Phenomenology and its application in medicine

Carel, H. (2011) Phenomenology and its application in medicine. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 32 (1). pp. 33-46. ISSN 1386-7415 Available from:

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Phenomenology is a useful methodology for describing and ordering experience. As such, it can be specifically applied to the first-person experience of illness, in order to illuminate this experience and to enable healthcare providers to enhance their understanding of it. However, this approach has been under-utilised in the philosophy of medicine as well as in medical training and practice. This paper demonstrates the usefulness of phenomenology to clinical medicine. In order to describe the experience of illness, we need a phenomenological approach which gives the body a central role and acknowledges the primacy of perception. I present such a phenomenological method and show how it could usefully illuminate the experience of illness through a set of concepts taken from Merleau-Ponty. His distinction between the biological body and the body as lived, analysis of the habitual body and the notion of motor intentionality and intentional arc are used to capture the experience of illness. I then discuss the applications this approach could have in medicine. These include narrowing the gap between objective assessments of wellbeing in illness and subjective experiences which are varied and diverse; developing a more attuned dialogue between physicians and patients, based on a thick understanding of illness; developing research methods that are informed by phenomenology and thus go beyond existing qualitative methods; improving the experience of healthcare and providing medical staff with a concrete understanding of the impact of the illness on the life-world of the patient.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:The original publication is available at
Uncontrolled Keywords:embodiment, disease, illness, phenomenology, experience of illness, medical training, qualitative healthcare research
Faculty/Department:Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education
ID Code:11784
Deposited By: Dr H. Carel
Deposited On:20 Sep 2010 10:06
Last Modified:02 Dec 2016 14:34

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