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Philosophical Consultancy is a relatively new movement in philosophy which applies philosophical thinking and debating to the resolution of a person's problem. Gerd B. Achenbach and Ad Hoogendijk are two, German and Dutch philosophers who established themselves as consultant philosophers in the 1980s (Achenbach 1984, 2002; Hoogendijk 1988) and led the way to a number of other developments all over the world. They proposed an alternative to psychotherapeutic culture by working exclusively within the field of existential investigation with clients or patients, whom they called 'visitors.'

Achenbach argues that it is life that calls to thinking, rather than thinking that informs life. The act of philosophising can, therefore, give direction in its own right, as living precedes thinking and practice precedes theory.

The movement is sometimes referred to as philosophical counselling and it is also connected with and related to Existential Therapy, which has thrived in the United Kingdom since the establishment of the Society for Existential Analysis (SEA) in London in 1988. This was based on the work of Emmy van Deurzen, also a philosopher who has applied philosophical thinking to the practice of psychotherapy. Philosophical consultancy is often applied to business consultancy as well as to individuals, as it frequently involves a rethinking of values and beliefs and is also a method for rational conflict resolution.

Philosophical practice has continued to expand and is attractive as an alternative to counselling and psychotherapy for those who prefer to avoid a medicalization of life-problems. Numerous philosophical consultants have emerged and there is a strong international interest and a bi-annual international conference. There are a number of important publications in the field (Lahav and Tillmans 1995, Curnow 2001, Herrestad et al. 2002, Marinoff 1999, Rochelle 2008, 2011).

The movement has often been said to be rooted in the Socratic tradition, which viewed philosophy as a search for the Good and the good life. A life without ethics was not worthwhile living for Socrates.

On Philosophical counselling

by Haris Dimitriadis

The majority of people are quite capable of resolving most of their problems on a day-to-day basis by themselves. However, when problems become too complex and life seems unexpectedly meaningless, a philosophy can be of a greater help than the average friend or family member.

The philosophical counselor deals with individuals whose minds are biologically sound but whose thinking and feelings are confused or obstructed and distorted. The philosophical counselor understands that most individuals live by many unexamined (rather than unconscious) assumptions and values that can affect thinking, behavior and feelings in puzzling or distressing ways. Through a series of dialogues the philosophical counselor helps the client come to an awareness of hidden biases, unspoken assumptions, and conflicting values that may be preventing an inquiry into alternative perspectives that could help to ease problems.

Philosophical counselling is intertwined with the emotions and feelings. These do not simply erupt from the dark unconscious but are set in motion by a perception, a certain way of apprehending the world. Consequently, a negative feeling or an emotion about oneself, for example, can be changed by means of a critical examination of one's perception of oneself, and one's apprehension of the world and place in it. But the philosophical counselor's aim is not simply to resolve a client's immediate problem and then send him on his way. The philosophical counselor also offers to educate the client in an effective way so that if a problem arises again the client will be better able to deal with it on his own. The philosophical counselor is concerned with both the mitigation of problems and their prevention. He is therefore both a counselor and a teacher, helping the client to think clearly about the issue at hand while at the same time giving the client the tools that will improve his behavior in future.

Cognitive approaches in psychotherapy and existential psychotherapy seem to already be doing some of what philosophical counselling claims to do. These psychotherapies are admittedly based on a philosophical type of inquiry into the client's reasoning. But these approaches were developed in the 1950's when psychologists were the only ones interested in the practice of counselling. Today there are a growing number of philosophers willing to work with individuals outside of the traditional academic setting.

Many philosophical counselors are hesitant to call philosophical counselling "therapy." This is because the philosophical counselor, unlike his psychotherapeutic counterpart, does not diagnose his clients according to some ready-made normative ideals about normalcy, mental health, self-understanding, or psychic well-being. Neither does he offer the sort of therapy that expects the client to passively receive treatment. But this does not mean that philosophical counselling is not therapeutic in its effect. Wittgenstein saw philosophy as having a practical use in "untying the knots in our thinking," or what he considered the treatment of "intellectual disease." The philosophical methods required for untying these troublesome knots he called "therapies." Therapy in the philosophical sense comes from the client's increased understanding, self-awareness, and feeling of well-being.

To undertake such an exploration some philosophical counselors prefer to use the reasoning of a single philosopher or philosophical system while others take a more eclectic approach. The key to philosophical counselling generally is to not manipulate the client so as to bring him to accept some particular philosophy as the "Truth." The philosophical counselor's intention is to help his client choose the best suited to his temperament philosophy.

While the adage that the unexamined life is not worth living is somewhat of an exaggeration, it is certainly true that the examination of a life by means of philosophical counselling can lead to the living of a better life.

The Healing Power of Practical Philosophy

By Haris Dimitriadis

The great philosophers of ancient Greece formulated the ideas that have guided Western civilization. For the ancient Greeks, philosophy was a practical tool that could be used to guide one's course through life. By discerning truth from error and illusion, philosophy was the tool  in finding the path to the good life. Socrates used philosophy and common sense to expose the errors in people’s thinking to face effectively life's problems. Pythagoras used philosophy and metaphysics to remake society and base it on a solid, philosophical foundation. Plato saw in philosophy a healing power by attributing to knowledge the capacity to discover the ideals of life. Epicurus declared that worthless is the philosophy that does not alleviate human suffering. The philosophy he founded, was devoted to the alleviation of human pain and suffering through the pursuit of pleasure. The philosophy of Aristotle used reason as the means to living a fulfilling life. The Stoics through Zeno and Marcus Aurelius, praised the value of reason and Nature in living a meaningful life.

What Is Philosophical counselling?

The revival of humanist values in the Renaissance wouldn't have been possible without a rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy. Most of the stuff that the ancient teachings reveal is still relevant today. In a sense we have come full circle, never having gone. Human nature is the same notwithstanding our increase in knowledge. We have not necessarily become wiser beings. So philosophers are there again to help.

Descartes and Spinoza saw philosophy as the "practice of wisdom." Nietzsche complained that philosophy had degenerated into a boring academic pursuit. He was waiting for a "philosopher physician" who would muster the courage "to risk”. The twentieth century's most influential philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, asked rhetorically, "What is the use of studying philosophy if all it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions in logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?" John Dewey, the American philosopher of education, wrote earlier this century that philosophy would show its true value "only when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men."

Nowadays, philosophy has become an increasingly theoretical, intellectual pursuit, far removed from the practical affairs of life. Philosophy has been locked up in the ivory towers of academia. But, in the early 1980's, the German philosopher Gerd Achenbach revived the old practice and offered his services as a philosophical counselor Philosophical counselling uses philosophical insights and methods to help people go through significant issues in their life. It can be very helpful for finding our vocation, making a difficult decision, facing career dilemmas, relationship issues, emotional distress, and in general being clear about what we want from life.

In recent years, philosophy professor and counselor Lou Marinoff, came out with the book “Plato, Not Prozac!” by which he greatly popularized philosophical counselling with the masses. As the title implies, Marinoff takes the issue with the over-medicalization and over-medication prevalent in conventional psychotherapy. The stigma of sickness is placed on those going through personal problems, many of which are actually rooted in philosophical dilemmas underlying one's basic approach to life and its problems. Medications just suppress the symptoms, without getting to the core issues, which are often philosophical. Marinoff offers philosophical counselling as a natural, drugless alternative to conventional psychotherapy. But, those who are having severe problems with mood distortions may actually need medication and psychotherapy.

Guidelines and Methodology

Philosophical counselling is based on a sincere, open communication, or dialogue, between counselor and client. It is designed to uncover the core philosophical issues that lay behind the problems the client is facing. The philosophical counselor drives the client define his core ethics, beliefs, principles and values.

Lou Marinoff outlines a five step PEACE process for working through problems philosophically:

P: Problem identification. Isolating and defining the core problem clearly.

E: Expressing emotions and feelings that are aroused or aggravated by the problem.

A: Analyzing one's various possibilities and options for solving the problem. The counselor can bring to light hidden options that the client may have been blind to or unaware of, or introduce a certain philosophical perspective to get the client to see his/her problem in a whole new light.

C: Contemplation of the problem and all its ramifications from a detached, philosophical perspective. From the total array of possible options for solving the problem, the client chooses the option that best fits his innate philosophical disposition.

E: Equilibrium, or returning to a state of inner balance and harmony, which can only come from a true, honest and sincere philosophical resolution of the problem.

The counselor presents to the client various philosophical perspectives that may be useful or indicated for solving a particular problem. And if the client benefits from a particular philosophy the counselor will recommend bibliotherapy; the reading of books and articles extolling that philosophy.

Which philosophies are useful in philosophical counselling? Basically, all of them, where indicated and appropriate. Any religion, worldview, science or system of inquiry that offers a valid perspective for evaluating life's choices and options, ethics and values. Philosophical counselling has remained free, open, and unrestrained by any rigid dogma or orthodoxy.

The Need for Philosophical counselling

Some may wonder why the philosophical counselling movement has re emerged. The answer is quite obvious; The modern world is in the midst of a philosophical crisis. It is suffering from an emptiness of reliable, fundamental ethics, values and guiding principles. This has led to spiritual disorientation and malaise. Its underlying causes are many and diverse, but the principal ones are: Modern science and technology which have explained the material universe in minute detail, but have left the world of mind and spirit in a very uncertain state of affairs. Also, Capitalism, the market economy, is coming under increasing scrutiny. Modern man has yet to find a satisfactory balance or working relationship between profit and remuneration on the one hand and personal development and well being on the other. In parallel, terrorism, associated with the fundamentalism of traditional religions, is on the rise, not just in Islam, but in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other world religions as well. This trend is a desperate reaction against the moral, ethical and philosophical void and chaos generated by the prevailing socio economic trends.

One's nature and temperament profoundly affects one’s basic approach to life and relationship with the world. These are the building blocks for one's personal philosophy of life. Each type of person has his own inherent disposition on life's central issues and concerns and this creates the personal philosophical perspectives on life. This is what makes life so fascinating and complex, and a continuous journey of self discovery. In the philosophical questions and problems we encounter in life, we find reflections of our own inner nature. Every philosophy, as a therapeutic agent, has its own inherent nature and temperament, which gives it a certain affinity with one or more of types of personalities.