A psychotherapeutic method: what do you think?

The two passages below come from Borderline Personality Disorder New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis by Gunn and Potter.  I think the book has a number of merits that should recommend it to the feminist reader in particular.  It is impotant that they see BPD largely as untreated trauma and a socially constructed illness.  BPD as a diagnosis tends to frighten therapists away, which the authors take to be a very faulty  reaction.  They have a nice account of how BPD has been viewed through the ages; they include burning witches at the stake as an earlier intervention.  I really cannot say how historically accurate their account is, but it is oddly satisfying.

There is a passage, though, which I find problematic.  You’ll see it below.  It concerns a therapist using their reactions to understand a client/patient.   There are at least two ways to understand it.  On one way it is about increasing one’s empathetic closeness.  The client is discussing a frightening experience; the therapist feels something like a ghost of fear and uses it to fill out the story.  On a second way, the therapist uses their reaction to get a more accurate diagnosis or better ideas for treatment.  E.g., the therapist feels something of a sexual nature and takes the client to be trying to act seductively.

I think that when there are significant cultural differences, the latter approach can be a source of great problems.  The the case I described is an example from my own experience, many, many years ago as an undergrad at Berkeley.  I had ‘grown up’ in the quite formal atmosphere of a military child who went to convent schools in Washington, DC.  Among others things, I NEVER lit a cigarette if a man with matches or a lighter was around.  No more so than I would have opened my car door when a man was around.  So, when I went to see a UC therapist as I coped with the transition from convent schools to Berkeley in the 60’s, I eventually discovered that the little toad (as I described him) I was seeing thought I was in love with him.  He met my incredulity with the comment that  I always had him light my cigarettes.

That is not, in my experience, a kind of a tale restricted to the past.  There can be huge cultural differences in all sorts of cases.  it is bad enough that humans in general prejudge each other in terms of stereotypes, but it can be much worse when someone fails to fit the standard stereotype.  And maybe even worse again when a client is unaware of the stereotype.  For example, a philosophy professor may have very different ideas of epistemic authority from those of therapists, and as a consequence upset someone quite use to be taken as an authority.  She might quite mistakenly think they were having a discussion among equals, at least until he says, “all my other clients think my ideas are worth taking seriously,” where that apparently does not include pointing out why  some are wrong.  So he will see her as having quite a social problem.

I hope I’ve managed to delineate a potential problem.  So here goes:  what do you think?  Is there a reason here to be cautious of psychotherapy?





On trolling

Translation by Rachel Barney of a much-neglected minor writing by Aristotle.

A sample:


“The end of the troll is not in his own speech, then, but in that of the others, when
they take up his comments in as many ways as bring regret. For there is excess or
deficiency in each response, and then more again in each response to that; and every responder chooses his own words lightly but demands exactitude from the rest, and while correcting the others he introduces something new and questionable. And so resentment is built up, and the slighting begins; and the strife is the work of the troll but the origin is not clear.”


CFP: Feminist Phenomenology, Medicine, Bioethics, and Health

“Feminist Phenomenology, Medicine, Bioethics, and Health”

International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics
Special Issue 11.1

Guest Editor

Lauren Freeman
Department of Philosophy
University of Louisville

Although by no means mainstream, phenomenological approaches to bioethics and philosophy of medicine are no longer novel. Such approaches take the lived body – as opposed the body understood as a material, biological object – as a point of departure. Such approaches are also invested in a detailed examination and articulation of a plurality of diverse subjective experiences, as opposed to reifying experience under the rubric of “the subject” or “the patient.” Phenomenological approaches to bioethics and medicine have broached topics such as pain, trauma, illness, death, and bodily alienation – to name just a few – and our understandings of these topics have benefitted from and are deepened by being analyzed using the tools of phenomenology.

There is also a rich history of approaching phenomenology from a feminist perspective. Combining these two approaches and methodologies has furthered our understandings of lived experiences of marginalization, invisibility, nonnormativity, and oppression. Approaching phenomenology from a feminist perspective has also broadened the subject matter of traditional phenomenology to include analyses of sexuality, sexual difference, pregnancy, and birth. Moreover, feminist phenomenological accounts of embodiment have also helped to broaden more traditional philosophical understandings and discussions of what singular bodies are and of how they navigate the world as differently sexed, gendered, racialized, aged, weighted, and abled. Feminist phenomenological accounts and analyses have helped to draw to the fore the complicated ways in which identities intersect and have made the case that if we are really to understand first person embodied accounts of experience, then a traditional phenomenological account of “the subject” simply does not suffice.

The aim of this special issue is to explore and develop the connections between feminist phenomenology, philosophy of medicine, bioethics, and health. The issue will consider on the one hand, how feminist phenomenology can enhance and deepen our understanding of issues within medicine, bioethics, and health, and on the other hand, whether and how feminist approaches to medicine, bioethics, and health can help to advance the phenomenological project.

Topics appropriate to the special issue include, but are not limited to, feminist phenomenological analyses and/or critiques of:

• Health, illness, and healthcare
• Social determinants of health (e.g., food justice, environmental justice, labor equity, transnational inequities)
• Negotiating medical bureaucracies and access to care
• Health/care in constrained circumstances (i.e., in prisons, as migrants, in conditions without secure health insurance)
• Sex and gender
• Rape, sexual violence, or domestic violence
• Transgender and trans* experiences of embodiment, health, or healthcare
• Intersex experiences of embodiment, health, or healthcare
• Death and dying
• Palliative care and end of life
• Caregiving for ill friends, family members, and children
• Pregnancy, labor, childbirth
• Miscarriage
• Abortion, contraception, sterilization
• Organ transplantation
• Cosmetic surgery
• Body weight
• Addiction
• Mental illness
• Physical and cognitive disability

Submission Information

Word limit for essays: 8000 words.

IJFAB also welcomes submissions in these additional categories:

• Conversations provide a forum for public dialogue on particular issues in bioethics. Scholars engaged in fruitful exchanges are encouraged to share those discussions here. Submissions for this section are usually 3,000–5,000 words.
• Commentaries offer an opportunity for short analyses (under 4,000 words) of specific policy issues, legislation, court decisions, or other contemporary developments within bioethics.
• Narratives often illuminate clinical practice or ethical thinking. IJFAB invites narratives that shed light on aspects of health, health care, or bioethics. Submissions for the section are usually in the range of 3,000–5,000 words.

Deadline for submissions: February 1, 2017

Anonymous review: All submissions are subject to triple anonymous peer review. The Editorial Office aims to return an initial decision to authors within eight weeks. Authors are frequently asked to revise and resubmit based on extensive reviewer comments. The Editorial Office aims to return a decision on revised papers within four-six weeks.

Submissions should be sent to EditorialOffice [at] IJFAB.org indicating special issue “Feminist Phenomenology and Medicine” in the subject heading.

All submissions should conform to IJFAB style guidelines. For further details, please check the IJFAB website. For further information regarding the special issue please contact Lauren Freeman at

Lauren.Freeman [at] louisville [dot] edu