Phenomenological Psychology

Langdridge, Darren (2018). Phenomenological Psychology. Oxford Bibliographies, Oxford University Press.




Phenomenological psychology refers to an approach to psychology that draws on phenomenological, existential, and hermeneutic philosophy. The focus in all such work is on making sense of the meaning structures of the lived experience of a research participant or psychotherapeutic client. That is, in Husserl’s terms—the founder of phenomenological philosophy—we go “back to the things themselves” as they present themselves to consciousness in order to determine the “essence” (eidos) of the phenomenon. There is not one approach to phenomenological psychology, however, with the perspective better being understood as a family of methods and modes of practice. All psychological research and practice within this tradition will have its roots in the thought of Husserl and key concepts therein but will also likely be informed by other philosophical work, such as that of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre from the existential tradition, or Gadamer and Ricoeur from the hermeneutic tradition. Phenomenological psychology has its origins in European psychiatry with the work of Karl Jaspers in the early 1900s, along with figures including Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, Viktor Frankl, Eugene Minkowski, and Jan Hendrick van den Berg. The primary aim of these thinkers was (a) the rejection of traditional notions of psychopathology, in favor of Husserl’s descriptive method of analyzing psychological experience; and (b) the application of ideas from existential philosophy to therapeutic practice. A variety of modes of psychotherapeutic practice have evolved from this early work including Daseinsanalysis, logotherapy, British School existential analysis, and existential-humanistic psychotherapy. The Utrecht School in The Netherlands has been identified as the location of the first attempt to apply phenomenological philosophy to psychological research. Influenced by the work of the psychologist Adrian van Kaam and the philosopher Henry Koren, Amedeo Giorgi (beginning in the early 1970s) developed a systematic phenomenological psychology methodology at Duquesne University in the United States. Other important early figures working to develop phenomenological psychology at Duquesne include Rolf von Eckartsberg, Constance F. Fischer, and Paul F. Collaizi, with the latter developing his own phenomenological method, which is more hermeneutic than the Giorgi method. Another relatively early major methodological development came about in Canada in the late 1970s with the work of the pedagogical researcher Max van Manen, who drew directly on the Utrecht School to develop a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology. Recent developments include methodologies that draw more extensively on hermeneutics or forms of critical social theory or both, including feminist theory. Some of these developments have proven controversial, with ongoing debates in the field about the boundaries and methods of phenomenological psychology.

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