When people seek therapy they’re really seeking to grow and change in some way. They may be struggling with a depressed mood, low self-esteem, or relationship problems. While they may say “I want this [problem] to go away”, what they really want is to grow and change in a way that enables them to get rid of, or overcome, the challenge at hand.
The word synthesis means “something that is made by combining different things” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). The term “psychosynthesis” refers to the growth process that takes place in a person when all the different aspects of the self are combined or integrated into a unified whole. It also refers to a unique approach to psychotherapy that fosters this growth and integration.
Psychosynthesis, as a form of therapy, is based on the premise that we all have an innate desire to know ourselves and to move towards are full potential. However, most of us never reach that potential – or even get anywhere near it. This is partly because most of us have internal blocks that keep us stuck and hinder our growth. It’s also partly because we don’t know how to access the deepest and highest parts of ourselves. Psychosynthesis is designed to address these issues and help us more fully understand who we are and what our real potential and desires are, and to learn the skills and techniques that will help us make the positive changes we desire and live a more fulfilling life.
Key Concepts in Psychosynthesis
Psychosynthesis is based on several key assumptions:
- All people have incredible potential, most of which is never realized
- Humans have an innate tendency to synthesize or integrate all aspects of who they are, in order to reach their full potential
- Psychosynthesis strives to work in harmony with this natural tendency in order to help individuals attain a high level of self-actualization and self-realization – i.e. move towards their highest potential
- The challenges we face in life are opportunities for increased self-awareness, personal growth, and transformation. We always have a choice in terms of how we respond to life’s challenges.
- The role of the therapist isn’t to give advice or offer interpretation; rather, it’s to support and guide clients as they explore and discover their own solutions to whatever problems they’re facing.
Goals of Psychosynthesis
The primary goals of psychosynthesis include:
- Greater level of self-awareness
- Ability to access one’s inner wisdom and use it as a guide
- Promote self-healing
- Move towards one’s highest potential
History of Psychosynthesis
Psychosynthesis is more than a century old, dating back to 1910. It was developed by Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist and contemporary of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Considering the prominence of psychoanalytic thought during the first half of the 20th century, it’s no surprise that psychosynthesis has its roots in psychoanalysis.
Assagioli developed psychosynthesis because he felt Freudian analysis was too limited and narrow in terms of its view of human nature and potential. He wanted an approach to therapy that included spirituality, intuition, will, and imagination – one that helped people grow and self-actualize. He continued to develop his theory over the next several decades.
Over the past century psychosynthesis has developed and grown significantly. Its used has also spread widely. It was introduced in the U.S. back in the 1960s, embraced by therapists who preferred a more humanistic approach to treatment. It also expanded in terms of its comprehensiveness, integrating theories and techniques from other therapeutic approaches including transactional analysis and Gestalt therapy. Therapists who use psychosynthesis in their practice today typically have an integrated approach to treatment, tailoring their approach to fit the unique needs of their clients (and drawing from other therapies to do so), rather than attempting to make a specific approach work.
Psychosynthesis practitioners and training centers can be found all over the world, including most European countries, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
Two Stages of Psychosynthesis
In psychosynthesis, the therapeutic process consists of two distinct stages – the personal stage, which focuses on self-actualization, and the transpersonal stage, which focuses on self-realization. The primary goal of both stages is to help clients really know themselves at the deepest level.
The personal stage is geared towards healing, as well as an integration of and ability to control the various aspects of the self. This improves their functioning in all areas of their life – their work, their relationships, and so on.
It’s important to note that although clients often seek out therapy hoping to find relief from “symptoms” (e.g. depressed mood, anxiety, worry, etc.), psychosynthesis doesn’t regard symptoms as something bad – something that must be eliminated. Instead, symptoms are regarded as a piece of highly valuable information – a clue to what’s going on internally. It’s as if symptoms are bringing the very loud message, “Can I (i.e. your inner self) have your attention, please?”
Psychosynthesis encourages the client to explore their symptoms with the goal of discovering what internal aspects or issues need attention. Thus, the goal isn’t so much to eradicate “symptoms”, per se, but to discover and learn the valuable information they carry. Once the discovery is made, the goal is to integrate what’s been learned into daily life. Symptom reduction or elimination, in this regard, is more of a side effect of the self-realization that therapy promotes.
The transpersonal stage takes clients beyond self-actualization to self-realization. Many people go through life without a clear sense of direction – or with a clear sense, but one that’s been imposed upon them due to the expectations or desires of others. Unfortunately, this often hinders them from getting in touch with or pursuing their deepest and most genuine desires and goals in life. This higher or “transpersonal” self offers wisdom and guidance that most people never discover within.
Ultimately, psychosynthesis promotes a high degree of independence. Not from others, per se, but in terms of learning how to go through life by relying on guidance from that inner, deeper, and wiser self.
In psychosynthesis, therapists draw from a wide range of methods and techniques from other types of therapy. These are carefully selected; based on what is appropriate for and well-suited to the client based on his or her unique needs, level of development, and personal goals. In addition to the client’s needs and goals, psychosynthesis therapists will also choose techniques that address the client as a whole. Following are some of the techniques and methods often used in psychosynthesis:
- Active dialogue
- Guided imagery
- Assertiveness skills training
- Art therapy methods
- Gestalt therapy techniques
- Family therapy
- Analytic techniques
Strengths and Advantages of Psychosynthesis
As a form of psychotherapy, psychosynthesis has many strengths and advantages. They include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- It acknowledges each person’s inherent inner wisdom, and is geared towards helping therapy clients learn how to access that wisdom in order to grow and reach their true potential.
- Psychosynthesis can be effectively applied to help individuals with a wide range of problems and challenges.
- Psychosynthesis naturally helps people develop a deep level of self-awareness. The greater one’s self-awareness – combined with the ability to access inner wisdom – the greater one’s ability to find creative solutions to problems and challenges as they arise.
- The methods used in psychosynthesis are practical and empowering. Clients can learn how to use them to discover and connect with a higher or deeper level of spiritual awareness. This promotes personal growth and helps clients experience positive changes in their life.
- Psychosynthesis respects and honors every facet of a person. Individuals are allowed to learn and grow in their own unique way and at their own pace. This freedom and respect promotes – rather than hinders – the resolution of internal blocks. When a person feels forced, pushed, or imposed upon, it can backfire by creating more resistance or blocks.
- Although psychosynthesis initially focuses on the client’s presenting problem or concern, the process isn’t limited to resolving just that. Rather, helping clients recognize and move towards developing self-actualization and self-realization is the bigger goal of this approach to therapy.
- Psychosynthesis therapists provide valuable support to their clients. Unlike friends or family members who may mean well and do their best, a skilled and experienced therapist can effectively guide clients and facilitate the process with carefully selected techniques.
- As mentioned previously, psychosynthesis works by choosing the appropriate methods for the client, rather than trying to mold the client to fit a one-size-fits all approach. The beauty of this approach is that it encourages and allows for a more natural or organic therapeutic process.
- In psychosynthesis, the role of the therapist is to guide and encourage this organic process, rather than attempt to offer interpretation or advice. Client growth is naturally encouraged by the therapist’s willingness to allow them to make their own choices – and support them in doing so – rather than telling them what to do.
Disorders and Issues that May Benefit from Psychosynthesis
Psychosynthesis can be beneficial in the treatment of many different psychiatric disorders, life challenges, and specific issues that lead individuals to seek professional help. These include (but aren’t limited to):
- Posttraumatic stress disorder and unresolved trauma
- Anxiety disorders
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Work dissatisfaction / career burnout / thinking about changing careers
- Struggles related to one’s purpose or direction in life
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Self-limiting beliefs
- Anger issues
- Feeling that life isn’t meaningful or that something is missing
- Social isolation
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Somatic complaints
- Difficulties making decisions
- Self-destructive habits or behaviors
- Abandonment issues
- Unresolved grief and loss
- Issues related to death and dying
- Spiritual concerns
- Struggles with major life transitions
- Issues related to past abuse
- Creative blocks
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Feeling stuck or trapped
Essentially, since psychosynthesis focuses on helping people discover their true potential and lead a more fulfilling and satisfying life, it can help any issue that hinders a person’s ability to grow and reach that potential. This includes anything that negatively impacts the person’s self-worth, sense of purpose, or ability to enjoy life.
Benefits of Psychosynthesis
Psychosynthesis therapy clients often experience a wide range of benefits. Potential benefits of this unique approach include:
- A sense of calm and inner tranquility
- Improved self-esteem
- Increased spontaneity
- Resolution of internal conflicts
- Greater respect towards others
- More focused sense of purpose
- Greater joy
- Healing from trauma, particularly trauma experienced in childhood
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Greater ability to cope with life’s challenges
- Greater clarity regarding one’s personal values
- More self-confidence
- The ability to look at problems as opportunities for growth
- Spiritual growth
- Enhanced ability to tap into one’s internal wisdom
- Reduction in self-destructive habits and behaviors
- Enhanced overall sense of wellbeing
- Stronger sense of self-worth
- Improved creativity
Although psychosynthesis is often used by mental health professionals, its applications extend well beyond the mental health field. It is also used successfully in other areas of health care, business management, education, organizational development, international relations, religion, and spiritual development and growth. The reason it has such a wide range of applications is due to the fact that it emphasizes wholeness, human potential, unification, community responsibility, and goodwill. As a philosophy or way of approaching life, psychosynthesis is inherently empowering.
Finding a Psychosynthesis Practitioner
If you’re interested in working with a therapist who uses psychosynthesis in their practice, there are a couple different ways to go about finding one in your area. One way is to check with the Association for the Advancement of Psychosynthesis via their website. The site’s url is aap-psychosynthesis.org. The AAP does have a directory of practitioners online, although at this time the number of listings is sparse. You could contact the association directly (via their online contact form) to see if they know of any association members in your area.
Another way to find therapists who use psychosynthesis in their practice is to do an online search for psychosynthesis therapy followed by the name of your city (or the closest larger city within driving distance). Keep in mind that many therapists trained in psychosynthesis use it as part of an integrated approach to psychotherapy, so many of the websites that appear in your search will likely be of therapists who are trained in (and offer) other types of therapy as well. From there, you can review their information and begin contacting those you think might be a good fit for you.
Therapists trained in psychosynthesis come from a wide range of mental health backgrounds. They include clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors.