Friday, April 18, 2008

Depth Psychology

The words "deep", "depth" , "profound" and "profundity" have always appealed to me.  I remember an old friend of mine describing me as "intense."  I accepted that description then as being accurate - some 25 years ago - and I reckon it still is.  Being a sufferer from endogenous depression or unipolar depression, I suppose the attraction to these particular words are understandable.  Depression, after all does bring one down into the "depths."  One does experience a sense of going down into the dark depths of the psyche; or more accurately still into the dark depths of depression or what the wonderful scholar Lewis Wolpert aptly describes as the territory of "malignant sadness."  For anyone interested in the biochemical side of depression he has written a book by this apt name: Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (Faber & Faber, 1999).  I remember once been asked to give a talk on depression and I used the following simile or image to describe my experience of a bad bout - I stated that going through a period of depression could be like diving into a very deep pool and somehow not being able to surface for a long time.  Eventually, still sustaining the image, you reach the bottom of the pool ("rock bottom" as it were).  Thankfully, when I had reached rock bottom I somehow realised that the only way for me now was "up from the depths" as it were.  It was like kicking one's feet off the bottom of the pool and thrusting one's legs in the right direction, up, up, up, up until my head and broken the surface and I could breath the fresh air of reality into my lungs.

Hence, the term "Depth Psychology" has always appealed to me.  This is a generic term used to cover any psychological system that assumes that "explanations of behaviour are to be found at the level of the unconscious.  Freudian and Jungian theories are the classic examples and many authors will use the term as a rough synonym for psychoanalysis."  Reber, The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (Penguin Books, 1985, 190)  Likewise we may point out here that psychoanalysis is often called "depth analysis" since the assumption is that the analysis is probing deeply below the "well-defended of mind to the underlying dynamic factors that presumably motivate the person." (Ibid., 190)

I have already adverted to the fact that Freud used several images or metaphors to describe his exploration of the mind or psyche.  He took his topographical model of the mind from the world of archaeology which is a science devoted to uncovering the hidden layers of ancient history.  Psychoanalysis, Freud would argue is a similar science insofar as it is engaged in the slow painstaking uncovering of the hidden layers of our very own personality or identity or mind.  Here I should like to quote the opening words of the first chapter of a wonderful book - Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought (Mitchell & Black, Basic Books, 1995, p. 1):

In 1873, when Freud was seventeen, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann put together clues from fragmentary historical and literary sources and located the ancient city of Troy on the coastal plain of what is now Turkey.  Perhaps no other event so fired the imagination of Freud, who tended to draw his inspiration from ancient heroes such as Moses and Hannibal.  Later Freud's consulting room came to resemble the office of an archaeologist, filled with primitive sculptures and relics.  The site of Freud's dig was not the earth but the minds of his patients; the tools that he used were not the shovel and brushes but psychoanalytic interpretations.  The exhilaration was the same, however.  Freud felt he had discovered an important site and had fashioned the necessary technology for exposing the underlying structure of the human mind and for unearthing the archaic history of both the individual patient and all humankind.

Another one of Rodin's Burghers of Calais which I photographed last year in Paris.

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