A phenomenological investigation of the lived experience of psychopathology

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Russell M. Harris
Douglas A. Bors
Cite this article:  Harris, R., & Bors, D. (1981). A phenomenological investigation of the lived experience of psychopathology. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 1(1), 17-22.


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We collected personal documents from various participants on the topic of “a personal experience in which you observed or experienced psychopathology.” The protocols were “topical autobiographical” personal documents, which we analyzed using the procedures set forth by van Kaam, to describe—rather than attempting to explain—lived experiences. Subsequently, 15 protocols obtained from an undergraduate class in psychopathology at the University of Regina were analyzed. We feel that both the methodology used and our findings reveal a new way of viewing psychopathology, showing the inadequacy of reducing psychopathology to diagnostic labels. We found that the fullness of the pathological experience can only be understood through elucidating experienced interpersonal dynamics. Consequently, both an essential and a situational quality is evidenced, revealing the inadequacy of theories in which either the existence of psychopathology or its subjective character are denied.

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