Depth psychology principles

Depth psychology is an evolving field which has as much disagreement within its ranks as it has agreement about general principles. The following principles are, broadly speaking, held to be true by most theorists in the field:

  1. Human beings have a psyche (from the Greek word for breath) that carries the whole of mental life. It is the faculty for thought, feeling, memory, and imagination. The psyche is not just a combination of the body and the mind; it has a life and language of its own beyond conscious control or even awareness.
  2. In addition to carrying all of our human potential in the form of inherent biological and psychological predispositions, the psyche processes, records and stores all of our life experience. Using our earlier experiences, the psyche develops a subjective logical framework for perceiving and further processing ongoing experience.
  3. Life experiences often expose us to ambivalence and irreconcilable conflicts that our psyches have to manage somehow. The psyche divides itself into a conscious and an unconscious part in order to manage the resulting internal conflict. In order to do this, simply speaking, our psyche keeps part of our complex experience in the conscious mind and buries the other, more dangerous part in the unconscious mind.
  4. The unconscious mind is multi-layered in itself. Closer to the surface one will find individual personal experience and potential that for a range of reasons cannot be brought into consciousness. The deeper bedrock of the unconscious mind contains collective predispositions that affect and connect all human beings.
  5. The contents of the unconscious mind continue to influence behaviour, even though such contents are buried away from conscious awareness and control.
  6. Both the divisions in the psyche (caused by internal conflicts) and the deep individual and collective potential contribute to continual dynamic processes in the psyche. These alternate between developmental, integrative processes and defensive processes. The psyche is continually striving for greater integration (although some debate exists about this idea).
  7. The psyche uses the language of imagery and symbolism to express itself. This language allows the simultaneous communication of multiple layers of meaning.
  8. Human experience becomes more meaningful when the psyche’s personal aspect encounters the deeper, collective aspect. A depth approach tries to make the connection between the different levels.
  9. Personal difficulties, blockages and symptoms, as well as interpersonal problems and conflicts can be viewed as a form of communication from the less conscious parts of the psyche about its developmental process. These can be resolved by interpreting the symbolism inherent in the difficulty and thereby finding the deeper meaning and purpose that our unconscious mind may be seeking to express. Simply silencing the symptoms will mean that the inherent drive is not being addressed and that it will almost certainly manifest in a different way.
  10. Individual psyches do not remain separate from one another. At the simplest level, when two people come together, they form a third psyche between them which has a life of its own. This applies to all interactions with others – there is always the creation of a shared psyche which is more than the sum of the individual psyches. The shared psyche will express itself in terms of psychodynamic patterns. In order to change the human systems around us, we need to understand these psychodynamic patterns.
  11. Objectivity in perception, interpretation and action is complex for two main reasons. We do not easily know our unconscious intentions and our unconscious processes always influence and are affected by those of others.
  12. Like all disciplines, the original thinkers in the discipline of depth psychology operated in and were to some extent limited by the culture from which they came. As such, some of the original theories were founded on biases and stereotypes that are no longer appropriate. Modern day depth psychology challenges stereotypes that lead to discrimination on demographic bases, and helps us to always consider the psyche in its entire context.
  13. Our psyches are inextricably linked to all the life forms around us. Our inner landscape will to some extent be a reflection of our outer landscape and vice versa, so we are only really as well as our environment is.
  14. In order to move towards the greater health of a system, whether it be the individual, the group or the ecosystem, a depth approach suggests that the voices, opinions, and experiences that are repressed, marginalised, silenced or simply ignored, are attended to and considered in the system decision-making processes.