Philosophical practice takes its inspiration from the ancient Greeks who understood philosophy as a practical means to ease suffering and to live well. Its modern revival started in Europe in the 1980s and has now spread across the world.
Philosophical counselling is not characterised by special theories or methods, 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).
To borrow RD Laing’s definition of psychotherapy, it is “an obstinate attempt of two people to arrive at a recovery of the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them“.
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 CE)