What is contextual psychosynthesis?

Psychosynthesis itself is a therapeutic and educational model originally developed by Roberto Assagioli, and is now to be found in many countries. Its central tenets are that we are guided by principles of love and will, towards the integration of the many parts of our psyche. The ‘self’ has both conscious and unconscious elements, with the latter having both a ‘lower’ and a ‘higher’ aspect.

Whereas the lower unconscious carries our instincts, drives and neurotic complexes, the higher unconscious is the source of creativity, inspiration, the aesthetic and the pull towards spiritual and moral development. Taken as a whole, we might say the whole package constitutes our soul and its growth. At various points in our ‘soul journey’, we hit crises of identity, often necessitating the shedding of an emotional and psychological ‘skin’, which is often described as the transition from the ‘survival self’ to the ‘authentic self’.

Psychosynthesis respects and includes many other models and frameworks for working with all this such as Gestalt, cognitive-behavioural, bodywork, existential and psychoanalytic. Modern trainings are usually very psychodynamic as well as integrative in style.

Understandably, within the world of psychosynthesis there are many different schools and philosophies, each with their own emphasis. In keeping with the spirit of psychosynthesis, it would probably be undesirable and impossible to hold to one over-arching view. The one and the many need to sit together in their complexity and with their contradictions.

The individual psyche is not the only frame of reference, as we live and develop within a collective field – not just at the unconscious level, but we are shaped by the environment, society, culture and zeitgeist - the spirit of our times – what we might loosely call ‘the field’. The idea of the ‘self’, or that sense of personal agency which we might call the ‘I’, is both deceptively simple and yet very complex and subtle. All too often, it is seen as constant, unchanging – the observer and the participant in a timeless way of being. This can be very solipsistic, and ignores the ordinary human observation that we develop and adapt very much in relationship to the field, or what we might call the ‘context’. That context includes the social, political and cultural world, as much as just the psychological. Thus, certain commonplace therapeutic building blocks – often held to be universal and given - ‘identity’, ‘attachment’, ‘pathology’ and ‘growth’ - need to be understood within much bigger pictures, and perhaps are not as obvious or uncontroversial as might think. In this I have been stimulated by certain thinkers around this, in particular: the psychotherapist James Hillman, the psychologist David Smail and the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, to name just a few. These three seem to have one point of commonality – they challenge the notion that our sense of contentment, fulfilment and happiness are necessarily generated internally within the individual. Obvious perhaps, but this can go against the grain of many therapeutic and psychospiritual models which start with the ‘self’. Although there is nothing intrinsic to psychosynthesis which limits it to the solipsistic, it is often interpreted and presented in this way – and that is what I want to challenge and explore in the Contextual Psychosynthesis model.

This is a typical psychosynthesis model showing different aspects of the self. We speak of 'transpersonal qualities', referring to attributes of being human. Such attributes are available to everyone, but sometimes it can take a lifetime to develop or fine-tune these qualities.  Given our more recent appreciation of neuroscience we can say that, given the right emotional attachment conditions and the working through of significant past traumas, there is a better chance of making the most of these attributes and building a more resilient sense of self.