The temporality of illness: four levels of experience

Theor Med. 1990 Sep;11(3):227-41. doi: 10.1007/BF00489832.


This essay argues that, while much has been gained by medicine's focus on the spatial aspects of disease in light of developments in modern pathology, too little attention has been given to the temporal experience of illness at the subjective level of the patient. In particular, it is noted that there is a radical distinction between subjective and objective time. Whereas the patient experiences his immediate illness in terms of the ongoing flux of subjective time, the physician conceptualizes the illness as a disease state according to the measurements of objective time. A greater understanding of this disparity in temporal experiencing provides insights into the lived experience of illness and can preclude difficulties in communication between physician and patient.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease*
  • Humans
  • Pain / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Time Factors