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Existential Medicine

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The emphasis of my work has been on the relevance of Heideggerian thinking to both psychotherapeutic and medical practice. Its aim has been to shift their focus from the study and classification of psychical or somatic pathologies - in whatever way this may be ‘analysed’ or ‘diagnosed’ - to the capacity of health practitioners themselves to listen and relate to their patients in a manner that is intrinsically therapeutic.

Only Heideggerian thinking allows us to understand listening not just as a ‘communication skill’ but as an intrinsically therapeutic mode of being with others (Mitsein). The therapeutic essence of listening lies, I believe, in its maieutic character (from the Greek maieuesthai – to act as a midwife). Listening – being with oneself and others in silence - is the midwife of speech. What I call ‘maieutic listening’ however, is a specific mode of not only being but bearing with others in the pregnancy of silence – Only such a therapeutic bearing can help another to not only ‘endure’ their own suffering (‘psyhic’ or ‘somatic’) but to bear and body it -  allowing it to give birth to a new inner bearing towards the world and other beings.

I have contributed several articles on the ontology of listening and its maieutic character to the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. At the same time I have argued for a fundamental shift in the focus of therapeutic listening from experienced psychological processes or somatic symptoms that the client may ‘present’ and be aware of to a resonation on the part of the practitioner with the moods or tonalities of awareness (Grundstimmungen) underlying the client’s whole experience of self and world.

In my presentation on field-phenomenological psychology I present an understanding of ‘moods’ as felt tonalities of awareness or feeling tones (Gefühlstöne). These can only be understood phenomenologically as field-states of awareness - and in this way also a fundamental expression of the field character of awareness as such; that which Heidegger named Lichtung or Feldung.

Field-dynamic phenomenology as such is a trans-Heideggerian phenomenology in which all phenomena are understood as localised events (Ereignisse) occurring and emerging (phuein) from a non-localised field of awareness, and in doing so giving form to a universal ground state of awareness. It understands the ‘self-being’ of the human being as the Er-eignen or ‘selving’ of  this ground state of awareness – its self-expression in the form of individualised field-patterns of awareness each of which configures its own ‘world’ or patterned field of awareness. Field-patterns of awareness are essentially those patterned feeling tones or tonalities of awareness that  constitute the ‘inner music’ or ‘inner concert’ of the human organism.

What I term Existential Medicine  is a field-phenomenological approach to medicine. Its finds expression in a new organismic understanding of the lived body (Leib) as the musical instrument or organon through which feeling tones are bodied as cell, muscle and organ tone. It is the resonance or dissonance of these organismic feeling tones that determines the health or ‘soundness’ (Ge-sundheit) of the human organism as a whole.

This new understanding of the human organism has led me into a critical dialogue with the theory and practice of ‘somatic psychotherapy’. The two German-translated articles on this site, first published in Energy and Character, the International Journal of Biosynthesis, were an attempt to introduce its readers to an ontological understanding of the human organism and the role of ‘organismic resonance’ between therapist and client in the therapeutic relationship.

It is my firm conviction that Heideggerian thinking opens the way to a new Organismic Ontology of health and healing (see Articles). Only through such an ontology can a true challenge be mounted to the crude philosophical foundations of current biological medicine, and ‘gene therapy’ in particular. In view of the great danger to humanity that Heidegger foresaw in the genetic self-manipulation of humankind, I believe it to be the responsibility of serious Heideggerian thinkers to mount such a challenge. I therefore also include on this site two further presentations - one contrasting ‘human genomics’ with Human Ontology (my preferred translation of Daseinanalyse) and the other setting out the ontological and field-phenomenological foundations of Existential Medicine founded on a new ontology of the human organism.

In my published book entitled Heidegger, Medicine and Scientific Method I not only affirm Heidegger’s status as “the foundational medical researcher” (Medard Boss) but describe a fundamentally new organismic and field-phenomenological approach to the practice of medicine. In this book, as in The Therapist as Listener, I seek to show how health practitioners can not only learn from Heidegger’s profound insight into the bodily dimension of human being (Dasein), but also how they can actively body this understanding in their own embodied relation to their patients.

My intent is that through the articles and books on this site – and the contributions I sincerely invite others to make to it – Heidegger’s radical critique of current medical-scientific models of health and illness can be transformed into a new pathosophy or ‘wisdom of feeling’ - one which affirm the innate meaningfulness of the human being’s own felt ‘dis-ease’ or pathos, and which understands all illness as a disposition in which the individual finds themselves pregnant with a new way of bearing (bären) and bodying (leiben) their innermost being.

                     “A disposition can confine man in his corporeality as in a prison. Yet it can also carry him though corporeality as one of the paths leading out of it.” 

                     Martin Heidegger

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