Three Dangers: Phenomenological Reflections on Psychotherapy of Psychosis

Thursday 30 May 2019, 4.00PM to 5:30pm

Speaker(s): Professor Louis Sass (Rutgers University, USA)


The present paper offers a hermeneutic-phenomenological perspective on three dangers relevant to the psychotherapy of an underserved and often poorly understood population: namely, persons with schizophrenia and other psychotic conditions.  These dangers are:

  1.  that of neglecting the ontological horizon or overall framework-dimension of altered experience in favour of a preoccupation with more obvious, content elements of experience (e.g., by focusing overly much on specific delusional beliefs and their apparent falsehood, rather than on how delusions may be experienced and how literally they may, or may not, be taken);
  2. the danger of overemphasizing the relevance and need for direct interpersonal interaction at the expense of appreciating issues concerning the implicit, intersubjective sense of sharing (or not sharing) perspectives with other persons; and finally,
  3. the error of being overconfident of one’s ability to grasp the patient’s subjectivity. 

The discussion offered relies on analyses offered by Heidegger (on the “forgetting of the ontological difference”), Husserl (on the nature and importance of intersubjectivity), and Levinas (on appreciating the “infinitude” of human experience, in contrast with adopting a “totalizing” attitude). The paper explores how phenomenology’s general perspective may offer a helpful alternative or supplement to some widespread attitudes and practices.

Speaker biography:

Louis Sass, PhD, is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University, where he is also affiliated with the Comparative Literature Program and the Center for Cognitive Science.  Sass is the author of Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought and of The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind. He has published articles on schizophrenia, phenomenological psychopathology, psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, and the thought of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Foucault—as well as on modernism/postmodernism and other cultural issues. A long-term fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities, he has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Fulbright Foundation (for anthropological research in Mexico). He was given the 2010 Joseph B. Gittler Award from the American Psychological Foundation (for transformative contributions to the philosophical foundations of psychology). A revised edition of Madness and Modernism, recently published by Oxford University Press, was awarded the BMA: British Medical Association First Prize as best book in the field of psychiatry for 2018.

Location: Room D/L/006, Derwent College, University of York, Heslington, YO10 5DD

Admission: All are welcome