, from the beginning, was that psychosynthesis did not seem to require any great sacrifices.
I should not abandon the explorations to which techniques such as “group encounters”, Gestalt and bioenergetics, had led me. I could use them, but now without losing sight of my higher Self and my fundamental goal, which is to develop my personality in harmony with what is higher in me.” (My personal experience with psychosynthesis, by Stuart Miller)
“Psychosynthesis seems to have an intellectual stance, compared to other branches of the growth movement. Does this limit its applicability?
I hear what you are saying, but I would not put it like that myself. For example psychosynthesis is concerned with the whole person, the total psyche. In appropriate cases it emphasises the need to develop the intuition; meditation will often be encouraged both in therapy and to facilitate the growth process; psychosynthesis practitioners have been among the front runners in developing guided imaging and fantasy techniques, not to mention the use of the observer chair in Gestalt – you could hardly call that “intellectual”. However the methods and imagery of Psychosynthesis do appeal primarily to those who want to “raise consciousness”. It is “height” psychology primarily, placing emphasis on Self, Direction and the Will. Although I would not push the contrast too hard. Psychosynthesis, so it seems to me, is oriented towards expressing the masculine principle (I am not referring to gender). It can usefully be contrasted with the Depth Psychology imagery and techniques of the Jungians, which I feel to be more oriented to the feminine principle in all life. Together the two make a beautiful blend.” (Ian Gordon-Brown talks to June Posey)