What is Hermeneutic Phenomenology?

These two words can look a little intimidating, and trying to look them up on Wikipedia might not provide a good, clear answer as to what these things are and how they relate to therapy. However, I think they are an important part of the therapeutic process, and it’s worth knowing what they are and where they come from.

Hermeneutics is the study of context, initially applied to texts. Essentially, the idea is that a hermeneutic understanding of, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, comes from knowing the cultural context of the piece. Stories become more powerful when you understand the folded-in meanings and layers of life contained in the language used to describe events.

Phenomenology is the study of the subjective experience, a qualitative look at what an experience feels like on an individual level. In other words, it’s about looking at what it feels like to be you.

When used together, a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to therapy is a way of finding meaning in and making meaning out of an individual’s unique experience of life. It’s one in which language is used to build and explore context, all while examining your individual experience of the situation.

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What if someone wants to talk with you about our work? 

If a situation arises in which I would need to speak to a school, a place of employment, or a hospital, I would need to receive permission from the client (you) before I could even acknowledge that we are seeing each other in a therapeutic capacity, let alone answer specific questions related to the work we are doing. This permission can be obtained through a signed release of information (ROI) form. Each ROI includes a section that details the exact nature of the information that can be shared with a specified outside party, and anything outside of that permission is kept strictly confidential. This is particularly important in issues of family, meaning that I am not allowed to share information with partners or parents of children over a certain age (13 years of age in the State of Washington) without the express written permission of the client for such a conversation to take place.

It is important to note that I am a mandated reporter. This means that if someone is hurting you, or if you have plans to hurt yourself or someone else, I am required by law to take action to keep you and other people safe, even if I need to act without your permission. In such instances, I will discuss my plan with you when possible before acting.

How do I know if I’m struggling enough to need therapy?

It is an interesting thing that people will often say in session that they feel guilty for being there because they aren’t “messed up enough”. Fortunately, there is no sign telling us we must be this tall to attend therapy. Seeing a therapist doesn’t always need to be about how your cereal box talks to you in the morning. Sometimes you just need an unbiased person to help you make sense of some of your struggles. The real question to ask yourself when trying to decide if now is the right time to see a therapist is whether or not something is getting in the way of your ability to live the life that you want to. If the answer is yes, a therapist might be a useful tool to utilize.

I should also add that seeing a therapist doesn’t need to be a years-long commitment. In fact, it is not uncommon at all for people to see a therapist a handful of times and then decide that they are able to move forward on their own again. Additionally, if you need more time to really work on some deeper issues, that’s okay too. As a therapist, my job is to help you in ways that feel helpful to you, regardless of how long that ends up being.