Experiential Psychopathology - Dr John Howells

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I - Experiential Psychopathology


Experience is all that an organism (individual, family or society) has been subject to or undergone in life.  In the organism that we meet today is found the end result of the whole of its experience until now, beneficial and harmful.  Here the view is held that all psychopathology arises from harmful experience – hence experiential psychopathology.

Experiential psychopathology regards psychopathology as having arisen from harmful experience – all the harmful events the organism has been subject to or undergone in life.

Experiences are seen in actual, real terms, as they occurred to the organism and not as assumed to occur by someone else at the time or later.  Translation into any other than real terms is not required.  The only truth is the event as it occurred.  Events must not be fancied, manufactured, or distorted.  Symbolic meanings cannot replace facts.  It follows that no weight is given to schools of thought which rely on the translation and interpretation of events in the light of accumulated and stereotyping dogma.  Truth cannot be limited in this way.  To reveal, clarify, describe, is permissible, but to translate into other terms is distorting.  Harvey (1) repeated the saying of his teacher, Fabricius, “Let all reasoning be silent when experience gainsays its conclusions”.

The events to which an organism can be subject are legion.  Every possible event can be met by any organism.  However, so infinite are the possibilities that it would be extraordinary if any two organisms were to meet the same two sets of events.  Thus an organism has to be understood against the background of its own unique experience.  That is its life experience.  Most organisms meet predictable common events; some meet the unusual; some meet both.

The possible combination of events is infinite.  Thus variation is great.  To expect that all combinations of circumstances can be covered by a few well described situations, even if fanciful and intriguing, serves merely to limit the truth and produce dogma.    Experiential psychopathology allows a new beinning in the understanding of the disorders of psyche; it implies starting from a tabular as and relying on careful observation, deduction, and experimental verification.

Experience must not be confused with the process of learning.  Learning is concerned with specific data, is deliberately acquired, formal, guided, regulated, and only a part of experience.  Experience is concerned with general data, is unsought, often informal, often unregulated, not always discerned, and includes learning.  Each is important.  But experience would be limited if regarded only as learning.

The family moves through its experience and sends of epitomes of itself, individuals, to found new families, and both individual and family are significant organisms within another and larger organism, society.  Thus we must take account of the experiential psychopathology of each, individual, family and society.  Each is equally significant as a phenomenon, but in clinical practice there are operational advantages in taking the family as the functional unit.

The Basic Psychopathological Process

The psychopathological process is understood in terms of the experiential process – all the adverse events the organism has undergone in its life experience.  A “process” is defined as “a continuous series of events”.

The organism is either an individual, a family or society.  The organism is especially vulnerable to adverse events in its early history and early damage will influence subsequent reactions to events.

The fundamental need of the organism (individual, family or society) is to function harmoniously; harmony results from conformity with the biological rules or “cosmic plan”.  This harmonious functioning can be disrupted by a number of agents, noxious or harmful agents, physical and psychic, acting on the fabric of the organism – either psyche or soma, or both.  For its defence the organism employs a number of coping devices against the noci-vectors.

If the coping devices are only partly adequate or fail there is a resulting dysfunction, morbid process, which may or may not be appreciated by the organism.  The morbid process reveals itself by indicators; if only the organism is aware of these, they are termed symptoms, but if they are apparent to others as well, they are terms signs.

The psychopathological process is an amalgam of the psychic nocit-vector, the coping mechanism of the psyche, its damaged fabric and the indicators of this damage.

A purely psychically based medicine is as valueless as is a purely organically based medicine.  A holistic approach is alone acceptable.  Therefore the fabric of the organism must be conceived as a whole – soma and psyche, and the impact of disruptive agents considered as they apply to both.  Thus we have to practice a medicine of the whole psychic and somatic entity – psychosomatiatria – and in the case of an individual, pananthropic medicine (healing of the whole man).  However, the effects of physical noxious agents are so adequately covered in medical texts as not to need discussion here.  The emphasis will be on the effect of psychic, rather than physical, disruptive agents.  Thus, we consider the effects of psychic noci-vectors (psychic – from psychic source; noci – harmful; vector – a force with direction) on the somato-psychic organisms – Individual, Family and Society.

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