Depth Psychology

What is depth psychology?

depth psychology

Ask a depth psychologist to define this psychological orientation, and you’re likely to hear concepts such as being thorough, going deeper, delving into areas that instigate an awakening, encouraging a greater self-awareness. Somewhere in the explanation, you’ll also hear talk of the soul, the psyche, probing the unconscious -finding life’s meaning and purpose.

In other words, placing the word “depth” before psychology is not an accident. According to Louis Hoffman, Ph.D., and a licensed clinical psychologist, depth psychology means going deeper with individuals than many other forms of therapy or approaches. It’s a form of psychology that seeks a “different type of change,” he said.

Hoffman, a founding psychology faculty member at the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colo., said that the title depth psychology really is an umbrella term that includes many different psychological approaches that share similarities and values, approaches that borrow from each other.

One of the more well known approaches in depth psychology is existential psychology, an orientation that Hoffman identifies with, calling himself an existential psychologist.

But Hoffman said that those working in the depth psychology area often combine two or more depth psychologies, creating an “integrative” depth approach.

For example, James Bugental, one of the key figures in the development of the depth psychology field, called himself a humanistic-existential psychologist. But regardless of the approach or title of the approach, Bugental called all the depth psychologies “life-changing.”

Why life changing?

The roots depth psychology draw from the work of the 20th century Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung who focused the development of his psychological theories on understanding the unconscious mind. He believed that central to healing was the individual’s personal encounter with the unconscious, and the psychologist’s role was to help others explore and travel the depths of this mysterious realm that many consider inaccessible. 

Jung also developed the concept of a collective unconscious, another major concept in depth psychology. This concept along with psychological principles based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, and theories of Alfred Adler and Otto Rank form the basis of depth psychology’s emphasis on delving into a person’s psyche not only to correct dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, but also to pursue ideals of social justice and equality for communities.

Adlerian psychology bases its thought on human interconnectedness and interdependence. This theory states that an individual’s welfare and self-actualization depends on the welfare of others. As one translates positive, healthy thoughts and behaviors into finding one’s passion and purpose in life, those actions can help others achieve a sense of personal fulfillment and well-being as well.

Ultimately, depth psychologists see the integration of the conscious and unconscious, two parts of the human psyche, as healthful and healing.

However, many different approaches to depth psychology exist because not every school of thought agrees on how to define the unconscious, nor how to access what exists there.

What is the collective unconscious? What are archetypes?

Much like humans have hearts, kidneys, and lungs, Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung theorized that they also possess a collective unconscious, given to them at birth - a layer of the unconscious from humanity’s primordial past.

Jung theorized that the unconscious is divided into the personal unconscious and the collective. The personal unconscious is composed of suppressed and forgotten memories, traumas, and experiences. It is personal, meaning that each individual has acquired, through living, unique material in his or her personal unconscious.

But everyone shares the same collective unconscious, a holding cell for religious, spiritual, and mythological symbols, a deep enclave of all hidden, universal truths; psychic structures or forms given to all people across the globe. Jung called these structures or forms archetypes.

Models of people, personalities and behaviors are all archetypes in psychology. The hero, for example, is an archetypical personality, and the careful, destructive plotting of a murderer is an archetypical behavior. Similarly, the mother-child relationship symbolizes people and relationships found in every culture.

Jung also believed that dreams provide a gateway for these archetypes to appear, and therefore a lot of Jungian psychological theory and practice rests on dream interpretation.

Types of depth psychology:

  • Existential psychology
  • Humanistic psychology
  • Transpersonal psychology
  • Gestalt psychology
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychodynamic

Other names for depth psychology

Analytical psychology, Jungian psychology, and Archetypal psychology are sometimes called “depth psychologies.” The reason for the seemingly interchangeable nature of these psychological orientations stems from their Jungian roots. Similar to depth psychology, these three orientations base their development on Jung’s psychology of unraveling the mysteries of the unconscious.

As researchers continue to expand on Jung’s theories, other psychological orientations continue to develop. The psychology community today categorizes many of these approaches as post-Jungian, and while they hold many similarities to the depth psychology orientation, they are becoming unique and distinctive in their own schools of thought.

Careers in depth psychology

Some individuals pursue advanced degrees in depth psychology to become psychotherapists employing a particular depth approach, such as existentialism or humanistic. These individuals usually purse Ph.D.’s in Psychology, Jungian Studies or Depth Psychology, and many combine private practice with teaching and research at universities and colleges.

Still others with Master’s degrees in Psychology, Jungian Studies or Depth Psychology find that the degree provides excellent credentials for those who work with others on a deep level - teachers and educators, activists who work for community, ecological and environmental organizations, politicians, and therapy professionals, such as art, music, theater, and writing therapists.

Colleges and universities that offer degrees in Depth Psychology or Jungian Studies usually offer master’s or Ph.D. degree programs. If you are interested in pursuing depth psychology to work as psychotherapist or to work in a number of “people-oriented” careers, request information from schools offering degrees in Depth Psychology or a related Psychology field.

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