, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 212–224 | Cite as

Exploring embodied perspectives of change within a psychiatric context: Some preliminary remarks from a psychiatrist

  • Sebastian von Peter
Original Article


Psychiatric discourses and practices largely focus on the mind when explaining why people change. Agency is thought to emerge out of rational introspection, insight and self-reflexivity, rendering them to key targets of psychotherapeutic interventions. In this essay, an everyday psychiatric situation will be presented in order to illustrate that agency cannot merely be located in the depth of the human mind, but might also arise from a pre-reflective, internalized corporeality. Such a mode of subjectivity is shown to direct ways how to move and position a body, both incorporating a mindful rationality and its embodied foundation. Over the course of this discussion, agency is explained as resulting out of a sort of distributed effect, simultaneously allowing for the analysis of cognitive, embodied and environmental factors that produce change in a symmetrical way. To conclude, initial thoughts will be presented to alter both the clinicians and academic approach towards agency, assigning the embodied self a more substantial role in navigating a person's behaviour.


chronicity psychiatry agency institution anthropology 



I am grateful for the patient allowing for the analysis of the described situation. She perceived herself as a model so that anthropologists and scholars of psychiatric discourses and practices might learn about how people might experience and generate change.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastian von Peter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatrySt. Hedwig HospitalChariteGermany

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