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Meerloo, J.A. (1956). The Phenomenological Approach to Psychiatry. An Introduction to Recent Phenomenological Psychopathology: By J. H. Van Den Berg, M.D. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1955. 105 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 25:436-436.
(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:436-436
The Phenomenological Approach to Psychiatry. An Introduction to Recent Phenomenological Psychopathology: By J. H. Van Den Berg, M.D. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1955. 105 pp.
Review by: Joost A.M. Meerloo
Phenomenological psychiatry, rooted in the studies of Husserl, Jaspers, Heidegger, and Binswanger, has found a host of followers, especially in Europe. It tries to show that man invariably—whether in health or in sickness—exhibits a characteristic mode of 'being in the world'. This approach to psychiatry seeks to get away from causal explanations—explanations for which it reproaches psychoanalytic psychiatry—as though mere description were not already an explanation. The particular way in which man looks at phenomena is the outgrowth of early childhood determinants.
This book, written by a Dutch psychiatrist, who is a professor in pastoral psychology, has the virtue of giving a clearly written exposition of how the phenomenological school looks at the patient. Yet, while rejecting psychoanalytic views, it unobtrusively makes use of terms and concepts derived from analytic insight. The author attacks some psychoanalytic terms such as projection, transference, conversion. He forgets, however, that every word or sentence we utter is in itself a verdict—his descriptions included—though, to be sure, terms or words may be only approximations of reality and sometimes mere denials of reality.
In his zeal to sell phenomenology as something new in psychiatry, the author denies completely the manifold studies in descriptive precision and various avenues of communication of which the psychoanalytic school has made use. In the background of phenomenological psychiatry one discerns theological philosophy that resents an interpretation of that which it finds immanent and not capable of interpretation. The overemphasized use of the word existence, for example, affords as much a semantic problem as the word ego.
Even where the reviewer cannot agree with the critical attitude of the author, he accepts the good contribution which a clear and detailed phenomenological description can offer clinical psychiatry. The point of view enhances empathy, intuitive approach, and descriptive acuity and reminds the student of psychiatry that there is a continual dialogue and interchange between the psyche and the world about us, and between man and his fellow man.
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