Phenomenology of Self-Disturbances in Schizophrenia: Some Research Findings and Directions

Phenomenological psychiatry has suffered from a failure to translate its insights into terms specific enough to be applied to psychiatric diagnosis or to be used in contemporary research programs. This difficulty can be understood in light of the well-known tradeoff between reliability and validity. We argue, however, that with sufficient ingenuity, phenomenological concepts can be adapted and applied in a research context.

Elsewhere, we have described a phenomenologically oriented conception of schizophrenia as a self- or ipseity-disorder with two main facets: decline in the sense of existing as a subject of awareness (diminished self-affection) and heightened awareness of aspects of experience that would normally remain tacit or presupposed (hyperreflexivity). This approach is consistent with Minkowski, Blankenburg, and Kimura and offers one possible synthesis of their views. Here we describe two areas of empirical research that are congruent with, or actually inspired by, a phenomenological approach emphasizing such disorders of consciousness and self-experience: (1) Phenomenologically oriented, interview studies show that, whereas negative-symptom patients generally deny any diminishment of affect and thinking, they do describe qualitative alterations of experience suggestive of hyperreflexivity and diminished self-affection. (2) Another line of research suggests that the early detection of schizophrenic symptoms may be enhanced by adopting a phenomenological approach.