Defense Date


Graduation Date



Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Suzanne Barnard

Committee Member

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Michael Sipiora


clinical psychology, Ernesto Spinelli, existential phenomenology, Luce Irigaray, sexual difference


My critique begins with the philosopher-psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray's claim that all inter-subjective relations are subtended by sexual difference, and that forgetting this is ignoring a foundational aspect of human relations. For Irigaray, sexual difference is not mediated by biology or some ontological difference that culture identifies as "man" or "woman," but a particular relation to the body and to language that structures inter-subjectivity. I draw from the work of Ernesto Spinelli, as he is a contemporary scholar-practitioner of existential phenomenological psychology who is particularly attuned to the constitution of inter-subjectivity in therapeutic praxis. I began with Spinelli's critique of contemporary psychotherapy as "an ally of dominant cultural assumptions" (Spinelli, 2001, p. 18). Using Irigaray's psychoanalytic and deconstructive reading of Western metaphysics, I demonstrate that Spinelli's theory and practice actually reinforce certain cultural assumptions concerning sexual difference. This blind spot in his praxis prevents Spinelli from realizing certain inter-subjective possibilities in his work with clients; namely, the possibilities afforded by articulating a sexually specific other. I arrived at this conclusion based on my analysis of his theory and practice vis-á-vis an Irigarayan understanding of sexual difference. My analysis showed that he fails to listen to the sexuate nature of embodiment in his therapeutic praxis. Using Irigaray, I suggest that Spinelli's existential psychotherapy can benefit from paying attention to a perceptual and a sensory economy in therapy that is rooted in the client's sexuate body and history. Such a nuanced attunement will allow the therapist to look for creative ways to "spatialize perception and make time simultaneous" (Irigaray, 1993c, p. 155) in therapy. I propose that by paying attention to a different economy of language subtended by an Irigarayan understanding of sexual difference, Spinelli's version of existential psychotherapy will not only be revitalized, but will also continue to challenge the cultural assumptions of our time.