Assagioli presents the various fields where we can apply the insights and methods of psychosynthesis, from individual to social and global synthesis
By Roberto Assagioli, undated, however it must be after 1968 due to the mentioning of dates in 1968, from the Assagioli Archive in Florence, translated by Gordon Symons. Original title: La Psicosintesi E I Suoi Campi Di Azione
In this introduction to the work of our conference, I believe it is appropriate to give an overview, so to speak, overview, of psychosynthesis and its various fields of action.
Many of the things to which I will mention are known to most of those present, but there are also some to whom psychosynthesis is little known (and I am glad that there are these new listeners who I hope can become adherents and possible collaborators). Furthermore, the repetition and reaffirmation of things already known, but often not kept in mind or not sufficiently applied, is very useful.
The method of repetition is very effective; it is widely used in commercial advertising and politicians and especially dictators use it a lot! Thus the use of repetition, done appropriately and not mechanically, is part of the techniques of psychosynthesis.
The formative, psychosynthetic efficacy of spontaneous repetition in children was observed by Maria Montessori who understood its great importance. It called it a ‘discovery’ and made it one of the foundations of its educational method. (1)
Psychosynthesis arose above all in the medical field, as the development, modification and integration of psychoanalysis. As its name implies, it is founded on the principle of synthesis and its applications in every field; therefore it must be understood in two main senses: the first, as the development and integration of all the bio-psycho-spiritual elements of the human being in an organic and harmonic unity; secondly, it aims at the synthesis of all valid therapies: first of all what is good in the various psychotherapeutic methods, without theoretical exclusions and without subjective preferences; then to the synthesis of all the therapies, taking from them, without preconceptions, what is useful and effective they can give.
Another specific character of psychosynthesis is what can be called ‘existential’; it takes into consideration the human being in his living and immediate concreteness and uniqueness, both for himself and in his “situation in the world”, which is not only different for each one, but changes in the continuous changing of human encounters and relationships and world conditions.
I would like to make it very clear, in order to avoid any confusion, that this existential consideration must be kept quite distinct from the various existentialist philosophies, which, moreover, are in contrast with each other.
In my communication to the International Congress of Psychotherapy held in Vienna in 1961, I examined the similarities and differences between the existential point of view and attitude and existentialist doctrines. Here I will limit myself to saying that while in those philosophies the insurmountable loneliness of the human being is affirmed, this, according to psychosynthesis, is a temporary subjective experience, while the normal condition is communication between human beings, however much it may be. partial, unconscious and often conflictual (Romain Rolland spoke of an “embrassement sanglant!” speaking of the war between peoples.
Psychosynthesis is substantially anti-theoretic and anti-intellectualistic; more precisely, it is not linked to any theory or doctrine, but its practice is based on the data resulting from living experience and continuous experimentation.
Thus psychosynthesis includes two aspects which might seem contradictory, but which instead complement and complement each other well. The first is the central importance of the living being and its human relationships, particularly the relationship and integration between therapist and patient, as well as between educator and educator and between the individual and the groups to which he belongs; the other aspect is the use of all the physical and psychic techniques suitable for the various tasks that are part of an integral therapy.
Among these tasks are:
1) The domination, regulation and use of instinctive and exuberant psychic energies. In the psychoanalytic phase of a cure, the energies that were repressed in the unconscious are released; but they can have undesirable and harmful effects, both for the patient himself and for others, if an uncontrolled outlet is left to them. A clear distinction must be made between neurotic repression and conscious domination. The regulation and use of exuberant energies can be done in two main ways:
a) Harmless discharge, from the muscular discharge (through the punching-ball or other active discharges), to the release with the word or through writing and free drawing.
b) Transmutation and sublimation. This possibility of transmutation was also known in the past and it was Freud himself who drew attention to the processes of sublimation, but, strange to say, neither in psychoanalysis nor in other psychotherapies is this very useful means of treatment actively used. In psychosynthesis it is one of the most important techniques.
2) The development, through intensive training, of deficient psychic functions. These exercises and workouts are analogous to those used in physiotherapy for motor rehabilitation and in medical gymnastics. There are effective techniques to develop immature or atrophic psychic functions, as imagination, feeling and intuition often are, especially in many men; and the function of thought and rationality especially in women (but also in many men!).
3) The recognition, liberation and harmonic integration in the conscious personality of trends and needs existing in the super-conscious. These are often repressed, rejected, in a similar way to what happens for the energies of the lower unconscious, with the same result of producing various psychosomatic and neuropsychic disorders. The need to satisfy these higher demands has been recognized above all by Frankl, and others, but they are still few. Psychosynthesis uses suitable techniques to give free expression to those higher energies of the human being.
4) Psychosynthesis aims, in a particular way, to favor the recognition and awareness in each of his own true being, of his own center of self-awareness. It does so above all through the exercise of disidentification and self-identification.
5) Psychosynthesis gives the utmost importance to the recognition, development and right use of the highest and most powerful function that man has: the will – which instead has been strangely neglected in modern psychology which ignores it, or even denies it, so much so that it can be called the Cinderella among the psychic functions. Even in psychotherapy it is generally neglected or regarded with distrust, as an expression of a neurotic will to power.
The choice and simultaneous or subsequent use of all these types of techniques are coordinated in psychosynthetic therapy according to a general plan of care, different for each patient.
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The use of psychosynthesis was subsequently extended to the educational field. In fact, most of the aforementioned techniques can – with appropriate adaptations – also be used effectively for an integral education, at various ages. (On their use in school, you will hear, shortly, the report by Prof. Magnino).
Now I will only say that I fully agree with the strong criticisms leveled at the current school system by Prof. Magnino and other enlightened educators. Some reforms have recently begun in Italy, especially in primary and lower secondary schools, but they are insufficient. The “system” has remained fundamentally the same, and this explains and justifies the recent exasperated revolt of young people. If a radical reform had been made earlier, the deplorable excesses and violence of the current protest would have been avoided; but unfortunately in this, as in many other fields, the adults who are in power arrive too late or, as has been said, “miss the bus”.
However, even the best schools could not carry out a truly educational work if this were not preceded and accompanied by a family education worthy of the name. One of the most useful ways to apply the psychosynthetic principle is that of collaboration between family and school, between parents and teachers.
Just as the psychotherapeutic action aims to make the patient cooperate in the treatment and make him autonomous as soon as possible, so psychosynthetic education considers the pupil not as an “object” of education, but as an active participant in the educational process, and so much the family how much the school should aim at helping him to implement his own self-education as quickly and as best as possible.
It is clear that this conception of the educational process is in full contrast with the current school structure and organization. Indeed, there is no lack of proposals and even experiments in an education based on the principles mentioned above. As for Italy, I will recall that since 1922 Maria Montessori published a book with the significant title Self-education in elementary schools.
A special field, but of the utmost importance for psychosynthetic education, is that of particularly gifted children and young people, who have great possibilities, but also raise difficult problems. Dr. Gianni Oliva, Prof. Cirinei and Eng. Giacomo Vargiu.
At this point the problem arises: but who is able to adequately carry out a psychosynthetic educational therapeutic action? In fact, just as to do a psychoanalytic treatment the doctor should have undergone a didactic psychoanalysis to free himself from his own complexes and conflicts, so whoever practices therapeutic or educational psychosynthesis should, at least to some extent, have implemented his own psychosynthesis, otherwise his conflicts internal and its psychic deficiencies can be a serious obstacle and even harmful (iatrogenic diseases).
We are currently far from the possibility of large-scale didactic psychosyntheses being made; however, there is a partial solution: that of autopsychosynthesis. With adequate general preparation and knowledge of the various techniques of psychosynthesis, anyone who really wants to do it can be, or rather can gradually become, their own educator. This can be done thanks to the multiplicity of the human soul, which allows for an internal conscious split.
The main and initial method is the exercise of disidentification, through which one comes to become aware of one’s inner center, of one’s self. Later it turns out – and it is a joyful discovery – that he not only has the ability to objectively observe with a certain “internal distance” the various elements of his personality and their functioning, but also has the power to influence them, to dominate them, direct them, transform them and use them. It can do this, since the will is the function or capacity inherent in the very nature of the conscious ego.
This is in full harmony with the aforementioned principle that education should be above all help, guidance and encouragement to self-education.
Psychosynthesis can and should be increasingly applied to interpersonal and social relationships as well. These relationships are many and varied: there are those between spouses, those between parents and children, those between managers and subordinates.
Social psychosynthesis has the difficult tasks of helping to settle and overcome the conflicts between the individual and society; between the various social groups and classes; and those among various peoples and nations.
On this occasion, I certainly cannot speak of the specific problems of each of these fields of application of psychosynthesis. I must limit myself to indicating which are the psychosynthetic tasks and which techniques that psychosynthesis offers and which can be used with modifications and adaptations as appropriate, to carry out those tasks.
The summary has the following characteristics and aims at the following purposes:
1) Unity in diversity and diversity in unity. That is, diversity of nature and functions within a larger unity.
2) Coordination and harmony. That is, “organicity”, concordance, collaboration of each part, each element or each group of elements, to the activities of the whole. Two analogies give a clear idea: the one – cited several times – of the body, in which each cell, each organ has its function; the second, that of an orchestra in which each player or each group of players cooperates in the concert, that is, in the “concerted” activity, to perform a given piece of music.
3) Balancing of opposites. Here the biological analogy is particularly illuminative: the health of the body is the result of the wonderful counterbalance of antagonistic tendencies. The main ones are: central nervous system and sympathetic nervous system; groups of glands with internal secretion with an antagonistic action to that of other groups. Therefore it is a non-static but dynamic balance, continuously threatened, continuously renewed; this is the dynamics of life. The same happens in the psychological field, that is, of the elements that make up a personality, and in the inter-individual and social field. In this we now see the conflict of opposites more than their balancing; but the ideal of their balance is proclaimed … at least theoretically.
4) The management. This must be understood in two senses:
a. As an “agent” or unifying center. In the individual, this center can be: either the conscious ego, or, in a broader psychosynthesis, the ego or spiritual self. In inter-individual psychosynthesis it is a super-personal Reality: a Unanimously chosen Principle, a Value, a Purpose, an Ideal, a Goal.
b. As a motion in the direction of that goal, as a dynamic process aimed at the manifestation of that Principle, the expression of that Value, the achievement of the set Goal.
We come now to the methods. To a first group of methods belong those that aim at eliminating obstacles. First of all, egocentrism: this does not mean selfishness in the strict sense; there are people and groups who set themselves up social and altruistic tasks, but they are self-centered in that they only perceive their point of view and use, and even try to impose, their methods, thus arousing negative reactions. A second obstacle is self-affirmation, both the primary and natural one in each individual and group, and the secondary one due to over-compensation to counterbalance a deficiency. A third obstacle, which is related to the previous one but should not be confused with it, is hostility or combativeness.
A fourth and serious obstacle is constituted by prejudices and preconceptions. All these obstacles could be overcome by suitable psychological methods. I will only mention, for its particular importance, especially at the present time, that of transmutation and the constructive use of fighting energies.
The second group of methods is that of techniques to promote understanding, cooperation and synthesis. The first and most fundamental is understanding. There are two ways to implement it which, however, can be associated and combined. The first, which could be called “objective”, consists in the knowledge of psychology, both the general one of the constitution of the human being in its complexity, and differential psychology, that is, the knowledge of the various psychological types and social, cultural and national differences. of various individuals and groups.
The other way, the “subjective” or intuitive one, has been called empathy, that is, a more or less large and temporary identification with other human beings.
The second positive technique, facilitated by the previous one, is generosity. It may surprise (since in general it is unexpected and in fact it is quite rare!) But it “disarms” the opponent and often arouses in him a similar attitude, both because it awakens the best part of him, and because recognizing the superiority of the opponent. ‘other, does not want to be “outdone”.
The third technique is active goodwill. I just mention it, despite its importance, because it can be considered as the expression of the highest and most effective method: altruistic love. This has recently been the subject of scientific investigation and with full rights. In fact, altruistic love, and all other kinds of love, are energies, existing realities, facts, as they produce real effects, changes in human behavior and therefore in external situations and conditions. (2)
Given the importance, and unfortunately the topicality, of conflicts between peoples and nations, I will briefly mention national and international psychosynthesis. Each nation is, in reality, a real “psychological entity” and its internal and external problems are very similar to those of single individuals.
If we consider national psychological entities without preconceptions and without nationalistic pride, we must note that their evolutionary level corresponds to that of pre-adolescence or, at most, early adolescence. Therefore a psychosynthesis of each nation would be necessary, which would accelerate its development towards maturity. Only in this way can psychosynthesis between nations be implemented, that is, their harmonious integration, as organs of the largest organism of humanity. (3)
In all relationships between the individual and the various human groups to which he belongs, there is the difficult problem of achieving a proper balance. In fact, it is almost always exceeded in one sense or another.
On the one hand there are the extreme individualists, the rebels, intolerant to any restraint of what they consider limitations to their freedom. They blatantly denounce the defects and faults of the current political and social structures, or they withdraw into disdainful isolation, or, and more often, they try to subvert the so-called “existing order”.
On the other hand, society tends, in various ways, to force, oppress and shape individuals. It does so in a harsh and often cruel way with totalitarian political regimes, but it does so, also in the others, in a less brutal way but exerting intense pressure, requiring the insertion of the individual into the various mechanisms of collective life, inducing and forcing him to conformist adaptations, with which he alone can have economic success and social prestige.
Psychosynthesis, which aims to produce harmonic integrations in all fields and at all levels and which offers numerous techniques to implement them, can make an effective contribution to the solution of that problem. But the “balancing of opposites” which psychosynthesis aims at is not static, but dynamic, that is, it does not aim at favoring an individual’s adaptation to existing social life, to its conformist insertion into it. Psychosynthesis, by promoting the development of self-consciousness and the will of the individual, helps him to resist deforming pressures without giving free rein to his destructive reactions.
Psychosynthesis aims above all to give him indications and help so that he can carry out an active, but non-violent work to change the conditions of disorder and conflicts of the current “civilization”, cooperating with all those who dedicate themselves to creating new and superior forms of human life.
1. What Montessori wrote about it was reported in the booklet Modes and Rhythms of psychological training (Florence, Institute of Psychosynthesis, 1968).
2. The sociologist P. Sorokin who started this scientific study of altruistic love the most and best. 3. I dealt with this theme in an article The Psychosynthesis of Nations and Humanity published in the magazine directed by Prof. Magnino “Culture in the World” (May-June 1968).