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The History of Depth Psychology

The term “depth psychology” was coined at the turn of the twentieth century by Eugen Bleuler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Zürich and director (1898-1927) of the Burghölzli Asylum in Zürich, where C. G. Jung began his career as a psychiatrist. It has become used by Freudians and Jungians to indicate those psychologies that orient themselves around the idea of the “unconscious.”

Sigmund Freud - Carl Jung

Initially the unconscious was conceived in structural terms with much attention to the content, especially symbolic meanings; in the contemporary world this notion has been expanded to include the study of processes which operate outside conscious awareness. In general these psychologies see the human being as often divided against him or herself, with some thoughts, feelings, wishes, and memories accessible to awareness, and others hidden beneath the surface. By focusing on the unconscious, C. G.Jung, Sigmund Freud, and their followers worked to chart and delineate what lies outside of conscious awareness, and to illumine the dynamics between consciousness and what is extruded or not admitted to it, including collective aspects with cultural and archetypal dimensions.


Stephen Aizenstat, Founding President and Chancellor, Explains the Core Ideas Behind Depth Psychology

What Depth Psychology Is

Through the study of dreams, images, symptoms, slips of the tongue, spontaneous humor, meaningful coincidences as well as interpersonal engagements, depth psychologists attempt to understand the language and the dynamics of the unconscious as it manifests in their work with clients and in the world. Depth psychological approaches to psychological suffering attempt to help individuals become aware of what has been cast out of consciousness or not yet able to be known. Healing is associated with allowing what has been repressed, rejected, denied or ignored to come forward so that the person can understand, explore its significance and integrate it, allowing for a transformation in consciousness. Depth Psychology also attends to the way unconscious processes express themselves in society and culture, and how culture affects the psyche.

Depth Psychology is an interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing on literature, philosophy, mythology, the arts, and critical studies. Concepts and practices at the core of depth psychology are central to Pacifica’s degree programs and each graduate degree’s curriculum is enlivened and deepened by the integration of its ideas.

“Depth psychologists…love to look for signs that ‘psyche’ is speaking to us, and one way we hear her voice is through the presence of synchronicities.”

“…this long marriage between myself and depth psychology has been possible because I found in depth psychology a basic orientation to being that seeks to allow what is to be present in its animation and its difference. It is a desire for the liberation of being.


Efficacy of Depth Psychology

Evidence for the efficacy of depth psychological approaches to psychotherapy is growing as studies show that depth psychology has a longer-lasting and more profound impact than cognitive or behavioral psychologies alone. Depth psychological approaches to psychotherapy are now joined by depth psychological approaches to community, cultural, and ecological issues. Pacifica students and graduates help the field evolve through their scholarship, creative work, and actions in the world.


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Contemporary Evidence-Based Research for Depth Psychology

The following list is of some selected, peer reviewed scholarly articles and summaries from the mainstream media (e.g., New York Times, the Guardian). This is offered in the spirit of supporting diversity through contemporary research validating the noble traditions of depth psychology. It highlights the clinical and scholarly affirmation of depth psychological approaches that attend to unconscious processes, relational aspects of treatment, psychic complexity, and embodied experiences.


Abbass, A. A., Hancock, J. T., Henderson, J., & Kisely, S. R. (2006). Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapies for common mental disorders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Retrieved from http://www.cochrane.org/CD004687/DEPRESSN_short-term-psychodynamic-psychotherapies-for-common-mental-disorders

American Psychological Association. (2013). Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness. Psychotherapy, 50(1), 102–109. Available at: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/resolution-psychotherapy.aspx

Anton, B. (2015, October 14). Talk Therapy Works. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/14/opinion/talk-therapy-works.html

Burkeman, O. (2016, January 7). Therapy wars: The revenge of Freud. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/07/therapy-wars-revenge-of-freud-cognitive-behavioural-therapy?CMP=share_btn_link

Chiesa, M. (2010). Research and psychoanalysis: Still time to bridge the great divide? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 27(2), 99–114. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0019413

Cohler, B. J., & Galatzer-Levy, R. (2007). What kind of science is psychoanalysis? Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 27(5), 547–582. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247527419_What_Kind_of_Science_Is_Psychoanalysis

Cornelius, J. T. (2014, Oct. 7th). The Case for Psychoanalysis (Version 4). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/IQBx5TONHac

Evidence base of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Institute of Psychoanalysis. Retrieved from http://psychoanalysis.org.uk/resources/evidence-base-of-psychoanalytic-psychotherapy.

Fonagy, P., Rost, F., Carlyle, J., McPherson, S., Thomas, R., Pasco Fearon, R. M., … Taylor, D. (2015). Pragmatic randomized controlled trial of long-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression: the Tavistock Adult Depression Study (TADS). World Psychiatry, 14 (3), 312–321.

Gaskin, Cadeyrn (2014). The effectiveness of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy: A literature review of recent international and Australian research. PACFA. Retrieved from http://www.pacfa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Psychoanalytic-Review-V2-Ready-to-design-Final.pdf.

Gerber, A. J., Kocsis, J. H., Milrod, B. L., Roose, S. P., Barber, J. P., Thase, M. E., … Leon, A. C. (2011). A quality-based review of randomized controlled trials of psychodynamic psychotherapy. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 168(1), 19–28. Available from: http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/download/fedora_content/download/ac:145066/CONTENT/appi.ajp.2010.08060843.pdf

Keller, W., Westhoff, G., Dilg, R., Rohner, R., & Studt, H. H. (2002). Efficacy and cost effectiveness aspects of outpatient (Jungian) psychoanalysis and psychotherapy–A catamnestic study. In M. Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. Target, M. (Ed) Leuzinger-Bohleber, & M. (Ed) Target (Eds.), Outcomes of psychoanalytic treatment: Perspectives for therapists and researchers. (pp. 186–197). Philadelphia, PA: Whurr Publishers.

Lazar, S. G. (2010). Psychotherapy is worth it: A comprehensive review of its cost-effectiveness. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publications.

Leichsenring, F., Leweke, F., Klein, S., & Steinert, C. (2015). The empirical status of psychodynamic psychotherapy—An update: Bambi’s alive and kicking. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(3), 129–148. Available from: http://www.eegym.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Leichsenring2015ESTreview.pdf

Leichsenring, F., & Klein, S. (2014). Evidence for psychodynamic psychotherapy in specific mental disorders: A systematic review. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 28(1), 4–32. http://doi.org/10.1080/02668734.2013.865428

Leichsenring, F., & Leibing, E. (2007). Psychodynamic psychotherapy: A systematic review of techniques, indications and empirical evidence. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 80(2), 217–228. http://doi.org/10.1348/147608306X117394

Levy, R. A., Ablon, J. S., & Kächele, H. (2012). Psychodynamic psychotherapy research: Evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. New York, NY: Humana press.

McGowan, K. (2014, April). The second coming of Sigmund Freud. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2014/april/14-the-second-coming-of-sigmund-freud

Mishna, F., Van Wert, M., & Asakura, K. (2013). The best kept secret in social work: Empirical support for contemporary psychodynamic social work practice. Journal of Social Work Practice, 27(3), 289–303. http://doi.org/10.1080/02650533.2013.818944

Richards, G. (2008). Jung’s social psychological meanings. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18(2), 108–118. http://doi.org/10.1002/casp.967

Roesler, C. (2013). Evidence for the effectiveness of Jungian psychotherapy: A review of empirical studies. Behavioral Sciences, 3(4), 562–575. Available from: http://www.mdpi.com/2076-328X/3/4/562/htm

Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65(2), 98–109. Available from: http://jonathanshedler.com/PDFs/Shedler%20%282010%29%20Efficacy%20of%20Psychodynamic%20Psychotherapy.pdf

Shedler, J. (2015). Where is the Evidence for “Evidence-Based” Therapy? The Journal of Psychological Therapies in Primary Care, 4(1), 47–59. Available from: http://jonathanshedler.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Shedler-2015-Where-is-the-evidence-for-evidence-based-therapy-R.pdf

Where the power lies in the therapist-client relationship. (2016, January 12). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/12/where-the-power-lies-in-the-therapist-client-relationship

Whether to pick sides in psychology today. (2016, January 12). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/12/whether-to-pick-sides-in-psychology-today


Related Bibliographies:

American Psychoanalytic Association:

CORE Research Bibliography.

Committee on Research Education Bibliography 2015.


British Psychoanalytic Council:

Research and Evidence.


Contemporary Freudian Society:

Effectiveness of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies.