Depth Psychology in Work and Career Part II

Posted by Nikole Hollenitsch on Oct 3, 2016 2:11:20 PM

A guest post by Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

Depth psychologists don’t job-hunt without taking the psyche into account. What does this mean?

It means that the job I consciously think I belong in might not be the job that fulfills me. Many of us know exactly what kind of work we “should” do according to external standards we’ve internalized, but how many know what would complete us, give a sense of mission, bring joy and refreshment? Not many.

unhappy_at_work.pngFor guidance, depth psychology offers tools such as active imagination, interpretation of symbols, and tending of dreams and even symptoms. For example: long ago I knew someone convinced she was in the right job even though many of her talents pointed in quite other directions. About the time she started, one of her legs went numb. No medical cause could be found for this, but she never thought to consider the numb leg a symbolic message from the depths. Perhaps it was telling her, “You’re walking the wrong path.”

Asking ourselves for helpful dreams, spending reflective time imagining fulfilling occupations, deep discussion with other seekers, and turning to the body to ask, “What excites you?” are a few of many learnable abilities to surface the kind of work that would truly suit us. Research on job satisfaction shows that being happy with what we do increases productivity and decreases absenteeism, illness, and a host of other problems. It also discourses unconscious sabotage and other expressions of covert workplace resentment. When we’re happy with our work, everybody benefits.

The depth model of a multifaceted and polycentric psyche suggests that the outdated model of training for a single and supposedly permanent occupation will seldom match our needs or talents. Instead, depth psychology offers arrays of skills for use in many kinds of work. Self-care methods, communications training, emotion management, insight into human nature, consciously tapped intuition, access to the wisdom of the body: these and other capacities are useful in any career.

And when “the” job we trained for disappears, as is apt to happen in these uncertain times, we come away with plenty of resources for finding other occupations.

Examples of Work Done by Depth Psychologists

Although I know of no single “depth psychologist” position, the following examples come from a larger array of occupations performed by depth psychologists.

In no particular order: university dean, department chair, professor, teacher, scholar-practitioner, coach, organizational consultant, nonprofit CEO, for-profit CEO, educational director, book author, magazine editor, journal editor, journal founder, environmental educator, librarian, research director, theater director, award-winning screenplay instructor, playwright, documentarian, feature film screenwriter, community activist, hospital chaplain, workshop leader, career counselor, youth counselor, vision quest leader, women’s rights advocate, management consultant, personal finance consultant, musician and performing artist, pastoral minister, spiritual counselor, yoga instructor, professional storyteller, international tour guide, play and creativity consultant, human resources director, founder of nonprofits for community mentorship....and the list goes on.

Depth psychologists have been involved in education (all levels), alternative learning centers, advocacy and grassroots coalitions, courtrooms, prisons, civic planning and assessment, land preservation and sustainability, microlending and economic justice, public speaking, organizational transformation, arts-based community-building, youth programs, government and United Nations consulting, indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty, veterans services and rehabilitation, midwifing, street theater, restorative justice and peacebuilding, health services (including hospice), philanthropy, ecopsychology, somatics studies, interreligious dialogue, political reform, exercise and fitness, legal reform, psychotherapy and social work... and again, the list goes on.

Jung’s vision of depth psychology as a psychological foundation beneath every possible field of human endeavor has resulted in an enormous diversity of career applications.

Depth Psychology in the Workplace

This section links to a recording that fills in the points below with specific examples of the uses of depth psychology at work. These include tools and techniques for: 

  • Preparing for job interviewing, with body states as quiet guides throughout the interview
  • Avoiding unsuitable and even disastrous workplace situations
  • Dealing with difficult coworkers and supervisors
  • Negotiating for what you need without arousing hostility or defensiveness
  • Organizing work teams around motifs and images surfacing from group interactions
  • Moving into and through stuckness, burnout, and mistake-making at work
  • Writing, presenting, and researching that reach out to various audiences
  • Coming up with workplace innovations that win awards
  • Understanding and working through tendencies for self-sabotage
  • Learning how and moving beyond how wounds keep us in jobs we detest
  • Mentoring in light of learners’ psychological limitations and strengths
  • Consulting and alliance-building in the midst of entrenched opposition
  • Discerning and dealing with the organizational unconscious
  • Analyzing and creatively modifying archetypal roles at work.

While training in depth psychology I worked in the corporate arena in various roles, including technical specialist, trainer, diversity committee representative, contract writer, and consultant. Not a day passed in which I didn’t draw on what I was absorbing at school. The unconscious dynamics of the workplace stand out clearly to an eye sensitized to them. So do untapped potentials too often overlooked.

Today I read the news and often shake my head. So much occupational trouble could be avoided with a judicious application of depth-oriented insight! For example, a few years ago a well-known coffee retailer decided, with good intentions, to print helpful tips on their coffee cups for how to have honest conversations—at the counter or table, presumably—about racial conflict. Had they consulted a depth psychologist, they might have questioned their idea. Were they not experts on creating containers? More adequate holding spaces for conversation might have included expertly facilitated discussion circles at appropriate times and places. The company could have evolved a detailed plan for this, taking care to observe and educate participants in practices of cultural humility and from-the-heart communication. Instead, the company received broad criticism for dealing insensitively with an urgent cultural wound. So many other possibilities were available.

Nor would any depth psychologist have missed the symbolic significance of the company logo printed on every coffee cup: a figure resembling Amphitrite, a goddess of powerful waves and ocean currents evocative, psychologically, of strong surges of feeling. Such require careful handling.

Another example: research says we retain roughly 10% of the information we receive during a presentation. If we discuss it, perhaps 30%, and if we use it, even more. But if the information is presented as a story, we remember almost all of it. Additionally, storytelling involves more of the brain’s processing capabilities, including structures of emotion that make the message relevant. Why, then, do businesses continue to crank out ponderous memos, slideshows, and other heady communiques nobody will remember? Effective tools of image, story, and dialog are available!

Do listen to the recording: it contains real-life (storied!) examples of depth applications in the world of work.

Broader Applications

Work to make a living is, for many, of vital importance. Nevertheless, we don’t live by bread alone. A depth view of work underlines the important relationship between occupation and sense of purpose. We work not only to put food on the table and pay the bills, but to make a difference in the world through our unique contribution.

In his Red Book, a compilation of visionary imaginings and psychological commentary, Jung contrasts “the spirit of the time,” which stays on the surface of things and attends to what can be counted up, with “the spirit of the depths,” which yearns for meaning and self-knowledge. Jung’s career exemplifies how these spirits can be aligned.

For those who study depth psychology, its lenses, tools, and insights give us purchase on the dilemmas of our day. Developments in politics, religion, education, economics; relationships with ourselves, others, and our ecologically ailing planet; new technologies that bring temptations and distractions but also means to come to voice and purpose; in these and many other spheres of cultural life, depth approaches allow us to look below what we take for granted to uncover driving forces and dominant motifs: the real levers of change and reform, the wiring below and behind the blinking signals everyone sees but few understand.

For us these deep forces represent hubs, conduits, and organic pathways fully open only to present occupations reimagined or new ones not yet extant but calling out to be created.

Missed part I of Depth Psychology in Work and Career? Read it here -->

craig_chalquist.jpgDepth psychologist Craig Chalquist, PhD, an alumnus of Pacifica Graduate Institute, is a university department chair, core faculty member, administrative consultant, graduate research consultant, author of several books, anthologist, book and manuscript reviewer, presenter and workshop leader, psychotherapist instructor, founding editor-in-chief of a journal, mythologist, ecopsychologist, terrapsychologist, science fiction short story writer, poet, blogger, and board member of two nonprofits. Catch up with him at

Topics: C.G. Jung, history of psychology, Psychology, depth psychology