Is Psychoanalysis a Depth Psychology?

While taking part in a very small and inconsequential online discussion on Youtube, one of my comments kept getting shadow banned. In an attempt to keep the conversation going, I posted my comment on this unlisted page and linked to it from the comment section.

However, my interlocutor (as you will see), believed that I was acting in bad faith He felt that I was doing something untoward by not putting up his comments, and that I was deceptively attempting to draw people to my website. So I’ve now added the whole conversation below (at least, up until the time when I post this).

I’m very glad Bert suggested this, as it makes the conversation easier to follow and offers a little more context for why I argue that there is an important difference between Psychoanalysis and Depth Psychology. If you want to go into more detail, and hear more about what the difference actually looks like, you can watch the seminar, which I’ve included on this page.

And I’ve included links to some of the books I directly, or indirectly reference in this discussion.


Psychoanalysis presupposes depth psychology, they're not opposed. Only an amateur would say such a thing.


Hey. Thanks for watching. While Depth Psychologies operate with the unconscious, the reason for the difference between psychoanalysis and depth psychology relates to the notion of 'depth'. For depth psychologists the unconscious is subconscious... i.e. a dimension 'beneath' consciousness. The reason why contemporary psychoanalytic theorists tend to make a small but important distinction here, is because Freud is read as ultimately rejecting the idea of a subconscious. The unconscious is not a depth dimension in Freud's mature work, but a distortion in the fabric of consciousness.


The mind still has depth for Freud, just as an organism can be described by ontogenetic development. Hence his use of Haeckel's biology. Freud's topological view of the mind is meant to be a functional system of stratifed layers. Whether the Ucs. proper is at the 'very bottom' of that strata, a blind pulsion or drive, or simply a 'distortion' attaching to any cathected emotion-image does nothing to flatten the psyche of the psychoanalyst. Psychoanalysis implies depth psychology. It invented it. No need to story up just to save the title of a mediocre talk given by opportunistic intellectuals.


Hey. I think that what is considered rude or impolite is different in your country than mine. I truly hope to avoid saying anything that would be considered personally insulting or nasty. I am keen on the subject you bring up though. Perhaps the difference here is that I work within the Freudian/Lacanian tradition of psychoanalysis. Which differs from the Jungian and ego schools.

Just a quick quote from Adrian Johnson. While you may think that I’m not a legitimate academic (although I can assure you that my PHD from Queens University is legitimate), I’m sure you’ll agree that Johnson is a world class expert on these matters! He writes “ ...Lacan hoped thereby to avoid being misinterpreted in the ways that Freud’s deceptively accessible employments of natural language allegedly allowed most non-Lacanian post-Freudians to perpetrate. Additionally, topology, as a science of surfaces, provided Lacan with resources for his regular assaults on the crude, popular images of psychoanalysis as a “depth psychology,” with these images relying upon the simplistic two- and three-dimensional Euclidean spaces of spontaneous picture thinking. Topological figures and constructions undermining the intuitions of this picture thinking assisted Lacan in recasting the unconscious as an ensemble of contortions, curvings, folding, inflections, twists, and turns immanent and internal to a single plane of minded subjectivity accessible to rigorous, rational (psycho)analysis.”

I’m not wanting to be dismissive here. Some have argued that Freud did articulate a type of depth psychology. But I think that this is a bad reading of Freud. I can see how it arises out of the way that Freud wrote, but once you see the type of ontology Freud develops over the entire course of his work, I think one has to agree with Lacan, Johnson, Zizek and others that Freud was not a depth psychologist.


Lacan and Zizek are hardly reliable scholars. I can't comment on Johnston, but it's of little importance anyways, since deference to an authority, on the surreptitious grounds that they say something that agrees with what you wanted to say in the first place, is an egregious form of question begging. But let's not kid ourselves, Lacan's appropriation of Freud is hardly uncontested, and his 'return to Freud' was meant mostly tongue in cheek. He certainly can't be taken to be representative of the whole psychoanalytic tradition, especially not by his dubious claim to Freud's mantle. So I see no valid reason to pretend like the meaning of depth psychology depends on the tenuous reading of Freud via Lacan via Zizek via Johnston.

Instead of playing this scholarly-all-too-scholarly game of naming the sources that confirm your own opinion, it's pretty helpful to just turn to the sources themselves. Choose any of the periods of Freud's work, and you'll be sure to find mention of several core assumptions. (1) The psyche, on whatever specific model you prefer (topological, libidinal-economic, etc.), is dependent on the brain as an extended organic substance. Freud was not a psycho-physical parallelist like Fechner et al. He thought that mental states and brain states were causally related.(2) The brain is the product of an historical evolution of the animal kingdom, and was not given all at once in a single act of creation. Its specific functions and specialized ganglia were developed over time, and older structures, insofar as they share a lineage with cordates up through man, are embryonically preserved and expressed as ontogenetic phases of development. This is the gist of Haeckel's version of recapitulation that Freud assumed for truth. (3) The ontogenetic life of the individual is akin to the phylogenetic life of the species; phases of development are passed through psychologically, emotionally, and sexually, which correspond to earlier phases of the process of civilization, i.e., the sublimation of drives. Individuals have unique life histories consisting of personal experiences, traumas, object desires, wishes and memories and their subterfuge, but these are all set within the wider current of human history and zoological evolution.

Taking all these together, it's pretty plain that there is a store of instincts, drives, and interpreted meanings, that were passively inherited, as well as those actively fashioned in the ego-formation of the subject. These correspond, quite directly for Freud in the case of inherited instincts and drives, to our organic architecture and their physiology, and in a mediate or sublimated way in relation to our own psychosexual social development. And this is basically why Freud compares the mind to an embattled ancient city preserving into the present, with new editions built atop the old ruins. The "surfaces" of topology may be interesting as a model for talking about the torsion at the interface between levels (Freud often spoke about the convolutions of the brain as demonstrating the objective cramming of memory in material substance), or at least at the boundary between the Cs and Pcpts, where the 'in itself' of external natural forces impinge on the organism and receive specialized transductions through the sense organs and become experienced as sensible qualities. But again, all of this presupposes a depth to the mind that consists of skins and membranes, markings, vestigial drives, and memories, which are dormant to reflection but which are obliquely accessible to the analyst by various techniques (hypnosis, dream analysis, parapraxis, etc.). If there was no retention of experiences which lurk beneath the threshold of (pre)consciousness, being thus unavailable for immediate recall, then there would be no reason for psychoanalytic practice at all.


I'd love to engage with this reply in a moment, however, before we shift the goalposts too much and jump into Freud's work, which I confess is something I very much enjoy, I must return us - and, more importantly, anyone reading this, to your original claim. Which was what I was responding to.

You said, "Psychoanalysis presupposes depth psychology, they're not opposed. Only an amateur would say such a thing." By responding with a quote from Johnson, and bringing up Lacan, I was simply giving what I felt was an adequate rebuttal of your original claim that "only an amateur would say such a thing". While Lacan's work does lend itself - more than many others - to conflicted interpretations, I don't think that either of the following claims can be sustained (a) that Lacan was an amateur, or (b) that Lacan's work is less than a sustained attack on the claim of Freud's unconscious being a depth dimension (even before Seminar 12). In terms of the latter, I think that you'd be hard pressed to find any Lacan scholar who thinks otherwise.

I also included Zizek because, again, whether or not you agree with him, you can hardly say that his work on psychoanalysis is amateur in nature. Although, I'd happily add others (the most recent expert I have read who offers an anti-depth psychology reading of Freud would be Alenka Zupancic).

But when I responded, you made the following accusation, "I can't comment on Johnston, since deference to an authority, on the surreptitious grounds that they say something that agrees with what you wanted to say in the first place, is an egregious form of question begging". Forgive me for the quotes, but it is important.

What you have done here is respond by saying that I am committing logical fallacies by 'deference to authority" and 'question begging". But this is a misuse of logical fallacies. Many logical fallacies are contextual, as I will attempt to show. You claimed that only an amateur would say what I think, yet you say that I defer to authority when I show that some experts actually say what I think. To simply a little,

A - Only an amateur would say 'x'

B - There is a professional, y, who says 'x'

A - By quoting y, you are deferring to authority rather answering my question

Here you can see the problem clearly laid out. Namely that B is actually answering the original question, precisely by quoting y. Hence it is not question begging, and neither does it fall under the fallacy of "deferment to authority". As a philosopher, it is a pet peeve of mine to see how many people misunderstand what a logical fallacy is, and misuse them. Once non-specialists learn of them, they often use them like a child wielding a broadsword. A little knowledge is dangerous, and all that!

Indeed the main reason that I did this is because you said, "no need to story up" with regards to my original response, in which I did not defer to any authorities. I took this, perhaps mistakenly, to mean that you considered my original claim to be a form of hasty rationalization after the fact. Hence I responded by pointing out that my position is indeed held by people widely regarded as psychoanalytic professionals. You also say, "Lacan and Zizek are hardly reliable scholars [of Freud]". But again, this is a subtle changing of the goalposts, as your original claim was to "psychoanalysis" rather than Freud. Of course Freud is the founder of the discipline, but the discipline is bigger than Freud. While I firmly agree with Lacan that Freud's metaphors, borrowed from the biology of his day, lead to the kinds of misreading you give, I was quoting him not as a scholar of Freud (although I think he is), but as a psychoanalyst. Hence I was replying to your original claim. Again, to simplify,

A - Only an amateur psychoanalyst would say 'x'

B - Lacan says 'x'

A - But Lacan is not a scholar of Freud

Here you can see that the response of A does not align with their original claim. I understand that you might offer the rebuttal that Lacan's work is open to interpretation. But again, you'd be hard pressed to find any Lacanian (I personally have never come across one) who would argue that Lacan's use of topology is not a critique of the claim that Freud is a Depth Psychologist. If you know of one, please do offer a quote (I would in no way see that as a deferral to authority. To be honest, I’d just be fascinated to see it and learn more). In terms of the new discussion you bring up about Freud in particular, I'll say a few words. What you wrote about Freud is basic (in a good way) and correct. You are knocking on an open door when you say things like Freud believed “the psyche... is dependent on the brain as an extended organic substance”, “Freud was not a psycho-physical parallelist”, “he thought that mental states and brain states were causally related” etc. etc.

The point here is not, for instance, that Freud held a recapitulation theory influenced by Haeckel (a seemingly important argument for you, as you have referenced it twice now), or that he offered spacial analogies for understanding the Unconscious, Preconscious and Conscious. Freud obviously used a lot of biological metaphors in his work.

But this gets us to the heart of the matter. Namely, does an emphasis on Freud’s use of biological metaphors lead to a bad and fundamentally misleading interpretation of his work?

As you know, many of Freud’s brightest contemporaries in Europe argued that it was actually an amateur and casual reading of Freud’s biological metaphors that lead to the diminishment of psychoanalysis. The obvious one being the way many early post-Freudians misread Freud’s Drive as instinct (which wasn’t helped by a poor translation of Freud’s work that conflated the two). By seeing Drive as instinct, Freud was very much read as a depth psychologist. Another key area is in relation to Primary and Secondary repression. While Secondary repression is all about a type of unconscious formed from our own personal traumas, and those passed onto us by others/language. Primary repression corresponds to one of Freud’s fundamental breakthroughs… a type of lack that is original to the subject. i.e. not a biological lack, but an ontological one.

For someone like Lacan, once on can properly appreciate the searing insights of Freud’s work on Drive and Primary Repression, we cannot help but see that the biological metaphors are crude teaching tools. Hence Lacan’s turn to Structuralism as a way of illuminating Freud, and saving him from some crude biological interpretation. By eventually employing mathematics Lacan found a more appropriate way to show the Freudian breakthrough that avoided getting tangled up in the Imaginary realm of 19th century biological metaphors.

If nothing else, I hope that this discussion is an adequate refutation of your original claim. But I also hope that it helped add a little more context for readers of these comments, regarding the subject matter of the seminar. Thanks for the back and forth. I enjoyed it!


I think writing your reply as a blog post about the context-sensitive nature of fallacies without posting my comments in full is pretty ironic. Also, saying Freud's citation of Ernst Haeckel and several other biologists and physicians was merely 'metaphorical', and that the downfall of Freud's post-humous credibility was due to the 'truly amateur' move of reading Freud as he himself demanded he be read, i.e., *as a scientist*, is little more than trying to turn the tables without actually consulting Freud's work itself, but once more relying on Lacan's word. Overall the simple point to be made was that psychoanalysis implies depth psychology because the mind is dependent on the brain, which is an historically emergent organ that retains the vestiges of its evolutionary past, viz it has depth. Taking a pedant's revenge to insult by hairsplitting who/what is and isn't amateur is a sour herring to lead the discussion on your own private platform, rather than address the actual content of the argument which shows, in what should be obvious to any scholar competent in the history and philosophy of science and philosophy, that the depth of the psyche was a given for Freud.

In fact, after looking at your page, it strikes me that this whole 'shadow ban' nonsense is just some bullshit you whipped up in order to link people to your website. You seem like just another grifter like J Peterson, only the branding is different: Anti-self-help self-help. Sophistry in the age of youtube and patreon... what a trip.


I'll put your comments in now. But, to clarify, it isn't a blog post, it is a private page that only people who read these comments can see (I only wrote it there because it wouldn't post here). Also, I don't know why you want to keep making this back and forth personal, and assume bad faith. This is an interesting and important issue, and I have no bad feeling towards you. I mean I don't even know you (the only personal thing I know about you is that you keep liking your own comments the moment you write them, which is a little peculiar, but perhaps you are just enacting the old African proverb 'If I don't beat my own drum, who will'). 

Anyway, even though it is a private page, I will put your comments in for your personal pleasure. You're obviously confident that I've done nothing to shake your original statement, "Psychoanalysis presupposes depth psychology, they're not opposed. Only an amateur would say such a thing." But I feel confident that I have shown why a large number of psychoanalytic practitioners and theorists precisely do say this.  But just one more for fun. Widely considered to be one the most significant psychoanalytic practitioners and theorists today: Bruce Fink. In his authoritative work on Freud A Clinical Introduction to Freud he writes a powerful reflection on Freud’s analysis of Anna O under the title "The Unconscious Does Not a "Depth Psychology" Make". This is found on page 25-28. I am not here claiming that you should believe what he says, indeed I am purposefully not quoting him so you don't accuse me of 'deference to authority'. I simply point it out to offer yet another first rate psychoanalyst who makes a fundamental distinction between Depth Psychology and Psychoanalysis.

While you may not be shaken in your original claim, I trust the impartial reader will be.


Again, all you're doing is saying "x authority disagrees...", without bothering to actually show the fault in my own claims. This is tedious. The people you are citing can simply be mistaken in their interpretation, or overlooking (disavowing, even) the elementary nature of what historical-biological depth means for an evolved organism, or simply talking about depth psychology in an artificially delimited way for their own special purposes. But none of that has any bearing on the straightforward propositions I offered. If you're not going to address those, then don't expect another reply.


You didn't like your own comment this time? I hope it's not because you don't like what you said? On a more serious note I'm quite amazed that you don't see that I am refuting your claim that only an amateur would claim that there is a difference between Psychoanalysis and Depth Psychology. By quoting professional psychoanalysts who do make this claim, indeed people who are widely considered to be world class analysts, I am simply showing that your claim is incorrect. The people I have mentioned have written extensively on the difference. I have avoided speaking of my own PhD, but I can assure you that, during my own graduate study, this area is one that I studied extensively while reading through Freud's work.

I don't expect a response from you, because I don't see how you can continue to pretend that your argument is valid. But, if you do respond, I hope you like the comment you make!


The spicey remark about amateurs was clearly intended as an ornament to the more substantive point about the relation between depth psychology and psychoanalysis. Griping over an insult without attending to the actual argument makes you look like a sore loser hiding behind citations. I couldn't care less about somebody's alleged credentials, especially when they fumble on points that should be self-evident to the careful reader. A person may be recognized and treated as though they were authoritative, but we both know that the phallus is a signifier and that titles don't guarantee competence. Bad faith would fall on the side of over-identifying with the symbolic performance, which, judging by your own carefully manicured personal brand, I'm going to assume is a feeling you're no stranger to. Keep chasin' those Patreon bux my man.


You liked it! Good man. This has been a lot of fun. Thank you! As an aside, you say that your original claim was an ornament to your main point. Yet it came first. Most people don’t put the ornaments first, then build the house around them. But Let’s ignore that.

While I did point in the direction of the main reasons why psychoanalysts tend to make the distinction between their discipline and that of Depth Psychology (Jung, Rodgers, Frankl etc.) - namely the difference between Instinct and Drive and the difference between Primary and Secondary Repression - I guess I need to go into more detail.  Before I start, I should say to anyone who is still reading this, is that the reason why I want to clarify why psychoanalysists tend to distance themselves from Depth Psychology relates to a very important insight into the unconscious, and the direction treatment should take. When Freud's Drive is understood is terms of Instinct, you get a form of psychotherapy that doesn't take into account our own self-destructive dimension. The best explanation you get is something like Jung's notion of an imbalance in the subject that just needs to be recalibrated (al la Peterson). My own interest is in the religious and political dimension of psychoanalysis, and Peterson's Depth Psychology leads to a very different conclusion to Freud (which I touched on in the seminar).

Anyway, here goes... Freud's official translator was James Strachey. Someone who attempted to make Freud's rather clear and natural writing sound more scientific. For example, he would introduce Latin words where Freud was using common German words... Ich became ego (when it really just means 'I' or 'me'), Es became Id (when it is better translated as 'it'), and Uber-Ich became Superego (when it really should be rendered 'over me'... like a boss). The effect was to push some quick readers into seeing Freud as creating a type of scientific model, when he is better read as simply referring to different forces on a conflictual plane. We see this clearly in the analysis of Anna-O. In this conflict model, different forces play against each other, canceling themselves out, or forming symptoms. 

The conflict model is not a depth model, and it is what Freud used to help understand things like Anna-O's fatigue (due to her conflictual desires around caring for her father). It is this very conflict model that is later extrapolated by Lacan's use of topological models. These models, such as the mobius strip, enable us to see that the energies that Freud references are not split between surface and depth, but all play out on the surface, with just the illusion of two sides (just like the Mobious Strip only appears to have two sides). Obviously to really get this, the reader will have to read the case of Anna-O and pay attention to the way Freud describes the conflict. But it is precisely this conflict model that is developed into a clear theory when psychoanalysts were able to employ Saussure's Structuralism to draw out Freud's underlying frame that was obscured by Strachey's mistakes in rendering Drive as Instinct, and in misrepresenting Freud's basic view on conflicting energies as a depth model.

This is just one example. However, I must reaffirm that I am a Freudian/Lacanian and that my main interest is in the ways that the French, but particularly Lacan, worked with and developed psychoanalysis after Freud's death. I actually find Lacan's work on the unconscious - not clearer - but more precise. But that would take a long time to unpack.


The ornament is at the end. It's its own sentence. See the OP.

I don't read Freud in translation, I am a native German speaker and have read Freud in the original. I'm not talking about how latinate interpolations were used by translators to 'make him sound more scientific'. If they did so, it was likely by his own request, since he was, in nearly every publication and oration, eager to align himself with the prestige of the rising material sciences. He was, afterall, under the shadow of Ernst Mach's positivism during his later Vienna years. Freud was also a physician and neurophysiologist long before he came to be known as a founder of psychoanalysis. He was heavily steeped in the life sciences, and besides being a Darwinist via Haeckel's influential rendition of the doctrine, he studied physiology under Ernst Brüke, another positivist who was allied with the severe anti-vitalist scientism of Du Bois-Reymond. Freud was also heavily indebted to Eduard von Hartmann's then famous Philosophie des Unbewussten, which sought to cut a middle path between romantic speculation and 'the fact of science' precisely by means of the notion of the unconscious. Of course, if you bother to read this voluminous work, what immediately stands out is Hartmann's marshaling of studies from physiology, medicine, biology, neurology, zoology, in order to demonstrate the real operation of the unconscious (what we would now call autonomic functions, but also ideas which we have but which we do not represent to ourselves) from this mass of experimental literature. None of this was simply 'metaphor' for Freud. He was specially trained to see mental pathology in terms of neurophysiological development and evolution. Claiming otherwise is either ignorance or deliberate historical revisionism.

I am supremely uninterested in your referencing of Jung, and your piggy-backing on this sensationalized Peterson vs. Zizek crap. I don't care about these pseudo-debates. These people are mostly hacks, (though to his credit, Zizek has said a few insightful things about Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel). My point is and has remained a very simple one, and has nothing to do with the taint you perceive attached to depth psychology owing to Jung. It is the simple fact that, for Freud, the brain was an organic functional system with an evolutionary history, and vestigial structures persisted in just the same way that their correlative behaviors and denkformen did. Being a scientific materialist committed Freud to holding the view that if the brain has strata, so too does our mental life.


Thanks for this. It was great overview of Freud's immersion in the sciences of his day. As I mentioned in the previous comment, when you offered a shorter overview, there is nothing that one would want to disagree with in this. 

My point, I should reiterate, is not to disprove your reading of the synonymous nature of psychoanalysis and Depth Psychology,, but to show you that your claim concerning the illegitimacy of saying otherwise is incorrect.

You say this is hairsplitting, but that was the claim you made, and it was the claim I was responding to. Now I also believe that making a distinction between Psychoanalysis and Depth Psychology is more faithful to Freud than not. But that is neither here nor there for this discussion, as it would require way too much work to extrapolate here.  When YouTube discussions become so big as to - in this case - refer to how one ought to understand Freud's essential theory of the unconscious, or even whether this is possible (as he plays with many theories), more heat than light results (the way to have these discussions is over time, with other students and teachers). I've only been interested, as I have said, in showing that your original claim is incorrect. 

In philosophical terms, I am disproving your 'argument for the negative' i.e. your claim that there is no legitimate body of psychoanalysis that argues that psychoanalysis and Depth Psychology are different.

One of the fallacies you are employing is that of the 'no true Scotsman'. When someone says that no Scotsmen do x, and someone points to a Scotsman who does, the first person proclaims 'Ah, but they aren't a true Scotsman'. Every time I point to psychoanalysists who affirm what you deny, your go-to is to question their legitimacy... saying they aren't scholars, or they are hacks, or their years of work and publications are some kind of over identification with their ideal. For example, you call Zizek 'mostly a hack' with a few insightful things to say about Hegel et al. It's big of you to admit that, while he's a hack, he has said a couple of interesting things in his career. I'm sure he'll be relieved!

Had you said "There are many psychoanalysists who believe that Depth Psychology is synonymous with their field', I can assure you that I would not have thought twice. If it wasn't something that many in the field thought, then Lacan wouldn't have spent so many years fighting it. Even the contemporary authors I mentioned in previous comments write about the subject precisely because such a reading still exists and is prevalent. Freud, as you know, was experimenting, and offers various models for understanding the mind. Throughout his work and life he is constantly rethinking, reworking and developing. Hence the difficulty with 'proof texting'.  I don't spend any time arguing against a flat earth, because no cosmologist is saying otherwise. This is not the case regarding the analytic status of Depth Psychology, Analytic Psychology, Humanistic Psychology etc.

So just to clarify, I'm not saying your actual reading of Freud is untenable. Just that your original claim concerning my position being untenable, is not tenable. I think it's safe to say that I've been clear about what I have been disagreeing with you about. And that I have given adequate reason for my disagreement. We could obviously both say more, but I think there is enough for the careful reader to make up their own mind.

Thanks for this. I hope that this back and forth is helpful to some people.