What Is Depth Psychology?

An alchemist at work.

Craig Chalquist, MS PhD
Depth psychlogist and author of Terrapsychology:
Re-engaging the Soul of Place
(Spring Journal Books, 2007)

Historically, depth psychology, from a German term (Tiefenpsychologie), was coined by Eugen Bleuler to refer to psychoanalytic approaches to therapy and research that take the unconscious into account. The term has come to refer to the ongoing development of theories and therapies pioneered by Pierre Janet, William James, Sigmund Freud, and C. G. Jung.  Depth psychology explores the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious and includes both psychoanalysis and Jungian psychology.

"Depth" refers to what's below the surface of psychic manifestations like behaviors, conflicts, relationships, family dynamics, dreams, even social and political events. The "what" is some deep fantasy or image system inaccessible to purely literal-minded approaches. For example, the "let's bomb them before they attack us" justification behind so much warfare reveals itself upon analysis to be a projection of one's own aggressive ambitions; the unspoken logic is "....because that's what I would do in their place." Psychoanalytically, paranoia is externalized destructiveness; mythologically it echoes the dark side of Mars or Saturn, famous eater of children. Depth psychology recognizes myth as a repository of recurrent situations.

Since its time of origin depth psychology has evolved into a listening in on what has been driven (repressed) to the margins of culture and consciousness, whether symptoms or riots, which Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the language of the unheard. In tending that language, whether personal, cultural, archetypal, ecological, or spiritual, we bear in mind Jung's dictum as a core of our work: "The most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress." No fan of clinging to the past as a retreat from the present, Jung fashioned his own version of DP for people for whom traditional ceremonies, rituals, and symbols no longer carry a numinous charge.

Broadly speaking, DP operates according to the following working assumptions:

See also the Glossary of Jungian Terms and glossaries for Norse myth and Celtic myth.