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Andrés Buriticá

MA in Philosophy and PhD student in Philosophy


National University of Colombia
amburiticac@gmail.com, amburiticac@unal.edu.co
Research Project

Title: Phenomenological Approach to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Formulation of the project: the purpose of the research is to study the type of experience that a person
with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has at the level of lived experience. In this sense, it is decisive to make
a study from a phenomenological approach, considering the relevance that this approach gives to the body,
the movement and perception in the constitution of subjective experience of the world and the way we
engage with situations. The question to answer is How to understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from
a phenomenological perspective that allows to account for the type of experience that patients have? I will
hold the OCD is a disorder of the basic experience of being in the world.

Motivation of the project

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychopathological phenomenon that, according to the


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), has an annual prevalence of 1.1 to 1.8%
of the world's population. As a psychopathological phenomenon, this disorder has been studied since the
17th century. However, what is now known as OCD is the result of research that began in the 19th century
in France and Germany and in which this disorder was identified as a neurosis (in the case of French
research) and as a psychosis (in the case of German investigations). From the 19th century to the present
day, researches have attempted to identify OCD as a psychopathology that ranges from an intellectual
disorder to an emotional disorder. During the twentieth century an attempt was made to explain OCD from
materialistic and biological, psychoanalytical, psychological and social approaches. The results of these
investigations have been the characterization of DSM-V and ICD-10 of OCD.

In DSM-V, OCD is characterized by the presence of persistent and recurrent obsessions (thoughts, impulses
or images that are experienced as intrusive), as well as by compulsions (behaviors that the person performs
to calm the anxiety that obsessions produces). Approaches such as those adopted by DSM and ICD could
offer an alternative to understand OCD. However, this is far from obvious. Notions like thoughts, impulses
or images, compulsions or behaviors are far from clear. Additionally, although DSM or ICD put those
notions as if they were already clear and if they belonged to the same category, most of them seem to be
defined as belonging to different perspectives of analysis.

Concretely, there are four aspects that are striking about OCD: 1) the patient can distance himself from his
obsessions and consider them reflexively as strange. This could be seen as a conflict between rationality vs.
irrationality1; 2) the causal relationships the patient creates have a great preponderance in their daily

1
Between point 4 (rationality vs. emotions) and point 1 (rationality vs. irrationality) there is a big field of confusions
and, consequently, possible research goals that, in my opinion, could be clarified attending to a phenomenological
research.
experience, even if he, reflexively, consider them unlikely; 3) People with OCD manifest a sense of
disconnection with the world; 4) It's like there was a struggle of selves, one rational and one emotional.

My purpose with this research is to offer a way to understand OCD at the level of the lived experience. This
understanding is of a subjective type and it is expected to explain the experience of a person with OCD.
That is the starting point to give an account of the four phenomena previously mentioned.

State of the art

The phenomenological approach has proved to be of great interest for the study of psychopathological
disorders. Although the application of phenomenological investigations to mental disorders is not something
new, in recent years they have been of great relevance to overcome some of the disadvantages that
Psychiatry has faced, and which some authors have recognized as the “Crisis of psychopathology” (Parnas,
Sass, Zahavi 2008) or the “Crisis of psychiatry” (Andreasen 2007, Stanghellini and Aragona 2016). In
particular, the phenomenological approach has been of great relevance when it has been applied to disorders
such as schizophrenia, depression, eating disorders, movement disorders, perception disorders, just to
provide some of the most outstanding examples . Authors such as Karl Jaspers, Merleau-Ponty, Shaun
Gallagher, Dan Zahavi, Matthew Ratcliffe, Thomas Fuchs, Sanneke de Haan, Josef Parnas and Louis Sass,
among many others, have carried out very interesting research that are aiming to understand the type of
experience that occurs in certain disorders.

Specifically, there have been many approaches to OCD, many of which have followed the theoretical
approaches of DSM-V. However, from a phenomenological perspective there have been very interesting
approaches. Works such as those of Martin Bürgy, Erik Rietveld, Thomas Fuchs, Mathew Ratcliffe or
Sanneke de Haan, are of great interest. These works focus on the lived experience of patients with OCD, so
that they distance themselves from theoretical approaches such as those assumed by the DSM or the ICD,
and propose a way of understanding psychopathology from a phenomenological approach.

Brief proposal

According to de Haan, Rietveld, et al, (2013), patients with OCD have a different way of being-in-the-
world. With this, de Haan, Rietveld, et al, refers that patients with OCD have very particular ways of relating
to the world. Having that on mind, they come to the notion of "optimal grasp" proposed by Merleau-Ponty.

For my research, my purpose is going deeper in the aspect of relating to the world proposed by de Haan. In
my opinion, not only the notion of optimal grasp, but also the "intentional arc" and, ultimately, the "body
schema" proposed by Merleau-Ponty, could be determinant in order to understand why OCD patients have
a particular form of being-in-the-world. In my opinion, patients with OCD try to hook or engage with the
lived situations, but with the particularity that they have a special way of doing this.

The thesis I propose is that OCD is a disorder related to the constitution of sense in which the person has a
particular way of being-in-the-world and in which there is an interruption in the harmonic flow of
experience. This interruption is due to a disturbance at the level of what Mathew Ratfcliffe (following
Heidegger) calls "existential feelings" (2009). This interruption is reflected in the patient's difficulty in
achieving optimal grasp and an intentional arc, which ultimately translates into a disturbance at the level of
schematization of the experience (Merleau-Ponty). I believe that the schematization of experience is
decisive for the way people experience the world. In the case of OCD patients, they have very particular
schematizations that can be traced to the level of existential feelings.

For the research, it will be pertinent to carry out an exploration of the experience at the level where
the dynamics of making sense take place (first person experience). This represents two important
challenges. On one hand, I must examine the notions mentioned above (intentional arc, optimal
grip, etc.) at the level of the basic body experience (moving, gesturing, etc.) so I can achieve a
description of OCD that is not only a narrative one (this it is, based only from reports), but a
phenomenological one; and, on the other hand, if necessary, I will propose metaphors or concepts
that deepen and shed light on the dynamics that are immersed in making sense.

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