Why You Need a (Philosophical) Therapist

QuestionsYou 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

Aesthetics and Ethics

aesthetics and ethicsThere 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

The Psychology in Mythology: Apollo and Daphne

On a whim last week I picked up a copy of (Thomas) Bulfinch’s Mythology from Costco. Purely for the inspiration it might give me for my writing. However, after reading out a story to a friend it occurred to me it might be amusing to share my analysis of the characters from a therapist’s perspective. This is at the risk of coming across as one of those people who can never detach themselves from their work and just relax! Anyway, because this post relates to both my writing and the therapy work I have decided to post to both of my sites.

My professional website: philosophicaltherapist.com

My writing blog: sophisticatednonsense.blog.

Apollo and Daphne

The first line of a story is important. It sets the entire scene. In fact, the first line of a story should be the last line the author writes in my opinion. The first line of this fable tells us this: “Daphne was Apollo’s first love.” Here we have the word ‘love’ used and it is important to keep in mind that ‘love’ is a weasel word. It can mean almost anything to anyone. It might mean, “like” in the context of “I love ice cream”, it might mean sexual lust, “I love that babe in the swimsuit over there,” and it might mean a willingness to self-sacrifice, “the soldiers died for the love of their nation.” In fact love can mean just about anything a person wants it to mean: “if you loved me you would say ‘yes’ to me” versus “it’s because I love you that I say ‘no’ to you.” What does it mean that Daphne was Apollo’s first love? The reader should keep this question in mind all the way through this fable. Continue reading

Understanding Personal Agency

agency handAgency is a philosophical term that refers to one’s ability to act in a given situation. When discussing the nature of free will and responsibility, it is important to be mindful of how much agency a person has. If there’s an electrical fault in your house and you’re alone, there might not be anything you can do about it. If you’re a trained electrician, there might be a great deal you could do to fix the problem. However, being knowledgeable about electronics might not be enough if your tools are at your workplace. Thus, agency depends on both having the knowledge and having the means. A person with electrical training and tools has full agency over the problem of the electrical fault, whereas a person with no training and no tools has no direct agency over their electrical problems. They will have to pay someone who does have agency in this situation to fix it. Despite sounding so simple, problems with agency account for a lot of drama in relationships. This article will discuss a healthy sense of agency and then compare it to unhealthy perceptions of agency such as hyper-agency and hypo-agency. Continue reading

Philosophical Therapy is on YouTube!

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.

Three Things Therapists Do

woman-thinkingThere 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:

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Utility, Value, and Suicidal Thoughts

rainbowbowlImagine an ordinary porcelain bowl sitting on a table in front of you. There’s nothing special about this bowl. It is plain without any distinguishing features. There are thousands, if not millions, of bowls like this in the world. They are useful, one can put rice in it, a salad, water, fruit or any other number of things. Despite it being useful, it would be odd if anyone missed it should it fall to the floor and smash to pieces.  The bowl has utility, but it doesn’t have value. One day a tattoo artist was feeling bored and decided to paint an original and intricate art work depicting Norse gods from an epic saga. Now something peculiar has happened: the bowl that was once so ordinary that its destruction would have been inconsequential has gained a new quality: value.  It’s still just as useful as a bowl, but now it requires more protection, care, and respect.  This bowl that was once so ordinary could now sit comfortably in a museum or an art gallery.  It has become important not just because of its usefulness for holding objects, but because it has acquired a value through the beautiful art work now inscribed on it.  People are similar, they can be useful, but they have a value that extends beyond their utility. Surprisingly enough, an incomplete understanding of these terms can actually lead to suicidal thoughts.

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The Virtue of Selfishness

When I was a teenager, I had a fascination with all things supernatural and superstitious.  It started out with me telling stories about witches and the occult.  Then I started to carry an astrology book with me and work out the horoscopes of my schoolmates.  My tarot card reading phase got me into trouble with a catholic priest once.  I must confess I actually read those incredibly boring books about witchcraft while the other kids merely put them on their shelves to impress fellow adherents to the gothic sub culture.  But one day a classmate produced something truly scandalous: a copy of “The Satanic Bible“.  Now I can’t for the life of me articulate what I actually was expecting to find in this book, I just knew it had to be bad.  Preferably dark, sinister, and disturbing so I could impress girls with my wicked seductions or some other nonsense.  However, I remember feeling disappointed with the book.  It just didn’t contain anything in it that sounded particularly evil.  The idea behind the book was the assumption that Christianity was altruistic and therefore Satanism logically should be the opposite of Christianity and thus be selfish.  However, the book quickly ran into some philosophical problems regarding the nature of selfishness and how it related to evil.  Namely the assumption was that being selfish was necessarily a bad thing, however, this assumption about selfishness quickly hits a brick wall.  So for a book that’s meant to be about being evil it ends up being a rather peculiar, if not silly, unintentional self-help book.

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A Brighter Perspective on Depression

Last night I was chatting to a friend about depression.  As someone who is still recovering from depression she kept referring to it as “her weakness” which bothered me a little.  This lead to her sharing with me a perspective on depression she had encountered recently: that depression was a method by which nature would rid a tribe of weaker members.  Presumably it worked something like this: a person who couldn’t meet the expectations placed on them by their tribe would develop depression and end their own life so that only the strong members would survive.  Thus it is a form of eugenics programmed into our psyche to effectively off ourselves for the benefit of the rest of the tribe.  Now, I am trained as a biologist and such a genetic trait is unlikely to be passed on via natural selection because it actually lowers the probability of an individual passing on their genetics.  Such genes usually die out quickly.  However, this got me thinking about something: if so many people have the potential to get depression – why would such a trait be preserved by natural selection?  What survival advantage does a propensity for depression actually have?  Here is my case on why depression is helpful rather than harmful.

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The Philosophical Case Against Anti-Depressants

Anti-depressantsWhile 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