Apprehending the other as a principle

One the most fundamental principles of the work with others in Psychology is the notion of trying to understand the Other in his or her uniqueness. Some call this empathy but in a way is more than that.

Empathy is the movement that starts in ourselves and that tries to acknowledge the experiential nature of the Other, on how they feel and how and why their emotions and feelings are presented.

In the book from Laing (1965) about the existential analysis of sanity and madness, the author makes the point that underpins the existential and experiential studies of humanistic theories. Laing draws our attention to the fact that (us who work with individuals in psychology or psychiatry) the Other should be apprehended totally and completely. This is not to say that they should be removed from their uniqueness, on the contrary.

We should try to love the other person, love their lives in their uniqueness form and subtract. This means not to just be empathetic about their depression symptoms or their inability to write as well as other children do but, primarily, the individual and their complexity. This deceivingly simple argument yet powerful has the potential to transform do way we work.

Loving the existence of another, or as I prefer, to apprehend their existence, is to not only be empathetic about their symptoms and guided by their signs but mainly to see them according to their uniqueness in the scope of their self-development.

Several examples in my work as a Psychologist could be discussed. A simple one could be the case of a kid who doesn't engage in classes and doesn't care about marks or success. We can be empathetic about his life story and understand the pain that he experienced in his early years. We would also make notes of the signs, for instance, the lack of engagement and frequent externalising behaviours. We may identify speech and language difficulties or emotional and social interactions difficulties. They have our empathy. However, that's not enough.

Either focusing on mental health issues or educational and learning difficulties, we need to take the Other in their existential position and to acknowledge that what separates us from them and also what unites us to them is part of the dialogical nature of existence. In that intersection, we are related but also isolated, although closely linked in the fabric of being.

Going back to the example, this implies acknowledging the signs we see as part of the bigger picture that their existence is, where truth is the only fact, because uniqueness can't deceive. By apprehending the other, we could learn about the processes and experiential subtracts that made this kid to be who he is now and to frame signs as expressions of his uniqueness. This doesn't exclude working to help him overcome his difficulties in specific aspects of his learning but to see them as an intrinsic part of his being in the process of self-organisation.  

Apprehending the other is the process that allows you to identify and understand the complexity of the self and the nature of its different expressions.

Laing, R. D. (1965). The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Middlesex: Penguin Book, Ltd.