The article argues for a phenomenological and theological perspective of psychosis. It draws especially upon Levinas’ philosophy as a way of looking at psychosis and responding with compassion. It aims to show that the world of psychosis parallels the Levinas’ negative characterisation of both ontology and the categories of objectivity, presence and Being. This suggests that the language of ontology itself holds insights into the experience of psychosis and perhaps further that the language of alterity (otherness) could be a possible response to it. Psychosis should not be understood as a ‘psychological problem’, but rather as an altered state of existence dominated by idolisation, ethical escapism, and terrifying and enthralling transcendence. Fear, horror, confusion with the good and the impossibility of death are the dominant emotions and experiences. As a result, the self, consumed by the idol of fear, must not only seek out and deceive the good, but transcend the possibility of death and thus ever deny its reality in life.

If the word of God is to be heard in the face of an Other with psychosis, then there must be a compassionate response that might even one day take the form of friendship and solidarity. Like Christ entering into the depths of loneliness on Holy Saturday, so too we are called to enter into a space and time to bring both life and death together, a reality in which the Other’s fear of death and grief might be encountered and transformed into an existence of hope and grace.


Peer-reviewed, Phenomenology, Theology, Psychosis, Emmanuel Levinas, fear, friendship, compassion

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