QUESTION: How does your understanding of psychological problems differ from the advice offered on WebMD, on the website of the American Psychological Association, as well as the websites of thousands of psychologists, psychiatrists and MSWs?
ANSWER: I view human suffering neither as a disease to be cured, nor as a mistake to be rectified, nor as a problem to be solved. On the contrary, suffering is intrinsic to human existence. Whatever form it may take, suffering is our road to wisdom and to Self-realization. Although painful — if transformed into liberating self-knowledge — suffering can be of inestimable value.
QUESTION: OK, then you reject the medical model of psychological suffering?
ANSWER: Yes I do. The conceptualization of psychological maladies as medical conditions is false and misleading. It is true that there exist some conditions that have a strong chemical basis. Certainly, schizophrenia would appear to. And what is known as “clinical depression,” would also. But most depression is not caused by a chemical malfunction in the brain. It is due to one’s outlook on life. The behaviorists, with their focus on treating psychological symptoms, rather than getting to their root cause, are also way off base. Freud was right that if we do not get to the root cause of psychological problems, we shall create “symptom substitution.”
QUESTION: Is your approach to treatment typical of philosophical counselors?
ANSWER: They all have different approaches. But, generally speaking, I would say that my approach is not like there’s. Unlike other philosophical counselors, I do not help a person to arrive at a “workable” philosophy of life. Nor will I get a person think more logically and to act more rationally. What I do is this: I help a person to detect the hidden set of philosophical assumptions (or worldview) that shape his life, from dawn until dusk. My goal is to help people to see that the fundamental cause of their present difficulties is not anything specific — such as one’s spouse, one’s job, the state of the world — but the limits of their worldview. The more ultimate goal is emotional freedom, wisdom, and self-realization.
QUESTION: How does a philosophical counselor help people with emotional difficulties?
ANSWER: Philosophers who believe that feeling and emotions can be clarified by means of reason and logic are ignorant of the limits of reason. They are probably also using reason to guard themselves from the dark, mysterious and sometimes disturbing depths of the human soul. Equally foolish are the psychotherapists who believe that getting in touch with feeling has any value. We can relive a feeling, re-evoke an emotion till we are sobbing with tears or livid with rage. Doing so may have some sort of short term cathartic effect, but it will leave the feeling just as dark as before.
QUESTION: How then can we be free of the power of negative emotions?
ANSWER: Feelings and emotions must be illuminated. They must be penetrated by the light of insight, so that we can see what it is that we are really seeing when we have a feeling. Emotions can be illuminated because emotions are cognitive. When we feel something, we are having a perception about life; we know something. But emotions, or feelings, are cognitions on a pre-discriminative level of awareness — the level of symbol, myth, and dream. We might add that the type of therapy known as “cognitive therapy” is useless because it doesn’t descend to the symbolic and mythic level of human cognitions. The philosophical counselor, and the psychotherapist too, must learn what Erich Fromm called, “the forgotten language,” the language of symbols, myths, dreams, and fairy tales. That is the only way to understand emotions. When we consciously know what we unconsciously know, we are freed of the power of a feeling or emotion. If we are to achieve transcendence, we must descend. To put it in Heraclitean fashion, “The way down is the way up.”
QUESTION: What is the real problem with psychotherapy?
ANSWER: The problem is that psychotherapy is theory-laden. Not only does it use the medical model, but it uncritically employs a number of other metaphysical positions. Freud’s psychoanalysis, for example, is founded on a materialistic metaphysics. Freud views everything that is “higher” as but a sublimation of libido (sexual) energy. That view of the world served to free the guilt-ridden Victorians of their guilt. But here is the problem: in freeing people of guilt, he gave them a new problem, that of meaninglessness. After all, if everything is material, then life has no meaning. In other words, I am suggesting that people’s suffering is founded on their subscription to an unconscious worldview. A psychotherapist might initially seem to help a patient, but what has really happened is that the patient has simply adopted the worldview of the psychotherapist. In so doing the patient has inherited a whole new slew of problems that derive from subscribing to the psychotherapist’s view of reality.
QUESTION: How, then, do you help people?
ANSWER: I do not offer my clients a new view of reality. I simply help them to connect their problems to their view of reality, worldview, or way of seeing. Making this connection allows them to be free of the limits of their worldview.
QUESTION: What is a way of seeing?
ANSWER: Each of us carries a whole set of philosophical assumptions, of which we are unaware. These assumptions are reflected in everything about us — in our interests, anxieties, desires, and conflicts.
QUESTION: How do you uncover a person’s way of seeing?
ANSWER: Mostly through conversation. I ask questions, just as did Socrates. But the intent of our conversation is quite different than was the intent of Socratic dialogue. Socrates sought to arrive at an objective truth. He asked, for example, “What is justice?” “What is courage?” The philosophical counselor, on the other hand, seeks to uncover a subjective truth, a truth that exists in the heart of the person seeking help. I am seeking to uncover a person’s way of seeing, the laws that are the foundation for your universe. We might call a person’s way of seeing, a personal epistemology. I might add that, if one is perceptive enough, it is not necessary to engage in dialogue in order to detect a person’s mode of being, or way of seeing. One can see it, for example, in the manner in which a person prepares and eats the breakfast eggs. (If a person becomes involved with long distance counseling, they can send me a video of themselves eating.)
QUESTION: Is it moral for a philosopher to charge a fee?
ANSWER: Is it moral for a philosopher to eat and pay the rent? It’s true that Socrates, didn’t charge a fee. But Socrates wife, Xanthippe, had to work, pay the bills, and she was miserable about it. So Xanthippe became a shrew and sought to torture Socrates at every available opportunity. Then again, the misery of Socrates’ poor marriage continually inspired him to become philosophical. Freud said, and it is true, that payment is the most important part of therapy. Without payment, patients are encouraged to be childishly immature.
QUESTION: Do you accept insurance?
ANSWER: No, philosophical counselors cannot do so. It is better, though, to pay out of pocket, from the standpoint of privacy. If you use insurance, a lot of people are going to know about it, including future employers. Unfortunately, there still exists a stigma against people who see a psychotherapist. Needless to say, it can hurt you if you ever seek to run for political office, but it can damage most careers as well. That is why many people, who do have insurance will, will instead pay out of pocket for psychological services. In any case, I am not a psychotherapist but a philosophical counselor. There is no stigma to speaking with a philosophical counselor and life coach.
QUESTION: Is telephone counseling effective?
ANSWER: The disadvantage of the telephone is that I cannot see a person’s body language. But, apart from that, is can be quite powerful. As a matter of fact, many people open up and communicate about themselves better over the telephone, than in someone’s office. Furthermore, it is far more convenient to speak on the telephone, than to have to drive to someone’s office. Finally, you are not limited to your hometown, but can consult with the very best that the world has to offer.
QUESTION: How long does it take before real change takes place?
ANSWER: It would depend upon what sort of counseling a person was seeking. Sometimes, I can help a person in a few sessions. I have had clients who have seen me weekly for over ten years. But they were seeking not just clarity about a particular matter, but have had major philosophical perplexities, and were seeking a real transformation of their life.
QUESTION: What is the difference between philosophical counseling and life coaching?
ANSWER: Life coaching has more of a practical focus. There is, though, a lot of overlap between the two activities.
QUESTION: What if I have more questions?
ANSWER: Please feel free to telephone me toll-free at: 1-888-737-5724 or local at: (502) 458-7171 or e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We can chat informally, and I can answer all of your questions. I shall look forward to hearing from you!
QUESTION: What is the background of your approach to philosophy?
ANSWER: Before Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason appeared, philosophers were propounding theories of reality. After Kant, they asked questions, not about reality, but about how we know reality. The mind had been looking outward, but now it turned to gaze upon itself. Philosophers went from being metaphysicians to being epistemologists. Kant brings philosophy to the “critical level.” After Kant, philosophy really This same moment was reached in Indian philosophy in the 7th Century AD. Nagarjuna was the Kant of Indian philosophy. But whereas Kant’s criticism, and ensuing skepticism about being able to answer ultimate questions, led Kant to resort to religious faith, Nagarjuna realized that the limits of knowledge can bring the mind to a new level of knowing, to the mystical. According to Kant, all philosophical positions are riddled with antinomy, with insuperable contradictions. (Existentialism is really the implications of Kant’s epistemology for human existence.) The upshot of this is that we do not help you find a workable philosophy of life. Instead we help you see the world view that you hold, and how the negative dimension of your life is a manifestation of that world view. The result is light, Self-illumination.
QUESTION: I know quite a few people who have read, and even understood philosophy. Some are quite well versed on Kant and have even read Nagarjuna. But their everyday life is just as paltry as the average human life. How come reading philosophy has not brought them spiritual illumination and liberation?
ANSWER: The fault is not with philosophy. The problem is that human reason does not operate only on a conceptual level. Our emotions, desires, conflicts and anxieties are reason operating on a symbolic level of awareness. We must clarify that level if we are to be free. Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, sought to understand the ontology of our everyday interests and desires. He called his approach, “existential psychoanalysis.”
QUESTION: Is what you do existential psychoanalysis?
ANSWER: No. Existential psychoanalysis is brilliant, but it is laden with Sartre’s own existential phenomenological way of seeing.
QUESTION: What, then, is your approach called?
ANSWER: I do not really have a name for my approach, but I do have a certain sympathy for what Rudolph Allers has called “Ontoanalysis.” It seeks to uncover a person’s hidden ontology. Ontology comes from the root, “onto,” meaning “to be,” or “to be real.” Ontoanalysis is, therefore, involved with having you see how you are attempting to be real, in all that you do — in your job, your relationships, your food preferences, in everything about you. Ontoanalysis always starts with analyzing the everyday, with your own experience.
QUESTION: How do you know when you have really seen something about yourself rather than it merely being an interpretation?
ANSWER: When you really see something, you will know it. Bells and whistles go off. Insight has a force, a power. It is unmistakable. There are insights that are so powerful that they can knock you on your ass. A mere interpretation, on the other hand, leaves your emotions intact and is therefore worthless.
QUESTION: Is ontoanalysis like shamanism, zen, or yoga?
ANSWER: As a way of knowing, ontoanalysis shares elements with all mystical traditions. But ontoanalysis does not require esoteric practices. It only requires penetrating insight into your everyday experience. It requires thinking, but not the abstract, inauthentic thinking taught at the universities. It requires existential thinking — thinking into the heart of your everyday interests, anxieties, desires and conflicts. The Buddhists call this type of existential thinking, “thinking with one’s gut.”
QUESTION: I notice that you offer a workshop on “laugh therapy.” Does ontoanalysis have anything to do with laugh therapy?
ANSWER: Yes. Laugh therapy is, in my opinion, a dimension of ontoanalysis. The illumination of your everyday life, the story of how you have been attempting to be, leads to wonder, awe, amazement and liberating cosmic laughter. The purpose is not to make you laugh, but to help you attain insights about yourself, the sign of which is laughter, just as a halo is a sign of divine blessedness.
QUESTION: You’re critical of psychotherapy. Are there any virtues to traditional psychotherapy?
ANSWER: Yes there have been some brilliant and perceptive writers on the subject of psychotherapy, including Freud, and his followers — C.G. Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank and others. C.G. Jung’s analytical psychology has been a particularly fertile area of psychological investigation, and has it has spawned some outstanding investigators and writers on the subject of depth psychology, including Erich Neumann, Maria Louis Van Franz, and James Hillman, to name just a few. The existentialist-phenomenological school of thought has produced Jean-Paul Sartre, R.D. Laing, Rollo May, Menard Boss, and Binswanger. And, of course, William James is well worth reading. There are many other authors on the subject of depth psychology worth reading. Furthermore, there have certainly have been, and presently exist, many more outstanding psychotherapists who have never been famous. All the same, my criticisms of psychotherapy still holds.
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