What is depth psychology?

Depth psychology is the psychology of the unconscious according to Carl Jung, one of the disciplines founding fathers along with Sigmund Freud. It is the psychology of the hidden, the secret and the personally repressed.

I prefer to call it the psychology of the invisible. I’ll explain the reasons why a bit later on in this post.

The History of Depth Psychology

Depth psychology, which aims at the amelioration of human suffering, in many ways has been around for millennia.  Psychology – which means language of the soul – is what shamans speak. In fact not only shamans, but any great eastern liberatory teacher is a master at the art of conversation with the non-physical world.

So why this new methodology circa 1900? The key difference between then and now, I believe, is in the approach. In antiquity the approach was preeminently subjectively intuitive with rational formulations used as a means of bolstering intuitive insights; Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, pioneered his approach from a materialistic scientific view of the objective rational mind. In other words, empirical science.

freudFreud, a neurologist, was influenced and inspired in his work by Janet, Charcot and Breur: Healers who used hypnosis and talking cures with their patients. It was Breuer’s 1880 case of Ann O that would be the stimulus for Freud to focus his work on discovering and improving methodologies that helped patients heal their pathological symptoms by uncovering repressed emotions attached to traumatic events from their past. He used hypnosis but went on to develop free association and dream interpretation: methods he believed to be more successful as the patient was, and remained, conscious throughout the whole procedure. The repressed memory and emotion had to be seen and felt consciously for the patient to heal.

In addition to the important concept of repression, Freud also brought to light the concept of transference and the idea that parapraxes were no mere accidents but sudden bursts of unconscious activity into consciousness.

In 1990 while Freud was at work in Vienna, independently Carl Gustav Jung began work at the Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich under Eugen Bleuler. His research involved using word association as a means of accessing “psychic lesions” or the components in his patient’s unconscious that were conflicts. Now although Jung had once briefly picked up Freud’s seminal work, The Interpretation of Dreams, his own word association tests were completely independent of Freud’s.  Around 1903 Jung picked up Freud’s book again and this time connected to it in a different way. Seeing how Freud’s work was similar to his own, Jung became a huge supporter of Freud’s work and sent him a copy of his own research which validated Freud’s findings. The two met for the first time in 1907 and spoke for 13 hours straight.

The relationship was not to last however, in fact it piqued pretty quickly. In 1909 while the two were in America they were analyzing each other’s dreams. Jung asked Freud for some additional personal information and Freud refused on the basis that he would compromise his authority. Jung states in Memories Dreams, Reflections it was in that moment Freud lost his authority and the demise of the relationship was foreshadowed.

The men differed in their approach to some basic components of analysis: Jung did not believe as Freud did in the ubiquitous nature of thejungfreudredbook Oedipus Complex and Jung believed that the unconscious was not only of a personal nature but also a collective one that expressed itself through archetypes. Whereas Freud believed the dream to be the “via regia – royal road – to the unconscious”, Jung thought it to be the complexes although he described it more like a “rough and uncommonly devious footpath.”

Other major contributions by Jung include: his typology (intuitive, sensing, thinking, or feeling coupled with extraversion or introversion); the tension of opposites; the Self, the archetype of wholeness; and individuation, the means of accessing that archetype.

Other pioneers in depth psychology were Otto Rank and his theories on the trauma of birth and Alfred Adler and his theories on the power drive. Most recently, among others, Marion Woodman and James Hillman continued the legacy.

Depth Psychology in the Present

So why depth psychology? Depth psychology is, as I mentioned above, a means of healing. It is a means of discovery, transformation and unification. If we turn on the nightly news and watch the events unfolding at this time, we see that the old power structures are beginning to fail; power on the external (frequently seen as control, fear and domination) is breaking down. Potent healing modalities are called for.

As chaos grows in the faltering paradigm of power-over, or subject/object consciousness; depth psychology is a way to access new meaning. Humans have most likely always searched for meaning, we seem to be at home when we are in a world that we know. Jung asked himself and those around him, “What myth are you living?” By finding the myth, he felt we were led to the meaning.

As Jung would describe it, by bringing the unconscious into the conscious, by cultivating the ability to hold the tension of the opposites and by being willing to sit with our own shadow (the parts of ourselves we do not know), we heal.

As I briefly mentioned above, I prefer to describe the process as bringing what is invisible to visibility.

Like Jung, I have been very inspired by Eastern liberatory philosophies and psychologies. As Jung was, I too have been influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Tao Te Ching. All these ways of liberation maintain that our egoic consciousness has no foundation in “reality:” that our ideas on a separate subject, a duality between ego and world, is based on limited thinking or “ignorance.”

162KB Jung-First-Mandela_bigJung ultimately differentiated his work from the Eastern doctrines and techniques as he did not believe the ego could ever be completely transcended. Samadhi, a superconscious state of absorption to the East, meant for him that one would become unconscious. Without an ego, he thought, there would be no one there to perceive. For Jung the ego and the unconscious are deeply embedded concepts. Depth psychology, as well as most Western psychologies, up until the present day still lay their foundation on a belief in both.

But what if Jung were wrong? What if the ego is a concept which continues to reinscribe the psychological belief in a duality between conscious and unconscious? What if the unconscious of Jung and Freud and those before them is actually fully conscious; and the consciousness of our mind a reflection of a portion of the psychic totality as Patañjali suggests?

My experience tells me this is true: that awareness beyond analytical and discursive thought is possible. In fact, in my experience it is more than awareness: beyond analytical and discursive thought is a way of being that is a liberated, altogether different experience of life. An embodied reality that is beyond conception and not bound by the knowledge of the everyday thinking mind.

Because of my experiences, and therefore the way that I interpret Jung’s texts, I believe depth psychology is ready for a radical revisioning at this time.

Freud and Jung spoke to Western men and women through the rational mind and the objects of consciosuness because that is where the people of their time were most likely to hear them, and in many respects that is still the case today. But depth psychology has always called out for us to retrieve our other ways of knowing (such as sensing and feeling) that have been marginalized. We come to a depth psychological perspective by strengthening all functions and accessing the alternative doorways Freud pointed to with dreams and parapraxes and Jung with synchronicity.

To access the deepest levels of the invisible however, one has to know through embodied experience: rational or even intuitive cognition alone is not enough.

Beyond the rational thinking mind, when logic and concepts are put to rest, we access Pure Consciousness, an undifferentiated consciousness with no objects of thought. Through absorption in Pure Consciousness we understand that all, both the manifest and unmanifest, exists within a unified field. Metaphorically you could say that this field is a womb in which all is held.

bookred.129a_smallAnd I think Jung was on target when he indicated the importance of symbols. Symbols are everywhere, and a clear road map when we learn the art of interpretation. As we make our way back to the bond with the unified field, or what I like to call the Matrix (from the root mater, which means mother), powerful symbols can guide the way.

As our human eyes will never see a baby growing inside a mother’s womb – so too our human eyes will never see what is growing inside the Matrix.  We need the human’s version of ultrasound: multi-sensory perception. And that is why symbols can be important; because making our way back to this bond is like walking on a tightrope above an invisible net (as one of my clients once described it). It can be scary.

I believe quantum physics already pointed to this Matrix by demonstrating the oscillation of particles and waves. But that is not proof enough today. The rational has become too isolated from the nonrational. I believe we are all scientists of this moment, and we are each called to make empirical proof of the most obvious of all things. We are each individually journeying to the center where all opposites/polarities meet.

Through the lens of depth psychology, the psychology of the invisible, we learn to perceive behind form into the hidden, unthinkable and unspeakable realms. Looking long enough and deep enough in this way ultimately leads to the purely, and sublimely, non-conceptual. Through this nondual, nonconceptual perception we come to understand that everything is one. That subject and object were never separate as they appeared to be. We are both the dancer and the dance.

This understanding of nonduality is what I believe Jung’s depth psychology has been unwittingly aiming at for the last century. A truth the East has known for millenia.

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