27-30 July 2011
Hosted by the Department of Psychology, The Open University
Principal, New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, London
Guarding and improving our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is an existential challenge that concerns each of us on a daily basis. If we ignore or neglect this challenge our lives tend to deteriorate rapidly, as we lose vital contact with reality. Yet, we are not always sure how to get it right.
It is quite easy to become so anxiously preoccupied with survival and danger that we self-consciously reflect on every move we make and constantly weigh up the often contradictory data at our disposal, becoming paralyzed with worry, stress and tension.
As the pursuit of happiness features increasingly prominently on political and private agendas, we urgently need to engage with the metaphysical and ethical questions that are thrown up by this preoccupation with well-being. What does it mean to us today to live a good life or rather to live our lives well? Moral debates are often marred by clashes between scientific argumentation from cold facts on the one hand and religious discourse based in a felt sense of righteousness on the other. Neither of these positions can sufficiently quench our thirst for a worthwhile, truthful and meaningful way of existence. Philosophy has an important role to play in sifting the facts, clarifying the issues and helping people engage with these questions for themselves. Unfortunately philosophy is all too often absorbed in theoretical abstractions and consequently dismissed as irrelevant.
It is high time that we take our existential thinking and phenomenological praxis a little more seriously and apply these to practical and everyday concerns. Thus, in line with the original and radical purpose of philosophy, the love of wisdom for the sake of right living, we might find new ways of taking charge of our destiny and live engaged, intertwined, coherent, full and cohesive lives.
Emmy van Deurzen is a counselling psychologist, psychotherapist and philosopher. She has published eight books on existential therapy and on the application of philosophical ideas and methods to psychology. Her work has been translated into a dozen languages. She lectures and holds workshops all over the world and was the founder of the Society for Existential Analysis and its international Journal Existential Analysis. She established, directed and developed both Regent's College School of Psychotherapy and Counselling and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling in London of which she is Principal. She is visiting Professor of Psychotherapy with Middlesex University for whom she directs two doctoral programmes at NSPC. She has been a professor with Regent's College and an honorary professor with Schiller International University and the University of Sheffield and a visiting fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge. She was the first chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and the European Association for Psychotherapy ambassador to the European Commission and Council of Europe for many years.
Amongst her books are the bestseller Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice (2nd edition Sage, 2002), Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness (Sage, 2009) and Everyday Mysteries (2nd edition Routledge, 2010). Sage publishes her new co-authored book Skills in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in 2011.
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
Rethinking psychology's relationship to humanism requires first of all that we differentiate between the various philosophies and ideologies that describe themselves as humanistic. We will distinguish principally between modern Enlightenment humanism (progress, scientific rationality, and liberation from the tyranny of the old) and the older Renaissance humanistic tradition. The chief emphasis of the talk will be on Renaissance humanism and its attempt to renew Western art and thought by means of a sustained dialogue with the civilizations of Greece and Rome.
Applying this model to contemporary psychology would mean a shift away from the dominant attitudes and methods of the natural sciences and the acceptance of the arts and the humanities as the native soil of and the primary resource for the study of psychopathology and the practice of psychotherapy.
Bernd Jager was born in Groningen, the Netherlands and studied agronomy at the Royal Institute for Tropical Agriculture at Deventer. As a young man he served as an agricultural assistant to Dr Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene in West Africa. He subsequently studied psychology at the Universities of Groningen and San Francisco and obtained his doctorate at the Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has taught at the universities of California, Louvain, Rhodes and Johannesburg. He currently teaches at the University of Québec in Montréal, Canada. Prof Jager's essays have appeared in numerous books and journals in the U.S, Canada, Europe and South Africa. The main theme of these publications concerns a critique of psychology's overly dependent relationship to modern natural science and technology and its general neglect of the arts and the humanities.
Birkbeck College, University of London
We are in what has been described as the era of 'the new genetics'. Increasingly, genetic medical information of existential import is available to individuals. This raises complex personal, relational and ethical issues which call for human science inquiry. In this paper I will draw from a body of research I have conducted in this area over the last decade. All the research employs a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology which has a particular concern with how participants make sense of complex and existentially significant events. And all the work focuses on the idiographic analysis of hot cognition. The research explores in detail how individuals negotiate the difficult and emotionally important issues arising from the availability of genetic tests for serious medical conditions. It is hoped the paper will demonstrate the value of this work both within human sciences and also in medicine.
Jonathan A Smith is Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck University of London where he has taught social psychology and qualitative research methods. He has articulated and developed interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) as one particular qualitative approach to the study of human experience. IPA is now widely used in psychology and beyond. Jonathan's own research has applied IPA to a broad range of fields in health and social psychology, including work on the transition to motherhood, the experience of physical illness and depression. Much of his recent research is in psychosocial aspects of the new genetics and in family and health. He has published numerous journal papers and edited four books. He is the lead author of the book on IPA (written with Paul Flowers and Michael Larkin): Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method, Research (published by Sage in 2009). Jonathan previously held appointments at Keele and Sheffield Universities and he has been co-editor of the journal Psychology and Health.