What is Philosophical Counseling?

Let’s begin with the conventional understanding of philosophical counseling. According to the Preamble of the NPCA Standards of Practice:
“a philosophical practitioner [counselor] helps clients to clarify, articulate, explore and comprehend philosophical aspects of their belief systems or world views….Clients may consult philosophical practitioners for help in exploring philosophical problems related to such matters as mid-life crises, career changes, stress, emotions, assertiveness, physical illness, death and dying, aging, meaning of life, and morality.”
As such, related activities commonly include:

  • the examination of clients’ arguments and justifications
  • the clarification, analysis, and definition of important terms and concepts
  • the exposure and examination of underlying assumptions and logical implications
  • the exposure of conflicts and inconsistencies
  • the exploration of traditional philosophical theories and their significance for client issues
  • the initiation of projects for common goods

My understanding of philosophical counseling — its scope and pursuits — is generally compatible with this conventional understanding, although my own approach is significantly broader in scope and includes, among other things, spirituality and religion, personal relationship, social problems, parenting, well-being, masculinity. And whenever possible my approach makes use of empirical findings from psychology more than the conventional approach to philosophical counseling. And although my approach tends to rely on available empirical findings, my approach isn’t limited to things that can be empirically verified. Many mystical spiritual traditions are committed to things that aren’t empirically verified, e.g., empirical studies are just starting to demonstrate the positive affects of meditation, which have known for centuries by people who meditate. It’s important to note here that philosophical counseling is educational and not designed for people with serious mental health issues, e.g., major depressive disorder, etc. Instead philosophical counseling is for people who are generally mentally healthy but are interested in gaining a better understanding of their self and the world. In this way my approach to philosophical counseling is squarely rooted in the ancient Socratic tradition, which viewed that the unexamined life is not worth living. In addition to a broader scope, my own approach to philosophical counseling is unique in a few ways from other practitioners. First, my approach isn’t static because I’m a seeker not a guru. I’m constantly learning and am always a student, even when I’m in more of a teacher’s role. As I grow, my fundamental beliefs about the world change. Last, in terms of methodology, my own approach to philosophical counseling is to first establish and clarify the understanding of fundamental questions about reality and value. So what are they? In simplest terms, I start from the premise that we’re biological organisms hurtling through space on a rock in a distant corner of infinite space. This alone tells us very little, of course, and allows for many competing theories about the meaning of life or our purpose. My own approach holds that the fundamental core value is personal growth — a conception of personal growth, however, that isn’t limited to purely selfish pursuits. Specifically, growth from who we are right now. For me this is the ultimate goal, or meaning of life if you prefer. Habits that cultivate personal growth are insight, discipline, curiosity, compassion, honesty. Once these values are established, the goal is to live in alignment with them, being true to who you are. Last, asking and formulating answers to philosophical questions is something that is a privilege, i.e., it’s something that some people never have the opportunity to do. And that’s unfortunate given how much practical benefit thinking about philosophical questions can have for our lives.

If you’re interested in learning more about how philosophical counseling can benefit you, contact me for a free consultation at srmillard@gmail.com

ABD in Philosophy, Senior Public Policy Analyst building freelance writing portfolio. Collaborate, contact me at srmillard@gmail.com IG @philo_mentoring

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