What exactly is Depth Psychology?
Depth Psychology deals with unconscious feelings, thoughts and behaviours. It can also be seen as the psychology of the soul. In practice depth psychology seeks to explore the underlying motives behind our behaviours.
Although Depth Psychology is usually associated with the founding psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, it is found in the post-modern schools of thought of Gestalt, Archetypal and Imaginal Psychology.
Jungian psychotherapy is based upon the works of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Jung founded a distinct school of psychotherapy based upon concepts often heard in conversation such as introvert and extravert, synchronicity, archetype, shadow, complex and individuation.
A great resource of Jungian definitions is the Jung Lexicon by Daryl Sharp.
Some features of Depth Psychology include …
The Structure of the Psyche
The term psyche refers to all conscious and unconscious processes.
The conscious is defined as all thoughts and feelings which are known to you, the ‘I’ or the ego (the centre of consciousness). The ego is your day-to-day sense of your personality, your personal history and who you are.
The unconscious is a vast collection of thoughts and emotions that have been repressed and hidden from your awareness. Although you are not aware of this inner material the thoughts and feelings influence your outer behaviour. The contents of the unconscious can be revealed in:
- day fantasies
- body gestures
- slips of the tongue
- expressive arts
The Self is the centre of the psyche, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness. Its role is of balance, coherence, and integration of the psychic contents.
The shadow is a part of the unconscious which represents parts of the psyche that are seen as undesirable. You can see signs of the shadow in unintentional slips, in aspects of your Self that others see and you do not, in qualities of others that you overreact to, and in your dreams. The shadow represents all qualities the ego deems unworthy, be them greed, fear of failure, or creative potential.
Unconscious material can be further divided into personal and collective material. The personal unconscious consists of lost memories, painful repressed thoughts and other perceptions of your personal history that are not ready to reach consciousness.
The collective unconscious is the universal matter of the psyche and represents drives and themes that are common to most cultures. Here you will find archetypal images and themes. Archetypes are common figures (i.e. Mother Earth, Wise Man, Victim, Hero), obects and situations (i.e. death, fear, loss) that have a mythic aspect to them.
The Function of the Psyche
Unconscious material has a creative and healing function and is necessary for psychological well-being. The psyche can be viewed as a mediator between inner and outer worlds. It knows both conscious (what the ego/you knows) and unconscious material (what the ego/you does not know).
The psyche chooses qualities of your Self that need to be incorporated in order to create balance or to downplay overused, no longer needed attitudes and behaviours.
The task is to integrate these previously unknown qualities of your Self into your consciousness or daily awareness. In this way the psyche acts as a self-regulating and compensatory function. It offers helpful and profound insights about how you are dealing with current situations in order for personal growth to occur.
The Psyche Speaks Using Images
Jung stated that, “The psyche consists essentially of images.” Images come to you in dreams, during spontaneous day fantasies, through impulses, body gestures, slips of the tongues, metaphor and expressive arts. It is important to honour these images by writing or drawing them down or remembering them throughout your day.
One of the difficulties in working with unconscious material is that it often appears to be makes little sense. This is because the psyche speaks using symbols to be worked with in an abstract way much like you would experience a piece of art, poem or music. The key is not to interpret or try to figure out the images, but to be curious, holding and playing with the images. Try to sense the overall feel or themes in the images.
For example, death in a dream rarely indicates real death. By looking at death symbolically, other associations to death can be made such as dying, discontinuation, life and death, burying something no longer needed. You can then start to ask yourself, what part of my psyche is no longer needed? What currently held attitude, belief or behaviour is old, ready for death and needs to be buried?
How Symptoms are Viewed
Important for most depth psychotherapists is the way of viewing symptoms (i.e. depression, anger, addiction, body symptoms). People develop symptoms and experience suffering when they are stuck in old patterns. Symptoms are not to be ignored or covered up. During therapy, a curious, non-judgmental look at symptoms occurs in order to understand their previously unknown meaning. In this way, suffering can lead the way to healing.
“There is no illness that is not at the same time an unsuccessful attempt at a cure.” – Jung
The Process of Individuation
As more unconscious material is brought into awareness and integrated into your life, you begin to make decisions and interact with others in ways which rely less upon conventional attitudes or upon the approval of others. This integration of unconscious material is called individuation. It results in what some call self-realization or self-actualization.
Although much time is spent on exploring and developing aspects of your Self this does not mean that relationships are unimportant. From a depth perspective, the more individuation that occurs the more meaningful relationships and every day situations become.