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Cognitive Therapy, Phenomenology, and the Struggle for Meaning

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This article critiques the inadequate attention given to the question of meaning in mainstream clinical psychiatry and psychology. The author reviews the history of phenomenological and existential psychiatry, especially the work of Erwin Straus, and highlights the emphasis on the personal world of experience and on such existential dimensions as time and ethical experience. Aaron Beck's school of cognitive therapy appropriates many themes and concepts from phenomenology, including the central concept of meaning, and turns them into a systematic technology for personal change. The author contrasts the phenomenological and cognitive approaches to meaning. The relationship between the cognitive and existential therapies is described by analogy to William James's healthy-minded and morbid-minded religion.

Affiliations: 1: Haight Clinic, Psychological Services


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