“Midway in the journey of life I found myself in a dark wood, for the right way had been lost.” — Dante Alighieri
If you are experiencing depression, you’re not alone. Most of us feel depressed at some point in life. Therapy has been repeatedly shown to help. It provides a path, and a guide to help you through the dark woods.
Every school of psychotherapy has a model of depression and proposes ways to help that follow from that model. In today’s managed care environment, emphasis is given to rapid treatment aimed at relieving the most incapacitating symptoms of depression without consideration of why the depression arose in the first place. As a result, medication and brief cognitive behavioral therapy (aimed at teaching better coping skills) are the norm. While those subscribing to a Jungian or depth psychological approach also work to quickly relieve symptoms, we also aim for a deeper and more lasting return to health.
While Jungian therapists are not anti-medication, we do regard depression as having a function and purpose. In addition to alleviating symptoms, we work to address the underlying factors that have led to depression. We don’t simply try to drug the symptoms away, leaving them likely to return when medication is stopped, but to learn what changes are needed for lasting improvement.
When I was a counseling intern, I had to practice writing “mainstream” treatment plans for depression that would suit the reimbursement criteria of the managed care companies. The standard treatment goal for depression was for the person to “alleviate the symptoms of depression and return to their previous level of functioning.” Although I wrote those lines many times, in order to help patients obtain benefits, I never did so without a shudder. It was “the previous level of functioning” that led to the depression in the first place! What would anyone want to go back there? I hoped instead that I could help my patients to reach a whole new level of functioning, one that might eventually redeem the suffering they had endured during their depression.
Carl Jung, an early pioneer of psychology and the father of the Jungian approach, considered depression to be a signal that the individual was out of balance in some fundamental way and that growth or change was needed. Depression forces us into isolation, reflection, solitude and questioning. Jung believed that this period of reflection was part of depression’s purpose or function, the unconscious psyche’s way of forcing us to slow down and pay attention to what may not be working. Seen this way, depression, painful as it may be, can lead us to re-evaluate our lives, to grow psychologically and to make more authentic choices.
Based on this understanding, a Jungian approach to depression, while addressing the relief of immediate symptoms, and open to the use of medication, also considers what the purpose of the depression may be for the individual. To Jungian analysts, the guiding questions in dealing with depression is, “Why is this depression happening to this person at this time?” and “What needs to change in this person’s life?”
When providing therapy for people suffering from depression, I focus first on practical, immediate steps to lessen feelings of distress. As the individual begins to experience relief, we work together to understand how the past is continuing to influence the present. Since losses and disappointments often contribute to depression, exploring relationships is especially important. We identify hopes, needs, and fears and take the time to explore them. If the individual remembers dreams, these are often helpful hints as to what deeper emotional patterns are involved and where emotional healing is needed. This is more than simply symptom relief, it is a process of self-discovery that can lead to a new sense of self and renewed energy for life.
An episode of depression is a horribly painful event in anyone’s life. But it is easier to bear with the help of a compassionate guide and the hope that something better may emerge from the suffering.
To learn about symptoms of depression and treatment options, click here.
Here are some helpful, practical ways to identify depression.
Sometimes depression in men may go unrecognized because they do not always seem down or blue. Here are some of the ways depression can appear in men.
Here is an excerpt of a letter Carl Jung wrote to a friend suffering from depression.