Depth psychology — what does it actually mean?

Rea­ding time: 4 minu­tes

Depth psy­cho­logy has little to do with hid­den con­tent beneath the sur­face or ice­bergs. To clear up a few cli­chés for once.

When you say you are a depth psy­cho­lo­gist, you are sur­pri­sin­gly rarely asked what that actually is. Somehow ever­yone imme­dia­tely has a pic­ture. It’s about the “sub­con­scious”, about some dark and hid­den regi­ons “below” ratio­nal thought, which are brought to light inter­pre­ta­tively — eit­her on a couch or with omi­nous appa­ra­tus. It pro­vo­kes images of cel­lars, the deep sea or ice­bergs, where most of it lies below sea level. Fun Fact: I’ve been giving lec­tures on qua­li­ta­tive methods at a busi­ness uni­ver­sity for a few years now, and the script I recei­ved as a tem­p­late at the time was ador­ned with such an ice­berg (and a poorly crop­ped one too).

I’m sure entire essays could be writ­ten on what depth psy­cho­logy is all about. To make mat­ters worse, there are count­less depth psy­cho­lo­gi­cal schools and con­cepts of the uncon­scious. But in order to get rid of the cli­chés, it is enough to make clear the cen­tral basic assump­tion of depth psychology.

First of all, depth psy­cho­logy does not neces­s­a­rily have any­thing to do with psy­cho­the­rapy. It is one of many pos­si­ble appli­ca­ti­ons. At INNCH, for exam­ple, we use depth psy­cho­lo­gi­cal cul­tu­ral and mar­ket rese­arch as a basis for deve­lo­p­ment and crea­tion pro­ces­ses. Depth psy­cho­logy is first of all not­hing more than a cer­tain rese­ar­ching atti­tude. In this con­text, the word “depth” is very unfort­u­nate and mis­lea­ding, because depth psy­cho­logy has not­hing to do with depth or a hid­den men­tal place. Rather with con­tex, with an eye for com­pre­hen­sive ever­y­day and life-world con­texts (“con­text psy­cho­logy” or “broad psy­cho­logy” would actually be more appro­priate, but sounds funny).

Actually, the depth psy­cho­lo­gist is a bor­ing and ter­ri­bly order-loving guy. Quite a square, actually. He runs (if he is paid for it) rese­ar­ching through the world and smells order, sense, pur­po­seful­ness, inten­tion ever­y­where. Not­hing is coin­ci­dence or arbi­trary for him, ever­y­thing fol­lows a regu­la­rity and a meaningful plan.

Unfort­u­na­tely, there are many things in this world that at first glance do not make sense and are not pur­po­seful. Peo­ple fall in love with the wrong per­son con­stantly, we can­not explain our sud­den sym­pa­thy or anti­pa­thy, we buy ano­ther pro­duct that we do not actually need. This upsets the order- and prin­ci­ple-loving depth psy­cho­lo­gist so much that he invents a con­s­truct, so that ever­y­thing makes sense again and has its order: The uncon­scious. Not­hing is more distas­teful to him than to aban­don his con­vic­tion that ever­y­thing in the realm of beha­vior and expe­ri­ence makes sense, ful­fills a pur­pose, fol­lows a pur­po­seful pat­tern. That sim­ply not­hing and really not­hing at all is arbi­trary or coin­ci­den­tal. That’s just how he is, the depth psychologist.

The uncon­scious is thus not­hing more than the assu­med and added “miss­ing” con­text of mea­ning. A con­text that some­ti­mes is just not clear to us, not con­scious, because we do not have all life expe­ri­en­ces and our entire life con­text con­stantly on the screen. This con­nec­tion is also not some­where “below”, it is the pat­terns, the pat­terns bet­ween what is other­wise all quite obvious. Some­ti­mes these con­nec­tions seep out of our every pore. They are in state­ments and ideas, they live in the sto­ries that respond­ents tell us in in-depth inter­views, they reveal them­sel­ves in how these sto­ries are remem­be­red and in what words they are told, they show up in people’s ima­gi­nings or reveal them­sel­ves in the inter­per­so­nal dyna­mics of conversations.

The “trans­fe­rence” is also not­hing else than such an inter­per­so­nal dyna­mic, which one alre­ady knows from ever­y­day life. There the stu­dent stands “in the mor­ning” at 12 o’clock in the bak­ery and buys rolls for break­fast and the sales­wo­man looks at him sup­po­sedly stran­gely. Our stu­dent alre­ady has an unp­lea­sant fee­ling. What he does­n’t rea­lize is that he is sim­ply trans­fer­ring his (guilty) fee­lings, which he knows from home when he has slept so late again and his mother has reproa­ched him, to the sales­wo­man. The sales­wo­man does­n’t care about all this, she pro­ba­bly does­n’t know any­thing about this trans­fer. By assum­ing such a con­nec­tion — neither the stu­dent nor the sales­wo­man is aware of it — from a lar­ger con­text (the student’s life story), the depth psy­cho­lo­gist can sleep peacefully again. He has saved the order of the world and can stick to his world­view: Ever­y­thing makes sense.

Such uncon­scious con­nec­tions can also be tense or even con­flic­tual, they are some­ti­mes simple and some­ti­mes com­plex and multi-laye­red, they are some­ti­mes more or less available to us, they fol­low their own psycho-logi­cal rules which dif­fer from those of “logi­cal reason”, they are asso­cia­tive, visual, “phy­si­cal” and often “sloppy”. Howe­ver, they always make sense.

One must be clear, of course: A con­cept like “The Uncon­scious” is a sci­en­ti­fic con­s­truct, and thus first of all an assump­tion of the psy­cho­lo­gist. Actually, it is even irrele­vant whe­ther the uncon­scious really exists or whe­ther it is only a con­s­truct. What is important — and only then may depth psy­cho­lo­gi­cal rese­arch call its­elf sci­en­ti­fic: It must be made com­pre­hen­si­ble, veri­fia­ble and trans­pa­rent how these con­nec­tions of mea­ning are recon­s­truc­ted. Other rese­ar­chers — as long as they work with com­pa­ra­ble methods and start from the same basic assump­tion (“ever­y­thing makes sense”) — must come to the same con­clu­sion. In the cor­po­rate con­text, it must prove useful, not only to explain expe­ri­ence and beha­vior, but also to make fore­casts and poten­tial assess­ments pos­si­ble, or to serve as a prac­ti­ca­ble basis for crea­tion processes. 

Oh, and there is ano­ther pre­ju­dice that you encoun­ter again and again as a depth psy­cho­lo­gist, pre­fer­a­bly at par­ties: “Oh, you’re a psy­cho­lo­gist, I’ll have to watch what I say.” Careful: That’s not a cli­ché, it’s true!


Share Post :

weitere Beiträge