The Ethics of Daseinsanalysis (2018)

The Ethics of Daseinsanalysis

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 2019

This is a very slightly revised version of a statement I wrote in 2018 at the request of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis (IFDA). It was approved in November 2018 for inclusion in IFDAs manual of policies and as its ethical-deontological statement for the European Association of Psychotherapy.

I thank Hans-Dieter Foerster, Carlos Eduardo Carvalho Freire, Thanasis Georgas, Salomé Hangartner, Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Ado Huygens, and Frank Schalow for their constructive suggestions.

Anthony Stadlen, 26 November 2019 

This statement has now been published in Heidegger Studies, Volume 36 (2020: 51-55) and in Existential Analysis, Volume 33.2 (July 2022: 356-360), as well as in The Manual of Policies and Procedures of The International Federation of Daseinsanalysis (2023-6).


The term ‘Daseinsanalysis’ as we shall use it denotes a phenomenological therapeutic practice informed by the philosopher Martin Heideggers thinking of the human being as ‘being-in-the-world’ or Da-sein(usually untranslated, but sometimes tentatively translated as ‘being-here’, ‘being-there’, ‘being-disclosure’, etc.).
Ludwig Binswanger introduced the term ‘Daseinsanalysis’ towards the end of the first half of the twentieth century to indicate a ‘research direction in psychiatry’, but Heidegger warned that Binswanger had in some ways misunderstood his thinking.
After the second world war, Heidegger himself collaborated with the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Medard Boss in developing a new therapeutic practice which they termed ‘Daseinsanalysis’. It was intended as a ‘purified’, phenomenological form of psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, grounded in Heidegger’s philosophy, which seeks to allow human beings, living creatures and things to ‘show themselves from themselves’.
‘Psychotherapy’ means that one person gives ‘attention’ (‘therapy’) to the ‘soul’ (‘psyche’) of another. The ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’ means, according to Aristotle, the ‘ground and manner of one’s relation to all that is’. ‘Analysis’ means ‘loosening’, ‘setting free’, ‘unknotting’.
But the existing language of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis had become dehumanised, reifying, reductive, and ‘technical’. It obscured rather than revealing the human reality. The language corrupted much of the practice. Boss and Heidegger set out to ‘purify the dialect’ (Mallarmé, Eliot) of the practice. Boss and his colleague Alice Holzhey wrote: Daseinsanalysis itself wants nothing other than to be a purified psychoanalysis.
The rethinking of the foundations meant that the very terms ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘psychoanalysis’ were thrown into question, or took on a new meaning, together with virtually all ‘technical’ terms used by all schools of ‘psychotherapy’ or ‘psychoanalysis’. At the same time, Boss emphasised that he was not setting up yet another such school, in opposition to, and competing with, these existing ones. He insisted that much existing psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic practice was still valuable. But this was despite, rather than because of, the prevailing ‘theory’.
The ‘purification’ required for Daseinsanalysis is ontological and ethical in nature. It is concerned with the being of human beings. The overcoming of the dehumanising of the human being through technical language is not a technical reform, but an ethical one.
Moreover, the corrupted language of psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis has itself contributed to a corrupt and reduced conception of what it is to be human in the larger society. The concept of ethics itself is corrupted.
The ethical purification entailed by Daseinsanalysis thus calls for a reciprocal purification, a purified understanding, of the very nature of ethics.
Freud already touched on this when he said that the person who had undergone psychoanalysis would be likely to have a stronger moral sense, but it might differ from the prevailing morality. However, Daseinsanalysis requires an ethical transformation of psychoanalysis, and of the psychoanalytic idea of morality, itself.
The crux of the corruption that Daseinsanalysis seeks to remedy was well stated by Heidegger’s teacher, the philosopher Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, who, in his book The Crisis of the European Sciences, recalled how Galileo had founded modern natural science by excluding from it any trace of the human. This enabled the flowering of many sciences, such as physics and modern natural-scientific medicine. However, when an attempt was subsequently made to study the human being scientifically, so-called human sciences such as psychology were developed using the methods appropriate to the natural sciences. This resulted in dehumanised human sciences. Husserl characterised this as a bizarre duplication, a strange result of Cartesian dualism.
An example of this may clarify the ethics of Daseinsanalysis.
Before the division of the world between natural science and human science, the Greeks spoke of ethos, pathos, and logos. The logos (understanding) of pathos (experience or suffering), the ‘pathologia’, was the human understanding of experience or of suffering. It might be called existential or daseinsanalytic ‘pathology’, if this word were not so corrupted by modern usage. One might even speak, when appropriate, of ‘psychopathology’, where ‘psyche’ is understood in Aristotle’s sense as described above. In modern medicine, a tiny sample of a human being’s bodily material composition is sent to a ‘pathology laboratory’ for physico-chemical investigation. The pattern of the material sample is now called the ‘pathology’. In modern psychiatry and psychotherapy, this natural-scientific medical concept of pathology is reprojected back into a reduced, reified, supposedly human ‘double’ of the laboratory realm called the ‘psyche’, and is called ‘psychopathology’. But this is a completely corrupted version of original, authentic logos of pathos of psyche as studied and transformed by Daseinsanalysis.
Such an authentic study and transformation of pathos and logos necessarily entails the study and transformation of ethos also. Heraclitus calls ethos man’s daimon, embracing violent destruction and festive celebration. Heidegger interprets it as naming ‘the open region in which the human being dwells’.
The laboratory study of pathology, and the derived pseudo-scientific, natural-scientistic concept of ‘psychopathology’, are independent of ethos, and of ethics. Of course, the laboratory worker, the physician, and the psychiatrist or psychotherapist are supposed to behave ethically, according to agreed ethical standards.
But the very heart of what the Daseinsanalyst does is, in the true sense, ethical. Daseinsanalyst and Daseinsanalysand together search for what is ethical. Each daseinsanalytic couple is engaged in a creative venture, in which ethics are discovered anew each time.
Thus the ethics of Daseinsanalysis are twofold.
There is the practice of Daseinsanalysis, between analyst and analysand, which is regarded in other forms of psychotherapy as a technical matter but in Daseinsanalysis as itself an ethical one.
And there are the external matters, which in ordinary psychotherapy are acknowledged as ethical, as they are in Daseinsanalysis, though there may be some respects in which the daseinsanalytic ethics differ from the ethics prevailing in society. Daseinsanalytic institutes have to negotiate agreements on ethics within the legal system of the larger society. (This may not be possible. In communist Czechoslovakia, where psychoanalysis was illegal, neither analyst nor analysand knew whether the other was a member of the secret police.)
The Daseinsanalyst does not impose his or her own ethics on the other, but facilitates what is ultimately an ethical exploration by the other of how to live. The analyst has to learn to let the other learn. This is a subtle discipline: a lifetimes work. The other leaves when he or she feels ready to continue learning without this particular Daseinsanalyst’s help.
It is crucial that Daseinsanalysis is a voluntary activity, between consenting adults, or, if children are involved, with parents or guardians consent. The Daseinsanalyst does not seek out his or her daseinsanalytic partner or client. If the person is not already, however vaguely, seeking, there is no basis for starting. And, when the person has started, the appropriate ethical actions of the Daseinsanalyst take the form of, in Heideggers terms, leaping ahead, not leaping in’: that is, facilitating the person’s own quest of discovery rather than proposing solutions.
Daseinsanalysis is not a study of individual subjects or persons. Rather, the person is understood as always already being-in-the-world-with-others. This in itself has radical ethical implications. Pathos and logos are not aspects of an isolated subject. They arise in the play of Mit-sein, being-with, as described by Heidegger.
Psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis have been largely concerned with the individual psycheand with attributions about supposed intrapsychic psychopathology. But when the person is seen as being-in-the-world-with-others, the attributed symptomatology even of such a supposed illness as schizophrenia may become intelligible as ordinary human responses within an interpersonal situation.
Conventional psychotherapeutic concepts such as empathy are seen to be corrupted versions of being-with. A person may experience him- or herself and others as encapsulated subjects or egos, whose only way of relating to others is, at best, empathy’. But Daseinsanalysis may facilitate the awakening of the realisation of one’s primordial being-with-others. And this realisation is ethical.
The ethical exploration is ‘existential’, in accord with the nature of human existence, which cannot ultimately be grasped by any system or science. ‘Existence’ is related etymologically to ‘ecstasy’. Human beings are not entities of the kind which can be adequately studied by the natural sciences of statics, kinematics or dynamics, or even biology, psychology or sociology. Rather, as Heidegger put it, the human being is ‘ecstatic’, in the sense that our very being is in question for ourselves. The study of human reality has to be a kind of ‘ec-statics’.
Human beings, traditionally thought of as ‘made in the image’ of the Ineffable, are therefore themselves ineffable. And so authentic psychotherapy, and Daseinsanalysis above all, is ultimately ineffable. Any attempt to describe what happens in Daseinsanalysisis is best made in everyday, down-to-earth prose or even poetry.
And the people best qualified to attempt a description would seem to be clients, not therapists.
With this proviso, it is possible to discern a pattern in the proliferation of narratives of the daseinsanalytic adventure. Although the nature of the human being is ecstatic, it is a common experience that, as Mallarmé put it, the child abdicates its ecstasy.
This entails what Freud called repression, but not just a psychodynamic repression of sexual instincts; rather, in Heideggers terms, an ecstatic-intentional world-relationship to things, living creatures and human beings’.
This has profound implications for therapy. For example, sexual abuse in childhood often leads to the child repressing, not necessarily factual memory or sexual feelings, but the ethical dimension of what happened, which is the most unbearable.
Through Daseinsanalysis, both client and analyst have an opportunity for rediscovery and renewal, together, of the ecstatic nature of being human. Heidegger has described this as das Ereignis, the calling of be-ing (Seyn) and the human being (Da-sein) for each other, the grounding of the human in the source of all beings.
This then forms the foundation of an originary ethics, more profound than a mere system of rules, but in accord with such ancient ethical precepts as love of the neighbour and the stranger, and respect and awe for all aspects of creation.

[Added by IFDA:]

The above considerations are intended to clarify that authentic Daseinsanalysis specifically entails for both analyst and client an implicit or explicit engagement with the core of all ethical questions. As we have explained, this takes place within a societal ethical-deontological framework, and we concur with the fundamental principles stipulated by the European Association of Psychotherapy:

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