Kevin's Musings

Thoughts on religion, philosophy, music, art, and anything else that has grabbed my attention during the day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Philosophical Counseling

Sources, "Plato, Not Prozac!" By Dr. Lou Marinoff, 1999;
"The Great Ideas from the Great Books of Western Civilization" by Mortimer Adler

Today psychology and psychiatry are the main means people have used to treat their problems when it comes to mental health since the advent of psychology with the founders being Sigmund Freud, and William James. Interestingly, both men were educated, not in psychology, since they were its founders, but in philosophy, that is, the love or pursuit of wisdom. And since there has been such a huge psychological movement in America since Freud, and many have found it helpful, but not always helpful in the long term. This is probably the cause for a return to philosophy as the primary means of guiding a person's life - that is, through thinking or rational thought. The main distinctive of philosophical counseling from psychological or psychiatric care, is that it goes three steps further - in other words, in the case of psychologic counseling, a client is asked to express and define his problem, and then state or describe the related emotions. But that's as far as it goes. Dr. Lou Marinoff, a Jewish philosophical practitioner, describes in his book, "Plato, Not Prozac!" a five-step process which begins in the same way as psychological counseling, stating the problem and describing the emotion, but then he goes three steps further. He uses the acronym PEACE to help the client remember the process - Problem, Emotion, Analysis, Contemplation and Equilibrium. So by the end of the process, his client should reach a state of equilibrium and hence peace, and have a clear notion about what action he should take and in what direction.

Another distinctive of philosophical counseling from psychological counseling is that it usually doesn't take more than 3-6 months, according to Marinoff. In fact, some of his clients only see him for one or two sessions.

We all have problems. It's the nature of our humanity to have problems. What many of us don't realize is that the main source or figure of guidance people used to turn to since Before Christ to the advent of Psychology and Psychiatry, were wise men or sages or philosophers. Today we have psychologists and psychiatrists who talk about problems, emotions and prescribe medication for so-called "brain illness."

An advent of people are discovering that these problems they are dealing with have been common to man since the beginning of time and have been faced head-on by thinkers and philosophers, politicians and scientists, theologians and logicians, whose thought has all been preserved for us in "Great Books of the Western World" as well as other books written by Eastern philosophers and other writers of the East.

But most people today do not devote themselves to the study of these acient writers and so returns the advent of guidance through philosophical counseling - practitioners who take the wisdom and insight of ancient writers, and translate their solutions to match the needs of their clients.

What many do not know today is that people over the centuries have called philosophy "medicine for the soul" and the pursuit of truth as "medicine with the power to cure." For myself, reading a single page or even a single paragraph from a great writer from ages ago has changed my life, and in some cases revolutionized my belief system and worldview.

Philosophical counseling is a modern movement that is in reaction to the psychological and psychiatric movements and has its roots in 2500 years of Western and Eastern classical thought.

Philosophy has a bad wrap today. When people think of philosophers, they think of men and women sitting around in deep thought, talking about how I know this chair I'm sitting on really exists, and things of such a nature. They picture people writing endless amounts of books about topics most people hardly ever consider to be worthwhile, in other words, philosophy is thought to be utterly useless.

Mortimer Adler, a 20th century philosophy and educator said, in distinguishing philosophy from science and religion, “What is the mark then, the distinguishing mark of the philosopher at work? I say it is nothing but the evidence of rational talk, of men thinking together.” In distinguishing philosophy from science, “If the use of science through technology is to give us power over nature, is to give us the means to our end or goal, then the use of philosophy consists in giving us not the means, but the direction to the end, pointing out the goal, the things we should see, the things we ought to do, giving us the standards by which we can control the use of the means.”
And in distinguishing philosophy from religion, “You may say quite properly at this point, this may distinguish the use of philosophy from science, but how does this still distinguish philosophy from religion, because does not religion direct us too to the goal of our life and tell us how to live? … Here is how religion differs from philosophy. Philosophy offers people some guidance and direction in the conduct of their lives by reason alone: whereas the church offers people God’s direction of their lives and God’s help in following that direction.”

The purpose of this speech is to inform you about the movement of philosophical counseling, utilizing great thinkers from both the Western and Eastern world and applying their wisdom to everyday problems. The three main points I will be going through include, one, the PEACE process, two, a story or scenario that utilizes the PEACE process, and finally, the role of virtue in philosophical counseling.

The PEACE process: “Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering.” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff Quoting Epicurus, 341-270 BC). The PEACE process is a five-step process that is simple and sets philosophical counseling apart from other types of counseling. PEACE stands for Problem, Emotion, Analysis, Contemplation and Equilibrium. Dr. Lou Marinoff claims these steps to be the “surest path to lasting peace of mind.” First, a client identifies their problem, second, they identify the emotion associated with the problem. Neither of these can come from anyone but the client and should not be too difficult a task. Third, analysis, the patient is asked to move beyond most psychiatry and psychology and number and examine the possibilities for a solution that will satisfy both the problem and emotion. Fourth, you contemplate your situation, by gaining perspective and looking at the whole picture, the problem as you face it, the emotive reaction and the examined possibilities inside it, all as one. Now, at this stage, you begin to look at philosophical insights, systems and methods to deal with your entire situation. You must develop a philosophical basis, through contemplation, a position that is in itself justifiable and compatible with your nature. Fifth and finally, you come to equilibrium. This is where you take action – you understand as best you can through the first 4 steps the nature of your situation, and are now ready to do something about it that is suitable and justifiable.

Next, I will give a situation which contains a problem and uses the PEACE process to arrive at equilibrium. “Life is not a sickness. You can’t change the past. Philosophical counseling starts from [the present] and goes forward to help people develop a productive way of looking at the world, and so a comprehensive plan for how to act in it day-to-day.” (Plato, Not Prozac!, Lou Marinoff, 1999) A woman named Janet was spiriling toward divorce. She lived comfortably with her husband Bob on the beach, and had no children, but she always compromised on her preferences whenever they had conflicts, and the more she caved, the more critical Bob would become. Janet tried counseling through psychiatry and therapy but found it unsatisfactory. In her sessions with a philosophical counselor she went through the PEACE process and discovered a worldview that clarified her situation.

In utilizing the PEACE process, Janet identified her problem, that she was giving and giving and being selfless to the point of her own detriment in her marriage, and more immediately, whether to go home that night in order to attempt to make things right, or to get a hotel and mull things over on her own. Her emotions included anger, frustration and despair at the prospect of facing her husband. But also fear and hopelessness at checking into a hotel. In the analysis stage she explained she was never highly valued by her parents and that this created a belief in her that she was undeserving of her father’s love because of some glaring defect in herself. This translated to her not believing she deserved her husband’s love and both her immediate options would reinforce her “pathologos,” or her transferred belief about her not deserving love.

In looking at Plato’s philosophy, Janet was able to utilize her counselor as someone who could bring her ingrained beliefs to the light of day to see whether they are ideas she had conceived or whether they were disguised as her belief but were really harmful imposters.

“But the greatest thing about my art is this, that it can test in every way whether the mind is bringing forth a mere image, an imposture, or a real and genuine offspring.” (Plato, 427-347 BC)

In the fourth step, contemplation, Janet needs to replace her pathologos, or false belief about herself with a true belief about herself. False beliefs are reinforced by experience and she needed to reinforce true beliefs one day, one hour, even one minute at a time by telling herself things such as, “I was deserving of my father’s love but he was unable to love me because of his own problems,” and “I am deserving of my husband’s love and I need to find a husband who can love me.”

Finally, in the equilibrium stage, Janet saw that checking into a hotel was not only self-protective, but also that she had a self worth protecting. Instead of spiraling unhappily toward divorce with her new philosophical outlook, she might even be spiraling happily toward it, after giving the matter more thought. A lasting marriage is usually best for all parties, but it may sometimes be better to get divorced for good reasons than stay married for wrong ones.”

Now, having looked at a specific situation and going through the PEACE process, there is one other aspect of philosophical counseling, though not the entirety of it, that is important to explore that differentiates it from other types of counseling.

The terms moral and ethical are often used redundantly, and are thrown around, to make a stronger case by many people. Many have an unclear idea of the difference between ethics and morality. Philosophical counseling deals with both ethics – the theoretical aspect of good and bad, virtue and vice, right and wrong, and the practical or moral aspect. To define what is “good” or “virtuous” in a person’s current situation, or what is meant by “good” or “virtuous” in general, is very difficult, but a person must get his feet wet trying, or else he won’t have any foundation or justification for his decision. G. E. Moore said, “Good, then, is incapable of any definition, in the most important sense of that word,” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff quoting Moore, 1873-1958) and Nietzsche complained of, “The ancient illusion called Good and Evil.” (Plato Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff quoting Nietzsche, 1844-1900)

The ancient philosophers, and Plato in particular, believed Goodness was not possible to define in words, but that there was an ideal, or Form of the Good, and that if a person possessed this essence, he could be considered good. He also believed that ethical education was indispensable to moral or right conduct, and that skills in critical thinking, which in his day was Euclidian geometry, were necessary prerequisites to moral reasoning. In Chinese philosophy and in more recent times with philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, there is a disagreement with Plato’s understanding of Goodness and believed that pure Good does not exist. Kant said if there were only one hand in the universe, how would you know if it was left or right? The Yin and Yang Chinese philosophy describe “two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe.” (Wikipedia Internet Encyclopedia) So, to answer the question of, “What is Good?” is a difficult task, because there is no one answer.

So, in doing right, according to Marinoff, a person is either a deontologist or teleologist, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. A deontologist says actions are good and bad in and of themselves. A teleologist says it depends partly or completely on the goodness or badness of its outcome. Marinoff suggests for his clients meta-ethical relativism – that is, some ethics are more appropriate in some circumstances than in others. “If you can imagine one ethical system works better than another at different times then you are a meta-ethical relativist. Just pray no one asks you to define better.” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff, 1999). The key to understanding, defining and living ethically and virtuously, is consistency. Develop a system you’re able to stay in concordance with and a list of standards or rules you can explain to yourself and other people.

In conclusion, we’ve just talked about what philosophy is, the PEACE process, a situation or scenario in which a particular person in a particular circumstance went through the process, and we’ve talked about the role of virtue or ethics or goodness in counseling someone or receiving counseling ourselves philosophically – which is one of the key distinguishing marks from that of talk therapy or psychiatry. Philosophical counseling is the process of utilizing insights and worldviews and bringing them to bear on our present problems, and we’ve seen its significance in distinction from religion and science in broad terms, and from psychology and psychiatry in terms of counseling and one-on-one guidance.

Philosophical counseling may become more popular as the years go by and as more and more people become aware of its existence and success, however, any one can go to the great writers of the past themselves and develop worldviews through the eyes of ancient thinkers that are helpful or useful for them, without the aid of philosophic counselors. The ancient writers themselves are the best teachers, the best philosophic counselors.

C. S. Lewis said it masterfully, "The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism." – (On the Reading of Old Books, 1898-1963)