Psychosynthesis: An overview of its influences and development 

By Cian Kerrisk (2007 )

"We do not make ourselves whole; in potential we are already whole. This unbroken wholeness within can be realised -    Wake up - don't be asleep to your true nature." 

Dr. Roberto Assagioli

Psychosynthesis has been referred to as “a psychology with a soul” due to its holistic approach, which acknowledges the spiritual or transpersonal aspects of the psyche and existence (Hardy, 1987). By briefly introducing the underlying philosophical foundation of this approach and giving an overview of the life and work of its founder, its influences and history, it may be possible to gain greater insight into the development of this system in relation to psychology and psychotherapy in the 20th Century and beyond.

Psychosynthesis is an integrative approach to counselling and psychotherapy, which has grown and expanded over the course of the 20th century. While incorporating techniques and methodologies from various psychotherapeutic approaches, it differentiates itself through its central framework of principles and approaches with regard to human consciousness. While not rejecting the psychoanalytical emphasis on unconscious, drives and urges, this approach is inclusive of the heights of human experience in addition to pathology and looks to a persons present and future potentiality as well as their childhood experiences and trauma. Such theoretical underpinnings are reflected in techniques that focus on inner wisdom, the positive use of the will through creative visualisation, dis-identification exercises, creativity, higher consciousness and above all the development of “right relating” in the client-therapist dynamics (Assagioli, 1965; Russell, 1982).

The Transpersonal aspect of this approach is evident in its philosophy, its inclusion of spirituality and the acknowledgement of a soul or higher self. The therapeutic process also presupposes a Humanistic stance in which there is a fundamental drive in people towards maturity, freedom, wholeness and expressing the self creatively (Yeomans, 1985, p. 1).  The goal of this approach to therapy is the ‘synthesising’ and integrating of the various parts of the self into a unified whole around a central core.

Psychosynthesis was the result of the life and work of its founder, Dr. Roberto Assogioli, who was born in 1888 into an upper-middle class Jewish family in Venice, Italy. At an early age his father died and he took the family name of his stepfather, however in his youth he was exposed to a wide range of languages and literature and most influentially the spiritual, philosophical and esoteric traditions of the East and the West.

The young Assagioli attended medical school in Florence at the age of 18 and quickly became active in attending international conferences on religion, philosophy and education while publishing articles in many journals of repute. He later trained in Psychiatry with the eminent Eugen Blueler at the Zurich Psychiatric hospital where Carl Jung had worked.

It is worth noting that during the following years he was linked with the early development of the psychoanalytic movement and was thought highly of by both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (McGuire, 1974, pp. 14-17). He spoke and wrote fluent Italian, French, German and English and contributed to the official Psychoanalytic journal while being a member of Sigmund Freud’s inner training group of 19 members. In 1910 he completed his Doctoral thesis on Psychoanalysis, however in the same year he also laid the foundations for his departure and his own theoretical approach through writing a critique of Psychoanalysis. In doing so he did not disregard the groundbreaking work of Freud, but saw it as only part of the picture and not inclusive of the full spectrum on the human condition (Hardy, 1987, p.13; Yeomans, 1985, p.3).

For the following years Dr. Assagioli practiced as a psychiatrist in Italy and further developed and wrote about his ideas of therapy. After serving as a doctor in WWI he continued to consolidate these concepts until he opened an institute in Rome in 1926, at which time he published a book entitled “A New Method and Treatment: Psychosynthesis”(cited in Hardy, 1987, p. 15).  His work continued through the 1930’s with organised lectures and courses, during which time he expanded his analysis from the individual to an exploration of social factors.

Unfortunately the institute was closed down in 1938 under the Fascist government of Italy and he was imprisoned for a short time because of his views on humanitarian issues and peace.  With the onset of WWII he was forced to hide out in the Italian countryside with his son, who prematurely died during this time. After WWII Psychosynthesis became increasingly international and during the 1950’s centres, foundations and institutes were established in many countries. During this decade when Psychosynthesis was more broadly psychodynamic in technique Assagioli took an active part in the international Psychotherapy conferences in Vienna (Hardy, 1987, pp. 11-20).

This emphasis changed with the onset of the 1960’s and the integration and incorporation of various Humanistic and Existential techniques, a trend that continued into the 1970’s with the emergence of Transpersonal Psychology and a renewed interest in Spirituality and consciousness studies in relation to Psychotherapy. It is worth noting that although having a foundation in Psychodynamic therapy, Psychosynthesis has from the start included Humanistic and Transpersonal elements in its approach, however the earlier decades of the century did not create the social climate for the acceptance of such ideas, which it could be said were ahead of their time.

In addition to various theoretical influences including primarily Carl Jung, William James and Abraham Maslow, Assagioli drew inspiration from spiritual and philosophical traditions. These included world religions, mysticism and mythology, Theosophy, Kabbalah and Hermetic ideas as well as Raja and Karma Yoga (Russell, 1981). Throughout his life he maintained friendships and associations with many prominent thinkers, theorists and spiritual teachers including Carl Jung, Ouspensky, Martin Buber, Rabindranath Tagore, Sufi leader Hazrat Inayat Khan, leading Buddhist teachers, Theosophist Alice Bailey and Victor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy (Hardy, 1987, p. IX).

Dr. Roberto Assagioli died in 1974, after which time there has been a greater consolidation of his ideas and concepts and an expansion of such methods for education, group work and personal development. Many influential books by leading students of Assagioli including Piero Ferrucci and Lady Diana Whitmore and the establishment of recognised training programmes have led to an expansion of practitioners in various countries.

It can be seen that the evolution of Psychosynthesis reflects its core therapeutic focus of integration of the various parts into a coherent whole, except in this context it is not the clients psyche but the tradition itself that has continued to grow, by evolving and synthesising various methods and approaches around its central core. This emphasis on freedom, variety and inclusiveness although being part of the “dynamic and changing” nature of Psychosynthesis could be critiqued as having contributed to fragmentation and a lack of stability, definition and structure (Russell, 1981, p.1). It does however seem that over the last 20 years a more coherent and complete theory has emerged and it is anticipated that this inclusive and progressive approach will change with the times, while maintaining its unique central concepts, methods and approaches to psychotherapy.



Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis: A manual of principles and techniques.  New York: Hobbs, Dorman & Company, Inc.

Hardy, J. (1987). A psychology with a soul: Psychosynthesis in evolutionary context. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

MacGuire, W. (Ed). (1974). The Freud-Jung Letters. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Russell, D. (1981). Psychosynthesis in Western Psychology. Psychosynthesis Digest,1 (1), Fall/Winter.

Russell, D. (1982). Seven Basic Constructs of  Psychosynthesis. Psychosynthesis Digest, 1 (2), Spring/Summer.

Weiser, J., & Yeomans, T. (Eds). (1985). Readings in Psychosynthesis: Theory, Process and Practice. Toronto: Department of Applied Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.