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by Keri Phillips

Judgement is a word apparently simple, yet it is multi-faceted. My speculation is that this contrast between initial appearance and subsequent reality is the reason why this word can be equally attractive and repulsive. I elaborate on this later when considering the psychodynamic perspective on judgement.

Below are just a few of the many strands within this word:


A clear and absolute statement of right and wrong, through to a provisional assessment; a ‘fine point of judgement’; almost a best guess. ( My dictionary also refers to The Judgement – the final judging of humankind by God).


A decision made from a personal perspective: “It seems to me that………”, through to speaking on behalf of others/an institution; “ You have succeeded/failed  to pass the assessment to become an accredited coach”.


“ I firmly believe…….”, through to, “ I have been asked to inform you of our decision that……”.  ( Perhaps the former, in transactional analysis terms, comes from the positive aspects of all the ego states, Positive Parent, ‘It accords with my values’, Positive Adult, ‘It Makes Sense’ and Positive Child, ‘It feels right’. The latter may come from the Negative Adapted Child, ‘ Because I ought to/have to’).


Logic/data driven, through to a sixth sense.


There is a clearly defined and probably published framework through which the judgement is made, through to idiosyncratic theory and practice; even ‘groupthink’. (ref. ‘Victims of Groupthink’. Irving Janis. Houghton-Mifflin. 1972.)

Importantly each of these is on a spectrum and may merge from one into the other.

Additionally, ‘judgement’ is sometimes regarded as synonymous with ‘judgemental’; that is, making moral judgements about other people’s behaviour. Consequently it may, rightly or wrongly, prompt a sense of outrage: “ How dare you ! Who gave you the right to judge me?”  Arguably a judgemental response to that which is regarded as judgemental. Perhaps this indicates a sense/belief/fear that somehow, almost outside awareness one can drift from judgement to being self-righteously judgemental. This may account for some of the intense feelings that can accompany the domain of judgement, perhaps including a fear of what one may become.

The Philosophical Perspective

  1. Judgement is inevitable. Deciding not to judge involves a judgement.
  2. Judgement may evoke a sense of the universal and timeless, but it is frequently profoundly local and time-bound:

–       Cultural differences in terms of what, who, how and when.

–       Different categories of judgement. For example, Immanuel Kant wrote of aesthetic judgement (judgement of taste, which for him was autonomous); cognitive judgement which aims at knowledge and moral judgement which aims to tell us what we ought/ought not to do. ( ref Theodor Adorno, Key Concepts’. Deborah Cook ed. Acumen. 2008).

–       That which is regarded as good, even morally appropriate practice may change over time. For example, within psychoanalysis, some moved away from the idea of the analyst as a projection screen, sitting out of direct sight of the analys and and adopted the inter-subjective approach which might include the direct use of their relationship in the here and now. This might also link to the idea of the ‘epistemological break’ – a completely new way of seeing oneself and the world e.g. heliocentrism.

–       Judgements about what to say/write being guided by the particular audience one has in mind. For example, on that basis Jean-Francois Lyotard ‘ used shock, humour, irony, ellipsis, dialogue, fragments, aphorisms and careful scholarly exposition at different times’. ( ref. ‘ The Lyotard Reader and Guide’. Keith Crome and James Williams. Ed. Columbia 2006).

  1. Judgment involves some degree of categorisation and as such it potentially risks denying vitality whilst claiming to offer it; for example, means become ends. (My writing this is necessarily an act of hypocrisy). At the same time, the act of categorisation is probably necessary for conceptualisation and, for example, comparing judgements.


The Psychodynamic Perspective.

  1. The looseness and tightness of the word (see introductory comments) has the potential to mirror inconsistent parenting; an apparent clarity and consistency proves not to be so; permission may flow from it, then oppression, then vice-versa….perhaps then a void. This may also link to the potential interplay, already mentioned, between judgement and judgemental. He hopes to be ‘held’, that is supported by the word and all that is associated with it, but this may well prove not to be the case. Perhaps there is a provisionality and conditionality where Mum, My Accrediting Body, My Philosophy of Practice is sometimes available and sometimes not; yet I am expected to love my Mum, pay my membership fees and be consistent.
  2. Judgement can be energised by many different ages: as is extensively described in many publications , a grown up may at any point feel like an awkward teenager, a beloved toddler, a naive newcomer, etc: the knowledge, beliefs and assumptions and memories which may have been passed on down through the generations with varying degrees of awareness. (ref. ‘Hauntings : Psychoanalysis and Ghostly Transmissions’. Stephen Frosh. Palgrave 2013)
  3. Categorisation and judgement may be necessary for identity. A client of mine recently spoke of a television programme about Grayson Perry. He apparently described identity as something which is jointly created. Not only might this be through the exchange of judgements, but also through a closely linked point of a sense of being an insider or an outsider; intimacy and separation. Clearly there may be a negative process associated with this; for example, where, in the language of transactional analysis, there is a gallows transaction and a seeking of endorsement for self-destructive behaviour. (ref. ‘ Dictionary of Transactional Analysis’. Tony Tilney. Whurr 2003).
  4. The person’s concern about judgement (judging and/or being judged) may be outside immediate awareness. Indeed the visceral concern may not be about the content of the judgement, but simply the fact that any sort of judgement being made. My speculation is that this will inevitably be at the level of being, not doing; and for both parties – judging and judged.
  5. The source of the judgement will frequently be a key factor in determining its impact. For example, I have a client who was particularly upset about a betrayal by ‘one of her own’ – Scottish, female, working class; the same betrayal from a privileged, South of England male had much less impact – it was almost expected.
  6. Judgement can be the product and manifestation of a profound shadow. Insight and obfuscation may be the outcome. At its darkest and most reprehensible, for example, the treatment of the neighbourhood nuisance officer who repeatedly spoke out about the paedophile ring in Oxfordshire, but was relentlessly obstructed by senior officials in the local authority. (i Paper, 4 March 2015). At a much more superficial and possibly positive level, the coaching supervisor who makes judgements according to her role as Teacher                     (Omniscient), Healer (Panacea) and Guardian (Omnipotent). (ref ‘Delights and Terrors of Betrayal: Coaching Implications’, Keri Phillips. KPA 2013).
  7. If somebody really does/does not want the judgement of another then she may read it into any action or inaction of another: imagining it at the time, or later; perhaps also seeking out others to confirm or contrive the confirmation of the belief.


The Pragmatic Perspective.

  1. An explicit and verbally expressed judgement may be an important part of offering clarity: arguably more helpful than, for example, proclaiming oneself to be non-judgemental, whilst leaking the opposite.
  2. Helping others learn how to learn may mean that assumptions  and assumptions about assumptions are held up for scrutiny and judged . A link with the ‘epistemological break’ perhaps, and certainly with the work of Chrisopher Argyris and Donald Schon and learning loops. ( ref. ‘Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective’. Addison-Wesley. 1978).
  3. Allowing oneself to visit, indeed embody the judgemental may be a way of generating awareness of one’s potential drift (whether positive, negative or a mixture) from judgement.
  4. Stepping into judgement can be an appropriate stepping into authority.
  5. Contracting involves making judgements:

–       What criteria should be used

–       Whether those criteria have been maintained

–       Whether those criteria are still valid.

Inappropriate contracting can lead to contracting – making oneself smaller.

  1. Judgement can be a powerful source of loving dislocation, or the opposite.
  2. Judgement is necessary in order to develop the internal supervisor within oneself: judging oneself; judging when to take a judging perspective with a client; judging when, whether and how, if at all, to be open about this; judging whether the bases for judgement are still valid; judging what to take forward for supervision.
  3. Judgement may drift into an obsession with fault-finding, which may then create a culture of blaming, which in turn provokes elusiveness – avoiding responsibility, complaining, withholding information and ideas – that is, a breakdown of trust. (ref. ‘The Thin Book of Trust’. Charles Feltman. Thin Book Publishing Co. 2009). The development of ‘appreciative inquiry’ may perhaps be seen as a counterbalance to the risk of over concern with problems. (ref. ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. Jane Magruder Watkins and Bernard J Mohr. Jossey-Bass. 2001).



I was recently on a train travelling from Sheffield to Manchester Airport. There was a family going on holiday. A member of that family, a daughter perhaps in her late teens and with a lovely smile was in a wheel chair. The quiet playful banter, love and teasing that flowed from and through each of them was profoundly moving for me. Somehow I wanted both to smile and cry.

I truly do not know whether in writing this I am being selfish. I cannot make a clear judgement about it at present. Perhaps I never will.

I was walking through St Pancras Station and began chatting to one of the pianists. There are two pianos available for use by any passer-by. He was passionately self-taught over many years, since he had been a student at Imperial College. As a result of his curiosity about me I realised that, for reasons I had never considered before, I had put to one side my love of classical music. He had, just prior to our starting to talk, been playing Chopin. It was only a few days previously that for the first time in many years of living in Manchester I realised that a statue on Deansgate was indeed that of Chopin.

In contrast to the earlier story I have no doubts about my motives and pleasure in sharing this.

Keri Phillips 2015.

Visit for blogs on topics such as Moving Too Fast, Recreation Is a Path to Re-Creation, The Invaluable Contribution of Peer Support, Mourning and Melancholia, The Contribution of Coaching Supervision, Boundaries and Unconditional Love, De-Skilling Self, MBTI and the Shadow, Incompetence vs Irresponsibility, The Deification of Trust, Edgy and Neurotic Impostor Syndrome, Suchen die Heimat/Looking for Home, Perspectives on Passion, Finding One’s Voice.