Depth psychology

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Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is considered the founder of depth psychology

The term depth psychology encompasses all psychological and psychotherapeutic approaches that attach great importance to unconscious mental processes for the explanation of human behavior and experience. The central idea of ​​depth psychology is that "beneath the surface" of consciousness in the deep layers of the psyche, further, unconscious processes take place which strongly influence the conscious soul life.

This view was already held before Sigmund Freud in philosophy ( Leibniz , Schopenhauer , Nietzsche ) and the literature of Romanticism , but Freud was the first to systematically investigate this assumption and then to establish the depth psychological school of psychoanalysis from his findings . From 1913 onwards, Freud used the term depth psychology , introduced by Eugen Bleuler , to distinguish between his psychoanalysis and the psychology of consciousness that predominated in academic psychology at the time .

Well-known schools of depth psychology are, in addition to psychoanalysis, the analytical psychology coined by Carl Gustav Jung and the individual psychology developed by Alfred Adler . All of these directions in depth psychology are of the opinion that conscious experience and behavior are based on processes of instinctual regulation and conflict processing. These psychological processes taking place in the "depth" of the unconscious are determined by drives and other motivational processes.

The type of driving force in each case represents a central difference between the three schools of depth psychology mentioned: While Freud attaches great importance to the sex drive , for Jung an unspecific drive energy and for Adler the striving for power is at the center of the psychological driving forces .

Basic assumptions in depth psychology

The terms presented here form the “lowest common denominator” of depth psychology, to which all schools would essentially agree.

The (dynamic) unconscious

Model of the psyche according to Sigmund Freud

In contrast to the theories about the psyche in cognitive psychology and behaviorism , the ideas of depth psychology are primarily shaped by the assumption of a dynamic unconscious as an essential and highly effective part of our psychological life. This assumption says that

  • many of our mental processes take place unconsciously
  • some of these unconscious mental processes obey completely different functional principles or regularities (see below) than the conscious processes. This part has a great impact on our experience and behavior and is referred to in depth psychology as the (dynamic) unconscious. The attribute "dynamic", which is sometimes added, is intended to distinguish it from those mental processes that are not consciously registered, but do not obey the special principles of the "actual" unconscious (see also psychodynamics ).
Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961)

Well-known examples for the effect of unconscious processes are (“Freudian”) failures (e.g. slip of the tongue expressing hidden thoughts or motives of the speaker; unconsciously motivated forgetting, getting lost, embarrassing, etc.); Defense mechanisms such as projection (undesirable tendencies in one's own person are perceived or “settled” in others); Dream thoughts or images. In depth psychology, the unconscious is also seen as the “place” of the essential driving forces of soul life ( called “it” by Freud in his instance model of the psyche). Later Freud used the term “unconscious”, however, v. a. adjectival. He no longer only means a property of the psychic instance "it", the ego and the super-ego also have unconscious parts.

According to Freud, the following properties characterize the unconscious:

  • Alogic: the laws of logic do not apply here and have no influence on the content of the unconscious.
  • Contradiction: in the unconscious, opposites can be identical or mean their respective opposite. In this context, Freud refers to the language in which some words, so-called "original words", can have opposing meanings (Latin: altus = "high": "deep" or sacer = "holy": "cursed").
  • Timelessness: Processes in the unconscious have no relation to time, so they are not ordered in time.

The idea that there is another area of ​​the psyche with the unconscious, which works according to completely different laws than the conscious, has long been rejected by academic psychology . Gestalt psychology has made an outstanding contribution to the empirical and experimental verification of depth psychological hypotheses - some hypotheses were confirmed, while modifications were proposed for others (cf. the work of Wolfgang Metzger ).


An important concept within all schools of depth psychology is the psychological mechanism of repression . Freud originally defined repression as a "memory defense" of painful, emotionally unpleasant memories from consciousness. "Defense" is a rather active performance of the "I" in the Freudian sense, which serves the inner-psychological conflict management and, among other things. a. includes other forms of rejection from consciousness such as denial .

Transference and countertransference

A transference occurs when someone directs expectations (e.g. role expectations), wishes, fears, or ideas that have formed in previous important relationships about the behavior or characteristics of other people. These expectations now form a kind of template that is revived if the relationship pattern has a structure similar to that of the original reference person (e.g. father - boss).

In a classical psychoanalytic therapy according to Freud, the development of a transference relationship with the analyst is expressly desired and is encouraged by the psychoanalytic treatment setting (lying on the couch, the psychoanalyst sitting outside the field of vision, etc.). The idea is that the internalized conflicting feelings (fears, feelings of shame or guilt, etc.) about the original caregivers should be revived and experienced in the relationship with the analyst (“transference neurosis”), but can now be reprocessed with the analyst's help . Freud summarized this process with the terms “remembering, repeating and working through” and said that the neurosis simply cannot be killed “in absence” ( in effigy ).

A transfer of past, formative relationship patterns does not only take place in a psychoanalytic relationship, but in almost all interpersonal relationships - also in other forms of psychotherapy, where these processes, however, usually remain undetected and are not discussed.

Countertransference ” is the term used to describe the analyst's emotional reaction to the analysand (or to his / her actions and utterances resulting from transference phenomena). Analysts have learned to pay close attention to their emotional reactions (countertransference) to the analysand and to use them as an important source of information about their inner conflicts and about the relationship events in the psychoanalytic process.

The importance of early childhood

In all three main currents of depth psychology, the development in childhood is considered to be decisive for the later personality. The causes of mental disorders are also mostly seen in early childhood. The interaction between the child and the important caregivers is particularly important here .

Beginnings of depth psychology

Sigmund Freud

Jung (bottom right) and Freud (bottom left) in front of Clark University

Freud initially saw the so-called posthypnotic suggestion as evidence for the unconscious, which means that commands suggested to a hypnotized test person are carried out after waking up from the hypnotic trance, although the test person does not remember the command. Freud initially adopted this approach to treating hysteria from Jean-Martin Charcot . In terms of the concept of the unconscious, this means that the command, although the subject cannot remember it, has so much tension that it carries it out, although wondering why it is being done. The subjects often found “excuses” for carrying out the post-hypnotic suggestion. They tried to explain their actions to themselves by simple but apparently logical intentions, without being able to remember the commands suggested in a hypnotic trance . The Freudian slip of the tongue or the Freudian mistake has also been used to approximate the concept of the unconscious.

Carl Gustav Jung

Jung saw his association experiments as proof of the unconscious. He called out a few precisely defined words to the subjects. The subjects should answer the first thing that came to their mind as soon as possible. During this experiment, Jung noticed that some of the words produced strange reactions. The associations with some words were disturbed. They were too slow or contained associations that suggested a conflictual connection. (Example: doctor: cloud - subject: air; but: doctor: mother - subject very late: cemetery). From this context, Jung concluded that there are conflicting relationships apart from consciousness, which he termed complexes and which - although unconsciously - can disrupt the conscious intention.

Jung also assumed that besides the personal unconscious there is another, the collective unconscious (as a deeper form of the unconscious, see archetype ). He saw this to a certain extent as a repository of the psychological heritage of human history, which had developed analogously to the body during evolution and was shaped by it.

Alfred Adler

Adler saw people - as the name of his individual psychology suggests - as a unique unit in which body and soul not only influenced each other, but also functioned in an analogous way. Similar to how the body tries to compensate for an organ inferiority , the psyche tries to overcome a feeling of inferiority by striving for validity or perfection. According to Adler, all psychological possibilities of the individual such as emotional experience , psychological profile (character) and intelligence are fundamentally developed in early childhood, in the interactive confrontation with the first person in a relationship, depending on the requirements and support. According to Adler, these early life impressions determine the mostly unconscious life plan of people, that is, how they can perceive themselves and their surroundings, how they interpret the behavior of their fellow human beings and how they  solve the three life tasks - work, love, community . During this time , the feeling of community , which is central to Adler's teaching, can develop, the feeling of being in trust between fellow human beings. For the individual psychologist in Adler's sense, it is a yardstick for the mental health of the individual, which can then develop and anchor itself in its relationship to the community and its mutual influence on it. Depending on the degree of severity, a negative sense of community as a basic state of mind causes a latent inferiority complex and parallel, i.e. H. an excessive striving for validity that compensates for the inadequate sense of community, for example in the form of the individual unconscious dominance behavior, a nervous character , a neurosis or a psychosis encompassing the whole person . These findings form Adler's theory of neuroses , with which the basis for the healing of these mental illnesses through individual psychological psychotherapy and their prevention through educational theory was laid.

Modern research bases

Recent studies partially confirm these experiments, which originated from the beginnings of depth psychology (1890–1920). Example: In some studies on conversion disorders , “hysterically” blind people, ie people who had lost visual perception due to a psychological disorder, were presented with various visual stimuli. If the subjects had no reason to maintain their blindness in front of the examiners, the test results were similar to those of healthy subjects. However, if the test subjects had reason to maintain their blindness in front of the examiners, they performed below average in the tests - and even worse than a physiologically blind person would have done if they had randomly correct answers. From this one can conclude that there are indeed unconscious motivations for human behavior.

The foundations for a normal or irritated development in depth psychology by the direct observation of infants and young children , for example, with the setting Strange Situation of Mary Ainsworth examined and diagnosed.

Some of the results of modern brain research also show great similarities to the theories and models of depth psychology. According to this, intentional action is not generally controlled by the “conscious” will, but primarily by the emotions . An area in the frontal lobe was also identified that appears to confirm the superego model. There are also large comparable results on the layer theory = conscious - preconscious - unconscious ( id , ego and superego = dynamic model) (see above all: Mark Solms & Karen Kaplan-Solms : Neuro-Psychoanalysis also: Hans Markowitsch ).

Because of their biological makeup, humans can develop compassion for their fellow human beings . Current studies ( Manfred Spitzer , Gerald Hüther et al.) In brain research make the so-called mirror neurons responsible for this ability. This confirms the individual psychological conception of the sense of community and the social nature of people.

In addition, depth psychology makes use of methods from the humanities, especially hermeneutics , constructivism , systems theory (psyche as a system) and phenomenology .

Criticism of depth psychology

Criticism of depth psychology can be found primarily from among other psychological paradigms . Above all, it is criticized that the theories and models of depth psychology were constructed using insufficiently scientifically founded methods. The depth psychological theories of normal psychosocial development from children to adults have arisen retrospectively through the interpretation of childhood memories and dreams of adult psychotherapy patients. The result is an image of man that regards deficits and conflicts as the central foundations of normal development.

In contrast to the depth psychological approach, for example, the basic assumptions of cognitive behavioral therapy are developed using empirical-statistical research methods. Although depth psychology and psychoanalysis are also based on empirical methods, these are difficult, if at all, to be comprehensible or verifiable through detours . The depth psychological paradigm evades the falsification principle common in scientific theory formation , which says that hypotheses must be formulated in such a way that they can be refuted empirically in principle. The introduction of many theoretical constructs leads to the fact that the depth psychological structure of ideas is repeatedly confirmed, since alternative explanations from the depth psychological pool of ideas can always be used in order to resist falsification. The scientific-empirical method principle of simplicity ( Ockham's razor ) of theories is thus violated.

Further depth psychological approaches

Further approaches based on depth psychology are:

In Germany, two types of depth psychological psychotherapy are funded by the health insurance companies (within the framework of the psychotherapy guidelines):

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: depth psychology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations