I have been explaining, exploring and writing about my philosophical counselling practice since I began in 2002. I’ve presented papers at conferences here in South Africa and in Canada and the US, which are available on my website along with other published articles. But recently a couple of friends challenged me to cut to the chase, and get down to the bare bones: what is this thing you do with people? And so here it is, in less than 300 words! – the essence of philosophical practice.
Who should come to a philosophical counsellor? Basically, anyone who finds the idea appealing – but likely candidates include those who are regularly told that they “think too much” (and get really, really annoyed by that), or those who feel blocked by worries or confusion. It’s not about being intellectual or having high language skills or being able already to clearly express yourself and your troubles. It also isn’t about studying philosophical traditions, although these provide useful resources. Philosophical practice goes back to philosophy’s roots of love (philo) and wisdom (sophia).
I start with a couple of basic premises. One is that, at the root of every person’s suffering or discontent, there is some mistaken belief. Such mistakes and misperceptions aren’t signs of stupidity or a cause for shame, but the inevitable consequence of how humans learn. And we can always understand better. (This is the love of wisdom.)
Secondly, the context in which we experience and understand the world is always relational. For better or worse, a person is a person through other people. But, now or in the past, our relationships may fail to support – or forcefully undermine – our ability to find our way in the world. And what has been harmed in relationship can be healed in relationship. (This is the wisdom of love.)
Accordingly, philosophical counselling takes place within an extended conversation. Together, we explore your understanding of the world, your self and your situation. Each counselling relationship is fluid, ranging as wide and digging as deep as we are both willing and able to go. Philosophical counselling holds no assumptions, agendas or ambitions for the client (or “guest”). The goal is nothing other than to discover the confidence and clarity that allows you to go on.