What is depth?


This is a question we should expect of every new visitor: "What is depth?" So I thought I'd start a discussion here about what it means to us.

Off the cuff:

Early psychoanalysts (and some later ones) say that depth = early. Like, childhood. Yes, in part; but for me, depth refers not only to the unconscious dimension of human existence, as a level of consciousness under everything we ever do, but more specifically to the archetypes and mythic structures and collective and personal fantasies that inhabit that realm.

A while back, at a talk I gave at a San Francisco hackathon, the question came up of the mythic fantasies involved in the Internet. Half-joking, I told the story of Indra's fabulous set of jewels, each node of which reflected all the others (spiritual packet-switching). In India, Indra the lightning (electricity?) god is known as the supreme narcissist; Indra would have loved selfie sticks and pictures of himself on Facebook. So I suggested we call it the Indranet.

None of this has any substantiation apart from my own speculative associations. But when we start looking at what images and stories come out of the surface of what we say and do, we enter depth, at least as I try to understand it.

How do you see it?

You need to be a member of Depth Psychology Alliance to add comments!

Join Depth Psychology Alliance

Email me when people reply –


  • For me, Depth Psychology is the psychology that focuses on "Deep Psyche." So, "Depth" would be the unconscious and invisible realm, the ether within which every idea and material thing is formed. This realm is the foundation of life as we generally know it, including the primordial archetypes. But you can't look at it straight on, or grasp it with logic. You can only "see" it by circling it, looking at it sideways, looking with peripheral vision. It operates by non-rational rules that are circular (versus linear) and symbolic (versus explicit). Some people can grok it, and some of them formed the field of Depth Psychology (Jung, Freud, Hillman, etc.). Their work offers methods of accessing Depth.

    One of my favorite quotes was attributed to Helene Lorenz: Whatever else a symptom is, it is also symbolic. This kind of says it for me: All that is happening is all of what it is, but it is also more. Whatever else this argument is, it is also symbolic. Whatever else this accident is, it is also symbolic. Etc. For me, living life with Depth is about living in a continuous state of curiosity about the symbolic dimension of everything. When I committed to put my first attention on the symbolism of my life experiences and follow the directions coming from my sleeping and waking dreams--including looking for patterns and the subtle web of connections--my life began to make sense in a very different way. Also, a deep sense of wellbeing settled over me that is not really explainable. All because I learned about Depth Psychology in classes by professors like you, Craig!

  • When prompted yet again here to unwrap what is a depth psychology, without the benefit of a review of past thoughts, research and writings on the subject my very first association was to the quote below of Hillman’s below. In addition to remembering at least two repetitions of the statement at the closing of his book and dialogue with Sonu Shamdasani, I seem to recall him with his bandaged arm in a forum discussion on video discussing the Red Book and again announcing this stark, yet highly charged statement.

    For today, it is where my mind rests with what is depth.

    “The only axiomatic basis I have is that we are lived by powers we pretend to understand.” –Hillman in “Lament of the Dead” and elsewhere at the end of his career and life devoted to understanding depth, psyche, and archetypal living (quote originally from the poet Auden I think)

    I think Pretend is an important word here—implying our intrinsic link to imagination and our need to be flexible and realistic about our fantasies—on some level it’s all we got and the sooner we recognize the nature of our knowledge, the sooner we can identify the pantheon we are living in and start casting about for some new fantasies to deify.

    Being lived—recognizes the reality of fate and destiny in our lives, working with the cards we we have in our hands, both individually and collectively.

    That there are Powers, acknowledges forces out of our hands, beyond the ego and our will, that need to be conteded with. Whether of a religious, spiritual, or Other origin.

    The entire notion (only axiom!) encourages me to identify and work with our complexes and better identify the metaphors, symbols, gods and mythologies that are structuring, guiding, depleting and energizing our lives. And to retain some humility when responding to this call.

  • Love the image of the "Indranet." Currently writing an essay on Selfies--may steal your notions about Indra (with credit, of course).

    My go-to answer is usually "the study of the unconscious--what lies beneath the surface, behind the obvious, at the margins." This isn't concrete for most people until you start looking at how depth rises to the top, as you suggest. It is "depth writ large" when images emerge from dreams, or when we're faced with the return of the repressed in crises.

    I am even more interested in what form "depth" can take. Is it a field? A movement? A practice?

    In a recent Vision Task meeting, Jesse referred to it as "how you feed your soul"--whatever that looks like of for you is what depth is. That resonated with me.

  • Just a brief response...not polished: For me depth refers to the initial use of the word, at least in our field, to refer to Freud's psychology of depth (i.e. unconscious dimensions). Also, it applies, at least in my mind, to Jung's amplification of Freud's depth psychology, particularly with its emphasis upon soul. So, basically, all the material that constellates around soul (in experience and the literature / history) constitutes a depth perspective. This stands in contrast to other perspectives, such as existential-phenomenology, which may include depth, but tend to accent the human experience as well as the human experience with the Other. 

This reply was deleted.