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What is Psychosynthesis?

by John Schottland

If I’ve been asked this question once, I must have been asked it over a hundred times. Wherever I go – riding on the bus, out to dinner, at the tennis courts– I find myself talking with people who inquire about what kind of work I do. Invariably I say a few things about being in private practice, providing coaching and training for state employees, counseling teenagers at a local boarding school, blah, blah, blah. But eventually I get around to “the word” that always raises a few eyebrows or elicits the quizzical look: PSYCHOSYNTHESIS!

Honestly, even psychologists and psychiatrists, social workers and others in the mental health field typically respond the same way. “So what is psychosynthesis? Not sure I ever heard of it.” Even after I tell people a little about my work at The Synthesis Center, the next time I meet them there’s a good chance they’ll ask, “how’s that photosynthesis thing going?” No, I explain, that’s for plants. We do psychosynthesis, with people. But I guess the two processes are related in some striking ways: both have to do with bringing together disparate elements through a process of synthesis to produce vital energy, and as a by-product, helping people breathe more easily.

So, I bet you’re still wondering, what is psychosynthesis? I’ve honed my answer to this question over the past dozen years. I started out with the literal description: “psychosynthesis refers to the synthesis of the psyche into a more whole and cohesive self.” Try that one on and see how it feels. If it makes you curious and want to learn more, that’s a good beginning!

Then I moved on to the phrase “spiritual psychology”, because psychosynthesis offers a way to integrate the psychological and spiritual dimensions of life so that the personality becomes infused with the essence of the soul or Higher Self. It is, after all, a transpersonal orientation to human growth and development. We sometimes say that psychosynthesis is a psychology of “purpose, meaning and values”.

There’s also the question of context: “is psychosynthesis a theory and method, or a process, perhaps even a daily practice, or all of the above?” In my experience, it is all of these things. I love teaching psychosynthesis – it
is some of the deepest and most compelling group work I have ever done. Yet I also appreciate that it is a personal practice in my every day life, a way to “get myself together” when I feel fragmented and like I am coming apart at the seams. Above all, it supports a lived experience of purpose and direction, drawing me into a more immediate relationship with my own truth and call of Self.

This brings me to my latest tag line for psychosynthesis: that it is like “yoga for your personality”. It’s a practice that helps you feel more aligned, centered, flexible, grounded and connected. If you take the premise of yoga
— which is the union of body, spirit and mind — and add to that the synthesis and integration of our personality, well, that pretty much sums up psychosynthesis!

Dr. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, talked about an “attitude of psychosynthesis” towards the end of his life. For Assagioli, his aim was not to create a rigid or dogmatic theoretical framework but rather to cultivate an inclusive and holistic view of human nature, where there is both the experience of unity and at the same time a highly differentiated richness and particularity to each person’s life. Psychosynthesis, by the way, is not the new kid on the block despite the fact that it is still unfamiliar to most people in the United States. Assagioli, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, first proposed his pioneering vision as a doctoral dissertation back in 1910. I am particularly fond of the way Assagioli poetically defined psychosynthesis in an interview published in Psychology Today in 1974:

“In one of his letters Freud said, ‘I am interested only in the basement of the human being.’ Psychosynthesis is interested in the whole building. We try to build an elevator which will allow a person access to every level of his personality. After all, a building with only a basement is very limited. We want to open up the terrace where you can sun-bathe or look at the stars.”

Still, given the relative obscurity of psychosynthesis, those of us who are passionate about this work wonder at times whether we are on the verge of extinction or the cutting edge of conscious evolution! I prefer to think of psychosynthesis as a rare and undiscovered jewel in the field of human potential, as an opportunity to cooperate with a natural process of life living and expressing itself more fully and beautifully through all of us.

So be a part of the revolution if you like, now that you’ve had a taste of psychosynthesis! Because bringing together the disparate elements of our humanity into one cohesive whole is pretty much the whole ballgame at this point. 

Jon Schottland is a trainer, counselor, and nationally board certified life coach. He will be presenting at the North American Psychosynthesis Conference in August and onboard with Zen Cruise in
2016. For more information on Psychosynthesis, visit www.thesynthesiscenter.org

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