Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Project of Philosophy and Contemporary Society, Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University


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[Review Article]

Meaning in Life in the Context of Psychopathology and Personal Recovery

Bernice Brijan

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.14, No.1 (March 2024):35-53




At present, mental health care is characterised by a tendency to pay more attention to meaning and sense-making. Among other things, this finds expression in a focus on recovery-oriented care. Underlying the recovery vision is a different understanding of health, which is characterized by the view that challenges and suffering are inherent to life and that people have the capacity to cope with those challenges. However, it is not clear how exactly this is to be understood in relation to meaning in life. This article aims to address this issue and to develop a deeper understanding of and a different perspective on the phenomenon of recovery. Starting from a different way of thinking about illness and health in relation to coping with life challenges, an overview of current recovery thinking and its shortcomings is given. It is argued that meaning in life plays a central role in recovery. However, the notions of meaning and sense-making as they are used in the recovery literature, are relatively limited concepts. This is because several aspects have received insufficient attention thus far. As a result, what is missing in current recovery thinking is how meaning in life relates to mental illness as crisis. The shortcomings in recovery thinking thus hinder a deep understanding of recovery. It is suggested that one way to approach this issue is by viewing recovery as an existential phenomenon. This allows for a better understanding of the relationship between coping with challenges and meaning in life. Importantly, this approach suggests fruitful ways to understand the interrelatedness of illness and health in recovery, inviting a phenomenological perspective. It also allows for incorporating themes of loss and grief as crucial aspects of the recovery process, thereby resulting in a better understanding of the relationship between coping with challenges and meaning in life.

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