Towards a new understanding of psychological suffering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
It is suggested that the lack of progress made towards understanding and preventing, or even in many cases even alleviating, psychological suffering has been due, in large part, to the way in which such suffering is conceptualised – as ‘disorder’, ‘illness’ or ‘disease’ which is located, and is thus potentially locatable, within the individual. This conceptualisation of psychological suffering is referred to in this thesis as the ‘Dysfunctional Mind Account’ (DMA). The DMA, it is argued, underlies all accepted models/theories of psychological suffering and is the dominant way of conceptualising such suffering for both professionals and lay-people in Western cultures. It is further argued that the main reason the DMA is unable to assist in understanding and alleviating psychological suffering is because it is underpinned by assumptions about human beings and their suffering which are inherently flawed. The account presented in this thesis places at its centre an analysis of persons and their experience that attempts to overthrow these assumptions. The resulting reconceptualisation presents a view of psychological suffering as emergent from our continual personal and embodied enmeshment within our social world, rather than as arising primarily out of the various processes occurring ‘within’ us (whether that be our neurochemistry or our ‘mental mechanisms’ or an ‘interaction’ between them). It is essentially suggested that psychological suffering emerges from the same source as all other aspects of our personal being; from the constant coactions between the various aspects of our being in the world – personal, organismic and molecular – with the environment within which we are enmeshed. This means that the feelings/thoughts/behaviours conceptualised as ‘mental disorder’ are as much part of our personal being as any other aspect of us; they are not ‘other’, they are not ‘disease’, ‘illness’ or ‘dysfunction’. Such feelings/thoughts/ behaviours, it is argued, almost always, perhaps inevitably, represent a very adaptive response, at every level of our being, to environmental contingencies. Thus, when understood in its full context, the suffering conceptualised as ‘mental disorder’ can be seen as the very understandable responses of the embodied person to what is happening to them, rather than ‘un-understandable’ dysfunctions, aberrations and pathological processes of the ‘mind’ (or brain).