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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Roberto Assagioli – psychiatrist

Harsh imprisonment sparked new psychiatric theories

Roberto Assagioli, the pioneering psychiatrist who founded the science of psychosynthesis, died on this day in 1974 in Capolona in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany.

Roberto Assagioli was the pioneer of a holistic approach to psychiatry
Roberto Assagioli was the pioneer of
a holistic approach to psychiatry
His innovative psychological movement, which emphasised the possibility of progressive integration, or synthesis, of the personality, aimed at finding inner peace and harmony, is still admired and is being developed by therapists and psychologists today.

Assagioli explained his ideas in four books - two published posthumously - and the many different pamphlets he wrote during his lifetime.

In 1940 the psychiatrist had to spend 27 days in solitary confinement in prison, having been arrested by Mussolini’s Fascist government for praying for peace and encouraging others to join him. He later claimed this experience helped him make his psychological discovery.

Assagioli was born under the name of Roberto Marco Grego in 1888 into a middle-class, Jewish background in Venice.

His father died when he was two years old and his mother remarried quickly to Alessandro Emanuele Assagioli. As a young child Roberto was exposed to art and music and learnt many different languages – creative inspiration which is believed to have helped his work in psychosynthesis.

When he was 18, Assagioli began to travel, and while in Russia he learnt about social systems and politics.

Assagioli as a young man
Assagioli as a young man
Assagioli received his first degree in neurology and psychiatry at Istituto di Studii Superiori Pratici di Perfezionamento in Florence in 1910. Then he began writing articles that criticised psychoanalysis, arguing for a more holistic approach.

After training in psychiatry at a hospital in Zurich, he opened the first psychoanalytic hospital in Italy, but felt unsatisfied with this field of psychiatry.

He married Nella Ciapetti in 1922 and they had a son, Ilario.

After being released from his solitary cell in Regina Coeli prison in 1940, he returned to his family, but later in the war their farm was destroyed and they had to go into hiding in the mountains above Arezzo.

Their son, Ilario, died at the age of 28 from lung disease, thought to have been caused by the harsh living conditions he experienced during the war.

The cover of Assagioli's second book, published a year before he died.
The cover of Assagioli's second book,
published a year before he died.
After the war, Assagioli returned to his work on psychosynthesis, preferring a spiritual and holistic approach to psychology.

He was inspired by Freud and Jung and felt that love, wisdom and creativity were important components in psychoanalysis.

Assagioli corresponded with Freud but they never had the chance to meet.

He gave much of the credit for his inspiration for psychosynthesis to his solitary confinement for nearly four weeks in 1940.

He said he used his time in prison to exercise his mental will by meditating daily because he had realised he was able to change his punishment into an opportunity to investigate his inner self.

Assagioli died on August 23, 1974 at the age of 86 from unknown causes.

Since his death, psychosynthesis has continued to be embraced as a comprehensive psychological approach for finding inner peace and harmony.


The Institute of Psychosynthesis has its headquarters on the northern outside of Florence
The Institute of Psychosynthesis has its headquarters
on the northern outside of Florence
Travel tip:

Roberto Assagioli’s former home in Via San Domenico, on the northern outskirts of Florence on the way to Fiesole, is now the headquarters of the Institute of Psychosynthesis, where conferences about the science are regularly held. Although Assagioli wrote just two books about his ideas, the Institute houses a rich archive of documents that includes a large quantity of hand-written material by him.

The bridge across the Arno into Capolona
The bridge across the Arno into Capolona
Travel tip

Capolona, where Assagioli was living when he died, is a small town near Arezzo in Tuscany, located on the right bank of the River Arno. It is referred to as the gateway to the Casentino area, which is rich in castles, churches and old bridges. A few kilometres away to the north lies Caprese Michelangelo, the small village where the great artist Michelangelo was born.



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