Psychosynthesis is an approach to psychology that was developed by Roberto Assagioli, M.D. He considered it an Existential psychology, but one which includes spiritual goals and concepts [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis, p.3] . Psychosynthesis was not intended to be a school of thought or an exclusive method [A Psychology with a Soul: Psychosynthesis in Evolutionary Context by Jean Hardy, p.20] but many conferences and publications had it as central theme and centres were formed in Italy and the USA in the 1960s.

Psychosynthesis departed from the empirical foundations of psychology in that it studied a person as a personality and a soul [A Psychology with a Soul: Psychosynthesis in Evolutionary Context by Jean Hardy, p.21] but Assagioli continued to insist that it was scientific.Assagioli developed therapeutic methods other than what was found in psychoanalysis. Although the unconscious is an important part of the theory, Assagioli was careful to maintain a balance with rational, conscious therapeutical work.

Origins of Psychosynthesis

In 1909, C.G. Jung wrote to Sigmund Freud of “a very pleasant and perhaps valuable acquaintance, our first Italian, a Dr. Assagioli from the psychiatric clinic in Florence” [McGuire, William, ed. (1974). The Freud/Jung Letters. Vol. XCIV, Bollingen Series. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 241] . Later however, this same Roberto Assagioli (1888 - 1974) wrote a doctoral dissertation, “La Psicosintesi,” in which he began to move away from Freud’s psychoanalysis towards what he called psychosynthesis:

A beginning of my conception of psychosynthesis was contained in my doctoral thesis on Psychoanalysis (1910), in which I pointed out what I considered to be some of the limitations of Freud’s views. [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis, p.280]

In developing psychosynthesis, Assagioli agreed with Freud that healing childhood trauma and developing a healthy ego were necessary aims of psychotherapy, but held that human growth could not be limited to this alone. A student of philosophical and spiritual traditions of both East and West, Assagioli sought to address human growth as it proceeded beyond the norm of the well-functioning ego; he wished also to support the blossoming of human potential into what Abraham Maslow [Maslow, Abraham. (1962). Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.] later termed self-actualization, and further still, into the spiritual or transpersonal dimensions of human experience as well.

In other words, Assagioli envisioned an approach to the human being which could address both the process of personal growth—of personality integration and self-actualization—as well as transpersonal development—that dimension glimpsed for example in peak experiences (Maslow) of inspired creativity, spiritual insight, and unitive states of consciousness. In addition, psychosynthesis recognizes the process of Self-realization, of contact and response with one’s deepest callings and directions in life, which can involve either or both personal and transpersonal development.

Psychosynthesis is therefore one of the earliest forerunners of both humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology, even preceding Jung’s break with Freud by several years. Assagioli’s conception has an affinity with existential-humanistic psychology and other approaches which attempt to understand the nature of the healthy personality, personal responsibility and choice, and the actualization of the personal self; similarly, his conception is related to the field of transpersonal psychology, with its focus on higher states of consciousness, spirituality, and human experiencing beyond the individual self. Accordingly, Assagioli served on the board of editors for both the "Journal of Humanistic Psychology" and the "Journal of Transpersonal Psychology".

Assagioli presents the two major theoretical models in his seminal book, Psychosynthesis [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press.] , models that have remained fundamental to psychosynthesis theory and practice through the years. These two models are 1) a diagram and description of the human person, and the other 2) a stage theory of the process of psychosynthesis (see below).

Aims of Psychosynthesis

In [ Psychosomatic Medicine and Bio-psychosynthesis] Roberto Assagioli states that the principle aims and tasks of psychosynthesis are:

# "The elimination of the conflicts and obstacles, conscious and unconscious, that block [the complete and harmonious development of the human personality] :"
# "The use of active techniques to stimulate the psychic functions still weak and immature."

In his major book, "Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings" (1965), Assagioli writes of three aims of psychosynthesis:

Let us examine whether and how it is possible to solve this central problem of human life, to heal this fundamental infirmity of man. Let us see how he may free himself from this enslavement and achieve an harmonious inner integration, true Self-realization, and right relationships with others. (p. 21)

The Psychosynthesis Model of the Person

The "egg diagram"

In essence, psychosynthesis can be best represented by "egg diagram".

# The Lower Unconscious
# The Middle Unconscious
# The Higher Unconscious
# The Field of Consciousness
# The Conscious Self or "I"
# The Higher Self
# The Collective Unconscious

The Lower Unconscious

The lower unconscious is that realm of the person to which is relegated the experiences of shame, fear, pain, despair, and rage associated with primal wounding suffered in life. One way to think of the lower unconscious is that it is a particular bandwidth of one’s experiential range that has been broken away from consciousness. It comprises that range of experience related to the threat of personal annihilation, of destruction of self, of nonbeing, and more generally, of the painful side of the human condition. As long as this range of experience remains unconscious, the person will have a limited ability to be empathic with self or other in the more painful aspects of human life.

The Middle Unconscious

The middle unconscious is a sector of the person whose contents, although unconscious, nevertheless support normal conscious functioning in an ongoing way (thus it is illustrated as most immediate to “I”). It is the capacity to form patterns of skills, behaviors, feelings, attitudes, and abilities that can function without conscious attention, thereby forming the infrastructure of one’s conscious life.

The function of the middle unconscious can be seen in all spheres of human development, from learning to walk and talk, to acquiring languages, to mastering a trade or profession, to developing social roles. Anticipating today's neuroscience, Assagioli even referred to "developing new neuromuscular patterns" [Assagioli, R. (1973). The Act of Will. New York: Penguin Books. p.191] . All such elaborate syntheses of thought, feeling, and behavior are built upon learnings and abilities that must eventually operate unconsciously.

The Higher Unconscious

The higher unconscious (or superconscious) denotes “our higher potentialities which seek to express themselves, but which we often repel and repress” (Assagioli). As with the lower unconscious, this area is by definition not available to consciousness, so its existence is inferred from moments in which contents from that level affect consciousness. Contact with the higher unconscious can be seen in those moments, termed peak experiences by Maslow, which are often difficult to put into words, experiences in which one senses deeper meaning in life, a profound serenity and peace, a universality within the particulars of existence, or perhaps a unity between oneself and the cosmos. This level of the unconscious represents an area of the personality that contains the “heights” overarching the “depths” of the lower unconscious. As long as this range of experience remains unconscious, the person will have a limited ability to be empathic with self or other in the more sublime aspects of human life.


“I” is the direct "reflection" or "projection" of Self (Assagioli) and the essential being of the person, distinct but not separate from all contents of experience. “I” possesses the two functions of consciousness (or awareness) and will (or personal will) whose field of operation is represented by the concentric circle around “I” in the oval diagram. “I” is placed at the center of the field of awareness and will in order to indicate that “I” is the one who has consciousness and will. It is “I” who is aware of the psyche-soma contents as they pass in and out of awareness; the contents come and go, while “I” may remain present to each experience as it arises. But “I” is dynamic as well as receptive: “I” has the ability to affect the contents of awareness and can even affect awareness itself, by choosing to focus awareness (as in many types of meditation), expand it, or contract it.

Since “I” is distinct from any and all contents and structures of experience, “I” can be thought of as not a “self” at all but as “noself.” That is, “I” is never the object of experience. “I” is who can experience, for example, the ego disintegrating and reforming, who can encounter emptiness and fullness, who can experience utter isolation or cosmic unity, who can engage any and all arising experiences. “I” is not any particular experience but the experiencer, not object but subject, and thus cannot be seen or grasped as an object of consciousness. This “noself” view of “I” can be seen in Assagioli’s discussion of “I” as a reflection of Self: “The reflection appears to be self-existent but has, in reality, no autonomous substantiality. It is, in other words, not a new and different light but a projection of its luminous source” [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press. p.20] . The next section describes this “luminous source,” Self.


Pervading all the areas mapped by the oval diagram, distinct but not separate from all of them, is Self (which has also been called Higher Self or Transpersonal Self). The concept of Self points towards a source of wisdom and guidance within the person, a source which can operate quite beyond the control of the conscious personality. Since Self pervades all levels, an ongoing lived relationship with Self--Self-realization--may lead anywhere on the diagram as one's direction unfolds (this is one reason for not illustrating Self at the top of the diagram, a representation that tends to give the impression that Self-realization leads only into the higher unconscious). Relating to Self may lead for example to engagement with addictions and compulsions, to the heights of creative and religious experience, to the mysteries of unitive experience, to issues of meaning and mortality, to grappling with early childhood wounding, to discerning a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

The relationship of "I" and Self is paradoxical. Assagioli was clear that “I” and Self were from one point of view one, writing, “There are not really two selves, two independent and separate entities. The Self is one” [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press. p.20] . Such a nondual unity is a fundamental aspect of this level of experience. But Assagioli also understood that there could be a meaningful relationship between the person and Self as well:

Accounts of religious experiences often speak of a “call” from God, or a “pull” from some Higher Power; this sometimes starts a “dialogue” between the man [or woman] and this “higher Source”... [Assagioli, R. (1973). The Act of Will. New York: Penguin Books. p.114]

Assagioli did not of course limit this relationship and dialogue to those dramatic experiences of “call” seen in the lives of great men and women throughout history. Rather, the potential for a conscious relationship with Self exists for every person at all times and may be assumed to be implicit in every moment of every day and in every phase of life, even when one does not recognize this. Whether within one’s private inner world of feelings, thoughts, and dreams, or within one’s relationships with other people and the natural world, a meaningful ongoing relationship with Self may be lived.

The Stages of Psychosynthesis

Writing about the model of the person presented above, Assagioli states that it is a “structural, static, almost ‘anatomical’ representation of our inner constitution, while it leaves out its dynamic aspect, which is the most important and essential one” [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press. p.16] . Thus he follows this model immediately with a stage theory outlining the process of psychosynthesis. This scheme can be called the “stages of psychosynthesis,” and is presented here.

It is important to note that although the linear progression of the following stages does make logical sense, these stages may not in fact be experienced in this sequence; they are not a ladder up which one climbs, but aspects of a single process. Further, one never outgrows these stages; any stage can be present at any moment throughout the process of Psychosynthesis.

The stages of Psychosynthesis may be tabulated as follows:

1. Thorough knowledge of one's personality.

2. Control of its various various elements.
3. Realization of one's true Self -- the discovery or creation of a unifying center.

4. Psychosynthesis: the formation or reconstruction of the personality around a new center. [Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press. p.21]

Methods of Psychosynthesis

Psychosynthesis was regarded by Assagioli as more an orientation and a general approach to the whole human being, and as existing apart from any of its particular concrete applications. This approach allows for a wide variety of techniques and methods to be used within the psychosynthesis context. This includes guided imagery, dream work, and sand tray; to art therapy, journaling, drama therapy, and body work; from cognitive-behavioral techniques, to object relations, self psychology, and family systems approaches; from individual and group psychotherapy, to meditation and self-help groups. Psychosynthesis offers an overall view which can help orient oneself within the vast array of different modalities available today, and applied either for therapy or for self actualization.

The Psychosynthesis perspective allows practitioners the recognition and validation of an extensive range of human experience: the vicissitudes of developmental difficulties and early trauma; the struggle with compulsions, addictions, and the trance of daily life; the confrontation with existential identity, choice, and responsibility; levels of creativity, peak performance, and spiritual experience; and the search for meaning and direction in life. None of these important spheres of human existence need be reduced to the other, and each can find its right place in the whole. This means that no matter what type of experience is engaged, and no matter what phase of growth is negotiated, the complexity and uniqueness of the person may be respected--a fundamental principle in any application of psychosynthesis.


Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: The Viking Press.
_________. (1967). Jung and Psychosynthesis. New York: Psychosynthesis Research Foundation.

_________. (1973). The Act of Will. New York: Penguin Books.
Firman, J., & Gila, A. (1997). The primal wound: A transpersonal view of trauma, addiction, and growth. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

_______________. (2002). Psychosynthesis: A psychology of the spirit. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Jung, C. G. 1954. The Development of Personality, Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Maslow, Abraham. (1962). Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

McGuire, William, ed. (1974). The Freud/Jung Letters. Vol. XCIV, Bollingen Series. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.


elected works

* "Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings" by Roberto Assagioli ISBN 0-9678570-0-7
* "The Act of Will" by Roberto Assagioli ISBN 0-670-10309-8
* "What We May Be: Techniques for Psychological and Spiritual Growth Through Psychosynthesis" by Piero Ferrucci ISBN 0-87477-262-1
* "Unfolding Self: The Practice Of Psychosynthesis" by Molly Young Brown ISBN 1-58115-383-X
* "Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit" by John Firman and Ann Gila ISBN 0-7914-5534-3
* "The Primal Wound: A Transpersonal View of Trauma, Addiction, and Growth" by John Firman and Ann Gila ISBN 0-7914-3293-9
* "Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond" by Will Parfitt ISBN 978-0-9552786-0-0
* "A Psychology with a Soul: Psychosynthesis in Evolutionary Context" by Jean Hardy ISBN 0-14-010218-2
* "Phenomenological, Existential, and Humanistic Psychologies: a Historical Survey" by Henryk Misiak and Virginia Staudt Sexton ISBN 0-8089-0814-6

External links

* [ Istituto di Psicosintesi] The Institute of Psychosynthesis founded by Roberto Assagioli
* [ Psychosynthesis] Basic concepts, links, articles including some by Roberto Assagioli
* [ Psychosynthesis Online] Quotes on Psychosynthesis as well as a Psychosynthesis & Transpersonal Web Directory
* [ Southern Psychosynthesis Community Network] has articles in plain language on Psychosynthesis
* [ The Will Project] was a project proposed by Roberto Assagioli to explore all aspects and manifestations of the Will.
* [ Psychosynthesis Resources] A large archive of Psychosynthesis related documents

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