Depth Psychology has its origins in the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who posited the idea of the psyche as consisting of both conscious and unconscious thoughts, impulses, fantasies, and ideas. We associate consciousness with awareness, that which we recognize and often think to be true about ourselves and the people and world around us. We refer to people who have been injured and sustain a loss of consciousness as being “unconscious”. They are unaware of what is happening around them.
In contrast, the “unconscious” within the psyche co-exists with our sense of ego consciousness. That is, we may be aware that we are behaving in a particular way but not be aware as to why. We may be aware that we are feeling certain painful emotions and at the same time, not be able to articulate the source of these emotions. Because we are unable to defend against the anxiety their conscious awareness might generate, we may have “forgotten” or “repressed” significant pieces of our personal and familial histories which are then relegated to the realm of the unconscious.
Each of us can recount incidents where our behavior ran counter to our conscious intent, meaning, or desire. Expressions such as “it just came out of my mouth” or “I wasn’t myself” or “I don’t know why I did that” convey the power of the unconscious to overtake our conscious minds; in the language of depth psychology, we are in a “complex”, seized by an aspect of our own psyches of which we are unaware, or which we may have unconsciously projected onto others: “Oh yes, that’s her, not me”.
Depth psychology is not meant to “cure” us of these complexes or to reveal completely the mysterious depths of the psyche, but it is a journey in which we may become more aware, may gain insight into ourselves, into the hidden needs, desires, and fears that often motivate us to behave in ways that do not serve us well. With awareness comes choice; we are no longer slaves to the same mistakes or to the same patterns in interpersonal relationships which have continuously proven ineffective, self or other destructive, unproductive. We are free to choose differently and creatively so as to enrich our lives. Depth psychotherapeutic techniques include dialogue with the therapist in an intimate, confidential, and supportive atmosphere, analysis of dreams, active imagination and other expressive modalities like art, music, and poetry.
All of us can identify with feeling anxious at one point or another in our lives. Taking exams in school, professional interviews, reviews and evaluations, financial obligations, parental responsibilities, etc. typically evoke a normal, however varying in intensity, anxious response. Depending upon our abilities to cope effectively with these situations, anxiety may not defeat us; having negotiated these difficulties, we sometimes come through with an enhanced sense of self-esteem and competence.
In the last forty years, we have become increasingly aware of the connection between mental and emotional stressors and physical health. This “mind-body” connection is a crucial intersection in the prevention and treatment of many illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, strokes, and even cancer. The shadow side of our technologically advanced society, with its increased emphasis on efficiency and productivity, is that it often promotes a striving for success which is at odds with the aims of self-care: leisure time, recreation and exercise, meditation or other spiritual practices, family and relationships, healthy eating, etc. Today, many people feel nearly disabled by intense anxiety.
Although anxiety is a very common phenomenon, it is an often overused and misunderstood term. The causes and symptoms of anxiety vary; there are different types of anxiety which require specific interventions, and anxiety varies in its intensity and power to interfere with normal functioning. Causes of anxiety are often related to identified stressors or trauma, but may also include forgotten or “repressed” (and therefore unconscious) factors, including early family of origin conflicts. Symptoms of anxiety include physical discomfort, persistent worrying or obsessions, fear of social situations and other phobias, as well as panic attacks.
Depending upon the type of anxiety experienced, various effective anti-anxiety medications are available for treatment. One common class of “anxiolytic” drug is the benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.). These are usually given in cases of extreme anxiety and panic attacks and are generally most effective in the short-term, but they do carry a high risk of dependency. This is why psychotherapy can be particularly helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Medication alone rarely leads us to an understanding of what core issues may be at the root of our anxiety. In mild to moderate cases of anxiety, psychotherapy alone is often enough to treat unwanted symptoms.