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International Association of Bioethics
Rotterdam, Netherlands
26-29 June 2012
Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and the Ethics of Seclusion in Mental Health

This paper presents preliminary findings from empirical CIHR-funded research on the ethics of seclusion in the treatment of mental health patients. Drawing on interviews with nursing staff and with patients who have experienced seclusion as part of their hospital stay, we explore the use of IPA as an ethical methodology. IPA is a qualitative method originally developed for studies in health psychology (Colaizzi, 1976; Reid, Flowers, & Larkin, 2005; Smith, 1996, 2004). While it is a relatively new methodological approach, in recent years it has become increasingly popular in the human, social, and health sciences (Larkin, Watts, & Clifton, 2006; Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). The goal of a phenomenological study is to understand the ways in which individuals perceive the world around them and make sense of their lived experiences. Focusing on the body and its perception, IPA offers an alternative to cognitively oriented health psychology and the principle of autonomy favoured by analytic philosophy, “by looking in detail at how individuals talk about the stressful situations they face, and how they death with them, and by close consideration of the meanings they attach to them” (Smith, 1996, p. 270). We argue that an ethical approach must address the experiential gap that arises between the body that is both a subject in the world and a biomedical object of health care, which is especially salient in the psychiatric setting. We turn to phenomenology in an effort to understand the place of the lived-body (Husserl, 1970; Merleau-Ponty, 1962) in bioethics.

About the author Stuart J. Murray

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