Depth Psychology Terms & Concepts

Acorn theory: the core concept of James Hillman’s (1996) work, The Soul’s Code, the archetypal daemon that seeds and guides the direction and destiny of an individual’s life—the driving force for the individuation of the Self throughout adult life.

Affect: most generally, the experienced phenomenon of heightened emotion or the psychological energy of libido. In Jung’s analytical psychology and psychotherapy, affect is an indicator that one or more complexes are activated (or, in the language of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we are “triggered” or “in feelings”). When we are activated or triggered, affects are emotional reactions marked by physical symptoms and disturbances in thinking. (Sharp, 1991, p. 15)

Archetypes: “Primordial, structural elements of the human psyche. . . . Archetypes are irrepresentable in themselves but their effects are discernible in archetypal images and motifs.” In the Jungian view the archetypes express themselves through metaphors that bridge between the unconscious and conscious awareness. They appear in situational patterns that recur across cultures, individuals, and time as recognizable motifs. Among these archetypal motifs that Jung considered primary are the Shadow, Mother, Father, and Child. (Sharp, 1991, p. 15).

Blind Spot

In general parlance:
1. the small circular area at the back of the retina where the optic nerve enters the eyeball and which is devoid of rods and cones and is not sensitive to light—called also optic disk;

2.) a portion of a field that cannot be seen or inspected with available equipment;

3.) an area in which one fails to exercise judgment or discrimination. (blind spot).

In depth psychology/typology:
The blind spot is associated with the fourth or inferior function, the individual’s least developed and least conscious function and the direct opposite of the dominant and most highly developed and conscious function. Contents of the shadow are often obscured in the blind spot.

Complexes: “Emotionally charged groups of ideas or images . . . feeling-toned ideas that over the years cluster around archetypes . . . . When complexes are constellated [activated] they are inevitably accompanied by affect. They are always relatively autonomous. . . . Jung stressed that complexes themselves are not negative, although their effects often are. In the same way that atoms and molecules are the inevitable components of physical objects, complexes are the building blocks of the psyche and the source of all human emotions. . . . The negative effect of a complex is commonly experienced as a distortion in one or the other of the psychological functions (feeling, thinking, intuition, and sensation). In place of sound judgment and an appropriate feeling response, for instance one reacts to what the complex dictates. As long as one is unconscious of the complexes, one is liable to be driven by them.” (Sharp, 1991, pp. 37-39)

Daemon, daimon: from ancient Greek, a divinity or godlike figure who mediates between human and the divine. In depth psychology the archetypal motif of guiding force for personal vocation and calling. (Hillman, 1996)

Depth psychology: a philosophy, orientation, and worldview regarding the human personality, behavior, and mind which takes into account and assumes the reality and autonomy of the unconscious (psyche or soul) with which the conscious ego is in constant relationship; psychologies in the tradition of Freud, Jung, Hillman.

Depth psychotherapy: the practice of psychotherapy, counseling, or clinical social work by a licensed professional who incorporates the reality of the unconscious, theoretical orientation, and applications of the depth psychologies of Jung, Hillman, Freud et al. as well as other effective clinical approaches from cognitive, somatic, neuroscience, nutritional, and pharmaceutical models.


In general parlance: dating from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the conscious executive function of the psyche (along with the superego and id, per Freud.)

In Jung’s analytic psychology: “the central complex in the field of consciousness . .. . Jung pointed out that knowledge of the ego-personality is often confused with self-understanding. . . . In the process of individuation, one of the initial tasks is to differentiate the ego from the complexes in the personal unconscious particularly the persona and shadow. . . . A strong ego can relate objectively to these and other contents of the unconscious without identifying with them. Because the ego experiences itself as the center of the psyche, it is especially difficult to resist identification with the Self [which encompasses both conscious and unconscious contents as well as the archetypal or collective conscious and unconscious realms], to which it owes its existence and to which, in the hierarchy of the psyche, it is subordinate.” (Sharp, 1991, p. 49)

Enantiodromia: “the view that everything that exists turns into its opposite” (Jung, 1921/1971, p. 425) Adapted from the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, Jung used the term “for the emergence of the unconscious opposite over time.” Not a mere whim or curiosity of ancient Greek philosophy, Jung considered enantiodromia a core psychological principle and “the most marvelous of all psychological laws . . . the law that drives the regulative function of the opposites” (p. 426). Thus the idea of enantiodromia was foundational to the seminal Jungian concept of the transcendent function. In Jung’s Psychological Types (1921/1971) enantiodromia manifests as a movement toward the opposite function from the most developed or dominant as the individual personality develops and matures over the course of individuation.

First adulthood, second adulthood: in depth psychology a way of describing the adult individuation journey and differentiating between the early stages, in which defining and strengthening the functioning ego is primary, and the later mature or initiated adulthood, in which the ego is relativized in service of the deeper and more complex callings of the Self. (Hollis, 2001, 2005)

Fourth Estate: the profession of journalism, a free press in a democratic society, based on the idea of the press as the fourth branch of government exerting checks and balances with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.

Fourth function: in Jungian typology, the least conscious and least developed or “inferior” of the four personality functions. (See Blind Spot, Typology)

Grid: a network of intersecting lines, images, data points, or concepts that demonstrates relationship and connections among them; a matrix. (grid).


In general parlance:
1. The process of being formally accepted as a member of a group;

2. A ceremony, ritual, or series of actions that makes a person a member of a group;

3. The act of starting something, the beginning of something.

In cultural anthropology:
A transformation ritual in which an individual is separated from the group to experience a transformative ordeal and return to reincorporate with the group knowledge, wisdom, a boon or gift from the experience. Some initiates complete the entire process and return to reincorporate. Other initiates are lost, perish in the wilderness, or perhaps continue engagement with an ordeal of unknown duration. (Henderson, 2005; Campbell, 1968)

In depth psychology:
The metaphorical application of cultural transformation rituals to describe psychological growth through ordeal or crisis, particularly in the context of psychotherapy.  As with the cultural level, the initiate may or may not complete even one entire initiatory process, and many opportunities for potential initiation arise over the life cycle. In this individual, psycho-dynamic view the initiate:
1. enters or is thrust into separatio or separation from the familiar, known sense of self;

2. in this dissolved state endures an encounter and engagement with heretofore unknown, unclaimed, often unwanted, shadow aspects; and

3. reintegrates, analogous to reincorporation at the cultural level, having claimed the previously unknown aspects into an expanded, more conscious self. (Henderson, 2005)

Individuation: the undergoing of initiations over the course of adulthood, becoming more and more oneself. “A process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. . . . A process informed by the archetypal idea of wholeness, which in turn depends on a vital relationship between ego and unconscious. The aim is not to overcome one’s personal psychology, to become perfect, but to become familiar with it. . . . The process of individuation, consciously pursued, leads to the realization of the Self as a psychic reality greater than the ego. Thus individuation is essentially different from the process of simply becoming conscious. . . . In Jung’s view, no one is ever completely individuated. While the goal is wholeness and a healthy working relationship with the Self, the true value of individuation is what happens along the way. (Sharp, 1991, pp. 67-69)

Libido: “Psychic energy in general . . . . Jung specifically distanced his concept of libido from that of Freud, for whom it had a predominantly sexual meaning. . . . In line with his belief that the psyche is a self-regulating system, Jung associated libido with intentionality. It ‘knows’ where it ought to go for the overall health of the psyche. (Sharp, 1991, p. 80)

Matrix: the mold, template, or original form of a thing. Sharing origins with mater and mother, the term is associated also with the womb. Also a grid of connectivity. (matrix)

Numinous, numinosum: “Descriptive of persons, things or situations having a deep emotional resonance, psychologically associated with experiences of the Self,” the sacred, or divine presence greater than the ego. (Sharp, 1991, p. 92)

Projection (Individual & Collective): “An automatic process whereby contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others. . . . Projection is not a conscious process. One meets with projections, one does not make them. . . . It is possible to project certain characteristics onto another person who does not possess it at all, but the one being projected onto may unconsciously encourage [or ‘hook’] it. . . . Projection also has positive effects. In everyday life, it facilitates interpersonal relations. In addition, when we assume that some quality or characteristic is present in another, and then through experience find that it is not so, we can learn something about ourselves. This involves withdrawing or dissolving our projections.” (Sharp, 1991, p. 105)

Projective identification (Individual & Collective): the psychological state or process in which the energy of another’s unconsciously projected contents is so intense that one manifests the projected material as though it “belonged to” oneself.

Psychological Typology (Jungian): “A system in which individual attitudes and behavior are used to explain the difference between people” and the order of development and flow of libido within the individual. . . . Jung differentiated eight typological groups: two personality attitudes—introversion and extraversion—and four functions—thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation, each of which may operate in an introverted or extraverted way.” (Sharp, 1991, pp. 140-141). A simplified version of Jungian typology that does not account for unconscious aspects such as the fourth or inferior function has been adapted for corporate and other popular culture as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Introversion-Extraversion: “Psychological modes of adaptation. In the former, movement of energy is toward the inner world. In the latter, interest is toward the outer world.

Thinking Function: Mental process of interpreting what is perceive

Feeling Function: Evaluation or judging of what something is worth (or whether it is liked/valued.)

Intuitive Function: Perception of possibilities inherent in the present

Sensate or Sensation Function: Perception of immediate reality through the physical senses. (Sharp, 1991, pp. 77, 122, 134, 141.)

Shadow: “Hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized. . . . Before unconscious elements have been differentiated [by the individual] the shadow is in effect the whole of the unconscious. (Sharp, 1991, pp. 123-124)

Synchronicity: according to Jung an acausal connecting principle wherein “an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind.” (Sharp, 1991, p. 132)

Soul’s code: Hillman’s (1996) theory of individual vocation and calling based on the idea of a personal daimon or archetypal guide that moves the libido of the psyche and development of the individual toward his or her destiny.

Soul-spark: a term used for the purposes in depth psychology study to depict and underscore the turning-point or emergent moments, often synchronistic, in the initiation crisis stories of adults

Transference: in general parlance of psychotherapy, the phenomenon of unconsciously experiencing or “transferring” a previous affect-or emotion-laden situation onto a current one and responding to the prior experience. In Jungian psychology “a particular case of projection, used to describe the unconscious, emotional bond that arises in the analysand toward the analyst.” (Sharp, 1991, p. 136). From the perspective of archetypal psychology and alchemical hermeneutics, attending to and engaging with one’s affect-laden, partly or fully unconscious responses to the archetypal aspects of one’s activated or constellated complexes (Romanyshyn, 2007).