- Logic and rationality cannot solve all of life’s difficulties.
- Feelings are essential for integrating human suffering and traumatic experiences in our lives.
- Depth-oriented psychotherapies emphasize emotional insight over cognitive insight.
- Seeking a greater sense of wholeness can help people reconnect to themselves, other people, and the world.
Rationality, logic, and various cognitive strategies may be useful in a variety of situations in life, but they don’t offer much clarity in terms of how to engage with the deepest aspects of one’s humanity. Pros and cons lists may be helpful for deciding your next car to purchase, but they are not a fruitful approach for when we are faced with choiceless situations like terminal illness, social violence, job loss, a crisis of faith, alienation from family, death, grief, or other traumatic losses.
Unfortunately, we can’t think ourselves out of uncertain, complex, ambiguous, meaningless, or disorienting situations that result in psychological anguish. Over-rationalization can cause us to lose the ability to engage with mystery or curiosity, make us struggle with a sense of purposeless, and cause us to become stuck in self-defeating patterns. Without even realizing it, many people who self-identify as logical may distance themselves from others or even their own embodied nature, as they may be living predominately in their heads.
There is an old saying in the tradition of depth-oriented psychotherapy which states: If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it. This simple but evocative statement highlights how emotions are a core component of psychological life. Attempting to detach from our feelings can cause disconnection, internal fragmentation, and even immobilization.
Thankfully, there is an alternative to using rationality to solve all of life’s challenges. We can make active choices to engage in our suffering with greater openness and learn to approach ourselves more holistically. In fact, depth-oriented psychotherapies emphasize how our felt-sense experience of things is essential for learning how to live with, process, or integrate various forms of human suffering and traumatic experiences within our lives.
Depth-Oriented Approaches Differ From Cognitive Approaches
In depth psychology, the intention is not only to bring greater awareness to a person’s thoughts but also to cultivate insight around feelings, bodily sensations, hopes, fantasies, dreams, and even symbolic, creative, or transpersonal experiences. Within this therapeutic approach, emotions are viewed as an integral part of the human experience, and psychological transformation is not possible without feelings. After all, many intelligent or logical people can discuss their difficulties in life, and yet this cognitive understanding doesn’t help them to overcome their personal challenges.
The truth is emotional insights differ from cognitive insights. This is why depth-oriented psychotherapists often help people learn how to approach overwhelming, threatening, or even contradictory feelings from a place of safety and awareness. The development of the mind-body relationship has been a growing theme within the depth-oriented psychotherapeutic literature in recent years, as it’s become clear that attending to our felt sense experience often resonates at a much deeper level for facilitating positive change.
What Exactly Is Depth Psychology or Depth-Oriented Psychotherapy?
Depth psychology can be defined in many ways, but this approach fundamentally explores the deeper aspects of psychological health concerns. This therapeutic tradition challenges the notion that we have a single identity. Instead, our sense of self is understood to be much more dynamic, fluid, expansive, and complicated than most people realize.
Depth psychology recognizes how life difficulties can be rooted in the parts of ourselves of which we may be unaware. Often, the intention is to establish a relationship with the hidden or unconscious aspects of our sense of self. This is because it is in the depths of our psyche where our deepest emotional wounds exist, as well as the most extraordinary opportunities for self-expansiveness. This is captured by the famous psychologist Carl Jung, who stated: It is said no tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.
Acquiring emotional insight, maturity, post-traumatic growth, wisdom, vitality, freedom, meaningfulness, and a deeper sense of connection to ourselves or others often requires us to adopt a sense of curiosity towards our own suffering. While it is a daunting task, psychological health often requires us to tend to emotional dysregulation, re-occurring life patterns, the sensation of pain, traumatic past experiences, devastating losses, early childhood experiences, and difficult family dynamics and ultimately connect with all aspects of our being.
Depth-oriented psychotherapies seek to promote a sense of wholeness within us. This therapeutic approach consists of many different therapeutic traditions like psychodynamic, Jungian, or attachment-oriented therapies; there is also a lot of overlap with other relational or experiential therapies like internal family systems and transpersonal psychotherapies.
It’s important to note that modern perspectives in this therapeutic tradition do not view people as isolated individuals. Rather, contemporary depth-oriented approaches acknowledge that we exist in intimate relationships with different aspects of our personality, as well as with other people, families, communities, and nature itself. Depth psychotherapy encourages people to connect more deeply to their internal world, as this often supports people in expanding their sense of consciousness towards the external world and to the collective experiences of humanity.
Above all, leveraging depth-oriented psychotherapies to explore one’s journey inwards and outwards is centered on the relationship with an attuned therapist. Learning how to feel fully is easier with a trusted person who knows how to hold feelings and who can help us co-regulate.
Corbett, L. (2015). The soul in anguish: Psychotherapeutic approaches to suffering. Chiron Publications.
Kalsched, D. (2020). Opening the closed heart: Affect-focused clinical work with the victims of early trauma. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 65(1), 136–152.
Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. The American Psychologist, 65(2), 98-109.
Shelvock, M. (2022). Understanding loss: Grief and attachment theory. Psychology Today.