Phenomenological Empathy and the Professional Role in Recovery-Oriented Practice

Interpersonal Understanding, Shared Decision Making, Closeness and Distance in the Working Relationship


  • John Stigmar Malmö University



This paper aims to show how a phenomenological theory of empathy can be used to achieve a close interpersonal relationship that serves to support shared decision making and recovery from mental health problems. This framework can also be seen as a way to maintain a professional distance in such relationships. First, the paper briefly describes the basics of shared decision making and recovery-oriented practice. Second, the paper presents the notion of second-person perspectivity, the “we-relation”, and the phenomenological term epoché as a background to discussing the possibility of performing a specific kind of epoché, which actively brackets taken-for-granted presuppositions and notions and instead facilitates a focus on the meaning of the other’s experience: a special kind of intentionality directed toward the other’s intentionality. Third, the paper notes that the aim of actively assuming an empathic attitude paves the way for a passive ethnographic epoché that allows for an exploration of the other’s personal world, which constitutes the context for meaning.  In this way, we can increase the possibilities of developing a professional “we-relation” and minimizing the risk of emotional contagion. This is a skill that can be learned through training, and that can increase the possibility of developing a deeper interpersonal understanding that will be of value to recovery-oriented practice.