Phenomenology as a resource for patients

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


Patient support tools have drawn on a variety of disciplines, including psychotherapy, social psychology, and social care. One discipline that has not so far been used to support patients is philosophy. This paper proposes that a particular philosophical approach, phenomenology, could prove useful for patients, giving them tools to reflect on and expand their understanding of their illness. I present a framework for a resource that could help patients to philosophically examine their illness, its impact on their life, and its meaning. I explain the need for such a resource, provide philosophical grounding for it, and outline the epistemic and existential gains philosophy offers. Illness often begins as an intrusion on one’s life but with time becomes a way of being. I argue that this transition impacts on core human features such as the experience of space and time, human abilities, and adaptability. It therefore requires philosophical analysis and response. The paper uses ideas from Husserl and Merleau-Ponty to present such a response in the form of a phenomenological toolkit for patients.
The toolkit includes viewing illness as a form of phenomenological reduction, thematizing illness, and examining illness as altering the ill person’s being in the world. I suggest that this toolkit could be offered to patients as a workshop, using phenomenological concepts, texts, and film clips to reflect on illness. I conclude by arguing that examining illness as a limit case of embodied existence deepens our understanding of phenomenology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 96-113
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date2 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science


  • being in the world, embodiment, Heidegger, Husserl, illness, lived experience, Merleau-Ponty, patient experience, patient support, perception, phenomenological reduction, phenomenology, thematization

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