Depth Psychology Blog

What is Depth Psychology?

30 Nov 2012 9:30 AM | Bonnie Bright (Administrator)
“The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life,” writes Carl Jung who is widely known as the father of depth psychology. “Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance....In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted” (Jung, 1989, p. 325).

Depth psychology, narrowed down to its essential, asks simply: what is the nature of our dance with the Jung’s “infinite”--and what does it mean to us? The term "depth psychology," first coined by Swiss psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuler, around the end of the 1800’s, has its beginnings in the work of Sigmund Freud and another Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, along with Pierre Janet and William James. Depth Psychology explores the hidden or deeper parts of human experience by seeing things in depth rather than taking them apart. 

Certainly, it involves deep inquiry into the symbolic meaning of things, of symptoms, images, and emotions that arise in one’s life, influencing each of us regardless of whether we are aware of it or not (Ellenberger, 1970). It includes aspects of Psychology, Philosophy, Mythology, Anthropology, Culture and Ecology (among others) and the way each of them influences us as individuals. These fields affect how we relate to ourselves, each other, and our culture, our species, and our planet as well. 

Above all, Depth Psychology is a study of the Unconscious, that which is outside of our awareness and which we unable to know directly. It was Freud who first introduced the concept that each of us experiences impact from a hidden, unobservable world of secrets, doubts, and fictions that we consistently repress outside our consciousness. These repressed issues cause feelings of fear, shame, anger, and anxiety for which the source is often not identified or acknowledged (Elliott, 2002). Most of us experience a “self” as something we “have”: an established component that is constant, observable and fairly unchanging. That self we see and know is made up of beliefs, past experiences, emotions, relationships, values, and judgments that have built up significantly in early childhood, shaping the self we perceive ourselves to be and strongly influencing our thoughts, decisions, and actions with ourselves and others. In short, it makes me the “me” I know today.

The study of Psychology holds that the self we think we know is only a tiny portion of the self that really exists. The ego self, the self we are aware of and can observe, is just the tip of an iceberg in a vast ocean of unconsciousness. Since what is unconscious is not known, our known version of our self is limited and confined. We are vastly influenced by the immense hidden aspects of the greater self that surrounds us, which is mostly out of sight or understanding. Depth Psychology seeks to uncover or reveal repressed or hidden aspects of our self, rather like opening a window from inside the limited existence we experience through the everyday self we know and out onto the depths of the soul. 

Depth, closely correlated with Jungian psychology because of the powerful influence of Carl Jung’s contributions to the field includes “the experience of the sacred, of mystery, and of the ineffable. . . an approach that is at home with myth and symbol, with the religious and spiritual traditions of the world, with anthropology and archeology, with art, poetry, and literature” (Sonoma State University website, 2010).

The founding psychologists believed the unconscious has its own logic and will and so it is vital to observe what resides in the unconscious in order to decode the messages communicates. These messages emerge into consciousness through symbols in dreams, art, nature, and story. According to depth psychologist Craig Chalquist (2009), "’Depth’ refers to what's below the surface of psychic manifestations like behaviors, conflicts, relationships, family dynamics, dreams, even social and political events.” 

Additionally, “The modern field of Depth Psychology originates in...the importance of symbol and metaphor in personal and cultural imagery or the recognition of the dynamic interplay between the natural world and the human psyche (Pacifica Graduate Institute web site, 2010). Depth Psychology seeks to regard what is silenced, marginalized or hidden at the edges of what we believe to be normal in our culture and our world. It challenges norms and asks more questions rather than settling on fixed answers. It looks beyond symptoms to find the underlying root rather than simply trying to fix or mask the symptom. It seeks to put issues into a larger context using image, story, and myth. Once a symptom or problem can be located in a larger framework, it is easier to get a big picture or a metaphor for what is really going on. (Extracted from "On Depth Psychology: It’s Meaning and Magic," an article by Bonnie Bright, available in whole at

All of the practitioners and service providers who choose to list on this site identify some aspect of their practice to be depth-oriented. As a general rule, that means they tend to look beyond the obvious and identify symbols and deeper meaning which can provide insight into the areas of all our lives that need to be seen by shining a light into the darkness. Check this blog regularly to hear more about how the field of depth psychology is influencing so many practitioners and how it can help you!

Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychology and hosts a regular podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name.
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