Binswangers existential analysis: what is it and what ideas does it propose?
What is Binswanger's existential analysis? This is a summary of this psychological proposal.
Psychology is a science that, in the mid-19th century, embraced positivism as the only reference for the development of its body of knowledge. as the only reference for the development of its body of knowledge. That is, it adopted as its own the model of the natural and exact disciplines, as well as its high pretension of rigor.
However, as time went by, many authors considered that the object of study of psychology had a particularity that differentiated it from such subjects: the one who observes is, at the same time, the observed (fusion of subject and object). The study of the human being is thus carried out by another human being, which makes it very difficult to subtract it from its basic experiential dimension and to understand it as an alien, immutable, predictable, categorizable and objective object.
This consideration gave rise to constructivist and phenomenological thinking, which emphasized the relevance of psychiatry and psychology as instruments to access the being "in itself". In this context, the existential analysis of Binswanger's existential analysis would be born.
Binswanger's existential analysis
Binswanger's existential analysis arises from psychiatry in the 19th and 20th centuries, in a historical parenthesis during which multiple theoretical models coexisted both for this branch of knowledge and for psychology itself (from Wilhelm Wundt's introspection to behavioral models or the incipient renaissance of cognition and emotion as dimensions of human experience susceptible of analysis), and is based on a phenomenological vision of knowledge.
Phenomenology makes a direct allusion to experience.The subject who observes it and who is part of it, lives it as it is experienced by the subject who observes it. It is based on constructive consciousness, which transforms the objects in which it is deposited to give them a unique content for each individual, which supposes the confluence of being and existence in a whole that is postulated as the highest source of knowledge about the human fact (holism).
In the following pages we will present some of the most important elements that emerge from Ludwig Binswanger's extensive work, focusing on his theoretical influences and his proposals, often reactive to the biologicist and empirical rigor that dominated the science of his time.
1. Openness to philosophy
Binswanger was a close friend of Sigmund Freud and worked with Carl Jung on his doctoral dissertation. In this sense, he was a psychiatrist whose academic training followed a traditional line, based on the elementary precepts of psychoanalysis. He therefore had a broad knowledge of this theoretical framework, and was also a pioneer in transferring such teachings to Switzerland in the first half of the 20th century.
However, he ended up feeling disappointed by the excessively biologicist and pansexual orientation of Psychoanalysis itself, and would seek refuge in the Philosophy of his time. In this way he became acquainted with the phenomenological paradigm of the human being, which he would adopt as his own, founding an existentialist current that tried to reconcile Psychiatry with a deeper vision of living (to the detriment of biomedical and psychopathological categories).
2. The historicity of the human being
The understanding of what is human, from the existentialist vision, would be indivisibly linked to its historical and cultural reality. Each person would be shaped by a broad accumulation of lived experiences, which would endow him/her with a characteristic perception of the world and life, without which the pathology that he/she may be suffering at any given moment could not be understood. This phenomenon would transcend the concept of "learning".by immersing itself in a temporal and narrative dimension of being.
Thus, the disease would be integrated within the experience of the subject who lives it, and would rise as a manifestation congruent with his or her intimate experiential discourse. Pathology could not be understood as a crack in the construction of the reality that the human being forges for himself, but would be linked to the naturalness of other facts and could not be apprehended without an active listening to the path followed.
3. Experience as the key to knowledge
In Binswanger's time, psychiatry relied on the clinical method to outline its theoretical and practical postulates. Thus, the diagnostic judgment was limited to a categorical assessment of the sick subject, whose suffering would be framed in the general (and not very descriptive) categories of neurosis or psychosis (reducing the individuality that would inexorably be linked to his or her way of being in the world).
In order to confront this orientation, and inspired by an emerging phenomenology, Binswanger decided to advocate the holistic perspective. As a result, he conceived an approach that was very sensitive to integration and uniqueness, which would definitely depart from generality and allow a faithful approach to the pathology of those living with of those living with psychic conditions.
4. To exist is not only "to be", but "to be in the world with others".
For Binswanger, the concept "dasein" (which comes from the Germanic language and translates literally as "being there" or "being in the world") had to be supplemented in order to attain a true existential meaning.. While it is true that every person would be an active agent of the place and time in which he lives, and would feel an inescapable interest in expressing his individuality, this could not be understood without the infinite ways in which he relates to others.
For Binswanger, every human being would be an isolated reality that could only transcend to the extent that he or she discovered him or herself in relation to the other, which gave deep meaning to the therapeutic context established between therapist and patient. From the connection between two worlds would emerge the purest expression of being, as a shared reality that would enjoy more meaning when told in the space on which it unfolds (and with respect to it).
Thus, being part of the world in which he inhabits, the person could not be understood apart from it. There would be a fusion between the object and the subject, between the observed and the one who observes, breaking their duality under the heading of the term "existence".and the subject, between the observed and the one who observes, their duality being broken under the epigraph of the term "existence". Thus, the mundane and the feasible (through which the person shapes his own individuality) would be the foundation of what one is, beyond the abstractions on which the psychoanalysis of that time based its theoretical postulates.
5. The human being as a project
According to Binswanger, each person's fundamental vital project is being. That is, every individual would aspire to this ultimate end and would come to satisfy it through the fact of existing. For the author, the relevant aspect of the therapeutic encounter would be the natural emergence, in the dyadic relationship, of the individual's experiences; for in them would be found everything that could be apprehended in a certain way, obviating prejudices or doctrines that were guiding the understanding.
In this same context, the author defended the term "epojé", of deep philosophical tradition and which was recovered by his contemporary Edmund Husserl (since its origin is rooted in the thought of ancient Greece). The "epojé" is a skeptical practice that defends the suspension of judgment and even of the concept of reality held by the observer, so that the observed fact can be expressed as it is (without conditioning of any kind).
6. The therapeutic relationship as an encounter horizon
The horizon of encounter refers to the context that arises from the confluence between the universes of the listener and the listened to, which requires a phenomenological perspective. The aim is that the approach to the patient always respects his history and the reconstruction of the facts that may arise from it in each case, showing as many ways of existing as there are individuals living in the world.
This would confront the generalist vision of psychiatry, which sought to reduce as parsimoniously as possible the complexity of individuals to operative terms in which to establish regular, identifiable and predictable patterns. From such a perspective, a more horizontal a relationship of greater horizontality between the patient and the therapist, the latter aspiring to an understanding of the patient and the therapist.The therapist would aspire to a total understanding of the experiences that make up everything that the patient is in its integrity.
For Binswanger, the relationship between people would be the purest mode of being, since it would reflect a duality that would extract the subject from incommunication and existential isolation. His aim was to facilitate, through therapy, a relationship in which the corresponding individualities would show themselves in total freedom in the setting of a transforming and phenomenological bond.
7. Existential types
In the course of years of clinical experience, Binswanger came to outline a series of existential types through which he described concrete ways of being in the world (relationship of a being with other beings or of "dasein" with otherness), and from which a first attempt to explain patterns of feeling and action from the existential perspective could be inferred. Without the pretension of creating a formal category of personality, differentiated four types: singular, dual, plural and anonymous..
The singular would describe the relationship of a subject with itself (isolated from its own reality). The dual pattern would define relationships between two individuals who form an inalienable pair (such as that which occurs in true friendship, in couple love or in the relationship between mother and child), while the plural would describe coexistence with others within the social collectivity (work, for example). The anonymous, finally, would reflect a state of disindividuation as a consequence of the dissolution of the being in a mass, through which it would be deprived of its identity.
All persons would be susceptible to flow between one type or another throughout the course of their existence.
The industrial hustle and bustle of Binswanger's historical moment emphasized individuality as a spur to personal developmentThis was in direct opposition to his perspective of being as a reality that reached its maximum expression when it was shared. In this sense, he proposed as an alternative to loneliness the idea of love (or "liebe") from which springs a healthy concern for the other that is based on the will to provide care and protection.
In any case, this love should in no way imply a denial of one's own needs as an individual subject, but would complement one's own being through the communication of the inner world in a constructive bond. In the process it would be implicit that concern for others would endow the being with transcendent meaning, allowing the transmission of experiences beyond its own finitude. Thus, with the other, the emptiness between loneliness and the alienation of the mass would be balanced.
From Binswanger's phenomenological perspective, the meaning of life would be none other than to be oneself in the constant flow of history, and to make otherness a healthy complement to solitude. Being would imply the consistent relationship of the narrative of one's own life and the expression of the phenomenon of existence, understood as the unrepeatable result of a world that gravitates in the constant becoming of events and relationships.
Illness should be understood as one more part of one's own existence, integrated into it as one more event, and never as something isolated from it.and never as something isolated from other experiences. His rejection of traditionalist perspectives was a remarkable attempt, in the history of mental health, to reach a paradigm of consciousness that would confront the biomedical models that dominated the scientific landscape of the 19th century.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)