This essay sets out the framework for an original and yet very simple model of philosophical counselling. This form of philosophical counselling has the benefit of being evidence-based: of being proven to work. I build my picture of this model through a response to the assumption that counselling is, and must be, psychological. Hence, I start by defining psychology, and then counselling, and then I explore how the core of effective counselling is not psychological. By contrast, I define the core of effective counselling as "the common factors," with reference to the research which uses that term. By reducing counselling to these common factors, I make the case that they can be blended with philosophy. If you have not read my previous post on common factors theory then I suggest you do so first. In other essays I will unpack philosophical counselling in more detail.
The structure of this essay is as follows:
3) A note on the future of psychology
5) Is counselling psychological?
6) Philosophical counselling?
In this essay I use the word 'therapy' to cover both counselling and psychological therapies. When I speak of 'philosophical counselling' I include existential therapy and logotherapy as forms of the same discipline. In this preamble I would like to say something about the messiness or complexity of the distinctions I am working with.
Counselling and psychotherapy, as well as the broad field of mental health with which they're associated, are ways of dealing with human suffering. It is often assumed by people outside this field that it has a rational and coherent structure. If I was to picture this assumption, it is as though some expert was tasked by government with designing a rational and coherent system to meet our needs in terms of suffering and mental health, and that they sat down at a desk and designed one from scratch. I imagine this person developing a set of different professions to meet different needs, which would fit into a coherent larger structure of care. After all this is how it looks in the trades, where there are plumbers, electricians, cabinet makers, and so on, all with clear and distinct roles, which in total form a coherent whole that builds a house. I am sorry to say that this is not the case when it comes to the field of mental health, rather what we have is a messy evolution: a complex set of traditions, emerging from charismatic pioneers who each subscribed to a different worldview, and who sought to meet some need in their particular place and time, during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Hence, whereas before this development there were only philosophers, who had suggested that suffering was a consequence of the human condition, and theologians, who said it was a consequence of sin, now we also had psychiatrists, who thought suffering was a result of some disease of the brain, and psychoanalysts who said it was a result of unconscious clashes, and psychologists who thought it was due to disorders in behaviour or cognition, and social workers who blamed it on social conditions, and attachment theorists who looked to trauma or disorder in child-parent relationships, and humanistic therapists who focused on our ways of relating to one another, or who focused on obstructions to emotional processes, and existential therapists who pointed again to the human condition and human nature, and so on, and so on.... Within each of these groups there were further splits, for example psychology divided into various schools, such as cognitive-behavioural research and therapy, which in turn split into Beckian CBT, rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), schema therapy, and behavioral activation therapy (BAT), and this is only to name some of the biggests models. Psychoanalysis split into classical psychoanalysis, ego psychology, object relations theory, self psychology, Jungian psychoanalysis, Lacanian psychoanalysis, relational psychoanalysis, and many others. I could have kept going, indeed it is said that there about 400 schools of therapy today, and counting. As forms of therapy arise among all these many tribes above, there is a swirling back and forth of ideas and influences. These many groups take on board each other's ideas and practices, and shape them over time in ways that reflect their own ideas and practices, so that the same words and actions take on many different meanings. This is the complexity I am referring to. It means that even as I point to something important about psychology, there will be important exceptions to my claims. We are not unpacking the logic of a coherent system, but rather describing a complex and shifting set of relationships, within disciplines which themselves are changing over time at the same time as they divide among themselves. Hence, I will do my best to be simple and clear in this essay, but that will require me to be a little simplistic and even reductive. I hope in particular that my psychologist friends will not think I have been unfair.
We begin with a discussion of psychology, so that I can then distinguish counselling from it. 'Psyche' is an ancient Greek word meaning 'soul' or 'mind'. Another ancient Greek word, 'logos', means 'word' or 'discourse' or 'reason'. Hence psyche-logos, or psycho-logy, is discourse or reason about the soul or mind. Psychology was originally a branch of philosophy, reaching back to ancient Greece. In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology laboratory in Germany, which marked the beginning of psychology as an experimental science. Psychology had broken with philosophy to become a modern science, and this became the rule everywhere. As a consequence of this hard break, the mainstream meaning of psychology today is a behavioural or cognitive or social science, which studies the causal mehanisms and patterns of human behaviour. There are remain areas of philosophy dedicated to psychology, but most people have no idea of this; the scientific version has become what we mean by the word psychology.
Most people who work in psychology have studied it as a science at university. Roughly speaking, these people divide into 1) researchers, and 1) scientist-practitioners. The first are behavioural, or cognitive, or social science researchers and the like, and they normally have a PhD in psychology. Then there are the self-described "scientist-practitioners", who apply the outcomes of these sciences in a medical or therapeutic way, as a treatment for psychological illness or disorder. The formal name these latter professionals is "psychologist," a title which legally only they can use. They usually have a masters qualification in a clinical or therapeutic area of psychology. These are the people to whom you are referred by your GP with a Medicare rebate when you are feeling depressed.
As implied above, there is a derivative relationship between psychological research and psychological therapy. Psychological therapy follows from, and is essentially the application of, psychological science. For example, cognitive-behavioural therapy is the application of cognitive and behavioural science. Mindfulness-based therapies apply psychological research into mindfulness practices. Out of the psychiatric "science" called Psychoanalysis (it originally viewed itself as a science) we have psychoanalysis as a therapy, which many psychologists also draw on. I will refer to all of these as "models" of therapy. A model of therapy is an approach to therapy - any approach - and examples include those various types of cognitive-behavioural therapy and psychoanalysis listed above.
It is worth adding something here about the relationship between psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors with extra training in mental disorders. There is complementary relationship between psychiatrists and psychologists. Both provide assessments and diagnoses, while the contemporary psychiatrist typically takes care of the medication and the psychologist provides the psychological treatments. People with significant emotional and behavioural problems will often see both a psychiatrist and psychologist. There is also an unofficial heirarchy, with psychiatrists on top and psychologists second in line. My opinion is that psychiatrists hold this dominant position because the ruling classes of our society are also traditionally the legal and medical professionals. Hence government trusts and is guided by the voice of psychiatrists when it comes to structuring and funding how we deal with suffering and mental health. Psychology, in its long march to social and governmental acceptance, has embraced "the medical model" of psychiatry and integrated with it. Hence psychology has become deeply medicalised, and this trend is only increasing. This can be seen in the basic langauge of psychology: it frames life's struggles as mental illnesses, and is sometimes accused of medicalising all of life.
Before we end this section, I want to add another, different and important use of the word "psychological." It is one that emerges out of the era of scientific psychology, but which is not strictly scientific. Assuming you are not a psychologist or associated professional, when you look at somebody's behaviour and speculate about what is driving them to act in that way, you are not doing strict science, but nonetheless you are looking at them in a psychological way. How is this so? How is it that even bogan drunks at the pub use a psychological lens to put each other down? Strict scientific psychology, including psychoanalysis, had a radical impact on 20th century culture far beyond the universities and hospitals. Psychology became a transformative idea more broadly, all the cool kids learned to analyse everything in its new light. The majority of us are not scientists, but we have been inducted and now raised in a psychological way of seeing ourselves and each other. Indeed, in therapy there is a phrase: "psychologically-minded." Clients who are sound of mind but who cannot seem to reflect on themselves and their behaviour, may be referred to as "not psychologically-minded." To be psychologically-minded is to be able to see oneself and others according to a psychological lens, in a loose sense of that word rather than in a strict scientific way.
This concept of a psychologically-minded lens is important for understanding counselling as distinct discipline, different to psychology. For while some counsellors adopt a scientific-psychological model as their way of working, for example by providing cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), many other models of counselling are rooted in something else. Most models of counselling are psychological too, but they are not the application of a science, rather they are psychologically-minded. Of course they develop that lens in a more sophisticated way that the way in which the general population is psychologically-minded. Rather than applying a science, they develop and apply a theory or philosophy of human nature. Some people would consider this a flaw in counselling, because to them science is truth - the whole truth and the only truth - but of course that view (scientism) is inctredibly blind and in fact irrational. It does not stand up to rational scrutiny. If you share some form of this concern, however, then please consider two things. First, recall that the research reported in my previous essay shows that the models of counselling (such as the applications of a science) are not what creates effective therapy, that what makes therapy work lies elsewhere in the common factors. Second consider how science is very limited and blind when it comes to our broader lives; if we were to limit our therapeutic models to that which can be studied by strict science, we would have a very poor set of options to choose from. Those people who find existential therapy very helpful, and cognitive-behavioural therapy not so much, have had a taste of what I am talking about. Outside of therapy, if we were to limit our understanding of life to that which has been empirically verfied - and soundly so, without replication scandals and so on - we would have very diminished picture of life. We would lack anything that could be called wisdom.
In summary, psychology is a science which studies the causal mechanisms and patterns of human behaviour. Psychologists apply this science to their clients, by creating models of therapy (eg CBT, ACT, etc.), through which to treat mental illness. Psychology in the therapeutic sense has adopted the medical model, and is arguably becoming more medicalised over time. There is at the same time a looser use of the word psychological, which denotes being psychologically-minded, taking a lens that is psychological but which does not reference the strict science. Much of counselling is psychological in this sense. Having made these distinctions, I will now explore counselling: it's distinct models, and also what it is in itself, in distinction to those models and to psychology. This opens the door for the discussion even further below, regarding how counselling can be philosophical instead of psychological. Before I move on, however, I would like to make a brief comment about the future of psychology.
A note on the future of psychology....
I believe it was a mistake for psychology to break with philosophy, in the sense of becoming only a science. After all, it could have become both. Much harm has followed from this split, and much harm continues to follow from it at both the social and individual level. While psychology is not responsible in itself for such evils, its reduction of human beings to a mechanistic view was arguably an important pre-condition which enabled the concentration camps and gulags of the twentieth century. Today this continued reductionism is a major contributor to the "meaning crisis": to the nihilism of our times and the many epidemics which follow from it - the mental health epidemic, the "deaths of despair," the depression-addiction-aggression triad spoken of by logotherapists which evident in our streets. The cure is also a cause. Of course this break was, in hindsight, inevitable: the "long nineteenth century" was the era of modernism, of the belief that mechanistic science would replace all other forms of knowledge. Modernism was a highly confident and creative epoch, driven by great scientific achievement. It was replaced by the period known as post-modernism, which rightly criticised the hubris, blindness and injustices of modernism, but as a critical movement which offered little more. Each reduced and devalued the human being. We are now a decade into the early emergence of metamodernism, an integrationist period after post-modernism, which revives the audacity, the big pictures, the ambitions of modernism, but which tempers that with the criticism, irony, and sense of justice of post-modernism, and which also brings a new appreciation of life and nature. As metamodernism slowly becomes the new cultural paradigm, I hope that its psychologists will correct the harmful split and create an integrationist psychology. I specifically hope they will move on from scientific reductionism to metamodernism's emergentism, to the sense of the whole which is greater than the parts: to a restored sense of the mysteriousness and unconditional value of human beings, even as we continue to map our parts. For the time being, even while this new movement sprouts, the old order strengthens. For scientific psychology has remained mostly modernist, even throughout the era of post-modernism, and is becoming ever moreso, as it loses itself more and more in the medical model, and in the service of government bureaucracy. In contrast, counselling as psychological loses itself in post-modernism, in simplistic denials of truth and so, despite itself, of meaning. One can only hope for a change.
Moving on to the profession of counselling, people often confuse it with psychology, but the two are different. Counselling is a different profession with different qualifications and a different focus. The traditional focus of psychology is the application of science to treat mental illness. The traditional focus of counselling is facilitating your insight and agency, so you can find your own way forward with your life challenges. I myself am a qualified counsellor, and not a psychologist. I am as qualified as a psychologist, but with a masters in counselling, and the reason why, as a philosopher, I chose counselling rather than psychology should be obvious from my description, just now of their differences.
Counselling arose during the early/mid-20th century as a response to the medical and scientific ways that psychiatrists and psychologists treated people. The psychoanalytic and behavioural therapies reduced people to objects to be assessed and treated by the expert. This appalled people like Carl Rogers, who before adopting a secular worldview had trained as a religious minister, and who maintained his sense of the importance of the inner life in itself, and for well-being, as well as the primacy of each person's mind and will, and the irreducible worth of human beings. Rogers coined the term "counselling" and developed a new "person-centred" way of helping people. He did this during a time when new "humanistic" ideas of psychology were emerging around him. Influenced by these more humane philosophies, as well as others resources in the culture such as European existentialism and what would become known as the American human potential movement, Rogers and the other new humanists proposed that everyone has an inbuilt tendency to self-fulfilment and growth. This become the starting point of various models of counselling. The counsellor’s role is to provide a facilitative environment in which the client can discover their own answers. According to Rogers, this facilitative therapuetic environment involves various "core conditions" including:
Empathy: The therapist must be able to understand the client's feelings and experiences from the client's point of view. The therapist should be able to see things from the client's perspective and communicate that understanding to the client.
Unconditional positive regard: The therapist must accept the client without judgment, valuing them as a person, regardless of their behavior, beliefs, or attitudes.
Congruence: The therapist must be authentic and genuine, openly expressing their feelings and thoughts in the therapeutic relationship.
Non-directive: The therapist must allow the client to lead the therapy session, supporting the client's self-exploration and self-discovery without imposing their own agenda or advice.
Active Listening: The therapist must listen to the client attentively, reflecting back what they hear, and asking open-ended questions to help the client clarify their thoughts and feelings.
Therapeutic Relationship: The therapeutic relationship itself is considered to be a core condition of therapy, where trust, safety, and a collaborative partnership is fostered between the therapist and the client.
If we contrast these core conditions to psychology (as the application of a science to a disorder through medicalised assessments and treatments) then we can see that counselling is radically different. Of course many psychologists are wise and empathic people and practice these conditions too. The difference is that these conditions are extraneous to the core idea and practice of the medical model and psychology, whereas they are essential to counselling. If a psychologist includes them, that's wonderful bonus, if a counsellor fails to work this way, they are failing in their practice. While I have psychologist friends who are no doubt exemplary in these practices, I have spoken with many clients who have experienced cold and formal psychologists - mere "scientist-practitioners" in a perjoritive sense, who were deficient in their ability to connect and meet the client in the way they needed to be met. It is worth noting that the core conditions align with many of the common factors, although the latter includes other factors beyond them.
In the section on psychology above I referred to the different applications of science in therapy as different models. For example cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the application of the cognitive and behavioural sciences, and it constitutes a model of therapy. Psychoanalysis is another model of therapy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is another model. Counselling also has its models, but these are not based on science. Instead, counselling's models are based on insights and values, on theories or philosophies of human nature and well-being. These go beyond what science, with its relatively narrow focus, can suggest or comprehend. Science is a tool, it gives information, it does not give insight: that's up to us to do through reflection. Science cannot give wisdom, for again that is up to us. Science is not creative, it cannot make connections and create a new picture which leads us to a new place. Counselling models are ideally a distillation of our insights and wisdom and creative ideas. Take for example narrative therapy. It is a model which is based not on science, but rather on the insight that people tell themselves stories, which shape ther perception, and who they become, and how their life goes. The therapist works with the client to co-create new narratives to help them become un-stuck, to create new pathways in their life, to become a different self.
The common factors theory which I discussed in my previous essay discusses of these models, and the techniques associated with them. The techniques referred to are specific ways of applying the model, for examples techniques in CBT for challenging a person's thinking and showing them their error, or in gestalt therapy the empty chair technique where you play out a conversation between conflicting parts of yourself.It should be mentioned that Carl Rogers' core conditions are not techniques, but rather ways of being. There is a fascinating connection between the core conditions and the common factors, as I mentioned above. As I discussed in the previous essay, it has been scientifically established that therapy (both psychology and counselling) is effective, but the question remains, what it is that makes therapy effective? The common factors theory relies on meta-analysis of the great swathes of published research. It finds that all models are roughly equally effective, and only account for 15% of effectiveness. It is the common factors which emerge as doing the real work. I said in my previous essay that I define counselling in terms of these common factors. They do not form a model of therapy in themselves, but they blend with any model, which in turn provides them with structure and an orientation. Which model matters less, for as I say the research shows they are all equal. This has important implications for constructing a non-psychological form of counselling such as philosophical counselling.
Is counselling psychological?
Many people assume that counselling is psychological. I mentioned that some counsellors use scientific-psychological models of therapy, such as CBT or ACT. Even within the domain of humanistic therapies, including person-centred therapy, gestalt therapy, and narrative therapy, the model of counselling is psychological in terms of being psychologically-minded. The question is whether all of counselling is psychological in one of these two senses. Or, more importantly, the question is whether all of counselling must be psychological in one of these two senses. My answer to both questions is a clear No. Counselling is often psychological, but not essentially psychological.
To make sense of my claim that a counselling in itself is not inherently psychological - nor inherently anything else - let us distinguish between three types of conversation within a counselling session. First, we can imagine a distinctly psychological conversation, such as questions which frame the client's problem as an effect of causes from childhood, and which guides the client toward having an insight that this is indeed the case, with some feeling of associated catharsis. This is the lens of a psychological model of counselling, whether as the application of a science or of a psychologically-minded lens, and in this sense the counselling may be said to be psychological. Second, there are distinctly philosophical questions in counselling, such as a question about whether the value just expressed by the client is really worth clinging to, with a critical exploration of that value in contrast to others. "Is that really the person you want to be?" Counsellors may not recognise that they are doing philosophy here, but in one sense this is certainly counselling as philosophy. Third, there are questions that explore and make better sense of the client's concern. There are expressions of accurate empathy, of hearing the client in their pain. These are purely "the common factors" which I just discussed, which as I said include Carl Rogers' core conditions.
It is the third category above, the bare common factors, which is the essence of counselling, and which lazily gets framed as psychological when in reality it has no particular status. It could be called psychological, or philosophical, or spiritual, or...just two people reflecting and talking together. It is quite simply a rich, helpful conversation, which includes deep empathy and listening. At this level, it does not have the specificity of any other discipline, rather it is more basic and general than that. If a psychologist wanted to insist that it is inherently psychological, I could easily object by making a strong case that such conversation in the context of therapy is actually philosophical, for historically it was directly inspired by the philosophical practice of phenomenology. Furthermore, many approaches to therapy refer to such conversation as "socratic dialogue," which references the philosophical dialogical method of the great ancient philosopher Socrates. Yet, while it could be tempting to play tribal wars, especially as the philosopher could reasonably win this argument, yet I believe in truth that counselling in itself, defined by the common factors, is neither psychological nor philosophical. Such conversation preceded the science of psychology. I have absolutely no doubt that it also preceded philosophy, which emerged in the West 2600 years ago. Such conversation is as old as human conversation, or at least as old as the first wise and empathic conversation between two people. Counselling is a honed version of the kind of talk that has been going on for between 50,000 and 100,000 years, wherein a wise and compassionate person genuinely listens, and talks with another about their concerns.
If we look closely at the common factors we can see that they are quite distinct from "the psychological," in the same sense they they are distinct from any discipline, including philosophy. Counselling, defined in terms of the common factors, is one person listening deeply to another, as they try to understand the other's pain or help them work through their concerns, and this is quite simply a human conversation. Of course counselling is a profession, and the reason people go see a counsellor is because often they cannot get this important kind of conversation elsewhere. The reason for this, however, is that human beings are generally lousy at offering such conversation. We don't listen, we talk about ourselves, we are narrow or small minded, we make unfair judgements, we are unwise, we are "full of ourselves" and so unable to really hear and see the other. The ideal counsellor is somebody with a temperament for hearing people, seeing people in themselves, seeing the goodness and potential in another, and doing so with respect to many different kinds of people (including those they instinctly dislike out in the world), and reflecting wisely on life, and so on. They hone these skills in the format known as counselling. All my life, long before I became a counsellor, I have been told that I am wise and thoughtful by friends, and their friends, who have come to me with their troubles. In contrast, during my mid-20s I worked temporarily in administration at a univeristy. Despite my conscientiousnes, I caused chaos. The unit once spent a week without printing paper because I forgot to order more. I once threw out a set of important receipts because it did not occur to me that they were needed to verify the expenditure. I am not boasting when I say I have the temperament of a counsellor, and that this is a distinct and powerful temperament in its own domain, I am simply pointing to something real in some people and not in others (who have different strengths), and this temperament gets further honed by counselling training. When I am coaching new counsellors, who invariably express fear that they lack adequate knowledge and skills (that old focus on models and techniques) I repeat the point that the core is to really, genuinely pay attention to the client. To really listen to them, with an open heart and mind. In doing so, and in inviting the client into a shared space of such attention toward themselves, things within the client begin to show themselves. Insight happens, alongside the other forms of growth, strength, and direction which lead to real change in an individual life. The philosopher Simone Weil wrote that "attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." We live in a world that is starved of it.
Of course it is good if a counsellor brings knowledge from some other relevant field to share with the client as well, as the client seeks ideas and practices to structure their attempts to move forward. Such knowledge often comes from the various models of psychology, psychotherapy and counselling. In my case it also comes from philosophy. Furthermore, therapists have a shared trove of insights and wisdom gathered from a century of therapy, communicated through books and collegial conversation, which are very valuable to clients. In grief counselling I help the client make sense of their experience by pointing to common experiences and patterns of grief that I have seen, which is important for a person who in their distress feels like there is no compass and that they are losing their mind. All such further knowledge and practice is, however, is secondary to the essence of counselling as the common factors.
A picture is emerging of the nature of counselling. It is often psychological, however it is not essentially psychological. The reason it is psychological has to do with its models, whether those come from the sciences of psychology, or from a looser psychologically-minded humanistic source. However, these models are not counselling in itself. Counselling in its essence is the common factors, which do the real work as per the research discussed in my previous essay. The model of counselling, and the common factors in counselling, are two different things which can be seperated. This suggests that if the model can be seperated from the common factors - from the core of counselling in itself - then we can create a new model and blend that with the common factors. This is what happens whenever a new type of counselling is created. So how about a model of counselling based on philosophy?
Existential therapists have already been creating and practicing philosophical models of counselling since the time of Freud. Viktor Frankl's logotherapy, one of the most famous, developed during the 1930s and 1940s and is distinctly philosophical in some of its important dimensions. The British school of existential therapy, led by people like Emmy van Deurzen, is "a philosophical approach to counselling and psychotherapy." So too is Elliot D. Cohen's logic-based therapy, which draws directly on Aristotle and critical thinking. Ran Lahav's model of philosophical counselling is radically philosophical and not psychological. These are all forms of philosophical counselling, and aside from Lahav's approach, are accepted by the mainstream of counselling, even if they are in a minority position and sit off to the side. Just like any approach to therapy, insofar as they are effective, they implicitly work through blending philosophical reflection - the model - with the common factors. Indeed, insofar as they blend in the common factors, they are as evidence-based and as effective as any approach to therapy, CBT included.
There is, however, a vital difference between the psychological models and the philosophical ones. For not only do they involve different disciplines, but their own sense of their own truth is structured differently. Psychology, at least in the form of psychologism, does something to truth. Those with insight into the common factors often say that the particular model of therapy is merely something to do - a way to fill in the time while the common factors do their work. Irvin Yalom suggests this. I think this claim is a little over-simplified, and that all the major models do provide helpful insights, ideas and practices. They do, after all, account for 15% of variance in effectiveness. At the same time I have sympathy for the notion that the models are merely different rafts, as discussed in my previous essay: ways of giving order to what might feel like chaos. If the psychological models are true in any way, then they are reducible to the psychological work of the therapy. A psychological model is reducible to its psychological goal, it has no truth value beyond achieving that goal. A philosophical model is different; it is not reducible. What do I mean?
Modernism, which is also the history of modern science, is a history of science as ideology, so it is a history of reductionism, as the metamodern theologian Brendan Graham Dempsey points out. In this context, the history of therapy is partly a history of reducing things: people to psychological causes, drives, porcesses and so on, and truth and goodness to a pragmatic conception. A pragmatic theory of truth judges the truth of a belief by its output, its consequences. This pragmatic theory is fine in itself, as an understanding of one form of truth. However any kind of reductionism reduces all forms to just one form, a form which takes itself to be the one true form. Philosophy by contrast has traditionally spoken of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as absolute values, as well as being relative in their other forms. People are apt to misunderstand what this means, and to assume that it is a form of dogmatism, but dogmatism is the confusion of 1) a particular, concrete manifestation of a truth, in the form of an opinion or of a truth, with 2) Truth in itself as a value. For example, a person might find that marriage makes them and the people they know happier than unmarried co-habiting. This is a fine particular or relative truth. They become dogmatic when they insist that it is true for all people based on their experience of its truth. They have confused their partial truth for a general or universal truth about people's experience. When I speak of an unconditional or absolute Truth I am not speaking of a particular or partial truth framed as absolute. Absolute Truth does not have a particular form or content, rather it is a value that one lives by, a way of orienting to life.
For a German to stand up and speak truth to their fascist leaders in the early 1940s - knowing that they can instead successfully flee, or that they can lie to save themselves - while also knowing that they will be executed if they choose to speak the truth, that is an absolute or unconditional commitment to Truth. Put slightly differently, it is a commitment to an absolute or unconditional Truth. Or we could say, a commitment to an absolute conception of truth, if that makes the post-modernists more comfortable. It is worth noting here in passing that I said "stand up and speak truth to their fascist leaders." I did not say "speak their truth," that nod to post-modernism, rather I purposefully said "speak truth." The implicit within you and I shows, when inspected, how such partial theories as post-modernism get life wrong. I choose this example of fascism because that period of time produced stark and often highly articulate examples of such absolute conceptions, which a comfy, dismissively cynical period like ours might do well to remember. Terrence Malick celebrated one such truth-speaker in his recent film A Hidden Life. Viktor Frankl constructed a whole form of therapy around such conceptions, around what he learned in his struggle to live as a true human being during his three years as a Jewish prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. I have skimmed across this issue and will no doubt return to it in other essays. Suffice to say that a genuinely philosophical counselling transcends therapy for psychological processes and outcomes. Philosophy goes further, it is concerned with truth, with goodness, with beauty, as realities beyond psychological categories, and in some important and real sense, beyond us.
To assuage a concern, this is as I say non-dogmatic. Philosophy can speak strongly, it can stand against false relativism, and yet it is and must be non-dogmatic. A philosophical masterpiece like Raimond Gaita's Good and Evil: an Absolute Conception expresses a sophisticated, nuanced, non-dogmatic, and yet at its highest unconditional conception. It is one which shows itself through an examination of the actual ways we respond and live, regardless of the philosophies we repeat to ourselves: it shows itself in the implicit, which in philosophy we strive to make explicit. It is a conception which radically enriches life's meaning. In this connection I am reminded of Viktor Frankl, who claimed that life is meaningful in itself, and who also said that “To put the question [of the meaning of life] in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.” My fundamental point here is that all of this is very different to psychology and science. I suggested that they contribute to the meaning crisis through their reduction of life's fundamentals. I also find them often dogmatic, despite their rhetoric. Philosophy and philosophical counselling by contrast are not only non-dogmatic, but they are spiritual in a secular and non-dogmatic way. They are the search for meaning, the discovery of meaning, the return of meaning. The world needs transformative philosophy, and philosophical counselling. They provide what people seek in psychological counselling, but also transcend that, offering us something deeper and richer. After all, Nietzsche wrote that the person who can find a Why can bear with almost any How. People are resourceful: when they have an adequate meaning and motivation they can find their way forward, but to do this they need the meaning and motivation. If it is true that the lack of meaning is in fact our greatest source of despair and its many symptoms today, then this this search for meaning is the fundamental question for each of us. It is not a luxury, it is the sine qua non of life.
I have defined counselling in itself as the qualities and skills expressed in the common factors research. I have pointed out that these common factors can be seperated from the counselling model, that they are independent of it, even if they use it as a structure. The point of this has been to show that in the same way that we can seperate counselling and psychology, so we can combine counselling with philosophy. We can indeed construct a philosophical counselling. Indeed this has already been done: by the British school of existential therapy, by logotherapy, by logic-based therapy, and by philosophical counselling more broadly. My efforts have been to show how this can be done with explicit respect to the common factors, which we now know are what make therapy effective. I have not seen this connection made anywhere else by theorists of philosophical counselling and existential thrapy. In further blog posts I will go into more detail regarding the nature of philosophical counselling.