Ryan Mest

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2011


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eva Simms

Committee Member

Daniel Burston

Committee Member

Christopher M. Duncan


Philosophy, religion and theology, Psychology, Derrida, Kierkegaard, Levinas, Phenomenology, Psychotherapy, Van den berg


Finding Voice faces the challenge of introducing therapists to philosophy and philosophers to psychotherapy in the same breath. Balancing philosophical rigor with an accessible writing style, I introduce psychotherapeutic practice by interpreting carefully selected philosophical texts as scholarship on psychotherapy. Throughout the work, I offer clinical vignettes, examples, and stories to illustrate the ideas as well as enrich the reading experience.

Part One introduces psychotherapy as an ethical treatment for moral pain. I dare to present the Kierkegaard of Fear and Trembling (1846/2006) as a good therapist for Abraham. I turn to the Derrida of "Whom to Give to (Knowing not to Know)" (1995) as a supervisor for the case. With the help of these philosophers, I define the desire of the therapist, the nature of a client's pain, and the way in which the therapeutic relationship is uniquely structured to address this pain through finding voice. The ideas of sacrifice, the suspension of the ethical, the call of the Other, and the suffering of a double secrecy are crucial here.

Part Two introduces the basic conceptual tools needed for psychotherapeutic practice by describing existence and transcendence in the therapeutic relationship. First, I turn to van den Berg's phenomenological approach to psychopathology in A Different Existence (1972) to conceptualize what needs to be addressed in therapy. By finding a voice for the client's immediate experience and listening to the poetry of her perception, the therapist gains insight into the depth and breadth of the client's painful way of existing. Second, following a clever and surprising route, I introduce Levinas' early work Existence and Existents (1978/2001) and Time and the Other (1987) as inspiration for a transcendental approach to therapeutic intervention. I offer principles for conceptualizing how the therapist can find a voice of alterity that disrupts the client's painful way of existing and inspires change. The Levinas-inspired approach to therapeutic intervention unexpectedly yet certainly complements the phenomenological approach to psychopathology.