Schizophrenia, language, and the phenomenological interview

Elizabeth Pienkos, Louis Sass

This paper reviews various perspectives regarding the relationship between language and experience, including the challenges of using verbal descriptions to access subjective experience in psychiatric interviews (in both clinical and research settings). Schizophrenia is a specific case in which the experience of language may be altered, posing unique challenges in the context of the interview. The phenomenology of language in schizophrenia is briefly presented, with discussion of related alterations in interpersonal orientation, attention and context, underlying experience, and attitudes toward language. It is suggested that some of the challenges posed by language, particularly in schizophrenia, may be addressed through the use of semi-structured, phenomenologically-informed interviews like the EASE: Examination of Anomalous Self-Experience and the EAWE: Examination of Anomalous World Experience. Guidelines for the administration of these interviews are presented to assist with eliciting descriptions of subjective experience with a higher degree of detail and accuracy.

Keywords: Phenomenology, schizophrenia, language, interview.

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