What is Depth Psychology?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Depth psychology refers to most psychological methods that attempt to access the deeper parts of the self, and usually have some conception that there is a subconscious or unconscious operating below the person’s everyday perception. Whatever is stored in that barely perceptible realm can be brought forth in a number ways. This would be necessary for the person undergoing therapy, because that unknown or shadowy self may drive actions and decisions or contribute to painful emotional feelings or states without the person knowing exactly why.

It should be understood that not all people who practice depth psychology come to it from the same theoretical orientation. A Freudian or Jungian is drawn to this field, but training, methods and types of analysis can differ. The Freudian, who follows the teachings of Sigmund Freud and more recent scientists, may favor psychoanalysis, which involves specific training at institutions across the world and may require that a client or analysand see a therapist at least two times a week. In contrast there are Jungian counselors (who follow the teachings of Carl Jung) who might use some analysis of archetypes and concepts like the shadow or anima/animus in less formal analytical environments. How to access to unconscious effectively and what the unconscious represents is certainly not always agreed upon in depth psychology, and a number of schools of thought exist on how to proceed, and how to interpret what is revealed.


Those who work with someone who specializes in depth psychology might expect a few things in therapy. They may need to discuss childhood, family, past experiences and possibly dreams or thoughts that may reveal something about the past or the truth of the self in the present. A therapist might sometimes connect the dots between present and past, though this may not occur in psychoanalysis. This psychology could include work with a sand tray or other artistic expression to access the deeper self.

It’s assumed by many who have never had therapy that all therapy is depth psychology. The model of the therapist asking a client about his or her past is pervasive. Yet this is not reflective of all therapy, and there are other forms of therapy that avoid much discussion of past issues, like cognitive behavioral therapy or reality therapy. Of course the depth therapist would find it highly significant if a person didn’t want to discuss the past, and would suggest that is perhaps exactly what that person needs to explore to relieve psychic (soul) pain.

Depth psychology is integrated into many forms of therapy. Therapists can practice it as part of more contemporary work that includes present-oriented therapies like cognitive behavioral work. There’s often criticism that early theories on psychology that advocate depth therapy are difficult because they contain much inherent gender discrimination. This is true, but many have modernized the theories of especially Freud so they are not so male-focused and masculine.



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