“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
I first encountered Jungian and depth psychologies while in graduate school. For me, this was a profound moment. While my original training focused on identifying and fixing problems, depth psychology looks to what lies beneath the problems to find the creativity and wisdom these symptoms wish to reveal. This access to the unconscious enables one to move from being stuck to a more fluid and engaged life.
Following the original Greek meaning of the word “psychotherapy” – therapia (tending) and psyche (soul) — depth psychotherapy can be understood as a psychology of the soul. While there is no single definition of soul, I imagine a soulful approach as giving value to the parts of ourselves that live closest to the unconscious, expressed symbolically in dreams, myth, images, symptoms and synchronicities. Metaphorically speaking, soul is like a stream of water flowing beneath the surface of our awareness. We may not see it, but its presence is always there. When we encounter soul, we drink from the waters of renewal. Even suffering can be purposeful if it leads us to these waters.
Shadow work is another essential aspect of psychotherapy. The shadow includes those disagreeable parts of ourselves we prefer to ignore or completely dismiss, but if left unworked almost always bring harm to ourselves and others. On the other hand, the shadow is a source of much-needed energy and vitality. As difficult as it is to face and integrate the shadow, in doing so, the shadow becomes an ally in our journey toward healing and maturity.
Depth psychotherapy works from the premise that if we are willing to engage with the unconscious psyche, it will act in our favor, helping to resolve inner conflicts. Ultimately, this work reveals the deeper layers of our being –the mythic and symbolic material – from which the meaning of our lives is created.
Attempting to make sense of unconscious material on one’s own is very difficult. It is like trying to see one’s own backside! This can lead to frustration, confusion and loneliness. Working with a dedicated depth psychotherapist, can be an invaluable mirror and source of support and guidance.