Last month, on December 10, the local (Tampa Bay) psychoanalytic society hosted presenter Jack Foehl, PhD. He shared his ideas on phenomenology (the study of phenomena, that is, that which is manifest in experience) and how it informs clinical work. Philosophical questions such as : ‘What does it mean to know? How do we know we know? How does one know oneself? [How does one know another?] How does one study experience? What does it mean to be human?’ all pertain to our psychological work. “What is the nature of meaning from a phenomenological perspective?
The German philosopher Hegel (1770-18310), Foehl informed us, wrote in The Phenomenology of the Spirit, that we can only know ourselves through the experience with another. Without the other reflecting upon us [and holding us in mind?] we cannot fully experience ourselves. But it was another German (Czech) philosopher, Husserl (1859-1938)-- who was greatly influenced, as was Freud, by Brentano-- who is considered the founder of Phenomenology. Husserl developed a method for describing experience which he called phenomenology.
Foehl encouraged us to remember that an attitude [e.g. psychoanalytic attitude] is a way of seeing and describing the world, but reality requires multiple perspectives and is a function of the way it is perceived. As analysts we “suspend the positing of reality” in order to situate ourselves in the present moment, in the experience, not just in the telling by the patient, but with the patient. Phenomenology suspends judgment (epoche) about the natural state in order that, paradoxically, it can be highlighted. The process constitutes, that is, things are not prefigured to be found, but, instead, we are always in the process of bringing into being. [Experience is co-created moment to moment with our patients.] Psychoanalysis is a process which facilitates both participants to experience more deeply.
I found Foehl’s philosophical discussion intriguing and felicitous, and applicable to the philosophy of psychoanalysis. But I am neither an academician nor a scholar. I am simply a clinician, and a flawed one at that. As much as I enjoyed phenomenology’s new names which inform and enliven “intellectuals” and as much as I greatly enjoyed the clinical material, it seemed additionally heartening to me that if we pay sufficient attention to moment to moment changes in our patients and ourselves, including our sensory perceptions, and practice some reflection and intersubjectivity, we might arrive at similar reveries without contemplating that we are employing phenomenology.