Existentialism and Psychiatry: Four Lectures

By Rudolf Allers | Go to book overview

Lecture IV
SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS OF THE EXISTENTIAL APPROACH IN PSYCHIATRY

I T IS HARDLY NECESSARY to compare the peculiarities of the existential approach with those of the usual clinical considerations. The differences are quite obvious. Expressing them in a short formula, one might say that clinical psychiatry looks at the mental state of a patient from without, whereas the existentialist approach endeavors to visualize the total being of the diseased person from within. Moreover, clinical psychiatry is mostly concerned with finding out "how" the patient's mind operates, whereas it is the "what" this mind is dealing with that the other, existential, approach attempts to apprehend.

The psychoanalytical schools have claimed that this shift of interest is precisely one of their main contributions to psychiatry. This claim is justified to a certain extent, but not as completely as it is often believed. For the "what," the content on which the psychoanalytic inquiry focuses is not the mental phenomenon itself but its "significance" as indicative of something behind or beneath the phenomenon. Though there is an enormous number of dream analyses published in the psychoanalytic literature, one will look in vain for any contribution to the phenomenology of dream consciousness. The material which is analyzed is, in fact, not the dream as it is experienced, but the report on the dream as it is related. This procedure is perfectly justified on the basis of the principles of Freud's doctrine. For here it is exclusively the genetic problem that stands in the foreground. In view, however, of this claim on the part of the psychoanalysts, a few words on the differences between the analytic and the phenomenological approach may be in place.

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