Depth Psychology

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Depth Psychology


(German Tiefenpsychologie), the designation of a number of trends in contemporary foreign psychology that have taken as the subject of their investigation the so-called deep-seated forces of the personality—its drives and tendencies—placed in opposition to processes occurring on the “surface” of consciousness. The boundaries of depth psychology cannot be precisely defined as the term embraces various currents and schools, including the teachings of S. Freud, C. G. Jung, and A. Adler, as well as ego psychology and neo-Freudianism. In its interpretation of the motives of human behavior depth psychology ascribes an active, dynamic role to unconscious motivations, which are studied by specific methods, such as techniques of psychoanalysis (free association and others), projective tests, and psychodrama. Having arisen from the needs of psychotherapy, depth psychology preserved its ties with medical psychology. For its part depth psychology has stimulated the growth of a new branch of medicine, which examines the significance of psychological factors in somatic illnesses—the so-called psychosomatic orientation in medicine. Pathological conditions of the psyche, however, are interpreted by depth psychology not as illnesses in the usual sense but as an expression of general human problems and psychological conflicts that have assumed a sharply expressed and overt form. Thus, Freud, proceeding from clinical practice, introduced the idea of unconscious psychic mechanisms, which lie at the base of such phenomena as neuroses, dreams, and mistaken actions. According to Freud these phenomena were “compromise formations,” reflecting a conflict between unconscious drives and the attitudes of the conscious ego (or the result of the collision of two principles of psychic activity—the pleasure principle and reality principle). Freud formulated the basic concepts of depth psychology, including repression, symbolization, fixation, and regression. Adler singled out the individual’s striving toward self-assertion (the will to power) as the dominant motive. Adler’s system became one of the sources for the later “cultural-sociological” currents in depth psychology, primarily in the USA, whose representatives were K. Horney, E. Fromm, H. Sullivan, and others. On the other hand, Jung expanded the concept of the structure and functions of the unconscious, which in his theories includes also the collective unconscious. The teachings of Freud and Jung have become quite widespread, going beyond the bounds of psychology into the history of culture. Particularly influential has been the Jungian interpretation of myths, symbols, and religious-magical rituals as forms of the collective unconscious (archetypes). A reaction against exaggerated interest in the unconscious appeared in the so-called ego psychology, which began to be developed in the 1940’s, mainly in the USA, by H. Hartmann, P. Federn, and others. Ego psychology stresses the primary significance of the conscious ego. Most recently there have developed new trends in depth psychology under the direct influence of the philosophical conceptions of phenomenology and existentialism (mainly in Switzerland and West Germany, for example, L. Binswanger’s existential analysis in Switzerland). Together with the tendency toward the integration of depth psychology and philosophical anthropology, for example, in the medical anthropology of the German physiologist V. Weizsäcker, there is a tendency to interpret depth psychology in the spirit of neo-Thomism (the New Viennese school). Currents in depth psychology in the USA are to a considerable degree under the influence of neopositivism and behaviorism. Attempts by R. Munroe and others to arrive at a synthesis of different currents in depth psychology have not met with success.

Depth psychology is a heterogenous and complex phenomenon, and in evaluating it the therapeutic techniques that it proposes and the several new facts in the realm of the psychology of the unconscious that it has established must be separated from the often irrationalistic or mechanistic philosophic-theoretical interpretations which these techniques and facts have suggested.


Morozov, V. M. “Glubinnaia psikhologiia i psikhiatriia,” Zhurnal nevropatologii i psikhiatrii im. S. S. Korsakova, 1958, vol. 58, part 11.
Sovremennaia psikhologiia v kapitalisticheskikh stranakh. Moscow, 1963.
Kakabadze, V. L. “Poniatie bessoznatel’nogo v glubinnoi psikhologii.” In Problemy soznaniia. Moscow, 1966.
Munroe, R. Schools of Psychoanalytic Thought. New York, 1956.
Wyss, D. Die tiefenpsychologischen Schulen von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, 3d ed. Göttingen, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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