Dear members, 
We've all been there: you're having a conversation, waxing lyrical to someone about your profession or passion, and you mention the term 'depth psychology'....only to be met with a blank, quizzical look.
For sure, depth psychology has transformed since Freud, Jung, Bleuler and others developed it over the course of the past century. Right now, we (the Alliance board members) are having a conversation about what depth psychology actually is.
In the spirit of opening up the conversation to you, our members, we would like to know:
How do you define 'depth psychology'?
Do you have a favourite/preferred definition?
How would you define the term 'depth psychology' in, say, 30 seconds?
Please post your definition for us to see here - and feel free to comment on each other's responses! 
Your answers will help us in a little exercise we're engaging in to make the Alliance grow and flourish.
The Alliance board 

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Thanks for asking the question Bonnie! I really hope people will offer their candid or canned, sacred or mundane, goofy or serious, contextual and historical or purely experiential and phenomenological responses to this question...What is depth psychology?  

Thanks, Mark. As you know, this has been under discussion by the board since we convened a couple of months ago. Esther Waldron, however, is the one who took the initiative to post this here for community discussion.

I might just stipulate here for the benefit of everyone reading this that the idea is not to nail down a definition (though it might be nice to find a clear description that anyone will "get" in 30 seconds--the good old "elevator pitch they call that in marketing).

Rather, the idea is to open it up and see what is revealed. Like a diamond, there are countless facets of what depth psychology means to any individual. It would be great to see many of those ideas, impressions and insgihts represented here, allowing depth psychology to share itself through our many voices....

Before we get too possessive of the term from a Jungian standpoint, let us not forget the term was coined by Bleuler and as far as I can tell, the usage was based around approaches that contained the unconscious. This includes Freud, Otto Rank, Klein, [arguably] Adler, William James, Janet, and more. However the discussion goes, let us be aware of whatever biases we may be bringing to the table.

OK - I'll give it a try.

Depth psychology takes an in-depth look at the symbols, images, traditions, peculiarities, beliefs, dreams, and behaviors specific and universal to the human condition. Drawing on the work of C. G. Jung's archetypal perspective, depth psychologists study the patterns and processes instinctive to individual and collective psychological stages of growth.

Depth psychologists believe that behavior can be correlated to the narratives encoded in humanity's mythological and religious traditions, and that these narratives are still reflected in our lives today.  As clinicians, depth psychologists believe that  by knowing your personal myth, we, as individuals and as a society, can gain greater self awareness and mastery over our lives.

A depth psychological point of view incorporates the wisdom traditions as tools for psychological healing, using correlations and connections to one's personal inner myth, and to society's myth, through the active use of symbols, imagination, narrative, amplification, art, music, dance, ritual, and community participation.  Depth psychology is a holistic approach that considers body, mind, and spirit.

OK - that's as much as I can think. I'm on spring break ~~~


But if someone such as a Freudian or Kleinian is considered a depth psychologist also, would they not disagree with this statement? After all, many of these ideas formed the basis of the split between Jung and Freud. If we're truly talking about Depth Psychology (as opposed to straight Analytical Psychology), aren't we imposing our Jungian viewpoint on a larger field? In terms of definitions, I've seen little regarding the unconscious and its relation to a topographical approach to the psyche, which does seem to be the idea at which Bleuler was aiming - and let us not forget that it was he who coined the term, not Jung.

I am a layman in psychology considering my education, but in my opinion depth psychology is also about someone's willingness to go farther down the rabbit hole. Freud was "eating" cigars (those the worst for your health) and had a cocaine phase in his life. Mind you, Jung deserves to be criticized for seducing his patient(s), but both Freud and Jung are important as pioneers of depth psychology. They have found a language for creative people and daydreamers to express to other people and themselves what is happening to them on a daily basis. 

About Freud's obsession with sexuality - I have two parents, and when I was a child they were my whole world. I saw in them all other men and women. This doesn't mean that my mother attracts me (there are some seriously unattractive mothers out there), but she did influence my attitude toward women (attractive or not) in general, just as my father influenced my attitude toward other men and society in general. That whole idea that the "make love with your mother, kill your father" is the origin of all consciousness is, in my opinion, actually a misinterpretation of causes and effects. I have instincts to fight for my place under the Sun and have children with a fine woman (especially if my mother (the female half of the world) is a nice person) and they seem to me like a more fundamental reason why I behave the way I do than the story about king Oedipus. Also, sexuality is just one (repressed in modern humans) way to achieve pleasure. I need to eat some good food before having sex, you know?

John, you may be on to something. Most of us are talking about windows INTO the depth: myth; countertransference; poetry; ceremony. Even the words sacred and profane speaks only to the surface of our experience. Why have we not defined THE DEPTH itself (I think there are good reasons; it is difficult to approach directly)? I agree that "depth" implies a topographical approach, so there must be a deeper layer to our topography. 

As far as agreements/disagreements: I am well trained in the Freudian tradition, with a further honing from some other schools (more Klein than Jung). Nevertheless, as I said, I agree with Pamela DeRossitte's description. Pamela uses different terms than I would. But I think my world of projective identification and the clinical situation treated as a type of dream-like experience would fit within what Pamela is describing as attention to archetypes and learning from wisdom traditions. At least I assume there is common ground there. For instance, is Aleksandar Malecic talking about the mother of the Oedipal Complex or the Earth Mother; I think both, and something transcendent to both of those schools of thought.

Thanks Esther -- let's keep it rolling.  I think the idea is needed - as a grad student in a traditional program, I often bring up depth psych. There is a huge population that knows nothing about this field --- and those are the people I hope to influence.  My background as an elementary school teacher is my touchstone for trying to keep things simple.  But every point of view is needed. A new depth community is out there, crying for info.

What a wonderful exercise, thank you for the opportunity!

As a matter of introduction, I am a Freudian analyst in the US. My training was classical, although my perspective is now much more Kleinian.

I love and agree with Pamela DeRossitte's elegant presentation. In my words, a depth psychology works to unfold the layers of meaning beneath experience. To me, the goal is a richness and freedom of experience.

I would like to expand on the purpose of the therapist, or begin a discussion of the analyzing instrument. In my understanding of depth psychology, the instrument takes the form of perception, largely thru affective response and reverie. This is a honed instrument in the analyst, and is discovered (or developed, depending on the patient and/or theoretical stance) in the analysand. I am thinking of the use of countertransference, or in a more sophisticated theory, of Bion's container-contained.

Thank you Esther, Bonnie, Mark, Pamela and Chris for getting this exciting discussion started!

Unfortunately, like defining the word “religion,” defining depth psychology can be a tricky enterprise. If we make the definition too specific, we leave out much that is of value. On the other hand, if we make the definition too broad, our definition runs the risk of becoming virtually meaningless. I very much admire Pamela DeRossitte's and Chris Heath's definitions. They both provide us with definitions that are helpfully inclusive and at the same time specific enough to be immediately applicable to many different paradigms. My own understanding of Depth Psychology is that it could be described as: ‘Any psychology that recognizes, values, and has some theoretical approach to unconscious processes’. In some ways this is both too simple and too broad a definition, but I think, for me at least, it provides an important starting point.

However we define Depth Psychology, I think it is a vitally important area of human endeavor. With pressure from all sides to quantify our lives and everything around us, the movement towards actively encouraging advances in human consciousness that is represented by those who dare to champion Depth Psychology has never been more important than it is today. My own interest in depth psychologies is in the vital compensatory function that they perform for the maladies of modern peoples around the globe. In my view, effective Depth Psychologies, whatever their theoretical bases, perform this vital function by allowing dissociated modern centers of consciousness to reconnect with their own ground of being. They do this by helping modern people to reconnect with their own personal histories, their own emotions, their own physical bodies, the natural world which surrounds them, and most importantly (in my view), with the sacred.

All the best,

James, thanks for the kind words, and I agree with you and your inclusion of the compensatory function for society's ills.  You summed it up elegantly, and pinpointed the reason depth psych is needed as a practice in the world. I also like that you included the term "sacred."  That would never show up in clinical psych. -- Awesome dude!!

Thanks, Pamela. I agree with you that the word ‘sacred’ is not often bandied about in clinical psych circles (but, for that matter, neither are the words “Awesome dude”).

But there are many ways that the sacred can be understood, and not all of them have to necessarily refer to any metaphysical claims. There is considerable evidence that human beings have been dividing the world into precincts of the sacred and the profane since before the beginnings of recorded history. It seems evident that practices related to this tendency to divide the world into precincts of the sacred and the profane, practices which are found in every human culture, have assisted human beings in regulating the energies of the psyche. For a Freudian, that may mean the regulation and sublimation of libido. For a Kohutian Self-psychologist, it may mean regulation of the energies of the grandiose exhibitionistic self organization, and, for a Jungian, it may mean the regulation of archetypal energies. However these activities are understood, religious and spiritual practices have helped human beings regulate anxiety and grandiosity for hundreds of thousands of years.

In recent centuries we have witnessed the disappearance of what sociologist Peter Berger has called “The Sacred Canopy.” This sacred canopy had for thousands of years provided humans with a sense that we were mere mortals living in a world that is controlled by forces greater than ourselves. As modern people, we have lost this sense, and with that loss we have inherited a flood of uncontrolled grandiose exhibitionistic energies that threaten our very existence. Even for those who balk at the idea of bowing their heads to some metaphysical sacred power, we all have an existential ground of being from which our lives somehow mysteriously spring each day. Recognizing that reality on a daily basis seems to have helped the ancients to maintain some balance in the face of the grandiose psychological energies that pressed upon them from within. I think we moderns could learn much from the wisdom of the ancients. That is why I believe that some recognition of the human need to acknowledge and experience the sacred must be included in any truly effective Depth Psychology.

All the best,


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