Biological psychology and cognitive psychology

Archetypal Psychology

James Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology

Hillman’s “poetic basis of mind” is comprised of all aspects of work — theorizing, analyzing culture, and practicing therapy (Moore 1989). Hillman’s archetypal psychology and his “poetic basis of mind” takes root in aesthetics and imagination as opposed to science. “By taking everything as poetry, Hillman frees consciousness from its thin, hard crust of literalism to reveal the depth of experience” (1989). Hillman has, in fact, adopted a very critical nature of psychologies such as biological psychology, behaviorism, and cognitive psychology. These psychologies have a scientific philosophy and practice. One of the main critiques is that they are too literal; fundamentally stated, they are psychologies that lack the very essence of psychology: soul. Hillman’s initiative is to bring the soul back to the world of psychology — where it should be. For Hillman, the soul works in places like imagination and fantasy, myth and metaphor. Hillman says:

Here I am working toward a psychology of soul that is based in psychology of image. Here I am suggesting both a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts neither in the physiology of the brain, the structure of language, the organization of society, nor the analysis of behavior, but in the processes of imagination (Hillman 1976).

It is important when trying to understand archetypal psychology to know that it is not simply about the psychology of archetypes; the purpose of it is not to find themes in mythology and art and try to find those same themes in life (Moore 1989). “Rather, the idea is to see every fragment of life and every dream as myth and poetry” (1989). Hillman (1976) believes that archetypal psychology sees the image as the iconoclast, challenging “allegorical meanings” and “releasing startling new insights” (1976). He clams that it is the most unsettling or disturbing images in dreams and/or fantasies that we try not to discuss because of the fact that they are quite unsettling; however, these are exactly the images that we must be paying attention to because they are the ones that “break the allegorical frame of what we think we about this person or that, this trait of ourselves or that” (1976). Therefore, Hillman suggests that it is the ugliest images that are the best ones, “for they are the ones that restore a figure to its pristine power as a numinous person at work in the soul” (1976). In therapy, a psychologist may be working with a person whom exhibits great paranoia. While psychoanalysts might see that paranoia as externalized destructiveness, archetypal psychologists would look at what the myths say and then recognize the myth as a depository of the circumstances.

Depth psychology has been around, Hillman (1976) suggests since Heraclitus said: “You could not discover the limits of the soul (psyche), even if you traveled every road to do so; such is the depth (bathum) of its meaning (logos)” (1976). While depth psychology is considered to be a somewhat modern field of psychology, there is reason to believe that with this association of depth and soul by Heraclitus, the soul has long been considered something that has depth rather than breadth or height (1976). Looking at the soul as something that is so deep, it is only logical to think that at the depths of the soul lurks a calling out for something, a fantasy or an idea.

Depth refers to what is below the surface of types of psychic manifestations such as behaviors, dreams, conflicts and relationships. The “what” that is below the surface is some deep down fantasy or image system that cannot be reached by purely literal means. Depth psychology tries to find what is hidden deep down — or repressed — to the boundaries of society and consciousness. To take a literal approach to images and myths in fantasy and dreams is counterintuitive. A person, even if they were able to access the depths all on their own, would have not way of verbalizing or understanding the images.

One of the main principles of depth psychology is that, central to healing, is the person’s personal encounter with the unconscious mind. The psychologist’s role, therefore, is to be a sort of guide through the unconscious mind. While the depths of the unconscious mind may seem inaccessible to people alone, the psychologist can learn to understand images, myths and other symbols in order to help the person get in touch with their “inner selves.”

The collective unconscious is another important aspect of depth psychology. This concept possesses elements of Freud’s psychoanalysis as well as some theories of Adler and Rank. Together, these all form the basis of depth psychology’s focus on exploring a person’s psyche — not just to correct any dysfunctions in thoughts and behaviors, but also in helping a person find their purpose and passion in their life’s journey.

Most importantly, depth psychologists see the connection between the conscious and the unconscious, two distinct parts of an individual’s psyche, as very healing. While all of depth psychology associates with the aforementioned goal, not every approach is the same as many psychologists have different ideas about what defines the unconscious.

Archetypal psychology, Jungian psychology and analytical psychology are some examples of depth psychologies. All of these types of psychology are based on fundamental Jungian theories of the unconscious.

Hillman (1996) seems to suggest that other forms of psychology and therapy make people out to be victims of their own lives. He posits that when we reduce our lives down to something in our chromosomes, the “sense of calling” that each of us has in our hearts or in the depths of our souls is ignored. He claims that academic and scientific psychology does just that. He states: “The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim” (1996). It comes down to discovering what is wrong with people — their alcoholic father, the violence in the household, the certain unappealing personality characteristic. All of these examples can be blamed on something and thus the patient says “Oh, this is why I am the way I am — because all of these things were done to me.” It makes people victims of their own existences and thus helpless in the world. Hillman’s approach is more about one finding his or her true calling — or their “fate” — as well as about finding out their true character or “innate image” (1996). Together, all of these parts make up Hillman’s “acorn theory” (1996).

In terms of putting Hillman’s theories into practice in therapy, it makes sense that looking at one’s life as an example of a calling, or the destiny as a manifestation of a daimon, as well as looking at one’s live with “imaginative sensitivity we give fictions, we might put a stop to the worry, the fever, and the fret of searching out causes” (1996).

Hillman (1996) states that out of all of psychologies sins, “the most mortal is its neglect of beauty” of the human life. He posits that discernment comes from a neglect of the “deeper soul,” which has needs that are more aesthetic — aside from any kind of physical satisfaction (Hillman 1999). “The soul shrivels without images and sensations of beauty” (1999). Without beauty, Hillman (1976) argues, there is no nature or fantasy.

The price that individuals pay for their obsession with time is quite extreme: the neglect of beauty. Hillman (1976) would argue that love makes time stand still in a way. It makes it into something of beauty and thus it has some sort of “eternal” element to it. Hillman (1976) argues that the biggest fault of modern psychology is the neglect of beauty. Hillman (1996) claims that psychology fails what it studies. “Neither social psychology, experimental psychology, nor therapeutic psychology find a place for the aesthetic appreciation of a life story” (1996).

Every life and every twist in life will have its own beauty (Hillman 1996). The “mortal” sin that Hillman (1996) talks about is the deadening feeling he claims that modern psychology gives to its followers and patients. Hillman (1996) suggests that “neglect of beauty neglects the Goddess, who then has to steal back into the departments as sexual harassment, into the laboratories as ‘research’ experiments with sex and gender, and into the consulting rooms as seductive assignations” (1996). He believes that psychology is then boiled down to publishing and position; in essence, it becomes a victim of its own cognitive structures (1996).

Beauty has almost become taboo in our culture. To recognize something as beautiful is dangerous. Beauty can get people into a lot of trouble. Why has beauty become so controversial? When we neglect beauty as an overall statement, we are neglecting one of the most wonderful aspects of life. The difficulty with beauty in today’s culture is that it is almost always associated with sex or sexuality. To recognize something as beautiful can be deemed as dirty. If every life and every twist in life has its own beauty, why is there such judgment that comes with each of those lives or twists in lives?

It has been believed that beauty has had to be neglected because it was regressive (i.e., considering the Oedipal model). To see something as beautiful can be viewed as base. Beauty has become something that can only be mentioned in certain situations — at the right place, at the right time because of what we associate beauty with.

Beauty has often been symbolic of the solely aesthetic approach, which produces some sort of embellishment rather than any kind of sincere meaning. By developing the soul — or the psyche, we discover the beauty of ourselves. When a beauty of the soul is cultivated, it will be far more beautiful than any kind of aesthetic beauty. The soul will give form to what it holds within itself.

Beauty can be found in numerous places besides the aesthetic. It can be found in nature, community, and religion (Hillman 1976). Beauty, Hillman (1976) explains, is an archetypal category. Beauty is important to the soul and the world soul because it is what animates them both. If one wanted to heal the soul of his or herself or of the world, beauty has to be released from the temporary jails from the places where it is held. Just like a piece of art is removed from a museum or an art store. Beauty can be found everywhere and in everything.

Hillman (1976) believed that a person does not have to go searching for beauty. One does not have to go to a museum or to the finest stores or even into nature to find beauty. Beauty can be everywhere. It can live in everything we see and in everything that we touch. It can live in a coffee shop, in the subway, in a cafe, or in a store. Where people go wrong is thinking that beauty can only live in certain places because that’s where we were told that it should live. It limits the human experience and cuts us off from seeing beauty even in the simplest of places.

Archetypal psychology is much different from other areas of psychology like behaviorism, cognitive psychology or other. What is unique about archetypal psychology is that it allows room for people to be their fullest selves — to not be victims of their own lives, to not blame outside factors for the course of their lives.

To be an archetypal psychologist means to delve deeper into the soul of the client (which is what many fields of psychology leaves out — the soul). Archetypal psychology is important for finding the themes in a person’s life, looking at those themes in regards to images and fantasies and finding ways for that person to better understand who she or he is. Archetypal psychology is much more than looking at genetic facts or looking at external reasons for why a man or woman (or child) acts they way he or she does.

What has often been discredited as strange or bizarre (dreams or fantasies) are taken very seriously in archetypal psychology. “If we pursue this difference between usual psychology and mythology, we see clearly how mythology saves the phenomena of psychopathology” (1976).


Hillman, J. (1999). The force of character and the lasting life. NY: Ballantine Books.

Hillman, J. (1996). The soul’s code: In search of character and calling. NY. Warner


Hillman J. (1992). The thought of the heart and the soul of the world. Dallas: Spring

Publications, Inc.

Hillman J. (1976). Re-visioning psychology. NY: Harper and Row.

Moore, T. ED. (1989). A Blue Fire: Selected writings by James Hillman. NY: Harper


Hillman, J. (1983). Archetypal psychology. Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc.

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