Binswanger’s existential analysis: what it is and what ideas it offers

Psychology is a science that in the mid-19th century embraced positivism as the only reference for the development of their body of knowledge. That is to say, he adopted as his own the model of natural and exact disciplines, as well as his high pretension of rigor.

However, over time, many authors have considered that the object of study of psychology has a peculiarity that differentiates it from these subjects: who observes is, at the same time, the observed (fusion of the subject and the ‘object). The study of the human being is therefore featured in another human being; it is therefore very difficult to subtract from its basic experiential dimension and understand it as a foreign, immutable, predictable, categorizable and objective object.

This consideration gave rise to a constructivist and phenomenological reflection, which underlined the relevance of psychiatry and psychology as instruments of access to being “in oneself”. In this context, it would be born Binswanger’s existential analysis.

    Binswanger’s existential analysis

    Binswanger’s existential analysis stems from nineteenth and twentieth century psychiatry, in a historical parenthesis in which multiple theoretical models coexisted both for this branch of knowledge and for psychology itself (of introspection of Wilhelm Wundt in behavioral models or the nascent renaissance of cognition and emotion as dimensions of human experience susceptible of analysis), and is part of a phenomenological vision of knowledge.

    Phenomenology makes a direct allusion to experience, As experienced by the subject who observes it and is part of it. It is based on the constructive consciousness, which transforms the objects in which it is deposited to give them a unique content for each individual, which implies the confluence of being and existence in a whole which is postulated as the most high source of knowledge on the human fact. (holism).

    In the following pages, we expose some of the most important elements that emerge from Ludwig Binswanger’s extensive work, focusing on his theoretical influences and proposals, often reactive to the biological and empirical rigor that monopolized the time of his science.

    1. Openness to philosophy

    Binswanger he was a close friend of Sigmund Freud and co-wrote his doctoral thesis with Carl Jung.. 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, being also a pioneer in the transfer of these teachings to Switzerland in the first half of the 20th century.

    However, he ended up feeling disappointed by the overly biological and pansexual orientation of psychoanalysis itself, and took refuge in the philosophy of his time. He would thus know the phenomenological paradigm of the human being, which he would adopt as his own, founding an existentialist current which would attempt to reconcile psychiatry with a deeper vision of life (to the detriment of biomedical and psychopathological categories).

      2. The historicity of the human being

      The understanding of the human being, from the existentialist point of view, would be indivisibly linked to his historical and cultural reality. Each person would be formed by a large accumulation of lived experiences, that would endow him with a characteristic perception of the world and of the life, without which the pathology that could suffer at one time of the same could not be understood. This phenomenon would transcend the concept of “learning”, Immerse yourself in a temporal and narrative dimension of being.

      Thus, the disease would be integrated into the own experience of the subject who lives it, and would arise as a manifestation in accordance with his intimate experiential discourse. He could not understand pathology as a crack in the construction of the reality that man forges for himself, but would be linked to the naturalness of other facts and could not capture it without active listening to the path traveled.

      3. Experience as the key to knowledge

      In Binswanger’s day, psychiatry relied on the clinical method to trace its theoretical and practical postulates. Thus, the diagnostic judgment was limited to a categorical evaluation of the sick subject, the suffering would be framed in the general categories (and not very descriptive) of neurosis or psychosis (reducing the individuality which would be inexorably linked to his 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 devised a very sensitive approach to integration and uniqueness, which he would definitely move away from the Generalitat and allow a faithful approach to the pathology of those who have lived with mental suffering.

      4. To exist is not only “to be”, but “to be in the world with others”

      For Binswanger, the concept “dasein” (which comes from Germanic and literally translates as “to be here” or “to be in the world”) it had to be completed to achieve a true existential meaning. While it is true that each person would be an active agent of the place and time in which they live, and would feel an inescapable interest in expressing their individuality, this could not be understood without the endless ways in which they relate to others.

      For Binswanger, each human being would be an isolated reality which could only transcend insofar as it was discovered in front of the other, which gave a deep meaning to the therapeutic context which was established between therapist and patient. From the connection between two worlds would be born the purest expression of being, as a shared reality and which would have more meaning to the being linked in the space on which it is deployed (and in relation to it) .

      So, being part of the world he lives in, the person could not be understood outside of that. There would be a fusion between the object and the subject, between the observed and the observer, Breaking its duality under the title of the term “existence”. Thus, the banal and the feasible (through which the person models his own individuality) would be the foundation of what one is, beyond the abstractions on which the psychoanalysis of the time based its theoretical postulates.

      5. The human being as a project

      According to Binswanger, each person’s fundamental vital project is being. In other words, each individual would aspire to this ultimate end and would come to satisfy it by the fact of existing. For the author, the relevance of the therapeutic encounter would be the natural emergence, in the dyadic relationship, of the experiences of the individual; for in them would be all that could be learned in a certain way, ignoring the prejudices or doctrines which guided understanding.

      In this same context, the author defended the term “epojé”, of deep philosophical tradition and which was recovered by his contemporary Edmund Husserl (Because its origin is embedded in the thought of ancient Greece). The “epojé” is a skeptical practice which defends the suspension of judgment and even the concept of reality which holds the observer, so that the observed fact can be expressed as it is (without conditioning of any kind).

      6. The therapeutic relationship as a horizon of encounter

      The horizon of the encounter refers to the context resulting from the confluence between the universes of the listener and the listener, which requires a phenomenological perspective. It is about the patient’s approach always respecting his history and the reconstruction of the facts that can be deduced from it in each case, highlighting as many ways of existing as individuals inhabit the world.

      This would confront the generalist vision of psychiatry; which aimed to reduce as parsimony as possible the complexity of individuals in operational terms to establish regular, identifiable and predictable patterns. In such a perspective, it would be traced a more horizontal relationship between patient and therapist, Aspiring the latter to a full understanding of the experiences that make up all that is in its entirety.

      For Binswanger, the relationship between people would be the purest way of being, because it would reflect a duality that would take the subject out of incommunicado detention and existential isolation. Its aim was to facilitate, through therapy, a relationship in which the corresponding individuals would show themselves in total freedom on the stage of a transformative and phenomenological bond.

      7. Existential types

      Over the years of clinical experience, Binswanger came to trace a series of existential types by which he described the concrete ways of being in the world (relation of a being to other beings or of the “dasein” to the world. ‘otherness), and from which he could deduce a first attempt to explain the patterns of feeling and action from the existential point of view. Without claiming to create a formal category of personality, differentiated four types: singular, double, plural and anonymous.

      The singular would describe the relationship of a subject with himself (isolated from his own reality). The dual model would define the relationships between two individuals who make up an inalienable couple (such as what happens in a true friendship, in couple love or in the relationship between mother and offspring), while the plural would describe coexistence with others within the social community. (work, for example). The anonymous, finally, would reflect a state of disindividuation as a consequence of the being’s dissolution into a mass, through which he would be deprived of his identity.

      All people are likely to switch from one type to another throughout their life.

      8. Love

      The industrial turmoil of Binswanger’s historic moment he emphasized individuality as an incentive for personal development, Which was frontally opposed to its prospect of being as a reality which reached its maximum expression in being shared. In this sense, he raised as an alternative to loneliness the idea of ​​love (or “liebe”) from which springs a healthy concern for the other which is built on the will to provide care and protection.

      In any case, this love should in no way involve a denial of one’s own needs as an individual subject, but would complement one’s own being by communicating the inner world in a constructive bond. It would be implicit in the process that concern for others would give a transcendent meaning to being, allowing the transmission of experiences beyond their own finitude. Thus, the other would balance the gap between loneliness and the alienation of the masses.

        9. The meaning

        From the phenomenological point of view of Binswanger, the meaning of life would be none other than to be oneself in the constant flux of history, and to make otherness a healthy complement to loneliness. The being would suppose the coherent relation between the account of his own life and the expression of the phenomenon of existence, understood as the irreplaceable result of a world which gravitates in the constant becoming of events and relations.

        Illness must be understood as one more part of its own existence, integrated into it as one more event., And never as something isolated from the rest of the experiences. His rejection of traditionalist perspectives was a remarkable attempt in the history of mental health to arrive at a paradigm of consciousness that confronted the biomedical models that dominated the scientific landscape of art. XIX.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Ferro, J. (2001). Philosophy and Psychology in the Existential Analysis of Ludwig Binswanger. Caribbean Psychology, 7, 47-59.
        • Montesó, J. (2017). Existential analysis of Binswanger and anthropology of Ortega, meeting points. Endoxa: Philosophical Series, 39, 285-303.

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