Here comes a definition of Depth Psychology by Roberto Assagioli.
(Source: Symbols of the Supernormal, Part 1. , Conference of Dr. Roberto Assagioli in 1957. Translated by Jan Kuniholm and Francesco Viglienghi. Original Title: Simboli del Supernormale I)
We will now begin to examine the first class of symbols, which deal with depth and descent. The latter is a symbol that is widely used currently, since psychoanalysis has developed and come into fashion. The exploration of the unconscious is in fact symbolically conceived as descending into the abysses of the human being, as exploring the slums of the psyche. But this was certainly not a discovery of psychoanalysis, since it is actually something much older, and furthermore it was conceived in a much deeper sense. Just remember, for example, the descent of Aeneas to the underworld, described in Virgil’s Aeneid, or Dante’s Inferno. In addition, various mystics speak of abysses of the soul. Some speak of the deep self, which would be found in the deepest point of our being, and its awareness. Also —apart from psychoanalysis in the strict sense — there is now a whole new psychological movement which is called especially in Germany Tiefenpsychologie, depth psychology, and which includes especially the school of Jung, and others.
The fundamental principle of this Tiefenpsychologie is the fact that man must courageously first recognize, and then include in his conscious personality, all these lower and dark aspects of his being, which have also been called “the shadow”. Now this has a positive counter-aspect, a “level realization” […] super-rational. Here too the average man must be transcended, and this gives me the opportunity to point out how super-rational does not mean anti-rational or ir-rational; just as super-national does not mean anti-national or non-national. Rather, it means transcending and surpassing, including one stage in order to move on to the next, and higher, stage. And this is precisely one of the fundamental themes of what I am saying tonight.
That is, it does not mean to deny anything, but only to subordinate the lower, the less developed, the primitive and even the normal, to the higher, the more evolved and the supernormal. Therefore I fully accept the experience of the “supernational”, and indeed I encourage everyone to implement it; that is, to become citizens of the world without betraying their nationality, but rather in its supreme interest. In other words, I encourage us to have a broad vision of the fact that humanity is becoming — and must inevitably become — planetary.
I was saying that the descent into oneself, and the subsequent inclusion of the underworld, or lower dark side of one’s personality, has its own very dangerous yet positive side. It is positive in that it is an act of humility, and at the same time an act of power. One who has the power to embrace and courageously acknowledge these sides without being pulled down or overwhelmed does indeed accomplish a true spiritual achievement. But this is very difficult. The story of the sorcerer’s apprentice warns us: it is relatively easy to arouse the underworld, and to unleash the waters, but then it is very difficult to rein them in and command them to withdraw. In this regard, I will limit myself to quoting a brilliant psychotherapist, Robert Desoille, who has developed a very good method of psychotherapy, a method he calls du rêve éveillé, or the waking dream, that is, the guided dream. He is a psychotherapist who has no academic baggage, but who still heals the sick, so he claims, and who also uses descent as an imaginative technique to do so. As we shall see, he actually uses mostly ascent, but also descent.
So, this is not something to be done lightly, precisely because it is something very real, and in any case it should never be done in isolation. As far as I am concerned, I have found it opportune to do it fractionally; that is, beginning with other higher realizations, and then gradually as the person grows stronger, carefully exploring some area of the lower unconscious; but I repeat: fractionally. The real usefulness of this method is first of all to overcome the conflict between the conscious mind and the lower unconscious, a conflict exacerbated by repression and condemnation on the part of the conscious mind out of its unwillingness to admit, from presumption and fear, that such an element exists in us.
Repressing it and denying it is useless — that does not abolish it, but rather exacerbates it. Secondly, our task is precisely that of redeeming this lower part of ourselves. Recognizing it certainly does not mean approving of it, nor does it mean putting ourselves at its mercy; rather, it is with the presupposition of being able to redeem and transform it, and we will see this better when I speak of the symbols of transformation. For the moment, I will only mention that the profound meaning of this is expressed by Christ’s descent into the underworld — into hell — precisely to redeem its inhabitants. This process can be easily introjected by saying that each of us, as a spiritual center, can descend to our own underworld, to redeem and transform it.
 Dr. Assagioli was probably reading from one of three of Robert Desoille’s books, The Waking Dream in Psychotherapy: Essay on the Regulating Function of the Collective Unconscious, Exploration of Subconscious Affectivity by the Method of the Waking Dream: Sublimation and Psychological Acquisitions, or Psychoanalysis and Guided Imagery: The Directed Waking Dreamwhich have now been translated into English and are available in Kindle editions. —Tr.« Back to Glossary Index