Carl Jung's Depth Psychology Explained

Updated April 8, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team

The origins of depth psychology lie in the University of Zürich where the term was first coined by Professor Eugen Bleuler. It was as director of the Burghölzli Asylum where Bleuler exposed Carl Jung to its fundamental concept and application in a therapeutic setting. From that point, Jung’s work (among other renowned names in the field of psychiatry such as Freud and Adler) would be forever associated with this therapeutic approach. 

Depth psychology explores the “hidden” aspects of a patient’s mind to analyze their behavioral patterns, interpersonal dynamics, and inner narrative. It operates with the belief that our subconscious mind motivates our thoughts and actions, and the use of depth psychology as a form of treatment focuses on revealing those motivators and consciously examining them.

Jung’s depth psychology

While depth psychology can be applied as a broad term encompassing a number of psychiatric approaches, it may be helpful to understand Jung’s approach through a quote from his book Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self that states: “No tree, It is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Jungian psychotherapy's goal is to incorporate depth psychology approaches (aka analytical psychology) in a practical application to help clients explore how deeply seeded attitudes, feelings, and beliefs trigger our interaction with ourselves and the world on a conscious level. To understand how he used depth psychology to treat his patients, one must understand Jung’s models of the psyche and his concept of the archetypes.  

Jung and the psyche

According to Jung, humans exhibit three realms of the psyche. Each influence how we construct and perceive reality and make sense of our experiences: 


Consciousness refers to an individual’s scope of awareness. It’s the scope of awareness we use to understand our outward experiences— and like Freud, he believed the Ego dwells within the conscious mind. Both Jung and Freud believed we use our conscious mind to reason and solve problems as well as perceive the world around us. 

Jung believed that the conscious mind is like the tip of a large iceberg whose majority lies beneath the surface within our unconscious mind. 

Personal consciousness

An individual’s personal consciousness is what its name implies: the thoughts and aspects of the conscious mind that are unique to each of us. Jung believed that the personal consciousness also contains our forgotten and/or repressed memories.

Collective unconsciousness

According to Jung, collective unconsciousness consists of inherited universal concepts that we share unconsciously with the rest of humanity. He believed the collective unconscious exists apart from our personal experience and is where the archetypes are formed.  

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Both the conscious and unconscious mind influence mental health

Jung’s archetypes and the collective unconscious

The relationship between the archetype and the collective unconscious plays a large part in Jung’s approach to depth psychology. He believed that the human psyche is largely influenced by not only instincts, but preexisting archetypes— innate models of consciousness. These archetypes provide the basis for our “collective unconsciousness,” or shared human experiences of birth, death, love, survival, and connection with others. 

Many scholars believe that at its heart, the relationship between archetypes and the collective unconscious is bi-directional. The basic archetypes inform our collective unconsciousness. Inversely, the collective unconsciousness derived from these shared archetypes influences how we understand and express archetypal themes through our collective consciousness via art, music, poetry, etc. 

For Jung, these archetypes can be personified (some say there is a personified archetype to represent every recurring incarnation of human thought and behavior), but at their core include:

The persona 

Form the Latin persōna, or “mask,” this archetype represents how we outwardly present ourselves. The Persona can appear in different forms according to social and environmental conditions. Jung believed that it acts to defend the ego, or inner self. For example, as children, we learn we must adjust our behaviors in certain situations to conform to societal norms and expectations to avoid punishment or ostracization. 

In a therapeutic setting, Jung addressed the Persona as a vehicle to “mask” impulses, primitive urges, and emotional expressions that aren’t typically “socially acceptable.” He believed that although it can be useful, the Persona can overshadow our true selves if we identify with it too closely.

The shadow 

This archetype resides within the unconscious mind, and represents the darker side of our basic instincts, chaos, and the unknown. The Shadow houses our forbidden desires, weaknesses, repressed thoughts/emotions, aggressive tendencies, and other things considered not only taboo in society, but also as an affront to the individual’s personal values and morality.

Jung believed that even though we all house a Shadow self, we often deny it, and this denial can cause of a host of psychological difficulties. Jung often looked for the Shadow in a patient’s dream imagery.

The self 

The Self represents an individuals unified conscious and unconsciousness. The multifaceted aspects of our personality integrate to create the Self (a process called individuation), and Jung often used the imagery of a mandala to symbolize this integration.  

In a clinical setting, Jung often attributed psychological conditions in his patients to imbalance between the conscious and unconscious mind within the Self. To assist his patients, Jung worked with them to uncover the conflicts caused by the disharmony within the Self and examine them consciously to achieve the ultimate goal of individuation. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

The anima/animus 

The concept of Anima/Animus has been a subject of debate in modern psychology, as it relates to what some would consider to be outdated constructs around gender identity and the psyche. Jung imagined Anima as the innate feminine aspects present within the male psyche, and Animus represents the innate masculine aspects present within the female psyche. He believed that these archetypes represented a “true self” apart from the image we show the world and is the most prevalent archetype throughout the collective unconscious. 

Jung attributed physiological and societal influences on how we develop our understanding of gender and sex roles—determining how they’re interpreted within the collective unconscious. Despite the rigid, traditional gender roles present in many societies, Jung believed that it’s only when the individual embraces their Anima/Animus will they achieve individuation.  

Clinical applications of Jung's depth psychology

Jung’s psychological theories inform how he treated his patients for a variety of mental health issues—from schizophrenia to depression to mania. Here are a few tools that Jung used to uncover the psyche through depth psychology:

Dream imagery

Dreams offer a glimpse into how our brains generate a narrative of our conscious experiences while disconnected from our consciousness. The understanding of why and how we dream is an ever-developing topic of research, but Jung knew that dreams are a key to revealing parts of our personalities, desires, and perceptions of the world around us that would otherwise be hidden. 

How an individual uses language

Jung viewed the facets of language, even the semantics of basic conversation such as conjunctions and prepositions, to be a communication of the psyche as much as conscious communication. Beyond simple conversation with others, Jung believed the way we use language shapes our inner narratives and our relationship with the subconscious mind. 

The brain’s physiology and its influence on sensory experiences

Like many students of depth psychology, Jung believed in a direct connection between the mind and body. Essentially, Jung knew that the physiological functions within the brain, particularly within the subcortical midline structures (SCMSs) have a direct influence on affect and sensory experiences that play an integral part of how we experience the world around us, thereby affecting the subconscious mind as well. 

Emotional experiences

For better or worse, the unique diversity of emotional states between people has a large impact on how we connect with our conscious mind. Of emotions, Jung said: “… affects have an autonomous character, and therefore most people are under their power. But affects are delimitable contents of consciousness, parts of the personality. … a person roused by affect does not show a neutral character but a quite distinct one, entirely different from his ordinary character.”


Jung often made a point of exploring his patients’ sense of humor to not only to understand the collective human psychological experience, but as a supplement to his therapeutic approach. He often quoted the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer when applying his beliefs about humor to the human psyche: “The sense of humor is the only divine quality in humans.” 

An individual’s experiences with synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences”

From a quantitative standpoint, Jung conceded that coincidences are chance occurrences. But, from the perspective of the unconscious, synchronicity (coincidences that unexpectedly and profoundly affect a person’s life) is more than just a random occurrence. He believed that meaningful coincidences are indicative of inner and outer experiences that bring individuals to their current psychological state. This concept is also one of Jung’s arguments to validate the existence of paranormal influences on the human psyche. 

Both the conscious and unconscious mind influence mental health

Explore Jungian psychology with an online therapist

Jung’s theories are still relevant and influence a large portion of traditional depth psychology. The more traditional schools of depth psychology are often married with other methods of depth psychology in practical clinical applications today to create a more integrated, contemporary approach that uses other related schools such as evolutionary or individual psychology. 

If you’re interested in utilizing Jungian techniques and depth psychology to better understand your personality and what shapes it, it’s easy to find a mental health professional specializing in such methods through online platforms like MyTherapist. You can speak to a MyTherapist counselor on your schedule from the comfort of home via online messaging, video chat, phone, and text. Online therapy is also often less expensive than conventional treatment without insurance.

MyTherapist professionals are licensed, accredited, and engaged in the continuing training and education required to apply both traditional therapeutic methods like Jung’s depth psychology and more contemporary approaches to help patients uncover the complexities of their psyche and provide real practical applications for treating mental health issues. 

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