Perspectives on Philosophical Counseling

Amongst various forms and formats philosophical practice can take, philosophical counseling (PC) is probably the practitioners’ preference. “Counseling” may not be the most apropos word to employ given the historical baggage that accompanies it. The historical sounding board would suggest, “guidance aimed at resolving problems or decision-making resolution”. And yet, this is a narrow view of PC. For though there are some practitioners who see their role pragmatically as problem-solvers, there are others who insist upon the philosophical search for a meaningful life not in response to a set of problems and issues that upset the regular flows of life events, but as the pursuit of negotiating one’s orientation to the world as something of an existential quest. Life enhancing pedagogical experience need not involve a precursory life issue.

Though I have reservations with regards to the use of the term counseling to define what PC does, my teaching experience has witnessed how personal life issues are often the motivational impetus that makes philosophical discourse relevant to people and often provides the backbone from which inter-dialogical engagement becomes meaningful. These students suddenly seem to tune in, involving themselves in conversation with some ontological urgency. I have also had converse pedagogical experiences with intrinsically motivated students who are like a dog with a bone in their quest for understanding. I must confess that while most of these students have pursued postgraduate studies and imagine a life enmeshed in philosophical discourse, their cerebral fascination with the subject matter leaves them quite unaffected as people. So, though I do not discriminate between clients based on their philosophical caliber, nor do I discriminate by addressing the distinction between the pragmatic and the non-pragmatic questions and issues brought to the table.

Still, PC is philosophical and as such is distinctively concerned with addressing peripheral conceptual frameworks of interpretation that inform the framing of any said pragmatic issue such that the client gains insight into the underlying biases that inform both the formulation of his or her issue and the narrow scope of its elucidation. This philosophical attitude will in turn raise questions more typically considered philosophical with regards to distinctions between subject and object, truth and falsehood, the role of others in truth assertions and so on.

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One thought on “Perspectives on Philosophical Counseling

  1. I rather like the term “practice” myself, rather than “counseling” — so I’m in agreement with you there.

    What we do in Philosophical Counseling is to practice philosophy in a practical way (that sounds redundant, but really isn’t!) — or put in other terms, we make philosophy do what it was intended by many of its developers and master practitioners to do. . . .

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