Depression as a Path Within the Individuation Process

Depth psychology posits that depression is not something to be gotten rid of, that depression is not a set of symptoms to be alleviated with pharmaceuticals, that it is meaningless to attempt to identify the cause or causes of depression. Rather, “Life is,” as Jung put it, “teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal” and, therefore, depression has an aim or a goal. James Hillman considers depression to be the gateway to the soul and encourages us to sink into and experience our depression.

One outcome of depression is a reordering of priorities and a reconsideration of the meanings of things, much like the process of individuation. Oftentimes at mid-life, our worldview and our priorities are challenged and we, over time, come to grips with the new paradigm that is being placed before us along the path toward individuation. Depression, on the other hand, is often a near instantaneous collapse of our entire lives and we find ourselves thrown into a state of utter chaos from which we must reassemble some kind of order and meaning.

Jung wrote prolifically on alchemy. He saw in alchemy–the mystical side of alchemy–“a concretization, in projected and symbolic form, of the process of individuation.” Jung pointed out some parallels with depression, for example, the nigredo is equated with melancholy and the arcane substance, lead, is “identical with the subjective state of depression.” I see a much fuller correlation; I see an “alchemy of depression.” For example, the solutio signals the start of the opus as we are dissolved in the waters of the unconscious and return to the womb for rebirth. This stage is realized in the hours upon hours spent in a darkened room, swaddled in the bedclothes, seeking, like Nicodemus, the sensual oblivion and security of the fetal state. Here we meld with the unconscious, are returned to our original undifferentiated state, and become the prima materia upon which the opus operates.

Death, in its symbolic and concrete forms, is a major theme in the process of individuation and the second half of life as we let the ascending aspects of our lives die, thus engendering new aspects of consciousness, and as we prepare ourselves for the end of our physical lives. Death is also a major theme in depression with parallels in alchemy.

Together, we will explore depression as a path within the individuation journey and its parallels with alchemy. In addition to the views of depth psychology we will bring into play philosophy, some modern psychological views of depression, and the wisdom of religious adepts. In the end, we hope to shed some light on the role depression plays in forming and reshaping our lives.

And, hrere is a video introducing “Depression as a Path Within the Individuation Process”