Meta-diagnosis: Towards a hermeneutical perspective in medicine with an emphasis on alcoholism

This essay argues that making a diagnosis in medicine is essentially a hermeneutic enterprise, one in which interpretation skills play a major part in understanding a disease. The clinical encounter is an event comprised of two voices; one is the voice of science which is grounded in empiricism, the other is that of human experience, which is grounded in story-telling and the interpretation of those stories.Using two voices, one from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-III-Revised, which describes alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, and the other, that of Claire, a character in Edward Albee's play, A Delicate Balance, who is conversing with her brother-in-law, Tobias, I apply principles from Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics to the clinical diagnostic process. The essay will demonstrate that we overlook an enormous amount of information about alcoholism by an overreliance on objective data and that our hope for understanding alcoholics is in listening to their voices, and sharing the interpretation of their experiences with them.
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