What Is Depth Psychology?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychology is built around the study of the human mind, which many prominent psychologists have thought to be influenced by the unconscious.

The unconscious mind is a key part of depth psychology. The American Psychological Association defines depth psychology as “a general approach to psychology and psychotherapy that focuses on unconscious mental processes as the source of emotional disturbance and symptoms, as well as of personality, attitudes, creativity, and lifestyle.”

Below, we’ll explore depth psychology, its history, and how it might benefit you when you work with a licensed therapist with training in this area of psychology.

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What is depth psychology?

Through the study of dreams, symptoms, images, slips of the tongue, meaningful coincidences, and our interpersonal interactions, a depth psychologist attempts to understand the language and dynamics of our unconscious and how it manifests in us.

Paul Eugen Bleuler, a University of Zürich professor of psychiatry, coined the German term tiefenpsychologie (which translates to depth psychology) in the early 1900s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest evidence of the use of the term depth psychologist is a 1931 article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Therapy based on depth psychology tends to explore the unconscious and often looks at how dreams, complexes, and archetypes influence the human experience. Depth psychology typically looks to explore the deeper areas of human experiences, working to look at these moments from a holistic perspective as opposed to taking them apart.

Not a “quick fix” form of therapy

Depth psychologists often see the human psyche as both conscious and unconscious, and psychoanalysis is typically the main therapeutic approach. It explores the underlying motives that could be the key to psychological distress. There is a belief that uncovering unconscious forces can be intrinsically healing. The analysis often seeks the deeper layers beneath our conscious awareness, behavior, and thoughts.

This is typically not a quick fix but is instead an in-depth form of therapy meant to uncover a client’s deeper concerns. Depth psychology is usually one of the more non-pathologizing and strength-affirming forms of psychology. Using a range of approaches, this type of therapy is not usually focused on one specific modality. Instead, it is often based on the idea that each of us possesses traits or elements of nature that may influence our natural processes, particularly on the unconscious level.

Therefore, this type of therapy does not typically focus on a few surface issues. Instead, it often involves building a deeper analysis of who you are underneath your present level of consciousness and developing a deeper understanding of how that impacts your decisions in various circumstances or experiences.

Several models of therapy

Depth psychology is an umbrella term that can describe several models of therapy, but it is typically divided into three main schools: psychoanalysis, individual psychology, and analytical psychology. When it comes to psychoanalysis, the process is usually based primarily on Sigmund Freud's ideas. Individual psychology is largely based on Alfred Adler's ideas, and analytical psychology is based on Carl Jung's ideology.


Freud’s psychoanalytic theory helped advance the ideas being set forth by other experts in the field of depth psychology. According to Freud, our behaviors are influenced by feelings and thoughts that are partly conscious and partly unconscious. Freud believed that different parts of the mind (the id, ego, and superego) are all involved in unconscious thought in some way. In practice, Freud attempted to bring patients’ repressed thoughts, feelings, and experiences to the conscious mind.  

Therapy based on psychoanalysis is thought to be effective for various mental health challenges. For example, in a study published in the journal World Psychiatry (called the Tavistock Adult Depression Study), researchers found that psychoanalytic-based treatment can alleviate symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. One such treatment, psychodynamic therapy, has been shown to effectively treat anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to one systematic review

Psychoanalysis has had a profound impact on almost every field within psychology, ranging from applied social psychology to behavioral psychologies. It has also informed the development of numerous other therapies. For example, when participating in one of the cognitive or behavioral therapies, individuals are focusing on the interactions of their feelings, actions, and thoughts—a central concept within the psychoanalytic approach. 

Individual psychology

Alfred Adler worked with Freud, but over time, he developed his own approach to psychology, one that typically focuses on the belief that people's relationships with society are integral to their individuality. The foundation of his theory revolved around a person's pursuit of superiority, and his school of psychology explored this motivating force in the development of human behavior. 

Analytical psychology

Carl Gustav Jung was among the first psychologists to explore the spiritual/religious nature of human psychology. While Jung was influenced (and mentored) by Freud, he disagreed with certain psychoanalytic concepts. Though both psychoanalysis and analytical psychology focus on the unconscious, Jung’s theory is not completely personal in nature, like Freud’s. As part of his work, Jung believed in a deeper collective unconscious—which he believed contributed to our disposition toward myth-making and dreaming—and representative archetypes.

Underlying this combination is the idea that the human psyche is partially conscious and partially unconscious, storing experiences and concerns that may have been repressed, along with collective and archetypal forces. As part of this type of psychology, there is a consideration of the soul, which might be seen as the point of interaction between the transpersonal and personal aspects of the psyche. Professionals practicing Jungian psychotherapy employ several methods to help bring the conscious and unconscious into alignment, including dream interpretation and active imagination, while focusing on establishing a solid therapeutic relationship. 


Bringing the hidden inner world to conscious awareness

Depth therapy tends to focus largely on the individual. A therapist who practices depth psychology may help you explore your unconscious, offering you support and guidance as you examine and ponder what you discover. The new information you gather from these sessions may help you develop more positive traits, from elements that you integrate on a conscious level before eventually finding that they have integrated on the unconscious level. Below are a few of the techniques that a therapist may use to assist you in this process.

Socratic questioning

The therapist typically asks you a series of warm and gentle, but also challenging, questions. With these questions and your answers to them, you may develop an increased awareness of your unconscious motivations, as well as past experiences that you may have put out of your mind or even repressed. This type of questioning may be used later to help you identify alternative plans of action, particularly when those actions might be heavily influenced by your unconscious or factors related to it.


Your therapist may guide you through a full sensory exploration of your early memories, particularly experiences that may have led to feelings of inferiority or discouragement. Your therapist can then offer you support as you remember those images and learn how they may have influenced how you cope with aspects of your life now.

Role-playing future scenarios

Therapy can be a safe place to practice new ways to act in various situations, allowing you to practice new behaviors, interpersonal engagements, and ways of thinking without feeling that you are being judged for not getting it right. Your therapist can offer support as you make changes in how you react and can assist you with progressively challenging scenarios.

How depth therapy can address concerns

Depth therapy is well-suited to participants who want to address deep-rooted emotional challenges, as well as trauma. Also, there may be behaviors that you continue to repeat even though they are damaging to you. Depth therapy may help uncover the potential reasons why you behave a certain way in specific circumstances and help you better understand the causes of these behaviors.

This highly personal type of psychotherapy may be more likely than other approaches to have long-lasting results, but the process may also mean more of a commitment regarding time and effort. The point of depth therapy is typically not to focus on just one specific concern but instead to address the entire scope of your conscious and unconscious emotions.

One of the most important outcomes of this type of therapy may be coming to a greater understanding of yourself, as well as a deeper sense of self-awareness. Many individuals feel that they have a better understanding of why they act the way they do in specific situations, and they feel that they can address those behavior patterns from a place of knowledge.

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A greater understanding of yourself may lead you to discover your life purpose and help you feel a sense of insight that positively impacts your relationships. You might experience a sense of liberation from your previous concerns because you have been able to address them effectively.

Depth therapy often requires individuals to use abstract thinking, as well as multiple meanings for various concepts. Doing so may help you to explore patterns in your behavior. Given the typical use of abstract thinking, depth therapy might not be ideal for those who prefer a more concrete therapeutic approach. Also, if you are looking for a more solution-oriented treatment, then it might be worth exploring other options.

Online depth therapy

If you’re interested in exploring depth therapy, you might find a therapist in your community who practices this type of therapy. However, it may be easiest to find an online therapist who practices this method. BetterHelp has a network of more than 25,000 licensed therapists, and you can be matched with someone who has knowledge of depth therapy. 

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy, and it tends to be more convenient than in-office therapy. With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist at a time that suits your schedule via phone, live chat, or videoconferencing. You can also contact them in between sessions via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. This feature may be especially helpful if you want to ask questions that arise in between sessions.

Counselor reviews

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar challenges.

“This review is for Janet Huff. Janet was professional, kind, thoroughly knowledgeable, and said things in a memorable way. It was easy to talk with her because she is a good listener. She was quite helpful in many ways. I appreciate her skill in digging deep without force. Thank you, Janet!”


“Monica has helped me tremendously in just a few months. She is supportive and an amazing listener. She gives you space to dig deep into your own thoughts and behavior to develop your own insight while providing her own valuable and expert insight when necessary. I'm so grateful for the support I have from Monica!”

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Depth therapy may help you gain insight into yourself by exploring memories and thoughts with the guidance of a licensed therapist. You may need to be motivated and patient during the process, but it might help you discover more about yourself through an exploration of your unconscious thoughts. This process may help with any life challenges you are facing and help you move forward with greater insight. Take the first step toward learning more about depth psychology and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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