Many people who are suffering from very real and distressing problems are hesitant to seek professional advice because of the social stigma which still prevails, however unfairly, on those who undergo psychiatric, or even psychological, treatment.
The situation is doubly unfair considering the fact that, for the most part, the problems requiring solution can by no stretch of the imagination be termed ‘mental’. Rather they should be defined as ‘philosophical1 inasmuch as they are concerned with ‘correct behaviour’ in complex social situations, e.g. How to win friends; how to gain social skills; how to start, or end, a relationship; how to live a meaningful life in an increasingly complex world. There are problems of self-worth: “Am I the person I present myself to be?” “Am I dependent on the opinions of others?” There are questions of morals and social values: “Are ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ purely relative?” “How is it that a ‘fallen woman’ gives birth to a ‘bastard’ in one decade and a ‘single parent’ has a child with no intention of marriage in another?”
These, and many other questions fall properly in the field of philosophy and the person most skilled in investigating solutions to them is one who has been trained in the discipline of thinking through the problems of Ethics, Moral Philosophy and Ontology (the study of ‘Being’). Metaphysics, another branch of philosophy, deals with the question of Man’s place in the universe, with the meaning of life and even the meaning of ‘meaning’.
The Philosotherapist does not claim to have all the answers….What he does have to offer is a close acquaintance with the finest minds that the human race has produced. Those in the West dating from the ancient Greeks; from the East the sages of China whose learning extends in writing back to 3000 B.C. Over the centuries the most brilliant thinkers of their time have wrestled with problems which are basic to the human condition. The expression “there is nothing new under the sun” is truer than you think. Paradoxically though, although the problems may have bedevilled the human race from generation to generation, they present themselves each time as though newly minted, and lose nothing of their pressing urgency when they afflict their new victim. The Philosotherapist is trained to recognize these problems for what they are; to help you to see the problem clearly, to separate the distress you’re feeling as a symptom from the problem itself and to suggest, from his knowledge of similar problems, a course of action which will enable you to find a solution.
The philosotherapist is NOT a psychologist. He does not call into question your mental health. Instead, he provides an avenue of professional help in problem solving whose exact counterpart is not to be found in the other helping professions. By means of his specific expertise he is often able to guide his client to deal with basic causes of his distress rather than spending months or even years and vast sums of money on the alleviation of symptoms. How will he do this? First and foremost HE WILL LISTEN. In a calm and friendly manner, free of any hint of criticism, with patience and compassion, he will listen while you – perhaps for the first time in your life – gradually find that you are at last able to express your doubts and fears – to finally uncover to yourself what is ‘bugging’ you. This is, let’s face it, no easy task; and to help you the philosotherapist will gently formulate questions designed to aid you in getting to the root of the problem. He will analyse the overall picture that emerges, lay bare the underlying philosophical basis of your problem and by using the philosophical technique of ‘questioning to reveal’ he will enable you to solve your dilemma; a solution not imposed on you from without, but an answer which is truly yours, the logical result of your joint co-operation.
At this point the question may legitimately be raised “How does this differ from the more enlightened forms of modem psychotherapy?” The question is a valid one inasmuch as many modem psychotherapists are taking an increasingly philosophical approach to their counselling work: because it works! However the question is one of emphasis. Firstly, as previously mentioned, the fact that you may encounter problems in your life, even painful and distressing problems, does not entitle anyone to label you as neurotic or mentally ill. In fact Not to show distress in a distressing situation would merit a close examination of our concept of the word ‘normal’. Secondly, what the psychotherapist may stumble on by accident the philosotherapist uncovers by design.
Few of us have ever attempted to define our philosophy of life in conscious terms. However all of us base our behaviour on certain underlying attitudes; our conviction of what is natural, normal and ‘common sense. Even in a single culture these can vary enormously. When we speak of optimists and pessimists, when we refer to someone as stoical, we are employing the language of philosophy. The philosotherapist is trained to recognise and analyse these often unconscious attitudes which determine our World View and to point out inconsistencies that may cause inner conflict. Rest assured that your World View will be respected. The philosotherapist will help you to define and strengthen it and to seek out and resolve contradictory elements. For example: for those with religious faith he can show how this faith may be strengthened; for the Humanist he can provide historical evidence and support for his views. He is concerned with belief systems and is able to ensure that they are logically consistent. For those of us who are unaccustomed to the task of considering the relationship of one aspect of our beliefs with another the skilled help of a philosotherapist in revealing and resolving apparent paradoxes can be an enlightening experience.
H. St.Vincent Beechey.