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What is Hermeneutics?

Hermeneutics is the theory and art of interpretation. With regard to psychology and psychotherapy, it is more specifically the interpretation of what it means to be human; how human understanding is possible; and what it means to have human experiences.

It started out as a way to interpret religious texts 500 years ago. In the 1800s, theorists began applying it to the human sciences. This application to the human sciences continued to be developed into the 1900s and now in the 21st Century to be applied to psychology and psychotherapy.

Their results are what I use in my practice. I use it as my primary theory for what causes and alleviates human suffering. There are other questions pertaining to human suffering that I use hermeneutics for, but this will suffice for now. From there, I assimilate interventions that I can use to help the people with whom I work. However, my hermeneutic philosophy dictates how I use those interventions. So what does hermeneutics say?

Relationships heal, especially ones characterized by compassion.

At its core, hermeneutics is saying that our problems simultaneously arise out of our relationships and are healed through and in them. That is because we are relational beings. We never find ourselves without relationships. This is obvious from our friendships, family relationships, work relationships, school relationships, and online relationships. But it is also more implicit at times. Think of the clothes you wear. Somebody made those clothes. Then somebody else shipped them to a retailer. Then somebody else sold them to you. And you bought them with money you made from working for somebody else. The nexus of relationships that make our lives work is vast and inescapable.

However, it is the meaningful relationships that heal. Relationships that are meaningful to us are the ones where all parties involved strive to demonstrate that they care for the other, exercise compassion, share interests, feel comfortable around each other, and apologize when mistakes are made. The more we put into our relationships, the more we get out of them.

So much of our identity is composed through our relationships, and the conversations we have with others in them. This means that sometimes there are aspects of others that influence who we are for the better, and sometimes not so. But exploring these leads to new possibilities for being that we can then take to our relationships for deeper meaning in our lives, and thereby find more peace.

The swaths of hermeneutic literature unpacking these concepts is far too ambitious to broach here. And that we are relational beings is not all that hermeneutics has to offer. It also opens up discussion about how we ought to be in those relationships, how we ought to relate to others, and why those are so important. That is not to say that hermeneutics is the end all, be all that every person must adopt. But it does put forth sound ideas that can be creatively implemented in your life, according to your liking, to achieve greater peace and joy.

I have personally witnessed its positive effects on the lives of those I know, and those I have worked with in counseling.

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