Contexts of Suffering draws on Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology and his analysis of human existence to challenge core assumptions in contemporary psychiatry by contextualizing mental illness and illuminating its existential and experiential qualities. The book explores the limitations of today’s biomedical model and examines mental illness from a first-person perspective to show how it can disrupt and modify the meaning-structures that constitute our subjectivity. It goes on to offer a hermeneutic analysis of mental illness by shedding light on the extent to which our historical situation shapes the way we diagnose, classify, and experience our suffering and provides the discursive framework through which we can interpret and make sense of it. To this end, the book highlights the crucial need for clinicians to regard the sufferer not as a neurochemical entity but as a way of being that is uniquely situated, embodied, and self-interpreting. Contexts of Suffering will be a valuable resource for Heidegger scholars, philosophers of health and illness, medical ethicists, and mental healthcare professionals in general.
Introduction / Part I: Phenomenology and the Limits of Contemporary Psychopathology / 1. Medicalizing Mental Illness / 2. Heidegger and the Structures of Subjectivity / Part II: Structural Breakdowns: Space, Time, and Understanding / 3. Disturbances of Spatiality / 4. Disturbances of Temporality / 5. The Death of Meaning / Part III: Hermeneutic Psychiatry: Situating Mental Illness / 6. What is Hermeneutic Psychiatry? / 7. Situating Social Anxiety / 8. Situating Neurasthenia / 9. Situating Rage / Conclusion / Bibliography / Index
Kevin Aho is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Communication and Philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University. He is the author of Existentialism: An Introduction (2014), Heidegger’s Neglect of the Body (2009), and co-author of Body Matters: A Phenomenology of Sickness, Illness, and Disease (2008).
Contexts of Suffering is a superb addition to the philosophy of mental health, and specifically the nature of psychiatric problems. Heidegger, for many, is a guiding light in such approaches and Aho provides a masterful overview of how his work, and that of phenomenology and hermeneutics in general, can inform mental health practice and research and relates to the author’s own experiences.
Aho has done us all a great service with this bold and immensely important work. Utilizing Heideggerian phenomenology and hermeneutics, he not only exposes the reductive, medicalizing, and indeed dangerous practices of American psychiatry today, but also envisions a healthier path forward wherein psychiatrists can treat the patient as a holistic and relational person by empathically entering the patient’s world.
The reader will be shaken by the reporting and educated by the analyses in Contexts of Suffering. While the shortcomings of psychiatry are legion, Aho does not point fingers or wail sanctimoniously. Instead, he carefully examines and describes the many complicated dimensions of common psychiatric disorders. Aho is at his best when giving existential-phenomenological descriptions of experience—particularly suffering.
Aho draws on the existential-phenomenological tradition to dismantle the assumptions of a reductive biological psychiatry and explore how interweaving networks of social and personal meaning inform definitions of psychopathology. In so doing, he reconfigures those diagnosed with mental disorders as historically-situated, self-interpreting beings. This book is an excellent teaching tool for introductory courses in the philosophy of psychiatry.
Kevin Aho draws on Heideggerian phenomenology and hermeneutics to critique the over-medicalization of mental suffering. With his careful attention to the socio-cultural constitution of illness, Aho enriches our understanding of both somatic illness and psychopathology. His book will be of interest not only to phenomenologists, but to anyone unsatisfied with psychiatry’s strictly biological approach to disorder.