What is Depth Psychology?
Depth psychology focuses upon uncovering the unconscious factors that underlie undesirable behavior. Suppressing unwanted symptoms without addressing their underlying cause usually results in their re-emergence in a different, often more insistent expression. Depth psychotherapy encourages you to explore the deeper soul-aims of your unwanted behavior.
How does depth psychotherapy work?
A depth therapeutic approach can comprise of a broad range of cognitive, behavioral, and body-centered treatment techniques. The traditional psychotherapeutic view is that defense complexes or undesirable patterns of behavior are the result of the way your personality has formed in response to the difficulties it didn't adequately handle sometime in early life.
Early childhood difficulties can be severe and traumatizing, or can be as simple as some minor unresolved crisis for which the child felt unsupported and lost. If the immature ego couldn't process such a crisis to satisfactory resolution, then the now-adult ego under pressure will still revert to the same childish thought patterns and inadequate solutions that it used as a child in a similar crisis.
For the thoughtful adult, the old childish compulsive solution is clearly reactive, irrational and ineffective; but often, the adult in us can't remotely understand why we're still carrying on with it, even though we clearly no longer want to be behaving in this unproductive way. This occurs because in our moments of panic we have unconsciously become the young frightened, trapped or angry child again, and have momentarily lost touch with our mature adult self.
Rather than delving into the past, depth psychotherapy focuses on the present. It observes and inquires about in-the-moment, irrational reactivity. The emphasis is on felt sensations, rather than on a cognitive investigation around the historical origins of childhood complexes. A depth approach can guide us to reconnect with the healthy inner adult, while allowing the less mature inner child to resolve the crisis on the terms it needs. These terms are invariably expressed through the symptoms, the pathology, which resurface through the body in symbolic expression.
Together, therapist and client can look at the symptoms through the depth lens with an attitude of inquiry toward the symptom, toward the body, toward the feelings, not toward the mind: "What are you saying/needing/wanting?" We look to the answer as it is felt. In all of its irrationality, the felt answer is more accurate than the thought answer. The mind is not discarded, but its role is relegated to that of the alert yet passive observer. We avoid using the mind to repress the symptoms or 'make them go away,' before we've fully explored what these symptoms are saying –often vociferously through our body– about our deepest needs.
Symptoms are like children who need compassionate attention. If you try to shut them up without addressing their issues, they are most likely only to get louder, and more ill mannered. When you help them get their deeper needs met –not always what they think they want!– they become subdued and amenable. So a client's distressing or unpleasant symptoms are treated like the most precious of children. They are loved, and deeply respected. In depth therapy, we seek to understand and satisfy the symptom's needs in a deeper way than what they are childishly crying out for. First and foremost, there is deep honoring of the wisdom of the symptom as a way of accessing the most pressing message of the pathology.
How do I actually work on getting better?
The effort in ridding ourselves of bad behaviors only causes us more tension, which the body then has to bear. This can literally make us more sick, both psychologically and physically.
My clients are surprised and relieved to find that their unconscious urges, no matter how disturbing, are neither fundamentally selfish nor bad. Rather, they repeatedly discover how symptoms are invariably concerned with helping us acquire something that the soul desperately needs in order to recover its wholeness, balance and vitality.
The bulk of the therapeutic work, then, consists in learning to be comfortable with thoughts and feelings that, previously, could not be tolerated or safely endured. This is the development of inner strength. It can benefit greatly from the outside support of a therapist, and from close friends or trusted family members.
How can there really be much good in digging up pain?
Much of the world's most enduring mythology points to descending into the depths of hell before gaining access to the bliss of heaven. Dante's Divine Comedy begins in the Inferno, and through Purgatory, provides access to the Heavenly realms. Christian cosmology points to the Crucifixion and descent into hell, before the Resurrection. A great diversity of ancient Shamanistic ritual also involves facing dark inner demons and purging them with the help of animal guides can show the way out. Eastern mystical practices involve seeing through the illusion of suffering, which can only be done through facing whatever pain shows up with as much openness and awareness as possible. The goals are the same: relax ego resistance, because chronic resistance–instead of surrender and adaptation to reality–creates dis-ease.
Our physical and psychological discomforts are a direct result of inner resistance to some of the realities facing us that we'd rather not confront. The inner wisdom of our bodies compels us eventually to revisit what we have repressed or, failing which we begin to pay the consequences through psychological anxiety and physical tension. These eventually lead to illness and –if untreated–chronic maladaptation ultimately causing disease, permanent disability and even death.
Can dwelling on bad sentiments really be good for me, and for those around me?
Depth Psychology encourages you to dwell upon troublesome compulsions, urges, or desires so that you can begin to explore what underlies your disturbing symptoms, not so you can senselessly dwell on negatives.
Certainly, uninhibited exploration should be done within certain boundaries with respect to the well-being and freedom of others. I encourage you and support you in enacting and fantasizing your whims within the privacy of your imagination, without harming another soul, or thoughtlessly exposing an innocent bystander to your distress. No matter how unsavory or shameful the fantasy, the purity of your intention to understand the matter in depth is what makes the difference between reinforcing an obsessive addiction or promoting a transformative and purifying, healing result.
So, even if your symptoms initially strike you as selfish, unethical, or aggressively hostile, they will unerringly be recognized as remnants of some childish defense mechanism that was set up earlier in your ego development. You will be relieved to discover that it was probably the most intelligent solution available to you at that age, under the circumstances. It might have been inappropriate even then, but without adequate emotional support available to you, it was the best you could come up with at the time, and it was the very thing that saved you from serious emotional deterioration! Better advice was unavailable from your environment for helping you understanding and resolving the difficult situation you were facing: whatever it was you experienced made you feel unsafe, unprotected, anxious. It is that same underlying anxiety that stands in your way today because you have not yet seen the opportunity nor recognized the available resources to help you work out that original scenario deeply enough. Your body memory keeps coming up with that same, sub-optimal reaction, because that is all that is available within your repertoire of usual responses.
In this way, certain habitual patterned responses can seem to keep playing out in your life, again and again, like a bad dream or a repetitious compulsion that never goes away. You take these to be bad habits, character weaknesses... however, this is simply your body's wisdom (your cellular memory) calling you to work the issue out, once and for all! There is no more reliable speaker of Truth, than your own body. We have lost touch with our body language, our mother tongue, the first language we ever learned, before we were taught to speak!
But won't I become what I think?
No! I believe that you are what you intend, not what you think! Thinking is usually a much inferior function to what we have given it credit for. I have found that, contrary to popular belief, thoughtfully indulging in the uninhibited exploration of one's desires does not necessarily intensify undesirable urges. Rather, it is a practice can deeply and permanently relieve undesirable behaviors when done in a sufficiently conscious manner.
Why does my body so often contradict my brain?
The short answer: your body is infinitely smarter, and certainly more honest.
Your body first taught you to experience the world, to perceive, to feel before you had words or concepts to understand what was going on. Your body still responds to new things in this same manner that bypasses your brain just as it did when you were an infant. Your body is your mother tongue. It knows and speaks a deeper truth about things that your brain cannot readily process. Depth psychotherapy seeks to interpret the body's symbolic expression. (Further reading: Integrative Body Psychotherapy)
How is depth psychotherapy different from talk therapy?
Talk therapy has been given a bad rap because it has yielded unsatisfactory results when limited to working on the cognitive level. Your body sometimes retains involuntary reactivity to old provocations even after you have understood how your original disturbance came about. Talk therapy alone rarely promotes shifts on the deeper non-verbal, physiological level.
Depth psychotherapy attempts to reach a place in your being beyond intellectual cognition. It seeks to listen beyond words- to feelings, sensations, emotions, cravings, reactivity. Once these are brought out into the open they can be explored and examined in a safe, respectful and, supportive environment. Afterward, experiential (non-talk therapy) exercises can assist in the reprogramming of former "knee-jerk" reactions to old fears, addictive urges or compulsive drives.
What makes one therapist better than another?
Good therapists are recognized by their capacity to deeply see into and love another soul without judgment. Unconditional acceptance comes from people who have done the inner work required to be conscious and accepting of their own imperfections. When you are faced with unconditional acceptance, you sense it. It is deeply healing. When you find such a therapist, you simply know it.
How can I find the right therapist?
No individual therapist is suitable for everyone. The important thing is to find the right match: someone who–although otherwise imperfect–has nonetheless already traversed the unknown territory that you are now facing. Often a phone call can determine whether a therapist might suit you. When interviewing a potential therapist, ask a question that is close to your heart. Be authentic. If the therapist responds with a matching authenticity, you will feel it, and can trust the connection you've made. Begin anew to trust your body and the wisdom of your gut.
Please feel free to send me additional questions.