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Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Phenomenology is a philosophical tradition that began in the early 20th century by Edmund Husserl. He was interested in how people make meaning and takes human experience as the starting point of any inquiry. We can doubt any philosophical statement about the world but we cannot doubt our own subjective experience. "Husserl believed that knowledge begins with wonder, the sort of wonder we see in a child's eyes as they experience something for the first time." (Mann, D.)

Husserl was a mathematician and tried to bring a scientific rigour into the world of philosophy. He thought we could study people's experiences from a neutral stance and thus gain knowledge of an objective world. However, such a neutral stance is quite impossible. In the therapy room, the therapist themselves becomes "an inseparable part of his situation" (ibid.). I may be tempted to think that I have an angry or resistant client in front of me but I must ask myself what part I am playing in that anger or resistance. As a white, male therapist, I will undoubtedly perceive a female, person of colour differently that another therapist of differing gender and race. This awareness that all phenomena has a context and perspective comes under another branch of gestalt known as field theory.

While I do not believe a therapist can ever observe from a neutral stance, that does not mean that we should not try to hold back our own judgements, values, prejudices and goals when we meet our clients.

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