Podcast 41: Understanding people, pain and practice - Phenomenology, enactivism and affordances with Dr Sabrina Coninx and Dr Peter Stilwell


Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Podcast.

Following my commitment to explore the theoretical aspects and philosophical underpinnings of clinical practice, I’m diving in with both feet in this episode. As today I’m speaking with Dr Sabrina Coninx and Dr Peter Stilwell.

Sabrina is a philosopher currently located at the Institute for Philosophy at the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. She is a postdoctoral researcher and scientific coordinator of the Research Training Group Situated Cognition. She has a Bachelor in Psychology and Philosophy, and a Master and PhD in Philosophy with a focus on Philosophy of Mind and Science. Her philosophical work is empirically informed and aims to contribute to debates across disciplines, including clinical practice. Her research focus is on pain, emotions, suffering, and affective disorders. For more information on her work see here. For more information on the RTG 'Situated Cognition' see here.

Peter is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at McGill University and his research interests include utilising qualitative methodologies and involve theoretical/conceptual approaches to explore pain, suffering, and patient-clinician communication. Peter spoke with me on the podcast last year, and many of you will be familiar with his excellent paper from 2019 with Katherine Hartman introducing enactivism as a theoretical framework to move us beyond the biopsychosocial model. He’s been very busy since then, and he published a number of related papers including his most recent one with Sabrina which we speak about in this episode. Find our more about Peter and his work here.

So in this episode we speak about:

  • Phenomenology as a philosophical framework
  • Enactivism and the value of this theoretical perspective for understanding pain and practice.
  • We also speak about enactivism in relation to dispostionalism (see CauseHealth Series here) and try to tease out some the differences and similarities between these two theories.
  • How enactive approaches can help us address the 'integration problem' (which is focus of their new paper), and how enactive approaches can causally integrate different phenomena such as neuropeptides with knees with cognitions with spines and with social relationships.
  • We speak about affordances as potential opportunities to better care for, treat and manage people living with pain.
  • How the concept of affordances can help us understand differences (beside mere temporality) between acute and chronic pain.

This was just a thrilling conversation. The combination of Sabrina’s perspective as a philosopher and Peter’s ability to bridge and translate these ideas with his clinical background was a complete joy. Their passion, curiosity and willingness to explore all sorts of different topics related to their paper was such fun. 

Find Peter and Sabrina on Twitter @Peter_Stilwell and @sconinxphil

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