What is philosophical counselling?
Philosophy, as it was originally thought of and practised during the ancient times, had the aim to help people to alleviate distress and come to a better understanding of themselves. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Epicurus and the Stoics, saw philosophy as “therapy for the soul”, whereas Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism, developed various practical techniques (such as meditation) to help people to transform and overcome their emotional suffering. Philosophy is the “mother” of psychology and psychotherapy. Long before the “invention” of counselling and psychotherapy, people used to go to philosophers to find help and make sense of life’s difficulties.
Philosophical counselling is a contemporary movement in practical philosophy, which uses philosophical theories and methods to assist people to become aware of, critically examine and find inconsistencies in their thoughts, emotions and actions, so as to heal themselves and find new and more wholesome and meaningfully ways to live. Throughout the years I have had many clients that came to me asking for help understanding and dealing with life’s “big questions”, that revolve around concepts, such as meaning, values, purpose, truth, justice, death, relationships, duty, ageing, health, spirituality and evil. I soon realised that these questions and problems are neither medical nor psychological but philosophical. Treating them as clinical problems, and not philosophical ones, makes them difficult to understand and to resolve.
People who find that they have become dissatisfied with life, feel stuck or lack meaning, do not need to be “treated” as mentally ill or to be pathologised. The beauty of philosophical counselling is that it is a non-clinical approach to well-being, which provides a non-pathologising way of understanding difficulties and struggles. Instead, it places the focus on people’s strengths, character virtues, and opportunities to heal and flourish in the face of challenges, obstacles, and life transitions.
Although philosophical counselling can work alongside and complement psychotherapy, it can also work as a distinct approach to healing, for those that wish to find something other than mainstream therapy to deal with their difficulties and puzzles. Over the years, a large number of people have approached me wanting to try philosophical counselling because they have been disappointed with mainstream psychotherapy and counselling or even dislike therapy.
How does philosophical counselling work?
Philosophical counselling takes place among ordinary human beings; you and me. You do not have to be a philosopher or sage to benefit from it. Self-reflection and critical examination and clarification of your values, beliefs and emotions are however of paramount importance. For this to happen, you need to be open-minded, courageous and patient, so that you can consider probing questions and expose hidden assumptions that affect your thinking and leave you feeling puzzled or distressed. In a gentle, and supportive manner, we can explore your difficulties, your anxiety, your low mood or feelings of meaninglessness by applying standards of logic and critical thinking and feeling. In philosophical counselling we work both on your thoughts and emotions, to alleviate your distress or confusion; and we do this without “pathologising” you, applying diagnostic labels or looking for underlying dysfunctional mental processes. We will employ a variety of philosophical methods and practices to help you heal. Deep inquiry, in the form of a philosophical dialogue, is at the heart of philosophical counselling. During this dialogue, we firstly suspend all judgment, and we try to look in an open way at your predicament, to “define” where the problem lies. Secondly, courageously and with patience, we will explore whether there is a solution, something you can do to help you alleviate your distress or confusion. Thirdly, we look for inspiration and guidance from major philosophers and philosophies. Contemplative inquiry is another way that philosophical counselling can help. Using secular meditative practices (mindfulness), I will help you go into a deep inner dialogue. Deep contemplative inquiry looks predominantly into your emotions, as they also contain useful information about your difficulties. We will then bring all the information from your thinking and feeling inquiries together.
How does philosophical counselling help?
Philosophical counselling brings clarity, it provides inspiration and helps you to address personal problems by finding the best ways to respond. However, our aim is not only to resolve your immediate difficulties; we will also help you to build the skills necessary so that, if a problem arises again, you will be better equipped to deal with it on your own. Philosophical counselling helps you become better at dealing with life's difficulties by providing you with tools that help you to think and feel more clearly. This also allows you to act with knowledge and wisdom. In this way, philosophical counselling is not only therapeutic but, most importantly, preventative.
Philosophical counselling can have profound psychological benefits and can help you address a wide range of issues, such as:
Redundancy and work difficulties
Anxiety and stress
Low mood and depression
Death and dying
Loss and bereavement
Meaning and meaningfulness
Difficult ethical decisions
Decision making (e.g. getting married, having children, career change)
If you think that philosophical counselling might be the right approach for you to work through your difficulties and to grow, please get in touch so we can arrange our initial meeting. I provide philosophical counselling in Edinburgh and during retreats that I organise periodically. I also provide philosophical counselling via Skype, where I work with people from all over the world.
I look forward to helping you.