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The Way of Psychosynthesis – An interview with Petra Guggisberg Nocelli

Petra Guggisberg Nocelli, a graduate of the Italian Society for Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy, followed her calling and turned her thesis into what is now the most complete and comprehensive overview of the evolution of psychosynthesis published to date. We connected to find out more about Petra and the creation of her book: 'The Way of Psychosynthesis':

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote the first draft of The Way of Psychosynthesis 18 years ago, in 2000. It was my degree thesis. The will to understand in depth the teaching of Roberto Assagioli inspired me. My meeting with Psychosynthesis was for me a real "coup de foudre". It has modeled, and still shapes me and my activities in a clear way. However while writing my thesis I never thought about the possibility that one day it could have become a published book.
Then during my post-graduate specialization in psychotherapy at the SIPT (Italian Society for Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy) I gave my thesis to a friend and colleague to read to and they were really enthusiastic. She told me: "In your thesis is everything you need to know about Psychosynthesis, and you have organized it in an exceptional way. You must publish this text!" But, for many years, I did not reconsider that suggestion.
Finally in 2009, one morning while walking in the woods with my daughter, Viola, who was just a newborn then, I felt the strong and sudden inner urge to find someone willing to publish the text. It is not easy for me to explain: it felt imperative. As soon as I returned home I sent some extracts to Dr. Gianni Yoav Dattilo, at that time President of SIPT. Gianni supported my idea and passed them on to Dr. Alberto Alberti, a direct pupil of Roberto Assagioli and an editor. Work on the text then began, lasting about a year and a half with the objective of completely updating it.
The same thing has happened also to have the book translated and published in English:a sudden inner urge and then the consequential push to act. And without even being able to speak and read English well: a crazy adventure indeed!

What was the process like? E.g. what did you enjoy? What surprised you? What was challenging?

The work was wide-ranging. I had the precious opportunity to dedicate myself entirely to writing for months without distractions. I was not interested in directly expressing my personal point of view on Psychosynthesis. Rather I was guided by the general purpose to compose a comprehensive and ample view of the evolution of psychosynthetic teaching, starting with the first writings from Roberto Assagioli at the beginning of the 1900s, up to the contributions of his own students and other contemporary Psychosynthesis practitioners.
It was beautiful and surprising to study and understand more deeply the very broad vision of the human being who proposed Psychosynthesis and to observe this “harmonious and richly colored mandala” take shape before my eyes: the reconstruction of the many vicissitudes that have marked the life of Roberto Assagioli, so full of inspirations; the close interweaving between the maturation of his thought and the evolution of the young science of psychology throughout the last century; his original ideas and then the developments and proposals for completion to date, and so on.
It was a difficult to conclude the text because Psychosynthesis is wonderfully vast, inclusive and fruitful, and I dare say “infinite”: an adequate mirror for the spirit of the human being. In fact, after publishing this first book in Italian I immediately started to write another one: more than 500 pages, always about Psychosynthesis, of course!

What did you learn about yourself in writing and publishing it?

It's hard to summarize: there really are so many things I could say! The first thing is undoubtedly that I have learned to trust my intuitions, that subtle inner voice that shows me a way to go. Over the years I have discovered that there is an unconscious dimension, which I understand little, but on which I can rely. At this very moment in which I answer this question, I feel great gratitude for this process, even if it constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone, putting me to the test but also making me grow and become more and more myself.
I have a reserved and shy nature. I love silence and tranquility. My two children are still young, I work as a psychotherapist, so it is not easy for me to find the time and energy needed to write and publish. Sometimes, especially when there are difficulties or I feel too much alone in carrying out this work, I am tempted to give up. But then something always happens... a meeting, an encouraging word or an incredible synchronicity renews in me the trust in the goodness of the road I'm going through and also my will to do it.
I have also learned to expose myself with more courage. I learned to dare, without being too blocked by my doubts and fears. I learned to live more fully. For example, for this project to publish The Way of Psychosynthesis in English, I was inspired by the evocative word I received in Taormina, during the International Conference “Psychosynthesis for the future”: Courage! That red card, even today on my desk, has always guided me in moments of doubt and discouragement: when I asked myself "How can I continue this project without knowing English?", "Where do I find the money and the time I need?", "How do I solve this unexpected problem? And this other difficulty?", "How do I creatively transform this fear? And this disappointment?"
Every time I asked myself one of these or other questions, my eye fell on that red note with Assagioli's calligraphy, which read: “Courage! The will to risk. The acceptance of insecurity. A wise will must at times and places know how to dare, assuming responsibility and risk. You must have the courage to err, to give the right part of life to the ‘divine unforeseen’” and then I continued... above all I continued learning, and growing!

What new insights did you gain about psychosynthesis?

I am even more convinced that Psychosynthesis can really contribute to orienting and designing the psychology of the future. Assagioli was a brilliant precursor. His vision of the human being is monumental; I believe his vision to be the most complete, systemic and grounded that we currently have at our disposal in the field of psychology. A vision of which our time really has a great need for: in a programmatic, innovative and creative way it integrates the best contributions of European psychology (especially those of the psychodynamic and humanistic-existential orientation, so attentive also to the relational dimension), with the pragmatic tension proper to American psychology (always looking for active and creative techniques and tools to promote a real harmonious development in individuals and groups), and with the precious contributions of oriental psychology (which for millennia investigates the transpersonal dimensions of the human being and the realization of his deepest and most authentic Self).
Drafting the second of the four parts of text was particularly interesting, namely the reconstruction of the rigorous scientific dialogue that Assagioli has always considered with the various forces of psychology, often anticipating them in decades. The dialogue with the first behaviorism theories by Watson up to the most recent indications offered by Bandura and colleagues, for example with modeling techniques. The dialogue with the psychoanalysis of Freud, of which he was one of the very first Italian scholars, and with the analytical psychology of Jung of which he was a friend. Finally the dialogue with the humanistic-existential European psychology (Binswanger, Frankl, Fromm, Laing ...) and American (Rogers, May, Maslow ...); and with the ancient spiritual traditions both Western and Eastern and with their scientific reformulations by transpersonal psychology since the 70s.
Even today, after almost 25 years of in-depth study, Psychosynthesis remains for me a diamond mine that every time reveals its precious gifts. I'm only sorry because I know I will not be able to do everything I'd like to do in this field.

What do you think Assagioli would say about the book?

This is a good question, and also a difficult one! I hope that Assagioli would appreciate my constant effort to scientifically contextualize his work. He stated very clearly that one thing is existential experiences, the immediate data of consciousness (e.g. internal illuminations, aesthetic and creative experiences, scientific intuitions, pushes to heroic and ethic action, ingenious inventiveness, ecstasy, the pursuit of freedom and happiness, play, self-transcendence, conversion to love, to solidarity and to brotherhood..), another thing is the doctrines, the beliefs, and the conceptions: philosophical, spiritual, esoteric and religious that human beings draw from it.
Now we know very well that Assagioli cultivated a multifaceted cultural formation and he was a passionate scholar of many of these conceptions, but he wanted Psychosynthesis to be neutral and secular about them and to the institutions that represent them. I consider this distinction very current and - as I had the opportunity to illustrate in my recent article The Wall of Silence as Creator of Bridges: Reflections on the use of language, silence and the emancipation of the mind from the literal thinking in Psychosynthesis - a powerful and necessary antidote to literal thought and its ever-present corollaries: fanaticism, fundamentalism, separation, lack of communication, conflict etc. Dr. Assagioli wanted Psychosynthesis to talk to as many people as possible without discrimination or distinction of beliefs, religion or race; to people who are on the path of more or less definite spiritual research, to agnostics and atheists; to artists and politicians, mystics and doctors, yogis and scientists, athletes and therapists. Whilst writing I tried to respect and keep these points clear.

I also hope that Assagioli would appreciate the strong tension towards the organization and synthesis that animates my writing and is articulated on different levels.
First of all, it concerns my specific way of writing. If I had to compare it with an art form, the mosaic comes to mind. What I want to communicate does not emerge so much from the individual pieces, but from the way I compose them. I am always looking for an overall, choral vision, for that fil rouge that has run through Psychosynthesis for more than a century. I proceed by approaching the various voices. As Piero Ferrucci kindly commented on my work: "Here one understands that Psychosynthesis is not the idea of a single individual, but the result of a collaboration between thousands of people all over the world - a real movement”. I would say that this phrase illustrates well what I’m trying to say here, and what I try to do when I write.
And indeed, the spirit of organization and synthesis animates my writing work in an even wider sense. The Way of Psychosynthesis is in fact only the first volume of a larger project, called ‘The Tree on the Mountain’, which also includes my second book ‘Know, Master, Transform Yourself - A collection of practical tools for inner harmony, development of potential, and personal and transpersonal Psychosynthesis’, already published in Italian in 2016. The latter is a wonderful manual that brings together more than 280 exercises and techniques of Psychosynthesis, including the explanation of its theoretical aspect. A very useful text for anyone working in the fields of psychotherapy, counseling, coaching, interpersonal relationships and education. The purpose of the whole project is the contextualization, organization and the complete updating of the various aspects of Psychosynthesis: historical and cultural, theoretical and conceptual, methodological, pragmatic, and technical.
I hope to start the English translation of this second book soon. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite those who have ideas about this or those who want to participate and support the initiative to contact me at p.g.nocelli@hotmail.com

What do you think psychosynthesis needs now to ‘grow’ its work in the world?

As I mentioned earlier, Psychosynthesis cultivates an attitude aimed at integrating in a systematic and creative way the most significant contributions of European psychology, with the American and the Eastern psychology. Added to this is the constant search for a constructive dialogue also with the medical, philosophical and spiritual sciences, with other educational and training theories and practices, and with the various forms of art. This attention to the integration of the best innovations in various areas of the human sciences leads to Psychosynthesis being constantly updated and competitive: ready to incorporate, among its many modalities of intervention, every new instrument or contribution that is valid in alleviating human suffering and promoting the growth and harmonization of individuals and groups.
This strong programmatic quality is extremely current and innovative. It is important to continue to cultivate it consciously and then propose it with scientific rigor and enthusiasm, especially in the areas in which the psychology of the future is built, with special attention also to the potential (and dangers) linked to the internet, social media, etc.
In this regard, I like to mention the words that Assagioli himself chose to present his report "Synthesis in Psychotherapy" at the VI International Congress of Psychotherapy held in London in 1964. He said: "(...) any point of view or partial system is right as it offers positive, and is wrong as it excludes and denies. It must be admitted that every school, movement, point of view or technique has its merits and limitations; therefore it is appropriate to know, appreciate and use as many of them as possible."

What impact would like this book to have?

In Italy my books are read by a variety of readers: casual readers, people who are passionate about the subject, students, counselors, psychotherapists. In particular, the students and trainers of the various Italian Institutes for Psychosynthesis Training appreciate them for their academic and didactic approach. These books are considered useful both for the in-depth study of the subject, both for the preparation of lessons and training courses. It would be a great joy for me if The Way of Psychosynthesis (and then also Know, Master and Transform Yourself) could be just as valid and fruitful even for readers outside of Italy.
My most beautiful dream is that this book, together with the valid texts of many other colleagues, helps to create a solid and common background to all friends of Psychosynthesis. A shared foundation on which to build dialogue, constructive exchanges, synergies and creative union: qualities that Psychosynthesis needs to expand even more in the world.
This is a really a good question to end the interview. It reminds me of the heartfelt words I have chosen to close also the preface of the book: “I hope from my heart that “The Way of Psychosynthesis” can sustain the enthusiasm of all those who feel a resonance with the message of Psychosynthesis, permitting each to recognize - independently from group or institutional affiliation, and beyond the numerous and inevitable differences which are to be respected and supported - that which unites us, that which moves us, at times on different paths, in the direction of the same common destination. This challenge has never been more urgent and vital. Succeeding in meeting it means to develop and improve the extraordinary potential of the monumental vision that has been given to us by Roberto Assagioli. We have all the tools to realize this, as well as the methods for activating our Good Will.”

Petra Guggisberg Nocelli, Psychotherapist, Psychosynthesis practitioner, Author, and Trainer
Miglieglia (Switzerland), September 2018

Reviews of Petra's book 'The Way of Psychosynthesis':
"Petra Guggisberg Nocelli was a brilliant pupil of the psychotherapy school of SIPT, and it is my great pleasure to welcome her contribution, written with a genuine psychosynthetic spirit which enriches our bibliography. This book will surely contribute to the dissemination of Psychosynthesis worldwide and I deeply trust it will be an invaluable general introduction for beginners and a precious tool for the seasoned practitioner as well." Dr. Gianni Yoav Dattilo

“Petra Guggisberg Nocelli outlines with depth and clarity the history of Psychosynthesis to this day, its main ideas, techniques, aspects and applications. An essential work for those who want to understand this adventure of the spirit.” Piero Ferrucci

“A work of great love and deep scholarship, it is an amazingly thorough book and one we need. Dr. Guggisberg Nocelli has taken on a challenge in Psychosynthesis literature which has not yet been engaged in. I am so very happy to have it in the world.” Dorothy Firman

“The most comprehensive academic textbook on Psychosynthesis to date. I am happy for the cause of Psychosynthesis that Petra Guggisberg Nocelli has done such a magnificent work and contributed to the legacy of Psychosynthesis and Assagioli.” Kenneth Sørensen

Purchase your copy of 'The Way of Psychosynthesis' here.

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