Conceptual Foundations: Relational thinking for mental health contexts

Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael (2024). Conceptual Foundations: Relational thinking for mental health contexts. In: Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds. Relationships and Mental Health: Relational experience in distress and recovery. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


What we are loosely referring to as ‘relational thinking’ is an assemblage of ideas drawn from extensive literatures across the fields of philosophy, psychology, psychotherapy, sociology and social work that explore what it means to be inter-connected with others; interpersonally, socially, existentially. This chapter will sensitise the reader to relevant relational concepts and ideas, and will contextualise these within the frame of mental health. The chapter starts with existential-phenomenological understandings about the foundational nature of intersubjectivity and our social situation, making connections with feminist care ethics. We go on to look at socio-psychological concepts, such as trust, attachment and intimacy and their importance for understanding distress and recovery, before thinking about how concepts like social capital and stigma help to explain how patterns of distress manifest across our societies. We end by arguing that relational thinking – as a nuanced and pluralistic concept – offers a significant lens for understanding the lived experiences of distress and recovery, and the services and contexts that aim to support mental health and wellbeing.

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