Studies show that depth therapy has greater and more permanent favorable results than other forms of therapy. And for good reason—it runs deep, unlike most therapies whose views too often only attend to the surface of life. We could think of depth psychology as a growing body of knowledge and wisdom, about how to discover and live what makes life worth living.
Many of its areas of focus and its methods, including dreams, active imagination and alchemical work, will illuminate, relieve and resolve problems, such as alienation, emptiness and dissatisfaction. As well as grief and trauma and the “miseries” so common today: stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, Pierre Janet and Eugen Bleuler are some of depth psychology's and depth therapy's founders. Later contributors include David Winnicott, John Bowlby, Marie Louise von Franz, James Hillman, Patricia Berry and Tom Putnam. It’s impossible to note the important figures in depth psychology, without leaving many people out, including Plato, William James and Nietzsche. Nietzsche noted a very important training requirement for all 21st Century depth psychologists.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
For clarity and simplicity’s sake, here I will subsume both Freud and Jung’s work in all forms, as well as that of their followers and colleagues, including psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts, under the category of depth psychology and depth psychotherapy.
Let's note that Freud and his work have been misunderstood from day one, especially by physicians and scientists trying to colonize and exploit his insights. Freud was not a physician trying to understand and cure mental illness. He was an artist, as all true depth psychologists must be. In his own words:
"Everybody thinks…that I started by the scientific character of my work and that my principal scope lies in curing mental melodies. This is a terrible error…I am really by nature an artist. … in all countries into which psychoanalysis has penetrated it has been better understood and applied by writers and artists than by doctors. My books, in fact, more resemble works of imagination than treatise on pathology…."
If depth psychology is to evolve and prosper, it must not lose its way by pandering to western science and university psychology departments for acceptance and approval. Depth psychology must honor its true nature. It’s more at home in contemplative science than empirical science. First person experiential knowledge is the foundation of contemplation. Experiential knowledge of psychology arises only from the well-trained systematic observation of one’s own mind. Not from the intellect’s abstract conceptual theories, especially theories based on third-person empirical experiments and statistical data. Such is the so-called scientific psychology found today in the shallow end of the pool at most universities and psychotherapy training institutes.
Depth psychology needs a fresh blood supply. It’s become tired and mired in the problems that arise when a path becomes burdened by institutional formality and conformity. In the west, we call people “psychologists” who pass tests and write dissertations. Many of these “psychologists” haven’t spent 50 minutes in a direct experience of their own mind. Depth psychology must become a way of life, not a career or a school of thought. We can’t really consider ourselves depth psychologists if we haven’t made deep dives into our own mind, dives that connect us to the experiential knowledge of our innermost core.
Depth psychology is both art and science. The humanities feel more like depth psychology’s true home. As Freud intimated, depth psychology's Mother is the Creative Imagination. A Mother shared with all authentic artist siblings, those committed to inner life and loyal to art and psychology’s deepest obligation. An obligation captured, especially well, in a compelling word-image by composer Robert Schumann: “To send light into the darkness of men’s heart...."
If we can learn to systematically observe our own mind, we’ll discover the forces at play that give rise to our pain, problems and suffering. These forces leave us tethered to our past conditioning. To be clear and fly free, we must liberate ourselves from a conditioned self-image based identity, an identity far too small for who we truly are.
My work adds and incorporates pieces important to our evolving work on the depth psychology puzzle. Depth psychology must better understand the nature of a healthy mind and true sanity. And depth therapy must better help people cultivate and protect them both. The contemplative sciences need to be explored and understood. Because they have much to offer us in this regard.
Depth therapy must wake us up, so we can engage in the process of inner work aimed at what Jung called the "privilege of a lifetime: To "Become who we truly are." Who we truly are, in our innermost core, lays beyond the limits of our conditioned surface identity. We should keep in mind that Jung discovered what he was talking about all those many years, only through direct experience, during his near death experience, at 69, following his heart attack.
The experience completely transformed his life. Jung had a direct first-hand encounter with a state of timeless awareness, with what his conceptual mind had only thought about. Jung was thrust into an experiential flow of awareness that was beyond words. He no longer trusted the thinking conceptual mind. Because it blocked access to the levels of mind where greater intrinsic truths can be found truths he found to be of stunning emotional power and beauty. In his words: "It is impossible to convey the beauty and intensity of emotion...."
I include the views and methods of contemplative science in my depth psychology vision for the future. And my depth therapy work—because contemplative science methods, including contemplation and meditation, grant access to these levels of mind. Without which, it's impossible to experience who we truly are. And what we need to know about a healthy mind and sanity.