You have reached the point in your life where you have decided that things can’t keep going on the way they are now. Depression is ruining your career, anxiety is keeping you up all night, you can’t stop fighting with your spouse, you feel there’s no joy or meaning in life anymore, you’re angry all the time, or any other number of problems pushing you to the limits of what you can take. Once you reach the conclusion for yourself that you want to live a better life then you are ready to make the effort to change. This is a significant milestone and a good sign that things in your life are ready to start improving. The next stage is asking yourself, “But how should I change?”
This is not an easy question to answer because simply recognising that your patterns of behaviour in action or in thought are dysfunctional is only the beginning of the struggle. One needs to know what healthy behaviour looks like and one needs to stay on the path towards changing those bad habits into good habits. This is why you need a therapist. You need a therapist because your current lifestyle and values are no longer functioning sufficiently to keep going. You need a specialist in helping take your life apart piece by piece to find and examine the problems and identify possible solutions. This essay will cover several keys arguments for why you need a therapist, with an obvious emphasis on the particular strengths of what a philosophical therapist can offer you. Before going into why you need a therapist, I just want to cover a misconception that many people have: that a therapist is there to tell you what to do. Continue reading
There are five traditionally accepted branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and ethics. Each branch answers specific questions that have a profound impact on our lives. Because each branch is focused on answering particular types of questions, it is possible for different branches to give different solutions to the same problem. Consider the branches of aesthetics and ethics. Aesthetics is concerned with the questions of what is beauty, what is ugliness, and how can beauty improve our lives, while ethics concerns the questions of what is right, what is wrong, and how can we make the best decisions. It might seem strange to some that these two branches can be confused with each other, but consider the following scenario where a person uses aesthetics, the awareness of beauty, as their approach to solving a problem.
Henry adores his daughter Beth’s smile. Nothing pleases him more than to see Beth smiling beautifully; likewise, the sight of his daughter crying fills him with revulsion. One evening, Beth comes to Henry and asks if she could have some extra dessert. Henry asks what her mother has said about this. Beth breaks down into tears and says that her mother has told her she isn’t to have any more dessert tonight unless she cleans her room. Henry recoils from the sight of his lovely daughter’s face spoiled by tears and he wishes he could gaze upon her cheeky, beautiful smile again. So he tells her that of course she may go and have some extra dessert. Beth’s face lights up with joy and Henry feels happy to see his favourite smile in the whole world again. Continue reading
Wonderful news. I’m now a YouTube star! Well… I’m on YouTube at least. I’ve put together a few short YouTube videos in a playlist called “Q&A”. After the friend who was helping me record them said that I talked more naturally when she just asked me questions. Longer videos covering subjects in depth are already in the pipeline, but expect a few more of these short Q&A videos. If there’s a question you’d like to ask, please leave a comment and I will consider making a video about it.
Growing up I used to watch Star Trek. Both the original 1960s series and the 1980s Next Generation series feature main characters who supposedly have no emotions: Mr Spock and Mr Data. Spock considers emotions to be a weakness and actively suppresses them so as to be more logical; meanwhile Data has an apparent desire to fulfil his creator’s wish to build an android that is as human-like as possible, so Data seeks to have emotions. While as entertaining as these characters are, the series never actually explored emotions, what they are, why we have them, and what their meaning is in any depth. Rather, one gets the impression at times that the sole purpose of emotions, as far as the creators of Star Trek are concerned, is for personal amusement; they make life interesting but we don’t really need them. However, emotions are far more important than just mere novel reactions of our nervous systems to particular stimuli; they are what makes life alive beyond the organic/material level. Consider that each individual cell in your body is a living organism in its own right, additionally, the collective activity of the billions of cells that make up your entirely body is a secondary level of life, and finally the thoughts and feelings that make up what we call, for lack of a better term, “our mind” is a third tier of life built on top of the previous two tiers. But why do we have feelings at all? Continue reading
There is a funny meme that one can look up by going to Google Image Search and typing in “what people think therapists do”. I can tell you that I do relate to a lot of these. The “what people think” meme is one of my favourites because it concerns my one of my favourite subjects: empathy. Agree or disagree with what some people put in these memes it nonetheless challenges one to think about how differently people see the same thing. I have worked as a therapist/mentor/behaviourist for several years now and I’ve picked up that few people understand what a therapist does and why these things are important. This list of three functions of a therapist is what I consider to be the most important things that I do as a therapist. Keep in mind that other therapists would possibly disagree and that maybe their approach suits their clients. This list is ordered by the importance I place on them; here are the three things I believe therapists should do:
Mood dependent behaviour refers to the state of mind when a person can only take action if they feel capable of it, even though they are otherwise completely capable of acting. It might be putting off doing an assignment, it might be procrastinating about preparing a healthy meal, it might be as simple as waiting until the house is empty before emerging from one’s room. It can be hard for a person to understand this if they have never felt so small and miserable before to find such ordinary daily activities so overwhelming. Ridicule or condescension are common reactions when opening up to someone about facing such struggles. Failing to find a compassionate ear results in an unwillingness to attempt to open up again in the future, adding an extra layer of loneliness and despair to the experience. When one is this powerfully affected by one’s mood, it can feel preferable to hide alone or to starve rather than to ever face the terrifying world that lies beyond the front door. Continue reading
While one often comes across articulate and well-argued articles criticising anti-depressants from a medical or efficacy point of view, one seldom comes across the philosophical argument against anti-depressants. It was, in fact, the philosophical case against anti-depressants that convinced me as a teenager that I would never, ever take them for myself, a decision that has been beneficial to me ever since.
I am against their usage both on medical grounds and on philosophical grounds, but I accept that anti-depressants are likely here to stay. Indeed, I would argue we have always had anti-depressants, for what else should we call caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and opium but traditional remedies for our emotional ailments? People who are feeling low in motivation often indulge in coffee for the caffeine hit. People who lack courage often indulge in alcohol to shore up their nerves. People who are miserable will often indulge in excessive amounts of sugar to give themselves a rush. Everywhere, we have people self-medicating on different substances in attempts to battle their moods and unwanted feelings. Anti-depressants are not anything new, they’ve been with us all along.
In this piece, I am going to ignore all the medical and efficacy arguments, not because I do not think these discussions are not important, but because I believe the philosophical argument is the strongest of the three. For the sake of argument, I will assume that anti-depressants actually work precisely as intended: that they alleviate sadness, depression, grief, and malaise effectively and without significant side effects. I make this assumption not just for the sake of simplicity, but to better illustrate why we should be wary of them. I believe the better anti-depressants work, the stronger the philosophical case against them. Continue reading
One of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate. While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.
The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival. There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain. The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years. They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them. Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life. Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions. There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt. However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading
Never been to therapy before? Wondering how it can help? Curious about the therapeutic process? Each year, tens of millions of people seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Not all therapists are the same, though; there are many different schools of thought. Even within the same school, each therapist is unique in their approach to the therapeutic process. Philosophical therapists were arguably the first therapists in history, but are relatively few in numbers of practitioners today compared to the mainstream schools like behaviourism, psychoanalysis, and gestalt, just to name a few. Because philosophical therapy is different to most of the other schools, I have written this article to cover the most basic process of the philosophical therapeutic process.
Questions, Questions, so many Questions
The role of the philosophical therapist is to ask you questions about yourself. They might sometimes provide you with some terminology and jargon and this is merely to help improve your ability to understand yourself and to communicate better in the sessions. These questions will often appear obvious. Sometimes the therapist might ask you if you feel angry, to which you might respond with, “Well, of course, I am feeling angry!” You might be thinking at the time that this is a silly question, but for the therapist, this is a very important question to ask. On the topic of anger: some people do not know if they are experiencing anger. I have come across people who have been red in the face and shouting, but later on, when questioned about this, said they did not feel angry at all. So sometimes obvious questions like this will be asked just so the therapist can get an idea of how self-aware the client is. Continue reading
When asked what the most important component of mental health is my first three answers are honesty, honesty, and honesty. More specifically, I am talking about self-honesty, honesty about other people, and honesty to other people. However, the biggest challenge in any relationship is to be completely honest with another person. The feeling of “walking on eggshells” around someone close to you is so common that it’s hard to find anyone who does not relate to being too scared to be open and honest with someone close to them. Why is honesty such a big deal? Why is honesty so hard? How can honesty improve one’s life? How can honesty improve one’s relationships?
In Isaac Asimov’s 1950 book, I, Robot, a manufacturing mistake created a telepathic robot. Because Robots were strictly illegal on Earth, the company was concerned for the public’s reaction if it ever got out that robots could now read minds, so they hushed it up and allowed only a handful of specialists to examine the robot to figure out what had gone wrong in its manufacture to create a mind-reading robot.
Three researchers interviewed the robot, which they named Herbie. One found it to be a mathematical genius, the other a mathematical imbecile, and a third, a female psychologist was informed by Herbie that a man she had a crush on secretly admired her. The psychologist was jubilant to be told by the robot that it had read the mind of the man she liked and all her romantic fantasies were true: He wanted her, he admired her, he was single, and wanted to start a romance with her. Later, the psychologist was devastated and humiliated to discover that this man did not actually think any of these things. The telepathic robot had lied to her about everything.