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Different types of depth psychology

depth psychology

Ask a depth psychologist to define this psychological orientation, and you’re likely to hear concepts such as being thorough, going deeper, delving into areas that instigate an awakening, encouraging a greater self-awareness. Somewhere in the explanation, you’ll also hear talk of the soul, the psyche, probing the unconscious -finding life’s meaning and purpose.

In other words, placing the word “depth” before psychology is not an accident. According to Louis Hoffman, Ph.D., and a licensed clinical psychologist, depth psychology means going deeper with individuals than many other forms of therapy or approaches. It’s a form of psychology that seeks a “different type of change,” he said.

Hoffman, a founding psychology faculty member at the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colo., said that the title depth psychology really is an umbrella term that includes many different psychological approaches that share similarities and values, approaches that borrow from each other.

One of the more well known approaches in depth psychology is existential psychology, an orientation that Hoffman identifies with, calling himself an existential psychologist.

But Hoffman said that those working in the depth psychology area often combine two or more depth psychologies, creating an “integrative” depth approach.

For example, James Bugental, one of the key figures in the development of the depth psychology field, called himself a humanistic-existential psychologist. But regardless of the approach or title of the approach, Bugental called all the depth psychologies “life-changing.”

Why Life Changing?

The roots depth psychology draw from the work of the 20th century Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung who focused the development of his psychological theories on understanding the unconscious mind. He believed that central to healing was the individual’s personal encounter with the unconscious, and the psychologist’s role was to help others explore and travel the depths of this mysterious realm that many consider inaccessible. 

Jung also developed the concept of a collective unconscious, another major concept in depth psychology. This concept along with psychological principles based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, and theories of Alfred Adler and Otto Rank form the basis of depth psychology’s emphasis on delving into a person’s psyche not only to correct dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, but also to pursue ideals of social justice and equality for communities.

Adlerian psychology bases its thought on human interconnectedness and interdependence. This theory states that an individual’s welfare and self-actualization depends on the welfare of others. As one translates positive, healthy thoughts and behaviors into finding one’s passion and purpose in life, those actions can help others achieve a sense of personal fulfillment and well-being as well.

Ultimately, depth psychologists see the integration of the conscious and unconscious, two parts of the human psyche, as healthful and healing.

However, many different approaches to depth psychology exist because not every school of thought agrees on how to define the unconscious, nor how to access what exists there.

What is the Collective Unconscious? What are Archetypes?

Much like humans have hearts, kidneys, and lungs, Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung theorized that they also possess a collective unconscious, given to them at birth – a layer of the unconscious from humanity’s primordial past.

Jung theorized that the unconscious is divided into the personal unconscious and the collective. The personal unconscious is composed of suppressed and forgotten memories, traumas, and experiences. It is personal, meaning that each individual has acquired, through living, unique material in his or her personal unconscious.

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But everyone shares the same collective unconscious, a holding cell for religious, spiritual, and mythological symbols, a deep enclave of all hidden, universal truths; psychic structures or forms given to all people across the globe. Jung called these structures or forms archetypes.

Models of people, personalities and behaviors are all archetypes in psychology. The hero, for example, is an archetypical personality, and the careful, destructive plotting of a murderer is an archetypical behavior. Similarly, the mother-child relationship symbolizes people and relationships found in every culture.

Jung also believed that dreams provide a gateway for these archetypes to appear, and therefore a lot of Jungian psychological theory and practice rests on dream interpretation.

Types of Depth Psychology:

  • Existential psychology
  • Humanistic psychology
  • Transpersonal psychology
  • Gestalt psychology
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychodynamic

Other Names for Depth Psychology

Analytical psychology, Jungian psychology, and Archetypal psychology are sometimes called “depth psychologies.” The reason for the seemingly interchangeable nature of these psychological orientations stems from their Jungian roots. Similar to depth psychology, these three orientations base their development on Jung’s psychology of unraveling the mysteries of the unconscious.

As researchers continue to expand on Jung’s theories, other psychological orientations continue to develop. The psychology community today categorizes many of these approaches as post-Jungian, and while they hold many similarities to the depth psychology orientation, they are becoming unique and distinctive in their own schools of thought.

Careers in Depth Psychology

Some individuals pursue advanced degrees in depth psychology to become psychotherapists employing a particular depth approach, such as existentialism or humanistic. These individuals usually purse Ph.D.’s in Psychology, Jungian Studies or Depth Psychology, and many combine private practice with teaching and research at universities and colleges.

Still others with Master’s degrees in Psychology, Jungian Studies or Depth Psychology find that the degree provides excellent credentials for those who work with others on a deep level – teachers and educators, activists who work for community, ecological and environmental organizations, politicians, and therapy professionals, such as art, music, theater, and writing therapists.

Colleges and universities that offer degrees in Depth Psychology or Jungian Studies usually offer master’s or Ph.D. degree programs. If you are interested in pursuing depth psychology to work as psychotherapist or to work in a number of “people-oriented” careers, request information from schools offering degrees in Depth Psychology or a related Psychology field.

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Surreal artistic portrait of silhouette inside swirling lightDepth psychotherapy describes a range of approaches to therapy that take the unconscious into account, rather than one specific modality. This interdisciplinary approach to treatment is based on the idea that all people possess traits or elements of nature that may influence, often unconsciously, their natural processes.

These processes—such as the ability to feel, choose, work, love, or think freely—may be affected negatively by certain of these elements, and people may seek treatment in order to resolve distress experienced as a result of any unbalanced processes. Depth therapies may help individuals explore and consciously realize those forces having an effect and study them in order to better understand their present situation. 

Development and Theory of Depth Therapy

The term “depth psychology” was first used at the end of the 19th century by Eugen Bleuler, director of Zurich’s Burghölzli Asylum (at which Carl Jung later practiced psychiatry). Pioneers in the field such as Carl Jung, Pierre Janet, and Otto Rank contributed to current usage of the term, which is to broadly describe those therapy and research approaches attempting to explore the depths of the unconscious mind. These approaches combine elements of psychoanalysis and Jungian psychology, with transpersonal psychology and existentialism among the other notable influences. 

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Depth therapy can describe several models of therapy, but it is divided into three main schools: psychoanalysis, individual psychology, and analytical psychology. Psychoanalysis is based on Sigmund Freud’s ideas, individual psychology on Alfred Adler’s, and analytical psychology, Carl Jung’s. 

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Advanced Searchpsyche is a partially conscious and partially unconscious process that stores experiences that have been repressed and personal concerns as well as collective and archetypal “forces.” Depth psychology considers what is referred to as the soul, or the point of interaction between the psyche’s transpersonal and personal aspects, to be an essential part of the discussion in a therapy session. Engaging and incorporating the unconscious psyche into treatment is an essential tenet of depth therapy, as uncovering the layers of the psyche is believed by depth psychologists to be an important component of increased emotional well-being, self-discovery, and growth. 

How Does Depth Therapy Work? 

Depth therapy sessions are conducted individually. The bond between the therapist and person in treatment is particularly emphasized in depth therapy approaches, as the exploration of the unconscious may necessitate high levels of trust and acceptance. A session may involve the exploration of current life events as well as past experiences; in either case, the therapist supports the person in treatment through the process of self-awareness and inner wisdom of the client.

Therapists may help those in treatment through the exploration of any unconscious conditions, offering support and guidance as the individual examines and ponders them in order to understand them fully. The new information may then be used as a tool for the development of more positive traits and elements that can be integrated first on the conscious level and eventually on the unconscious level. 

Techniques used in depth therapy to facilitate growth and change include:

  • Socratic questioning, which involves the therapist asking the person in treatment a series of warm and gentle, but also challenging, questions. These questions are used to help people develop an increased awareness of their unconscious motivations and early experiences. Later in therapy, Socratic questioning may be used to help people identify alternative and more rational plans for actions, when actions may otherwise be overly influenced by unconscious factors.
  • Guided and eidetic imagery, which is used by the therapist to guide an individual through exploration of the full sensory experience of early memories. Through detailed exploration of any experiences that led to feelings of inferiority or discouragement, the therapist can help elicit awareness and offer support and encouragement as the person in therapy remembers early images.
  • Role playing future scenarios, which can provide a safe place for those in therapy to practice alternative and rational plans for action. Role playing can include practice with progressively more challenging scenarios, so individuals can have the opportunity to practice new behaviors and ways of thinking with the support and acceptance of the therapist. 

What Issues Can Depth Therapy Help With?

Individuals with deep-rooted emotional concerns, trauma, or issues they do not fully understand may find depth therapy to be a beneficial mode of therapy. Those who experience depression, anxiety, relationship issues, sexual concerns, compulsions, or a variety of life challenges may be able to explore and understand the roots of these difficulties through depth therapy. Generally, depth therapies do not focus on a specific problem or issue, instead seeking to address the entire scope of an individual’s conscious and unconscious emotions.

Individuals wishing to spend time more deeply exploring the things that led them to seek treatment may find depth therapy a useful approach. Studies have shown depth therapy may have long-lasting, significant results. It is typically a lengthier approach than solution-focused therapies, and individuals wishing to spend time more deeply exploring the things that led them to seek treatment may find depth therapy a useful approach. One outcome that may often result from depth therapy is an increase in self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the self. Those who are experiencing difficulty understanding their life purpose or are searching for a sort of higher calling may seek out some form of depth therapy to gain insight into their unconscious conditioning. As a result, they may feel a greater sense of authentic self and an increased sense of liberation from the concerns affecting them and may find themselves with an increased capacity to maintain strong, healthy inter- and intrapersonal relationships. 

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Depth therapy requires individuals to engage in abstract thinking. The techniques used call for those in therapy to consider multiple meanings of concepts, explore patterns in their behavior, and consider non-literal meanings. Sometimes people are unwilling, unable, or would simply prefer not to engage in abstract thinking, and depth therapy may not be ideal for those who prefer a more concrete approach to therapy. 

Training for Depth Therapy

Depth therapy is typically offered by mental health practitioners called psychotherapists. Depth therapy is just one type of treatment a therapist may offer. The American Psychoanalytic Association regulates training programs through which practitioners can become certified in the practice of depth therapy. Certification in psychoanalysis typically takes at least four years of extensive study. 

In order to participate in a program accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association, an individual must hold one of the following degrees:

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • A PhD in psychology, social work, or another mental health discipline 
  • A master’s degree in a related field in which the master’s degree is the highest clinical degree, such as marriage and family therapy or psychiatric nursing

Concerns and Limitations of Depth Therapy

Depth therapy is typically a lengthy and relatively expensive form of therapy. Before starting depth therapy, the therapist should share information about the potential costs associated with the treatment. Individuals seeking therapy should also be aware that other forms of treatment may address the issues prompting them to seek treatment in a shorter period of time. Due to a desire to decrease the cost of health care, many insurance companies require providers of therapy to conduct planned and time-limited therapy. Depth therapy is not well-suited to the constraints of many health insurance companies, and people seeking treatment should be aware their treatment may not be covered by insurance. 

Historically, the various forms of depth therapy were used to treat a number of mental health conditions, but according to recent studies, as well as anecdotal evidence from mental health practitioners, depth therapy may be better suited to some individuals than others. These approaches typically involve intense emotional work and require a high level of motivation on the part of the individual participating in treatment. Some individuals may prefer a briefer, more solution-focused treatment approach. Depth therapy also requires people to confront feelings and memories that may be painful, and those participating in depth therapy should understand the approach will likely elicit strong, potentially negative emotions and that they may feel worse before they begin to feel better. 


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