Phenomenology 2010

Volume 5, Issue Part 2, 2010

Selected Essays from North America Part 2

Richard M. Zaner
Pages 349-376

Clinical Listening, Narrative Writing

After presenting a brief history of my involvement in clinical settings during my twenty-some odd years at Vanderbilt, I turn to some of the specific questions ingredient to that involvement as a phenomenologist. Every such encounter is not only context-specific, structured by every participant’s biographical situation. Gurwitsch’s analysis of context provides a key way to understanding this complexity. Among the clearest challenge is understanding the presence of multiple narratives, most of them only partially unfolded but all of them situationally determined. This feature makes prominent the serious question of writing about the unique and individual: the delicate process of negotiation and compromise that characterizes human relationships in general and in particular underlies any clinical interaction. This leads to a brief analysis of the ethics consultant’s involvement, which is at once therapeutic and diagnostic: figuring out what’s going on and on that basis, determining how best to be helpful in resolving whatever problems are eventually identified and clarified. A brief historical excursus is presented to help clarify this complex of issues. Ethicists are hunters and gatherers at the same time, listeners and collectors of the almost always partial stories which make up any and every clinical encounter. Beyond attending to these stories, ethics consultants are also witnesses and guarantors, ensuring that every clinical narrative has its chance to be told and receives its appropriate hearing, that every “voice” has its chance to be heard.