Against natural psychology
By Ian Rory Owen PhD
This paper makes distinctions about the difference between the true original meaning of the word “phenomenological”; as opposed to the understanding of how to deal with meaning made by natural psychologies. Natural psychologies are all those approaches within empirical psychology, and other psychological areas, that put excessive emphasis on natural processes. Natural processes are all those that occur at physical and material ways in the body and brain. For instance, the naturalistic research attitude of natural psychological science is an excessive focus on physical causes and only an insufficient attention to the meaningful detail that psychological processes are actually about. Natural sciences are those like genomics, biochemistry, psycho-physics, and neuroscience that are exclusively focused on natural living being and natural causes. There is nothing wrong with these sciences if the understanding is that all that is being researched are the physical processes in neurons, the concentrations of ions in the blood stream, areas of changing blood flow in the brain and such like. The problem of the excessive focus of the naturalistic attitude in natural psychological science is that the natural studies are then loosely and imprecisely related to meaningful events for individuals and groups in society. This makes a problem to be solved.
The true meaning of the word “phenomenology” as developed in the writings of Edmund Husserl, concerns the study of phenomena. This means the qualitative study of meaning that appears across a variety of modes of awareness, the intentionalities, of being aware in vision, hearing, empathy, memory, anticipation and complex combinations of these. Phenomenology is a theory about how consciousness works and has methods and findings of qualitative ideal sorts. The findings can be put to use in organising empirical work and problem-solving in the real world. What it supplies are ideal conclusions through qualitative research that are a parallel to how mathematics enables natural science to achieve its goals.
One of the main methods in phenomenology is the seeing of essences. This is a seeing across a manifold of phenomena and can make observations of two different sorts. One set of observations concerns noting the forms in which mental processes, the intentionalities, function. The other is looking at meanings to spot the patterns that can be seen there and understand how meanings are comprised in this more usual objective view of how gestalts appear in wholes in their contexts. The seeing of essences is parallel to studies of abstraction from a manifold of instances to find prototypes and categories in empirical psychology (The phenomenological process is one of finding the ideals inherent in this process). What get learned in memory are the central definitive aspects of the prototype or category, alongside a breadth of variants that are acceptable members of a class of the same objects. Making sense is a two way processes where what is learned and lies within self are categories of general understanding that are made manifest in identifying something again and making simple judgements like ‘these two things are the same’ whilst ‘these two are different’.
Phenomenology is not against natural psychology science in the sense that it would want to ban it. Rather the comments that it makes concern how to organise empiricism to keep it tightly focused on the meaningful. The aim would be to transform and supplement empirical natural psychology so that it can express its full potential. Specifically, this demands representing meaningful life as it is lived in the natural attitude of ordinary citizens. The process that phenomenology justifies is the formulation of the relations between intentionalities and their mental senses, meanings about objects of sense as they are experienced.
However, at the current level of imprecision in natural psychological science it is impossible to distinguish between natural cause, psychological cause and social cause in the main in the individual case. Whilst it’s true to say that in general the mental habits of sense-making laid down in childhood and adolescence go on to form the adult lifestyle of similar mental habits. It is currently impossible to take an individual and specify with certainty what causes them to think or feel anything because these causes are complex. There are ways of asking individuals questions about how they think and feel about specific situations and this can produced tailored idiosyncratic explanations of what happens for them qualitatively.
Therefore, to make empirical psychology and its adjuncts like psychotherapy blossom, it requires the further step of formulating hypotheses qualitatively for testing and expressing the findings of its tests. The practice of formulation is a standard part of mainstream psychotherapy practice and can easily be replicated in other areas (British Psychological Society, 2011). If this is not done then the exclusive focus on the natural; or the imprecise focus on the natural and the meaningful, will result in the that these areas of research do not meet their objects properly: that is they do not contact meaningful experience of the citizens that they purport to be about.
The problem of an excessive focus on the natural also is compounded when the usages of key terms are incorrect. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the usages of empathy and intersubjectivity in those parts of evolutionary psychology and developmental psychology that try to aim at shared human experiences. The remainder of the paper highlights incorrect understanding of intersubjectivity that abound that have little or no connection to the original source of the term in Husserl’s writing.
Against imprecision concerning the true meaning of intersubjectivity
One therapeutic perspective that claims to be informed by intersubjectivity is Atwood and Stolorow’s. Although the word “intersubjective” appears, this offshoot from Kohut’s self psychology is certainly not a closely argued philosophically-based approach but one that acknowledges mutuality, reciprocity and context. Nor is the “intersubjective approach” the only attempt to understand human relating in a manner that gets away from a focus on the individual. It is of note because it appropriates the phenomenological terms. But the originators have not understood the work of Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre whom they occasionally mention to explain their position. The problems that the readers of Atwood, Stolorow and company face are that the justifications put forth lack proper scholarship with respect to the purported stance of being intersubjective in the phenomenological tradition. The remainder of this paper is in two sections. The first defines Husserl’s original approach to empathy and intersubjectivity. The second defines the best aspects of the Atwood and Stolorow approach where it gets closest to the original.
The original work of Edmund Husserl on intersubjectivity was published in a shortened form, without explanation and clear working, in 1929 in the Cartesian Meditations (1977). Although a better title would have been Intersubjective Meditations. “Intersubjectivity” has been adopted in child development and psychotherapy as a watchword for inter-responsiveness. But the original conception was much more fundamental than merely noting that human beings react reciprocally and mutually. The viewpoint taken by Husserl has much to offer contemporary thinkers in psychotherapy, psychological research and the human sciences. It is worth spelling out what the original was.
Intersubjectivity is the result of empathically sharing the views of others - whether that is in complete co-operation and agreement, or be it in dispute and conflict. Meaning, values and lifestyles are intersubjective. They get shared and passed round. Psychological senses of what it feels like to be happy or sad, young or old, to enjoy friendship or to be weighed down by it, all necessitate the accurate transmission of views between persons.
The original meaning of intersubjectivity belongs to the school of philosophy that followed Immanuel Kant called transcendental philosophy that identifies the conditions for something to be possible. Thinking in this way identifies the lower enabling conditions that permit something to happen. The term intersubjectivity was pursued by Edmund Husserl as an attempt to name the conditions for knowledge and understanding to be social. Intersubjectivity is literally what lies between subjects in the sense that selves and others are necessary for there to be a shared world of commonsense. Intersubjectivity refers to the constituent parts of verbal and non-verbal social acts of communication, social learning across the lifespan, the accumulation of past traditions of academic disciplines and the means of passing on knowledge, plus the material actuality of people and contexts of time and space, that are interpreted and empathised, so building the sum total of the achievement of knowledge. Husserl's contribution was to focus on the way that the motivating similarity between the human bodies of selves and others (1977, §50, p 111) is one contributory factor in seeing others as being united perceivers and thinkers just like selves (1989, §62, pp. 297-8). Given the fact that the fundamental sense of others is that they are other persons who have their own views and meaning is social (1977a, §44, p 94), the basis of meaning is that the non-verbal presence of specific others sits in a surrounding context of understanding the non-verbal presence of others and oneself that supports the sharing of knowledge. Accordingly, the hypothesis is that meaning is social because the human body is the indicator of interests that shows how people are interested (or not) before they open their mouths. The conclusion is that the consciousness of the other is empathically signified as being part of the social expanse, because of its auditory and visual presence. This type of relation is sometimes called semiotic because it is a sign that indicates meaning. The upshot being that psychology is only genuine when it is based on the conscious qualitative experiences of other people as the object for theorising and hence experimentation, even if imagination of what others experience and attempts to feel the motivations of others, are the unscientific ground of how people make sense.
Husserl’s viewpoint asks how a specific state of affairs comes about. Specifically, it finds how selves and others inter-act to create a shared world, in the sense of a cultural world. Be it on the small scale of a family or group of persons who meet face to face and react to each other. Or be it on the larger scale of a world of shared ideas and practices. Most generally, intersubjectivity refers to what exists between people. What this includes is communication of all kinds, verbally and non-verbally, and how there is the great expanse of social life. For academic disciplines such as the human sciences and therapy, there is a need to understand what happens between people in a fundamental way and have some explicit conclusions on the nature of everyday commonsense and the actions and experiences of self and others. The specific method urged by Husserl to do this was to have ‘fulfilled’ imaginative experiences of what other persons experience and relate that to what oneself experiences. The viewpoint he urged is called “transcendental” in that it searches for the conditions of possibility of shared meaning in social life. It studies qualitative experiences that are common to human beings and concludes on how commonsense is possible.
The following brief overview makes reference to the Cartesian Meditations where Husserl went into some detail in explaining social life. His starting point was asking how we understand the bodies of other people as living sensing bodies like our own (1977, §42, pp. 89-90, §48, p 105). His answer concerned the “aesthesiological stratum” of the co-perception of fields of sensation in the bodies of others (1989, §62, pp. 297-8). He also argued that the basic similarity between the bodies of selves and the bodies of others is a motivating similarity sufficient to create an overlap of sense that is called empathy, or better, empathic presentiation. Although not identical to the “problem of other minds,” it is similar. The basic conclusion that Husserl came to was that the visual object of the external shape and movement of other persons’ bodies indicates their interiority: The referent of their speech and experiences.
Specifically, the speech and body of the other indicates their view from where they are situated in space (and within time if they are not currently present). By focusing on his own experience of himself and others, and comparing that to what others must experience, Husserl argued that consciousness is pro-intersubjective or pre-intersubjective. When a self meets with another, a greater whole can be formed that is genuinely intersubjective. His research question was to find the possible motivations of sense that create the sense of others ‘in’ self (§44, p 94). The strict separations between the usual senses of self and others break down on close inspection for the following reasons.
Clearly, we never have the first-hand experiences of other people, and vice versa, they do not have our first-hand experiences. However, what is being discussed is how people have the impression that they know and experience the views of others: as a universal lifelong aspect of being social creatures. What Husserl claimed was that even after a concerted effort to reject all influence from others, even to the extent of claiming to be able to enter a wordless, non-verbal meditation entirely focussed on the perceptual present. There still remains a world that is intersubjective. In short, the intersubjective influences of others cannot be removed (even if they can be ignored). What this means is that each self creates the senses of the views of others, as a basic way of navigating life in a ubiquitous manner (§41, p 84-5).
From the starting point that our mental processes form a whole with the social world, Husserl teased out the pieces of that whole. The specific pieces he focussed on were the “motivating similarity” (§50, p 111) between one’s own body and those of others’ in the sense that a first-ever sense of the other person being a separate other must have occurred in infancy, and that sense got added to the first-other, with whom it occurred. And ever since then there has been further on-going enrichment of the senses that others may have as a set of learned social experiences about how others’ behave, in relation to what they might experience, about being in the common world that we share.
Husserl argued that the visual movements of the bodies of others indicate what their first-hand experiences might be like in the experience we call “empathy”. Empathy is a part of intersubjectivity in that persons to some degree of accuracy or inaccuracy have a sense of what others experience. This is assumed to be the standard case unless people can over-ride their impressions of the experience of others, or if they have personalities that fail to provide such senses. Because the social world is a complex whole, there is a complex on-going learning about what others are like and how oneself is in relation to these others. So it is always the case that the first-hand experience of others always remains their own. Through discussion, play, and social everyday life, a non-specific and indirect form of social learning occurs where every experience lends itself to confirm and disconfirm what we already know about other people and ourselves in relation to them. In terms of the mental processes that occur, involuntary automatic learning from the past is added to the events of the current moment. And because anticipation is also occurring in the present, certain sets of anticipations occur about what will happen next in human behaviour.
The key element to grasp in understanding what Husserl was asserting is to understand the difference between what does appear perceptually, of what we see and hear about another person. Let us say someone who is currently sitting and talking with ourselves. Perception of others is opposed to being able to understand what they mean and what they feel, psychologically. The perceptual is recordable on video, for instance. Any person could watch a playback of the film and share the perceptual meanings of what happened on it. Let us say another person is talking to us about their childhood. What they are talking about, their object, is their memory of their childhood. Let us assume they are telling us the truth of something that happened. Their speech, emotion and thoughts are about the real remembered object. What the hearer grasps though is something in addition to the plain facts of the expressions about their memory. What empathy does is re-create the full experience of being there for the listener – about the referent that is being spoken about by the other. This is the empathic mental process and it is open to error.
However, what is understood, through the recounting of the story and looking at the non-verbal presence of the other person, is that an empathic object is given. The empathic object is presentiated in, or through, the vision and speech that is recordable. The empathised intentions of the other person and our insertion into their past world appear as a new whole that is non-actual for us and belongs to that other person. (It is not understood as being ours). However, there is often very little detail in the perceptual “signs” of hearing and vision, of the other telling their story, that is required for empathisers to be able to grasp the subtle nuances of what is being recounted. Accordingly empathy, grasping what others’ experience, is taking perceptual experience and properly understanding its significance for what it meant to be there in the first-person originally. What are being recounted are their memory and their first-hand experience. What is empathised is the same object, although the empathiser may never have had any such experience. When people get together, the sum total of providing and receiving experiences (in all possible formats of ‘story-telling’) is what is called intersubjectivity: the giving and receiving of first-hand accounts of what it is like to be a unique self. It is the commonality of being pre-intersubjective, or pro-social, that enables this transmission of the first-person experiences. Furthermore, there are genres of telling such stories and those too are part of decoding what other people experience.
The constant aspects are that the senses of empathy are not perceptual but psychological in that the beliefs, intentions, aims and views of others empathically appear. Although there is no guarantee that these senses are accurate until we discuss them with those other persons (and even then there is no guarantee that they are telling the truth about their first-hand experiences). However, the other remains other (§50, p 109). They have their sense of their own bodies, and what life is like in their personal development and their part of the social and physical world. Empathy is the socially-learned donation of sense to the visual perception and audition of the other’s voice. The other is outside oneself in a different physical location. They are for themselves and are different.
A great deal has been written and researched about the nature of empathy and its role in therapy. Empathy is a lived experience of what is psychologically real and believed by others. Empathy covers a range of experience from the immediate felt-sense of what others might think or feel, that is sometimes called intuition. Empathy also includes the ability to visualise imaginarily what other people are like and how they live. Empathy includes recognising the views of others, even if only intellectually being able to work out in a laborious manner what they might be feeling. Sometimes the experience of empathising their perspectives might occur through face-to-face verbal and non-verbal communication. Empathy also occurs in understanding other persons through text or film. Similarly, listening to their speech and experiences, activates memory and merely possible or anticipated experiences. To be empathic is to live the psychological life. Empathy attributes perspectives and mental states to others and helps knowing oneself in relation to them. Empathy is the basic experience of most often understanding others and oneself, as living sentient creatures in some detail. Consciousness can realise that a sense of an object is not representative of the whole of that object and that different senses of it can be gained according to the perspective taken.
Accordingly, the larger social world is entirely given through empathy. The pieces that contribute to make the whole, concern links between self and other, in the following: The sense of the other is understood through the template of one’s own experiences. How self in its world is understood, enables empathy through the realisation if that were me. This is similar to remembering something parallel to what another has experienced. Thus, the many experiences of having a body, seeing and hearing - co-occur in very complex ways with remembering, imagining and the tactile sense of what it would like to be another person. Empathising others can be intellectual, in that one means of access to the views of others is self-talk that transposes oneself into the shoes of the other through rationalisation. What becomes clear is that the perceptual appearance of the others body is a background sense for hearing their speech and producing the overall communion. Attending to the non-verbal communication of others creates a felt-sense, however imprecise the message that was sent and however inaccurately it was received.
Understanding empathy and intersubjectivity in the development of personalities and psychological problems, their dissipation and management across the lifespan, is realising that selves are social and that it is impossible to remove the influence of other people, even within the life of a hermit. Let us come back to consider psychological being once more, informed by the understanding of intentionality. Let us start with the experiences of others as they are related to selves. If a person were unable to understand themselves with respect to others, they would be blown by the wind of ad hoc events that have a structure (but that is hidden to them prior to adequate interpretation).
For Husserl, the human sciences can only begin when proper empathy of the views of others is achieved. Authentic empathy involves an attempt at imagining the experiences of other persons, in an attempt to feel their motivations as though they were one’s own. In the terminology of anthropology this is an emic point of view because it is an attempt to think, imagine and feel one’s way into the experiences of others as they have them, without the contamination of one’s own biases.
What this also means about the sense of self is that there is an intersubjective connection to understanding ourselves as though we might be being understood by them. People understand themselves as public objects ‘for others,’ accurately or not, from the point of view of what ‘we think others think’. Or to be more precise, what we imagine concerning how others empathise us. The topic of the proper attitude of the human sciences (and therapy) is called the “personalistic attitude” (1989, §49e, p 192). This proper research attitude towards others is one that Husserl mentioned many times (§43, 45-47, 50, 56f, 56g, 56h).
Firstly there can be no mutual support between phenomenology and psychoanalysis. The two are in opposition and if they are to work together, and phenomenology gets the upper hand, then psychoanalysis has to bow to the attention to the conscious world. But Atwood and Stolorow believe that phenomenology is subservient to psychoanalysis. Atwood and Stolorow repeat the Kohutian beginning that psychological knowledge concerns insight and empathy, “the interplay between transference and countertransference; it is the environment or “analytic space”… the results of a case study may vary as a function of the person conducting it. Such variation, anathema to natural science, occurs because of the diverse perspectives of different investigators on material displaying an inherent plurality of meanings”, (1984, p 6). Other writers in this area hold that empathy and specific types of intermingling of the senses self and other can result in a genuine encounter between client and therapist. The intersubjective approach is correct that a great deal of meeting with other people involves an intermingling of senses that are not due to a damaged or damaging interchange: Kohut’s approach is criticised for its treatment of empathy “as a specific psychotherapeutic attitudinal skill that is an indispensable precedent to an effective psychotherapeutic process”, (Natterson & Friedman, 1995, p 127). Presumably, what is being referred to is the process of providing therapy itself. These authors believe that there can be a “boundaryless intermingling of the two selves. In this area of porous, amorphous interface, each self is partially confused with the other, so that the distinction between understanding oneself and understanding the other is transiently lost”, (Ibid). Well that might be the case sometimes. Empathy, the sense of the client in their world, should not be reified. They mean that therapists should “avoid the concretization and objectification of our empathizing”, (p 128). What they are claiming is that empathy “is an intersubjective phenomenon, not a technical skill”, (Ibid). What these comments mean is that an emphasis is being placed on the co-causation of the speech and actions of self and other in therapy. And to an extent they are correct except they completely ignore the leading work of Iso Kern on intersubjectivity (Kern, 1993, 1997).
The Atwood and Stolorow passages say nothing about what are the conditions of possibility that enable there to be empathic understanding in the first place, nor do they say anything about how such understanding can fail or be inaccurate. So readers are robbed of the detail of understanding this key connection between human beings. Specifically, the problem that the allegedly intersubjective approach of Atwood, Stolorow and company have failed to grasp is that it was Edmund Husserl in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation of 1929 was the first to conclude that what enables intersubjectivity to exist is that there is an a priori ground or individual capability within each self that promotes actual instances of intersubjectivity to exist. This part of each individual human being could be called pre- or pro-intersubjective in that when more than one person meets with another, then intersubjectivity proper occurs.
Because this crucial point is missed, then the allegedly intersubjective approach never moves to a philosophical position that is in-line with the tradition of thinking to which it purports to belong. For instance, a key point concerning the social and meaningful world is as follows: “Once we relinquish the idea that an individual exists completely independently of the therapist (or for that matter anybody else in the world), the social aspect of life emerges forcibly and so shares equal billing in this theory’s name”, (Natterson & Friedman, 1995, p 39). Well this is true but it is not the Atwood and Stolorow approach that invented or discovered the public accessibility of meaning and relationships. It is noted that there is an interactive position where the therapist shapes the transference. There is the co-influence between subjectivities for “the subjective life of the therapist plays a powerful role in shaping transference”, (p 17). This is a comment that deserves detailed discussion as to what ways in this might be a problem for clients or for therapists, but no full explanation is made. The wholistic view of the relationship with clients is preferred to just one’s own view of it because in “attributing psychological phenomena to isolated, intrapsychic mechanisms within the individual, such theory neglects the relational matrix in which these phenomena arise”, (Stolorow, 1992, p 160). Again, to an extent these comments are true but they say no more than common sense would agree with the basic proposition. No comments are passed on how transference and here and now effects co-occur and how each can be distinguished.
The intersubjective approach can be defined as an attention to a self-referential awareness that what is observed varies according to the position and participation of the observing person with the observed. The “empirical phenomena of the human world present themselves differently according to the perspective of the observer”, (Atwood & Stolorow, 1979, p 10). Well again this is a key proposition and it demands a detailed coverage. It could be the beginning of a hermeneutic discussion. How is the same object capable of being viewed in different ways? And how should one approach such a situation? But the comment is taken to note that theories fit with the lives of their producers. No cases or sources are cited to compare how a theorist theorises. This topic is raised and then dropped.
Like Freud, there remains a belief in unconscious organising principles that create structures of subjectivity. The term “subjective world” describes “the contents of experience and structures of subjectivity … designate the invariant principles unconsciously and recurrently organizing those contents according to distinctive meanings and themes. This latter concept of unconscious organizing principles increasingly assumed a position of prominence in our thinking”, (Ibid, p 177). However, it is not clear how the unconscious appears for these writers. The very claim that there are permanently unconscious processes is not deemed problematic. Nor is there any detail of how a single conscious mind is influenced by its conscious context.
A further clarificatory remark is that “psychoanalysis is pictured here as a science of the intersubjective …The observational stance is always one within, rather than outside, the intersubjective field or “contextual unit”… Psychoanalysis is unique among the sciences in that the observer is also the observed”, (Atwood & Stolorow, 1984, pp. 41-2). But it is not clear how this observation makes any difference to theory or practice. “Patient and analyst together form an indissoluble psychological system, and it is this system that constitutes the empirical domain of psychoanalytic inquiry”, (Ibid, p 64). But the context of understanding is either faulty or absent. The true sense of the word “intersubjectivity” is never defined and there is no relationship to its source in Husserl (or Heidegger for that matter in Being and Time or his lectures of 1928).
From Freud onwards, inference concerning the nature of intentionality, unconscious mental process, continues. Where the innovation continues is the attempt to regard the whole of the interaction between client and therapist. Objective meaning is related to empathy which “arises as a possibility … because of the common bond of humanity shared by the observer and the observed … empathy is implicit in the attempt to understand a person’s communications and actions from the standpoint of his own subjective frame of reference”, (Ibid, pp. 4-5). Atwood and Stolorow get it wrong. Empathy is not implicit in this situation. Empathy is the grasping of the other’s point of view. Verbally communicating that grasp is different still.
The consequence is that therapy works by breaking up the old model of the world: “the ossified pathological forms that have heretofore structured the patient’s experiences are progressively broken up and reorganized, a new and enriched personal reality opens up before him, made possible by the newly expanded and reflectively conscious structures of his subjective world”, (Atwood & Stolorow, 1984, p 60). The term “ego” appears and is set much in the Freudian mould as a set of organising principles because “human subjectivity is only possible if there is an agent for whom it exists. In other words, there needs to be a subject to organize, articulate, reflect, and act on its subjective experience”, (Frie & Reis, 2001, p 322). If this is to mean anything other than the thought that people are the harbingers of meaning and thought then the observation is true. The point is though that it is the job of philosophy to spell out how these conditions work together to make the whole. One criticism is that the “traditional distinctions between intrapsychic and interpersonal, private and public, internal and external remain an important and vital part of our psychoanalytic vocabulary, and as much recent scholarship and debate suggests, they are not easily rewritten”, (Ibid, p 323). Well that might be true but it is not clear how Atwood, Stolorow and company have over thrown the oppression of wrong thinking in psychoanalysis. For instance, therapy progresses by adding new organising principles to the client’s consciousness or ego. The manner of caring and the creation of psychological change progresses through the …
…transference tie with the analyst provides a trusting relationship for the investigation and illumination of the old repetitive organizing principles… The new … experience with the analyst facilitates the development of new, alternative organizing principles and a capacity for self-reflection. Thus the essence of cure within intersubjectivity theory lies in the acquisition of new principles of organizing experience.
Trop, 1994, p 80.
The principle of cure stated above means business as usual. No comment is made that transference can only exist if there is a relationship first for it to be observed within. No comments are made about any rules for concluding on abstract organising principles. So nothing new there. The idea of transference is highly problematic but is accepted without comment. The intersubjective approach is mutual in that it furthers “a paradigmatic shift” whereby “the psychological make-up of both the patient and the therapist mutually influence each other”, (Kahn, 1996, p 30).
The term “intersubjectivity” is appropriated but there is no contact with the original definition of the term. Elsewhere Husserl is called Cartesian and relegated to the wings as irrelevant. The to and fro of relating is characterised without a detailed analysis of human relating in the intersubjective and phenomenological tradition laid down by Husserl and others. The approach of Atwood and Stolorow claims it has overcome solipsism. “The concept of an intersubjective system brings to focus both the individual’s world of inner experience and its embededness with other such worlds in a continual flow of reciprocal mutual influence. In this vision, the gap between the intrapsychic and interpersonal realms is closed, and, indeed, the old dichotomy between them is rendered obsolete”, (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992, p 18). For them, intersubjectivity occurs when “two individuals co-create the relationship they live and talk about. Intersubjectivity is the overarching term that refers to the reciprocal influence of the conscious and unconscious subjectivities of two people in a relationship”, (Natterson & Friedman, 1995, p 1). This definition is flawed because it is not clear what “unconscious subjectivity” is. These two authors also discuss how two instances of consciousness are related to each other so that the experiences of the therapist may indicate those of the client; but also the therapist’s “subjectivity or his personal world view directly and continuously influences the patient’s subjectivity and world view”, (Ibid, p 5). Here “intersubjectivity” means nothing more than inter-action or responsiveness and has nothing to do with the original writings of Husserl. On the contrary, because Atwood and Stolorow have not grasped the key issues in the original writings, they cannot shine any light on psychoanalysis or the talking therapies.
Atwood, G.E. & Stolorow, R.D. (1979) Faces in a cloud. Northvale: Jason Aronson.
_____________________________ (1984) Structures of subjectivity: Explorations in psychoanalytic phenomenology. Hillsdale: The Analytic Press.
British Psychological Society. (2011) Good practice guidelines on the use of psychological formulation. Leicester: Division of Clinical Psychology.
Frie, R. & Reis, B. (2001) Understanding intersubjectivity: Psychoanalytic formulations and their philosophical underpinnings. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37, 297-327.
Husserl, E. (1977) Cartesian meditations: An introduction to phenomenology. (Trans D. Cairns). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
________ (1989) Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy: Second book. (Trans R. Rojcewicz & A. Schuwer). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
Kahn, E. (1996) The intersubjective perspective and the client-centred approach: Are they one at their core? Psychotherapy, 33, 30-42.
Kern, I. (1993) Our experience of the other. In R. Bernet, I. Kern & E. Marbach An introduction to Husserlian phenomenology. (pp. 154-165). Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
_______ (1997) Intersubjectivity. In L. Embree, EA. Behnke, D. Carr, C. Evans, J. Huertas-Jourdas, J.J. Kocklemans, W.R. McKenna, J.N. Mohanty, T.M. Seebohm & R.M. Zaner (Eds) Encyclopedia of phenomenology. (pp. 355-359). (Trans W.R. McKenna). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Kohut, H. (1984) How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Natterson, J.M. & Friedman, R.J. (1995) A primer of clinical intersubjectivity. Northvale: Jason Aronson.
Trop, J.L. (1994) Conjoint therapy: An intersubjective approach. Progress in Self Psychology, 10, 147-158.
Stolorow, R.D. (1992) Closing the gap between theory and practice with better psychoanalytic theory. Psychotherapy, 29, 159-166.
Stolorow, R.D. & Atwood, G.E. (1992) Contexts of being. Hillsdale: Analytic Press.
© Copyright Dr Ian Owen 2015