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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    • I love how you put it, Chris, "depth psychology works to unfold the layers of meaning beneath experience."  As a therapist, I feel that the most useful definitions depth psychology are ones that are accessible enough to strike a chord in the layperson.  

      I do struggle with how to describe depth work with prospective clients, and I think I have boiled down the reason for my struggle to this: depth work recovers something that many people don't realize is missing from their awareness-- soul.  The challenge is to describe our work in such a way that something inside the other sparks in recognition, even if it is only recognition of what has been missing, or what they have been hungry for without realizing it.  

      • Hi Joy, Yes, I think you're right. How do you talk about something when the other person doesn't realize it exists. Hopefully potential clients have an awareness that something is missing, just as an aspect of what brings them to us. Loneliness, apathy, anhedonia; it seems like we have a lot of words for "something's missing".

        When I teach classes, I frequently encourage discussion by bringing up optical illusions; the ones where it looks like one thing; then the other, previously invisible object suddenly becomes apparent. Even that example would seem to me to be artificial when talking with a potential client, and this is very simplistic compared to a psychoanalytic process, but there is something about the surprise that is important for me to hold in my mind. I always experience that surprise when something new is learned with a client; I find myself excted about that aspect of the work.

        I wonder if other members have that sense of surprise, or other kinds of usual affective experiences, when growth occurs?

    • Ah, someone with a Freudian/Kleinian background, Hallelujah! Although my inclination was always more Jungian, I had the feeling it was just other Jungians on this board and that we may have started to possess or misappropriate the term 'Depth Psychology', perhaps using it as an umbrella term for Jungian 'derivatives'. I'm hoping your presence will help re-balance things. Know any Adlerians? ;)

      • Hi John, I am excited about finding the Alliance website. I have had Jungian supervisors and am interested in comparative approaches, especially between my Freudian/Kleinian training, the Jungian, and the Transpersonal. By the way, I DO have a friend who is trained as an Adlerian, I will try to get her interested!

    • Chris, thanks for your kind words.  I appreciate you perspective of including the purpose of the therapist and the theory as an analyzing instrument.  The peculiarities of personality, training, and an understanding of the transcendent function seem to be key elements here.  I think the current resurgent interest in Jung will provide a hungry audience of both therapists and "seekers."  Let's keep our definition going!

    • 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,

        1. Of all the approaches to Depth Psychology that I have seen in  this forum,  James Newell´s is by far the one that I feel closest to my own perspective.
        2. This leads me to the following question:  besides personal therapy what are the most efficient ways   to " perform this vital (compensatory) function by allowing dissociated modern centers of consciousness to reconnect with their own ground of being "
        3. I tend to be skeptical about the usefulness in this respect of trying to go back to the traditions of indian tribes in North and South America and the likes.

        Best regards,


      • 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!!

  • 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.

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