A Psychodynamic View of Reactive Depression

In an attempt to spark interest in a type of therapeutic approach known as “psychodynamic,” here excerpts from an interview with Dr. James Hollis, a well-known Jungian analyst and the author of Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really, Grow Up.  (To view the entire interview, visit https://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/articles/the-swampland-an-interview-with-jim-hollis-about-depression-in-the-law/.)

“There is a kind of depression that is driven by biological sources and it is still a mystery as to how that works.  We know it affects a certain number of people in profound ways.   Second, there is reactive depression which is the experience of a person who has suffered loss…and as we invest energy in a relationship or a situation and, for whatever reason, that other is taken away from us, that energy that was attached to him will invert as depression.  Reactive depression is actually normal… we do know people that have been sort of destroyed by reactive depression because they had attached so much of their identity to the other, whatever it might be: a position in life that they lost or a relationship that was important… none of us can avoid occasional reactive depressions because life is a series of attachments and losses…when we think about depression, we are really looking at a kind of intrapsychic phenomenon where we might say there are parts of ourselves that are contending with each other.

“…the good news and the bad news are the same here in the sense that the psyche is not passive, it’s active, it’s continuously expressing its point of view and it is manifesting in our body [as] somatic issues in our emotional life, in our behaviors, and of course in our dream life.  Those expressions of opinion are often something we call “symptoms” in the contemporary mindset and we want to sort of replace symptoms as quickly as possible and that is understandable.  At the same time, the real question is why have they comewhat is our own psyche trying to say to us.   Or, put it another way, for what reason is my psyche refusing to cooperate with the agenda that my conscious life has addressed and emerged into?

I think that we need to realize that suffering depressions – – and I put that in the plural- – is actually a normal human experience…highly functioning, capable people often have what I would call “pockets of depression” and yet are not governed by it. These pockets of depression have to do with real losses they have experienced in their lives or the experience of internal conflicts.  The human condition itself involves suffering and we always have to ask a question, “Is the way in which I am experiencing my suffering and my conflict leading me to a larger life, or is it leading me to a smaller life?”  “Does it enlarge me or does it diminish me?”

And I think we usually know the answer to that question.  The flight from suffering leads to an inauthentic life, to a superficial life.  So, I think it’s important to recognize that in the course of our journey, we will, from time to time, visit what I call “The Swampland of the Soul.” And in every swampland, there is a task and if we can identify that task and address it, it can lead us out of victimhood and into a larger consciousness. One of [those tasks] is depression.  So again, we have to remember that the word means “to press down.”  So, we must ask ourselves, “What is being pressed down?” What energy, what value, what agenda, what desire is being pressed down and are we the unwitting agencies of that oppression or is it something that has happened to us along the way with which we identified and what life wishes to be served? And in many cases, people, by just asking these questions, will be led to a larger life, a change, if not a change of direction or course in life, a change in some of the attitudes with which they address daily life.”

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