Dr Angie Fee, a psychotherapist from the Psychosynthesis Trust kindly discusses her knowledge of psychosynthesis and transpersonal psychology.
What is psychosynthesis in a nutshell?
I think it’s more useful to talk about Psychosynthesis as an approach rather than as a theory for reasons that will become evident as I describe it. It’s not a spiritual path or a particular technique or belief system but a particular perspective on those very things.
And it’s worth saying that in attempting to talk about Psychosynthesis as a model of unity, I find myself inevitably separating psychological and spiritual which may give the impression they are separate things. But the dualistic language that is entrenched in western thinking is wholly inadequate in attempting to discuss the idea of a unitive model, mainly because the moment I speak about it, I am separate from it. Perhaps this demonstrates being human and divine at the same time – what is asked of us is that we are open to experiencing contradiction, paradox and mystery. Actually in my experience, people often find it easier to be their idea of ‘spiritual’ than experience being fully human!
For me the terms spiritual and transpersonal are interchangeable – term transpersonal – meaning beyond /across the personal.
So first, a bit of context -Psychosynthesis was founded by Roberto Assagioli in the early part of the 20th century. Initially trained as a psychoanalyst, he argued for a more holistic approach where human existence isn’t just reduced to childhood experiences. He subsequently developed psychosynthesis as a more inclusive approach, recognising that each of us has a spiritual essence and that our opportunity in life is to manifest this essence as fully as possible in the world of everyday personal and social existence. Assagioli avoided the word soul with its various religious connotations and used the word Self, distinguished by a capital ‘S’. Transpersonal Self refers to the unchanging source, pure being- it’s not a mental construct. It is an experience.
Thus, Psychosynthesis was one of the first western psychologies to include theoretically both the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human being, more commonly known as a transpersonal psychology. In this way, Psychosynthesis works with two dimensions of growth – the psychological and the spiritual. Psychological dimension can often just focus on what is wrong and what needs fixing. This suggests a fundamental non acceptance that we aren’t ok as we are – there is a norm we have to measure up to. Set within a larger spiritual/transpersonal framework, ‘what is wrong and what needs fixing’ are viewed as the aspects of ourselves that hold our potential – our psychological wounding is one of the ways the Self manifests in the world. In other words, within the personality it’s often hard to locate the essence of this divine energy due to the personality’s defences that can be seen to block our capacity to connect to this energy. And this divine energy is available at every moment. It is not a place to get to, the obstacle to it is ourselves.
One of the main principles of Psychosynthesis is that ‘we are dominated by everything with which we become identified or attached’ (Assagioli). In this way, PS is not about believing a theory / it’s about practising from a deep well within you in amidst a stepping back from beliefs which usually end up forming our identities. Psychosynthesis training emphasises the experiential aspect of the course as a way of becoming more of who we are – knowing about yourself theoretically and knowing yourself experientially are very different. The teaching encourages letting go of understanding and facts, making space for the felt realisation, the living moment. Overall, PS training is practice in letting go, this doesn’t mean getting rid of but in accepting the various aspects of our personality, we can experience a spaciousness which is more than them.
What does a psychosynthesis therapist do?
Holds the approach/frame that I have described – providing what we call ‘bifocal vision’ – working with what is and what is trying to manifest/emerge and being blocked by psychological defences.
Psychosynthesis provides short term and long term therapy. Short term may be about providing a set of creative tools and techniques to work with through a wider educational approach – this is not a quick fix but would depend on a psychological assessment of the individual as to whether they could use the techniques and tools. Longer term therapy is a more in-depth psychological exploration.
Why did you become interested in psychosynthesis?
I don’t know if I remember feeling so much being ‘interested’ as something in me feeling drawn to the teachings – so it wasn’t just a head thing as in my mind being interested in the theory, but a deeper call to a sense of spaciousness that I remember feeling held in, both psychologically and spiritually. And of course now, I realise that they are both the same thing. I see that the psychological work is about working with my psychological blocks and the spiritual aspect is about feeling held in something bigger than myself. Both are inextricably linked.
I like the ordinariness of how the spiritual is talked about – not as something separate from me but connected to how I live my everyday life – it is of the personal and beyond the personal , hence the term transpersonal. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
For me, spirituality is about unlearning, not learning more. It’s about becoming aware of how our beliefs systems easily become ideologies that can police our ability to experience ourselves more fully. And the tension held in Psychosynthesis is about certainly learning the theory but holding it loosely as a framework that helps to give meaning to our experiences. The challenge is being mindful of not turning Psychosynthesis teaching into yet another belief system.
Subsequently, my own research into sexuality and gender involves looking at how normalised and attached we become to these identities in particular. Our various identities often grow from beliefs and values which can give us a sense of self. In Psychosynthesis we talk about a sense of presence that goes beyond any categories and conceptual understanding. Something that is not about a belief but has to be experienced. Something beyond the contents and form of our personality.
Why would someone see a psychosynthesis therapist?
It’s not pathologically based, as I said before, the idea is not about conforming to some idea of psychological health. Working on a transpersonal level is about taking time and paying attention to all the many things that make up our life.
How does psychosynthesis therapy differ from other forms of counselling?
I don’t want to get into making it better than other forms or to suggest that other forms of counselling don’t hold and recognise the value of the spiritual or meaning and purpose. For me what can differentiate psychosynthesis from other approaches is that the spiritual/ transpersonal dimension is not seen as an add-on to the psychological work in therapy, but is at its core. Using everyday life as spiritual practice, it’s about bringing awareness to everything we do, being at one with the moment.
Eastern disciplines often have tended to emphasise the spiritual dimension, while Western approaches usually have focused on the personality side, psychosynthesis brings them both together as a model of unity. A working hypothesis of Psychosynthesis is that ultimately we are a Self, carrying the impulse to incarnate here in the world – the impulse to individuality and the impulse to universality. In us both are taking place, the process of experience and expression. Psychosynthesis is bringing together spirit and matter.
When I teach or am asked to write something or talk about Psychosynthesis, a couple of meditations will usually come to my mind. I don’t analyse or rationalise why these particular ones, I see this as one of the ways the Self makes itself known. I have included the 2 below.
God is closer to us then we are to ourselves. Thomas Keating.
So few of us are willing to go beyond definitions and beliefs and concepts to grasp life itself.
Dr Angie Fee is a psychotherapist, supervisor and trainer at the Psychosynthesis Trust.
The Psychosynthesis Trust trains counsellors and psychotherapists and offers personal development courses to people exploring their psychospiritual development.