Is Philosophical Counseling for you?
If you have surfed the net and found yourself reading this page, you are likely burdened by some personal or life issue which you believe might be better confronted with the assistance of a professional.
Philosophical counseling is best understood as an educational activity where counselor and client engage in dialogue to address/confront/evaluate/better understand/elucidate with clarity whatever it is the client has brought to the table.
Life issues in principle merit philosophical exploration just because they are founded upon an individual’s existing beliefs and values. Philosophy, notoriously since the time of Socrates, has aimed to unravel life issues by clarifying an individual’s understanding of his/her own beliefs. For instance, sometimes an individual suffers guilt because he/she (thinks he/she) believes that “it is wrong to lie”. And yet, upon careful consideration, he/she comes to realise that it is not always wrong to lie, or at least he/she doesn’t always suffer feelings of guilt whenever he/she does. It follows that not all of the given individual’s beliefs are consistent. This would call for a conceptual analysis of the meaning of the terms “truth”, “honesty”, “guilt” and the like and possibly the rejection of one or more of the individual’s existing beliefs. Assisting a client to rationally scrutinise his/her beliefs provides greater clarity and unburdens an individual from the toils of misunderstanding that can get in the way of making concrete fruitful decisions.
Sometimes a client may be burdened by a particular moral issue (in fact, the aforementioned issue may lead to an ethical issue regarding honesty) brought on by circumstance – common cases include (in)fidelity, euthanasia, whistle blowing, autonomy, integrity, honesty and the like – or he/she may be at crossroads – common cases include marriage, divorce, relocating, and career changes. Again, rational scrutiny is never far from the forum of discourse, but philosophical traditions dating as early as 500bc offer a vastly rich and diverse resource from which a client can derive insight that both enriches his/her experience of his/her circumstance and provides an alternative platform or perspective from which to negotiate his/her (understanding of one’s) experience(s). For instance, a parent burdened with the sexual orientation of his child might benefit from the writings of Oscar Wilde (incarcerated for acts of sexual indecency; i.e. being homosexual), Plato’s Symposium on Eros, or existential writers, such as, Thom Gunn. Such literature does not challenge the psycho-social question, but aims to offer insight into human suffering not unique to heterosexuals, and become familiar with intimacy and loving relations amongst people irrespective of sexual orientation.
Clients may also have no identifiable issue at all. His or her only insight might be an underlying sense of alienation (somehow feeling cut off, marginalised, an outcast, not belonging), anxiety (angst), or unhappiness. Here the literature abounds. From ancient Greek philosophers ranging from Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics to Sartre, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, Russell, Mill, Wittgenstein and others, the tradition is steeped in elegant narratives that seem to speak to the human condition in a timeless fashion. These writing are as prevalent and vibrant in the minds of people today, perhaps even more, as they were at the time of their first inception.
A Proviso strictly imposed concerns cases where a client is not functional and/or not in charge of his or her emotional, rational faculties and/or behaviour. In such cases, the client will be referred to a professional in the traditions of psychiatry or psychotherapy.
Do I need to know (any) philosophy?
Absolutely NOT! This is my job. In the same way that a child doesn’t need to be able to read for a parent to meaningfully relay the words in a storybook, a client need not possesses ANY familiarity with philosophy to follow and benefit from philosophical methods and doctrines employed by the philosophical counselor.