Mind-Body Medicine


Saybrook Student and Faculty Presentations at ICNAP Phenomenology Conference

Students Angela Small and Cliff Smyth, Faculty Member Luann Fortune
Students Angela Small and Cliff Smyth, Faculty Member Luann Fortune


ICNAP is the snappy acronym for the Interdisciplinary Coalition of North American Phenomenologists. This diverse group of scholars from philosophy, psychology, literature, technology, communications, health sciences, and other fields, met at the end of May for their fifth annual conference in Mahwah, New Jersey. ICNAP was held at Ramapo College of New Jersey, a small liberal arts college near New York City.  Approximately 70 people attended the conference.  The modest number of people allowed newcomers to introduce themselves to luminaries in the field, and the modest size of the campus allowed informal conversations between conference sessions.

Philosophical phenomenology is the study of phenomena as they are lived and experienced by the person, with the aim of uncovering and describing the essence of phenomena.  Phenomenological research methods have been applied to the human sciences, particularly in psychology.  Retired Saybrook University professor Dr. Amadeo Giorgi has been a leading theorist and mentored a generation of Saybrook students.

The focus of phenomenological methods on the lived experience of the individual, within their lifeworld, has attracted the attention of many in health sciences research, especially nursing, where the patient’s experience of an illness is a central concern in how to approach their care.

In new fields, like Mind-Body Medicine, phenomenological approaches are valuable for helping explicate the ways in which people experience how these diverse, and not yet well-understood approaches contribute to health.

The understanding of the importance of the bodily aspect of human experience found in phenomenological thought, provides useful ways of approaching the somatic aspects of Mind-Body Medicine, especially practices that utilize sensory awareness, breathing, and movement.  Indeed the theme of the ICNAP V Conference was ‘Embodiment.’

Saybrook University was well represented at the Conference by students, faculty, and alumni.  Saybrook MBM PhD Students Angela Small and Cliff Smyth presented as part of a student panel organized by MBM Faculty member Luann Fortune, PhD.

Angela Small presented the results of her doctoral pilot study.  She used the transcendental phenomenological method to explore spiritual experiences in making a change to healthier eating, with ‘spiritual experience’ defined by the two participants that she interviewed.  Themes which emerged from the interviews were: 1.discerning a helpful, positive image of the divine/higher power), and 2. fostering a relationship with that helpful image of the divine/higher power in daily spiritual practices.  Participants in her research also revealed that this change in eating habits led to improved emotional self-regulation and enriched their relationships with others.  Panel attendees asked questions and engaged in discussion about the phenomenon of spirituality as revealed by the interviews.  Also, they offered Angela suggestions for focusing the topic for her dissertation.

In his presentation, Cliff Smyth described the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education and showed the overlapping themes present in Feldenkrais practice and in the understanding of the importance of embodiment in phenomenological thought.  He then explored how concepts from phenomenology – the way the body emerges into awareness in illness and mindful practices, the importance of mood, and how conscious and non-conscious action can form an intentional arc toward health – provide a framework for understanding how practices like Feldenkrais Method can contribute to health.  This framework will form the basis of Smyth’s dissertation research.

Smyth also taught a lunchtime Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson, providing a chance for ICNAP participants to experience this form of somatic education.

Saybrook MBM faculty member and mentor, Luann Fortune also presented a paper on “Applying Transformative Phenomenology for Embodied Interpretation,” a presentation of Doctoral research on the transformative possibilities offered by phenomenological practice. 

Saybrook psychology alumni, Rodger Broomé, PhD, presented a phenomenological analysis of a group of firefighters’ experience in the case of a building collapse.  Broomé, who is Assistant Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Emergency Services at Utah Valley University, described the unique sensory, bodily, emotional, and communicative challenges of these first responders enveloped in protective gear, connected only by radio, with a severely circumscribed visual field, and in unfamiliar environment.

Marc Applebaum, PhD, a member of the faculty of Saybrook School of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Inquiry, addressed a key theoretical isue, exploring the relationship between the descriptive and hermeneutic approaches within phenomenology.  Applebaum is the author of the Phenomenology Blog (http://phenomenologyblog.com/).

Next year the ICNAP VI conference will be in St Louis.  It is likely that Saybrook will be well represented again.  ICNAP can be found at: http://www.icnap.org/

Posted at 06:41 AM

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