Vain is the word of that philosopher who can ease no mortal trouble. As there is no profit in the physician’s art unless it cure the diseases of the body, so there is none in philosophy, unless it expel the troubles of the soul.
∼ Porphyry (234?–305? C.E.)
Philosophical counselling takes its inspiration from the ancient Greeks who understood philosophy as a practical means to ease suffering and to live well. This modern revival started in Europe in the 1980s and has now spread across the world.
Philosophical counselling is not characterised by special theories or techniques, but by a commitment to consider each person’s life situation as unique and significant.
I imagine it as a hostel for travellers who need some shelter, companionship and local knowledge. Clients (“guests” or “visitors”) come to my door for various reasons. Some want to consider their options at a crossroads. Some have lost confidence in themselves, their direction, or the ground they walk upon. They are burdened by unhappiness, frustration and despair.
Philosophical counselling puts human suffering in a relational rather than a medical framework. There is no doctor, no patient, no diagnosis and no treatment, only engaged conversation about this particular life: what is happening, what is to be done, and what it all means.
Philosophical counselling is at once a therapeutic, ethical, educational and political practice. It combines skills of the mind (questioning, discernment, reasoning) with the art of dialogue (speaking and listening with care and attention).
It is, to borrow RD Laing’s view of psychotherapy, “an obstinate attempt of two people to arrive at a recovery of the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them”.
INTERVIEW with Helen Douglas
Philosophical counselling: The ethics and politics of life
Ran Lahav interviewed me at the 13th International Conference on Philosophical Practice in Belgrade, August 2014. It is part of a series available at the Philo-Practice Agora.