Depth Psychology and Giftedness: Bringing Soul to the
Field of Talent Development and Giftedness
F. Christopher Reynolds & Jane Piirto
Published in Roeper Review
Manuscript submitted September 9, 2003.
Revision accepted January 20, 2004.
164/Roeper Review, Vol. 27, No. 3 Roeper Review
Spring 2005, Vol. 27, No. 3, 164-171.
While the field of gifted education has relied on educational, cognitive, counseling, behavioral, developmental, and social psychology, the domain of depth psychology offers special insights into giftedness, especially with regard to individuation. The notion of passion, or the thorn (J. M. Piirto, 1999, 2002), the incurable mad spot (F. C. Reynolds1997, 2001), the acorn (J. Hillman, 1996, 1999), the daimon (C. G. Jung, 1965); the importance of integration through the arts and through dreams; the existence of the collective unconscious; the presence of archetypes; and the transcendent psyche—all have resonance with the binary etymological idea of “gift” as both blessing and poison. Depth psychology offers a way of understanding that is physical, psychological, and spiritual.
F. Christopher Reynoldsis a teacher and singer-songwriter. He teaches French and creativity
(www.urrealist.com). E-mail: email@example.com
Jane Piirto is
Trustees' Professor, Director of Talent Development Education, at
Whether he understands them or not, man must remain conscious of the world of archetypes, because in it he is still a part of Nature and is connected to his own roots. A view of the world or a social order that cuts him off from the primordial images of life not only is no culture at all but, in an increasing degree is a prison or a stable. If the primordial images remain conscious in one form or another, the energy that belongs to them can flow freely into man...I am far from wishing to belittle the divine gift of reason, man’s highest faculty. But in the role of absolute tyrant, it has no meaning-- no more than light would have in a world where its counterpart, darkness, is absent...the rational is counterbalanced by the irrational, and what is planned and purposed by what is. (Jung, 1959, p. 23)
In the above quote, written more than 50 years ago, C. G. Jung expressed the need for the archetypal, symbolic dimension to life lest it become like a prison or a stable. Yet, archetypes and psychologies that include them remain marginalized, often unknown in the field of talent development and giftedness. The psychological ground of the field has been dominated by clinical, behavioral, developmental, and multiple educational psychologies of learning styles, intelligences, and brain chemistries. At first, that list seems extensive, but in fact, all of them are ego psychologies and their central focus gathers around what Jung called “the divine gift of reason” in the opening quotation. Allowing waking consciousness to furnish our only psychological point of view holds our educational efforts to a fixed way of seeing, of feeling, of knowing and of understanding in such a way that it unexpectedly restricts the very innovation, imagination and creativity that we wish to cultivate in our programs. Acknowledging what is below the surface, beyond the ego, broadens the possibilities for educating.
Definition of Depth Psychology
The term depth psychology is the container for a number of psychologies that
concern themselves with the unconscious. Though its existence was known and
utilized by mesmerists and hypnotists (Meissner,
2000; Robertson, 1995), the unconscious gained its first scientific foothold in
modern times with Freud. However, the psyche recovered its greater depths in
Jungian psychology, Hillman’s (1975) archetypal psychology, Sardello’s
(1996) spiritual psychology, and Roszak’s (1992) ecopsychology. In all, the rational, intentional human
mind, waking consciousness, or gift of reason, is only one player in a much
larger field of consciousness. The reason for the present conceptual paper is
that, while most people acknowledge that there are depths, and while they seem
to yearn for connection with these, the current educational scene steers away
from such, except in advanced studies of philosophy, literature, and clinical
psychologies. Depth psychology approaches human experience with a view towards
multiple interpretations and expressions. Depth psychology could be called
postmodern in its intricacies. Writers and thinkers in the depth psychological
and postmodern mode have given voice to ancient complexities only now beginning
to resurface from the depths. The works of J. K. Rowling have permitted the
return of magic, mystery, and arcane delights to children’s literature
(personal communication, Stephanie S. Tolan, November
15, 2003). The surprise best-seller The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown (2003), has given the study
of symbols new life. And, as
Depth psychologists believe that the ego consciousness, our daytime “I,” is not the master of the psychological house. They feel this was proven early on by the word association tests (Jung, 1910, 1970), where the individual, after an initial ease with associating words with given prompts, would begin to take extra long for some responses, draw blanks, give answers that rhymed. The unexpected or what went wrong, when taken together would often exhibit a thematic quality, be connected to returning emotions, memories, repressed instincts, which came to be known as the complexes. The word association tests demonstrated that in spite of our intentions, something other, not known to the daytime “I,” could interfere and participate in our behavior. Over the years, the
metaphoric characters and the inner dramas of the complexes led psychologists to call their approach to the psyche a “poetic basis of mind” (Hillman, 1975, p. xi).
Since the appearance of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, the existence of the unconscious has held as a psychological fact. The exact nature of what is in the unconscious is what distin guishes the different depths of the depth psychologies. For Freud, the unconscious contained various forms of instinct and memory in the form of complexes, a personal unconscious that had
emotional and somatic/physical attributes. For Jung (1959), that personal unconscious rested upon an even deeper layer, the collective unconscious or the objective psyche, which was far more ancient than an individual lifetime and contained the primordial images, the archetypes. The archetypes featured not only emotional and somatic attributes, but also spiritual and worldly attributes that appeared in vision, dream and synchronicity. Synchronicity is Jung’s word for the meaningful coincidences that are part and parcel of deep psychological experience. For Jung, the objective psyche also contained a guiding, organizing center, the Self, very much like the Hindu Parusha, the God Within. Hillman (1975) wished to keep psychology free from the dogmatism of Jung’s Self. He said that our psychological depths do contain archetypes, but they are best served by an understanding that respects their full autonomy. In other words, for Hillman, the depths are polycentric and if there is a Self, we honor it best by not dictating how it should behave. Hillman pushes archetypal theory to its fullest stature. For him, an archetype and a God, in the classic (e.g., Grecian or polytheistic) sense of the word, are the same. Additionally, he prefers the word soul to the words personal or collective unconscious. Hillman amplified the term “soul” by using these related words: “mind, spirit, heart, life, warmth, humanness, personality, individuality, intentionality, essence, innermost purpose, emotion, quality, virtue, morality, sin, wisdom, death, God” (Hillman, 1964, p. 44). Sardello (1996), wished to free the soul from Hillman’s thought. In particular, he sought freedom from the idea of an archetypal soul rooted in Hellenistic culture. For Sardello, the imaginal capacity of our beings is best honored when it serves not so much the past Gods or the Self. The soul seeks to cocreate with the world a deeper cultural future, based as much as possible in Love. He pointed out that “for people who lived in times past, care of the soul was natural and instinctual, carried through ritual, ceremony, mystery centers, an oral tradition of story, myth, and art” (p. 7). Finally, although he might not strictly be called a depth psychologist, Roszak (1992) wishes to return the depth recovered through humanity to nature and the cosmos. He makes the assertion that the environmental health of the planet and human psychological health are in relation with each other, that one will not be whole without the other. He suggests that humankind has been collectively insane in its treatment of the biosphere. Roszak asserts that we have immense power to harm what we need in order to live, and we continue to harm the earth. This indicates that the culture ” is mad with the madness of a deadly compulsion that reaches beyond our own kind to all the brute innocence about us” (p. 70).
Although present in Jung, Hillman and Sardello, Roszak’s (1992) assertion that human psychology is embedded in nature represents a full return of soul in the form of the world soul, or Anima Mundi. Roszak saw the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious as the “most serviceable in the creation of an ecopsychology” (p. 302). Today we call this theory Gaia. Earth itself is a living being and through our becoming conscious, she becomes conscious: “the collective unconscious, at its deepest level, shelters the compacted ecological intelligence of our species, the source from which culture finally unfolds as the self-conscious reflection of nature’s own steadily emergent mindlikeness” (p. 301).
Why Educators Should Be Interested in Depth Psychology
The depths should interest us as educators
for three reasons. The first concerns the value we place upon our work. In all,
even in Freud, as Bettleheim (1983) noted, depth
psychology is a care of soul. With soul as the central factor, education
returns to its deepest root, educare, a leading out
from lesser meanings to deeper ones, from lesser connectedness to greater
connectedness, from naïve shallowness to the deep experience of being alive
that Joseph Campbell spoke of so often (see
The second reason for us to be interested in the depths of depth psychology concerns the biographical and autobiographical. Depth psychology increases our capacity to understand and respect the psychological experiences common to the lives of the talented and gifted, namely those heights and depths of mood, inspirations, dreams, oceanic and transcendent moments, insights, intuitions, spiritual visitations (Aziz, 1990), the slings and arrows of outrageous mental states, even unto bouts of unexplainable somatic symptoms, of mental illness, of compulsiveness, hyperdriven self-destructiveness, bipolar disorder and suicide attempts (Piirto, 1998a, 2002, 2004, 2005, in press, in preparation). In our test-driven and socially constructed definitions of who is or who is not gifted and talented, we lose sight of the mystery of exceptionality in people. No one can really understand this mystery, and we reduce it when we try to put a test score to it. The Dabrowski Theory of Positive Disintegration (1965) explains, in a hierarchical model, the various levels of adult development, but these levels, too, are reductive when used to explain instead of understand. Depth psychological approaches to the mystery of giftedness and talent honor the unknown, with its shadows and deep wells beneath the surface, and do not rest on the merely quantifiable.
The third reason educators should be
interested in depth psychology concerns our capacity to perceive and honor
genius in a way proper to it. We use the term “genius” because it is used by
most depth psychology thinkers as interchangeable with the term “daimon.” All the names given to the quality of genius over
the years indicate an “other,” who is the protector of our reason for being. It
is this daimon (Cobb, 1992; Hillman, 1996, 1999;
Jung, 1965; Moore, 1994; Myss, 2001), this Thorn (Piirto, 1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 2002, 2004, 2005, in
preparation), this Incurable Mad Spot, (Reynolds, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2004,
2005), which can be best understood when seen archetypally,
not only as the presence of physical prowess and genes, not only in the
presence of drive, resilience, heroic strivings, but also in our pathologies,
crimes, accidents, chance, spiritual visitations, experiences of being in the
hands of a higher power, positive disintegrations, dark nights of the soul, or
the madness that comes when the Muse speaks (Dabrowski,
Education as Educare: The Return of the Soul
When we as educators seek to educate with soul in mind, a radical spark is struck. Hillman (1983) pointed out “by definition, education must lead out” (p. 179). He suggested that educators lead the child out by leading the child in, by focusing on the imagination in the child’s fantasies. He urges the education of the imagination. Hillman (1975), in Re-visioning Psychology, was most pointed and succinct in his description of soul. He asks psychology to return to the deepest root of its own meaning, the psyche of psychology. As educators, the depths bring us to reconsider the deepest root of the meaning of teaching, our own educare, in the Platonic sense. As noted above, to lead out from makes the most sense when we speak of it with soul in mind. From soul’s perspective, the individual comes with the task of perceiving and bringing into the world that which only he or she can bring, even unto what the Greeks called mediation, in the sense of embodying prophetic capacity. Joan of Arc, Ghandi, Krishnamurti, those who Simonton (1995) called the eminent, who Nietzsche (Heidegger, 1990) calls the great man, have a place in soul’s classroom. The cosmos can be known as the immensely creative, ongoing work of art that it is. With soul comes a realization that creating, directing, and maintaining programs of talent development are what the ancients called eldering. Thus, they are cultural work, a care for the indigenous culture to be considered in relation with the village’s joy in living. In traditional cultures, this individual’s selfapprehension through experience that s/he had a soul and a deep calling in life was done through rites of passage. In those rites, the student was helped to move from the world of childhood into the world of adult relationships. With soul comes the higher orders of human consciousness, namely contemplation; reflection; intuition; metacognition; knowing the true, the beautiful, and the just; dreaming; and imagining with arts-based, philosophical, ethical and social justice curricula that feature a capacity for sufficient depth and complexity. With soul comes creativity and reverence for creation in its deepest sense.
Lastly, and leading into our next section, with the perspective of soul comes a foundation that holds a mature respect for the darker side of human nature. Such an eye has seen what Hillman means when he writes, “The psyche does not exist without pathologizing” (1975, p. 70). As teachers of the gifted and talented, we can acquire the eye that can see in the dark from experiences with these students over the years, from speaking with others, and from biographical studies (e.g., the Goertzel [1962, 1978] studies; Gruber’s  studies). We often find the presence of traumas, mental illnesses, crimes, and afflictions accompanying eminence. For better or worse, bad things happen to good people. Biographies of certain creative productive adults, especially in the fields of visual arts, creative writing, mathematics, music, and theater show that some spent time in the psychiatric ward, in the hospital emergency room, in the prison, sometimes at the funeral home (Piirto, 1998b). Piirto jokingly, yet seriously, tells parents who want their children to become creative adults that the studies show the best thing they could do is “get divorced or die” (p. 342).
Depth acquainted with the dark is not naïve about creativity. Creativity is not all light, warm and fuzzy activities infused into content lessons; it is not described by lines and charts; it is not putting on silly costumes and telling jokes; it is not self-esteem exercises, nor fluency and other cognitive divergent production exercises. Creativity is not always friendly. It is sometimes autistic, bent on harming, turned against life, death-bringing, even satanic. With soul comes the knowledge that giftedness is something we have to wrestle with in our hearts, something that shapes us as much as we shape it. Giftedness takes us out of the comfort zone. Marsilio Ficino (1489), the translator of alchemical texts, of the lost books of Plato, the teacher who introduced to the West the ideas that would bring forth the Renaissance in Florence, Italy, models a master educator’s attitude toward the pathologizing inherent to soul when he advises, “there is nothing so deformed in this whole living world that it has no soul, no gift of soul contained in it” (p. 86).
For us, as educators of the gifted and talented, this means that when we consider our curricula and our educational systems, we must also listen carefully in the places where the progress is disrupted and where the process breaks down. Where schooling gets deformed isn’t to be too quickly cured with Ritalin, Zithromax, behavior modifications, detentions and expulsions without temperance based on the knowledge that soul is also breaking forth precisely at that same place where the educational process is pathologized. In fact, where our work gets deformed is often where soul makes its first claim on how education should proceed and how a deeper psychological perspective is being requested.
Gifted and Talented: An Archetypal Perspective
Part and parcel of the tradition of soul elucidated above, a tradition that can be traced back through Plotinus, Plato, through Heraclitis, comes a very high esteem for humanity and the cosmos. Soul mediates between spirit qualities, which Ficino (1980) calls “divine,” and physical qualities, which the renaissance doctor calls “fallen.” Ficino and other Renaissance thinkers made a psychological breakthrough in that they saw humanity and the cosmos as tri-partite, body, soul, spirit (see Figure 1). We lost this useful description in the process of the Enlightenment, with the myth that scientific materialism could solve all, that “progress” was key, that we could provide for our psychological needs by acquiring, destroying, rebuilding, cutting down, and bombing with ever “smarter” technologies.
At this time, only the idea of the archetype makes room for those three qualities, not as divided from each other and at war, but as coming together in an understandable way. Hauke (2000) argued
that depth psychology can function today as a response to modernity, and that it is presciently aligned with the postmodern critiques of contemporary culture.
With the archetypal view, a physical or somatic basis is necessary, but to limit understanding to only measurable elements and outcomes is a materialistic fallacy. A spiritual view that takes in the power of the divine – even unto prophecy – is necessary, but to limit it to only the ways of the spirit of the local culture and history is a control-based hubris that degrades the individual soul’s very personal, sacred vocabulary. An emotional perspective is vital, but when it limits its view to personalizing all feelings as mine and generated by me, it constricts the full capacity of the human heart’s intuitive capacity. The archetypal view is what we use to apprehend our students in the most reverent and loving way.
C. G. Jung, first to bring the collective unconscious or objective psyche and its archetypes to depth psychology, gave many descriptions of them over the years. Jung (1970, Vol. 9) in The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious details the sources, the ways that we may apprehend the archetypes, which are “complexes of experience that come upon us like fate” and whose “effects are felt in our most personal life” (p. 30). These are dreams, active imagination, the delusions of paranoiacs, fantasies received in trance states, and the dreams of early childhood, ages 3 to 5. In Symbols of Transformation, Jung (1970, Vol. 5) writes various descriptions of archetypes: “The archetype is, as such, an unconscious psychic image, but it has a reality independent of the attitude of the conscious mind” (p. 56); “It is a psychic existent” (p. 56); “They are the universal and inherited patterns which taken together, constitute the structure of the unconscious” (p. 228), and “The archetypes are the numinous, structural elements of the psyche and possess a certain autonomy and specific energy which enables them to attract, out of the conscious mind, those contents best suited to themselves” (p. 232).
Hillman (1975) saw archetypes as “the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of the soul governing the perspectives we have of ourselves and the world” (p. xiii). He said that archetypes are “axiomatic, self-evident images to which psychic life and our theories about it ever return.” As such, archetypes resemble “the models or paradigms, that we find in other fields . . . translations from one metaphor to another.” All language, all definition is metaphorical, even in science and in logic. Archetypes, however, possess us and blind us: “one thing is absolutely essential to the notion of archetypes: their emotional possessive effect, their bedazzlement of consciousness so that it becomes blind to its own stance.” Hillman even goes so far as to say “An archetype is best comparable to a God” (p. xiii).
The archetypal principle is both ancient and complex. However, in its application it is quite simple. When considering a life, it is more appropriate to wonder what story or myth is being enacted. What is this situation like? Is it like the story of Cain and Abel? Is this boy like young Sir Gawain knocked completely out of his boat by the strong emotion of the woman he loves? Is this girl like Grimm’s girl in Mother Holle, so sad that she falls down a deep well. It is the image, the story that relieves the soul from isolation, which leads it out from its cave of ignorance because now the person is not the only one. Jungians say often that when the situation can be seen as a present-day playing out of an eternal story, there is a curative effect. Our boy, then, may feel ashamed that he fears the strong emotion of his girlfriend, but when he learns that one of the knights who found the Grail had the same problems, he has a way through; in fact, the trouble reveals hidden gold. Our girl may hate herself for her depressions, but when she learns that the golden girl had the same problems, she can begin looking for the wise old woman of nature at the bottom of her well. The trouble has hidden gold; the story shows the way.
Connecting one’s behaviors and dreams to ancient stories common to all cultures provides a way of “seeing through” to the implications of the multiplicities with which we live our lives, the patterns we enact of which we may not be aware. There is no end to the archetypal persons, stories, and myths that appear. Western psychologists could consider how a person may be enacting the archetype of Kore and her birth, or the Puer Aeternus learning from the Saturnal Senex or the Apollonian warrior battling for divine truth, or the Dionysian ecstatic lover, suffering and delighting in being dismembered by women, but all cultures’ heroes, Gods, ancestors, dreams, visions, and stories can appear (Edinger, 1994).
Jung (1970, Vol.9) has detailed descriptions of the Mother archetype, the Child archetype, the Wise Old Man and Wise Old Woman archetypes, the Anima, the Animus, the Maiden, the Trickster/Shadow archetype, the Wise Magician/Medicine Man archetype. Stevens (1983) states that archetypes cannot be grasped academically, for they have a feeling tone recognized by the individual experiencing the archetype: “Ultimately, you cannot define an archetype, any more than you can define meaning. You can only experience it” (p. 67). These aspects of the collective unconscious appear to all, but especially to those who are receptive, who notice symbols, who think in abstract ways, all of which are characteristics of the gifted and talented. Application of the archetypal way is simply to put students in touch with those stories, myths, books, persons, which seem to be reflected in their lives. Teachers are encouraged to tell stories to answer life questions. We often say, “Your situation reminds me of this story I once heard.” This archetypal principle is central to the works of psychological teachers like Robert Bly, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, and Caroline Myss. Their books on the wild man archetype (Bly, 1990), the wild woman archetype (Pinkola-Estes, 1996), and the archetype of spirit (Myss, 1999), all deepen and bring understanding to everyday life by connecting it to myth.
The first author has applied depth
psychology’s deeper view in his high school French classes as a means to help
students understand historic art and architecture. As noted above, all
psychologies of depth regard the presence of the unconscious as a psychological
fact. (See Table 1 for suggested materials). (1) The Cro-Magnon caves of
initiation in the Dordogne,
Teaching High School French Archetypally
Crossroads: the quest for contemporary rites of passage. Lasalle,
Some, M.P. (1995). Of water and the spirit: Ritual, magic and initiation
in the life of an African shaman.
Eliade, M. (1958). Rites and symbols of initiation.
Campbell, J. (1988). Historical atlas of world mythology vol 1:
The way of the animal powers.
Turner, V. (1987). Betwixt and between: The liminal period in
rites of passage.
Celtic Stone Images
Davidson, H.R.E. (1995). Myths and
symbols in pagan
early Scandinavian and Celtic religions.
Celtic myths and legend: from Arthur and the Round Table to the
Gaelic gods and giants they battled.
New Page Books.
Campbell, J. (1959). The hero with a
Monick, E. (1995). Phallos: Sacred image of the masculine.
Querido, R.M. (1987). The golden age of
of a mystery school and the eternal
Sardello, R. (1995). Love and the soul: Creating a future for
Artress, L. (1996). Walking a sacred path: Rediscovering the
labyrinth as a spiritual tool.
Matthews, C. (1991). Sophia goddess of wisdom: The divine
feminine from black goddess to world soul. Matthews, C.
Renaissance Reviving the academies of the
muses. In D. Fideler (Ed.),
The journal of western cosmological traditions. (pp.213-
Lawlor, R. (1997). Sacred geometry: Philosophy and practice.
Hillman, J. (1975). Revisioning
Piirto, J. (1998). Understanding those who create (2nd Ed.).
Reynolds, F. C. (2001). Creation: The pyramid and the suns.
Breton, A. (1952). Conversations: The autobiography of surrealism.
Gablik, S. (1991). The reenchantment of
Warlick, M. E. (2000). Max ernst and alchemy: a magician in
search of a myth.
Jung, C.G. (1964). Man and his symbols (Jaffe ed.). New
Literature thread La chanson de roland: texte critique. Gautier, L. (1958) Tours:
Amame et fils
Tristan et Iseult.
d’Angleterre, T. (1999).
Gargantua. (Texte etabli et annote par Pierre Grind) Rabelais, F.
(1939). Paris: Editions de Cluny.
Les amours. de Ronsard, P. (1963). Paris: Editions Garnier.Freres
Essais de Montaigne. Montaigne, M. (1872). Paris: Garnier Freres.
Rousseau par lui-meme. May, G. (1961). Paris: Editions du Seuil.
Candide. Voltaire, F. (1993).
Cahiers: 1716-1755 Montesquieu, C. (1951). Paris: Grasset.
Sardello, R. (1999). Freeing the soul from fear.
168/Roeper Review, Vol. 27, No. 3
(6) In the realm of literature, chansons such as La Chanson de Roland, Tristan et Iseult; stories like Gargantua of Rabelais; the poetry of Ronsard; the essays of Montaigne; the books of Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Zola, Gide; the poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud; The Little Prince by St. Exupery; all appeal to talented high school students and demonstrate literature’s value to the soul. Sardello (1999) says this about literature: All literature falls into four great movements of the soul–epic, tragic, comic, and lyric. All sorts of mixtures of these soul patterns occur, but they are always variations of these four worlds of the soul. In the epic, we are shown the heroic movement of the soul; in tragedy, the fallen character of human beings; in comedy, the world is redeemed; and in the lyric, we get a taste of the imagination of paradise. (p. 233)
Little Prince who perceives with his heart, and postmodern thinkers like Foucault and Lacan, who
see through games or metanarratives, all make little sense without knowledge of the unconscious. We read and discuss all of these in my high school French classes from French 1 to French 5.
The Capacity to Understand Genius
The first author had a gifted student who suffered from an extreme depression and who had to be hospitalized. She returned to school heavily medicated and assigned to group rational-emotive therapy. This is the typical educational response to psychological difficulties. The guiding principle is that depression is an imbalance or sickness that blights humanity’s natural upbeat outlook. Often, chemicals and interventions are applied in order to make the pain go away, but what is underlying the pain is not addressed. However, for the darker eye of depth psychologies, the educational process can be seen through in its pathologizing as well as in its sunnier guises. Seeing through the literal to the underlying patterns, myths, and archetypes provides insight that is often telling. All the names given to the quality of Genius over the years, indicate an “other,” who is the protector of our reason for being. It is this Thorn, this Mad Spot, which can be best understood when seen archetypally. The word gift also means poison. Where the poison is, you will also find the Genius. The student above tested for very high verbal ability; she wrote in a style that was older than her age. On paper, she appeared as a student who should breeze through school with good grades, which she did until puberty. She went through a radical transformation that was accompanied by a powerful dream of the end of the world. It was as if she was taken down the well by this question: What constitutes the deepest meaning of this life? Where the Daimon/Genius/Thorn/Mad Spot intervenes is where education, being led out, is being requested. Those who worked best with her honored the pain of her question and worked with her to help her find her way through. Those who made light of her suffering, pointing to underachievement, were bent to remove the problem. They only found more trouble.
Her travels led her down under to
The Poetic Basis of Mind
Depth psychology is not science. It is poetry (Hillman, 1975). Rooted in aesthetics and in imagination, everything is interpreted as image, as story and as potentially meaningful. One doesn’t look up a dream image in a dream book for the answers; one doesn’t read a dream as literary criticism; rather, one seeks to go beyond the literal to the poetic, beyond the psychoanalytic to the imagination in the image. Losing one’s teeth in a dream is not a sexual image, as the dream manuals may say; rather, every image, every story is interpreted with reference to the dreamer, the individual having the dream. Every student has an individual dream – is an individual dream – and has a vision. With a poetic basis of mind, the symbolic is paramount. It takes precedence over the literal. Perhaps this is most aptly illustrated in the ongoing discussion in our field about “giftedness” and “talent development.” The discussion, as we see it, sets up straw men, for talents are what must be “developed,” in order for the person to realize his or her deepest giftedness.
The term “talent,” in American English, refers to a mostly inborn skill, capacity, or propensity toward being able to do something well. Developing “soul” in this context means following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell (1968) so often said. While we are discussing the deepest, most profound aspects of humanness, the talented person must have the will and the passion for the demands of the talent domain. Part of being ensouled, or filled with soul, is to acquire expertise in the place of passion. Talents are not to be developed blindly without inquiry into the student’s passion. Depth psychology insists on including a student’s heated interests. Depth psychology inquires where and why a talented student is engaged in a certain domain, be it mathematics, a certain branch of science, literature, music, sports, or other domain. Multitalented students are encouraged to notice when they lose track of time, enter oceanic consciousness (sometimes called flow), even when they get into trouble because of a particular overexcitability. They are encouraged to notice those areas where an incredible drive compels them to work in a domain. That drive is like a Thorn, an Incurable Mad Spot, or Daimon. None of these terms can be defined, except phenomenologically
– in symbol and in action; in metaphor or in motion.
For example, the first author had a student who scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT, who also performed violin with the Cleveland Youth Orchestra. Her passion, however, was for languages. She came to me after her third year of Spanish, wanting to learn French. She advanced through to French 4 in two years. In Spanish, her teacher created a level 6 to accommodate her talent. She went on to study languages at the university, even though she could have achieved in the other domains. Passion and drive made the difference. Depth psychology insists on that deeper view of the student. The second author had an undergraduate honor student who was going on to major in public administration in graduate school. She received this letter from him:
Dear Dr. Piirto:
I am writing to you now in order to ask for
your help. I had contact with two of my relatives recently. Each approached me
individually and asked what I have planned for the future. I began to tell each
of them of my plans to get my master’s in public administration. I tried my
hardest to explain this career for them, but I felt like a fool. I explained
the different aspects and I tried to define it, but I stumbled and faltered. I
felt as if I were lying to their faces I am accepted into the
This young man at the age of 21 exhibits the passion that we speak of. Depth psychology validates passion as the primal necessity in living life. Another example comes from Robbin Rogers, a teacher with her master’s degree in talent development education. She is a high school English teacher, taking a seminar in depth psychology and education.
Her weekly memo described a lesson in teaching from the depths (See Appendix).
Words have life; they are alive. Images
have life; they are alive. Shifting and changing, enunciating and expanding,
the approach is qualitative, phenomenological, and even more (
wall between what the student prefers and what the school expects (See Table 2).
In conclusion, the field of psychology called depth psychology can open up an understanding, or at least an intuitive perception, of giftedness that appreciates its mystery, its richness, and its individuality. This paper has shown that attention to poetry, archetypes, symbols, and depths can reach the inner truth, the souls of students and their teachers.
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A Lesson Using Depth Psychological Principles
I decided to start with poetry. To prepare them for the eventual concepts, I had the students write a journal entry on what life is like as a teen in today’s society. Then the students broke into small groups and brainstormed on the same topic. In an essay the students went back to the topic and delved more deeply into one or two aspects of their lives as teens, either on a personal level or reflecting on the group experience. In addition the students were asked to bring in poems or edited song lyrics whose central purpose was to comment on some aspect of society today (it did not have to deal with just teen issues). After checking their poems/lyrics (some incredible examples of societal commentaries from students’ own poetry to published poets and songwriters), I played Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, introducing the concept of the great poet. Next, I introduced Jung’s edited discussion on modest and great poets and why society needs to listen to the poets (and I added artists to set up future assignments and thought processes). What followed was some of the most intense teaching I have ever done (in my infinite wisdom I decided to do this work with both seniors and juniors which means teaching it to 158 students, seven times a day which equals 28 presentations and discussions in four days). Of course, the students struggled with Jung: Who doesn’t? I assured them Jung was deep, and the whole concept of growth and path to understanding required one to struggle, to think and reflect, and to observe. I quoted you when I told the students that a student should struggle to reach the next level of growth and development. We studied and discussed what constitutes an average versus a great poet. During this discussion I opened the door to the concepts introduced in The Adolescent Psyche (Frankel, 1998), and we explored why teenagers are more receptive to the poets of our time than most adults and the mass of society.
Wow. What followed were discussions ranging from religious principles t the gulf between
childhood, adulthood, and adolescence to depression to drug and alcohol use to conformity
and fitting in. And those are just some of the issues. The floodgates to imagination, commu-
nication, and the desperate need to be heard and for understanding were opened. The tor-
rent of ideas and ways of knowing poured out. The puer was released, but a wiser puer
who had done some serious soul searching and had all these incredible ideas, feelings,
questions, and insights about life and meaning. It was absolutely incredible. The humbling, while simultaneously exciting, thing for me was learning that many students already knew about what I was learning to see for the first time in the passages I had so excitedly marked to share and teach to my students. How arrogant and how typically adult. They did not need me to teach them; they already knew (not about Jung, but about the adolescent psyche: all they needed was someone to hear them and listen to them, to value their ideas, perspectives, and experiences, both outwardly and psychologically). The power of the puer was released in the group consciousness as we broached feelings, explored ideas, raised questions, posed insights, and offered validations. I gave their consciousness direction and voice, but the students awed me with their ways of knowing. I mentally checked off the points I had marked in the book to share with them. The beauty of class
last week esided in the experience of students and teacher giving one another the precious gifts of human awareness and open communication, of willingness to listen, probe, and share perspectives and insights, and of delighting in one another’s being. Interesting to note, I was observed by my supervisor. The class was on fire with ideas, insights, deep thoughts, and open communication. Even he could not contain his excitement at the electricity charging the learning environment that period. . . . I intentionally stressed the discussion on iconoclasts and the importance of people questioning the status quo. My supervisor even added to the list of iconoclastic, great poets to include Neil Young. After completing our rather exhausting discussion on Jung’s criteria for analyzing poets, the students listened to Blowin’ in the Wind again, this time marking notes on their lyric copies, then briefly sharing with the class what criteria of the great poet were evidenced in the poem. Next week we will explore examples from the Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and Neil Young. The students will work in small groups, discussing meanings and applying knowledge gleaned from prior discussions and from studying Jung, write in journals on topics reflective of their work, do Thought Logs, engage in class discussions, and end the week by writing a reflective essay on their selected thought processes of the week.
Next, the students will choose which modern day poets and lyricists they want to discuss in their small groups, then present their analyses to the class. As a parallel assignment, students will be required to read and clip newspaper and magazine articles and pictures of current events, tape TV programs and commercials, bring in advertisements, computer displays, movie ads, fashion articles and pictures, etc. that underscore the collective culture and how they represent and influence the collective psyche, both consciously and unconsciously of our times. Eventually, they will make collages that reflect the mixed messages of society and reveal the soul of the collective unconscious. During our discussions last week, students admitted to never considering which poets and lyricists would be considered modest or great. We discussed this criteria in no way diminishes the enjoyment of their poems or songs and how, in the case of musicians, how the music must be separated from the lyrics in this consideration, not an easy thing to do. This part of the unit will culminate in the students 1) analyzing her/his own poem/song choice in a written paper and 2) demonstrating an understanding and developing evaluation criteria of which poets they read and listen to would be considered modest or great.
: Piirto Model of Creativity Training: A Creativity Course
Risk-Taking (The Princess and the Pea)
Naiveté (The Raisin Meditation)
Group Trust (Red WoundsBIndividuation)
1. Imagery (Ten minute movieBarchetypes)
2. Imagination (fingerpainting, clay, poetry, fiction)
(Intuition Probe, Psychic Intuition, Dreams)
(Grasping the Gestalt, Aha, Zen Sketching)
(Visitation of the Muse)
The Seventh IBImprovisation
Jazz, Theater, Word Rivers, Writing Practice, Creative Movement, Rhythm & Drumming, Scat Singing, Doodling
Meditate on Beauty (15 Minutes Before A Work of Art B aesthetics; archetypes)
Meditate on the Dark Side (A Visit to a Cemetery; The Shadow)
Meditate on God (Bring a Sacred Text to ClassBLiterature)
Meditate on Nature (I Am a Naturalist;
AThis Is the Day Which the Lord Hath Made@; Gaia)
Mixing It Up B Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, Touching (Fantasy)
A Walk, a Run, Aerobics, Games, Dance (Gabrielle Roth)
Exploring Passion in a Domain
Noticing Oceanic Consciousness (Flow)
Conversation and Friendship
A Creativity Salon
Visiting (Field Trips)
Museum, a Concert, a Play, a Movie, a
Individual Creativity Project B Show How You Used All Core Attitudes Toward Creativity
Spring, 2005, Roeper Review/171