Levinasian Ethics in Clinical Psychology: The Attitude of Attending

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2009



Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Constance Fischer

Committee Member

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Marie Baird

Committee Member

Kevin Smith


Levinas, ethics, psychology, psychotherapy, psychological assessment, phenomenology


This dissertation is an exploration of ethical responsiveness in the practice of psychotherapy and psychological assessment. I understand "ethics" to mean one's responsibility toward others, and "ethical responsiveness" refers to one's way of acting or not acting upon this responsibility. I identify what I consider to be a false distinction between what is clinical and what is ethical, and I write with the assumption that psychotherapy and psychological assessment are inherently ethical enterprises. I discuss central themes from the work of Emmanuel Levinas and their implications for clinical practice. In my explorations of various modes of ethical engagement, I arrived at the conclusion that an ethically responsive approach makes possible a particular kind of attitude or disposition toward others--a particular way of "attending." I found that this kind of attending, in the clinical context, is comprised of three interrelated elements: reflexivity, humility and hospitality. I illustrate the emergence of attending, as I began to progressively understand and experience it, with vignettes from my own clinical work. I then present excerpts of clinical material from three central figures in the practice of psychoanalysis/ psychotherapy (Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, and Aaron Beck), and from the individualized/collaborative approach to psychological assessment (Constance Fischer). I go on to illustrate how this attitude of attending emerges in the clinical context with a detailed discussion of my work in psychological assessment and psychotherapy with a ten-year-old boy. I conclude with a discussion of "centralizing" ethics and the implications that this shift in orientation can have for interpreting and applying clinical literature and codified ethics, and most importantly, for responding to our clients as Others.





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