11 Mar 2015

7. The virtues of our counselees

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My last reflection made a promise to return to the issue of suitable clientele or candidacy. The question was placed in the context of goals specific to philosophical counseling. Specifically, I had argued that "if philosophical counseling nurtures self-reflective understanding, then the aim of philosophical counseling must be an introspective exercise that aims to gauge, enhance and augment one's understanding, a process integral to one's interpretative framework orienting one in the world."

Hence, I argued, "counselees looking for concrete solutions to their problems and/or decision-making are ill-suited to this cumbersome activity, as would individuals lacking mental sensibilities and certain dispositional traits of character including discipline, thoughtfulness and patience." I now wish to be more explicit.

When speaking of concrete solutions and a decision making process, my point is that philosophical insights would remain at the periphery of any discussion or may be perceived as an unnecessary intrusion to the concrete exercise of providing a recipe for deciding "whether one should stay in an unhealthy relationship" or "5 steps to fighting procrastination" or "outlining research methods for a struggling PhD student". Sure I could do that easily enough, and I could even accomplish it with the consensus of my client. However, there would be nothing particularly philosophical or personally insightful about the experience. The client would cash in on certain skills in practical reasoning, and adopt improved patterns of behavior.

What is philosophical about these otherwise practical questions? Someone who comes with relationship issues is bound to have a complex network of concepts that both defines his/her evaluative assessment and most importantly the particular issues that comprise his/her narrative. The same can be said of that individual that procrastinates. Indeed, someone who takes on a goal and consistently puts it on the back burning is involved in (unconscious) internal struggles that may vary from experience of self-worth, the value of the goal itself, orientations on life and more.

Once these are brought to the fore and the client is invited to explicitly negotiate the background of meanings from which his/her present stance is informed, the opportunity for rational self-reflective understanding is heightened. Notice the shift from outwardly oriented assessments often associated with practical judgments where one looks to the best means by which to acquire a goal, and an inwardly oriented experience of those concepts from which one gains insight into one's own understanding of such matters.

This is a cumbersome and arduous process that may leave the client feelings as if s/he is taking many steps backwards, furthering him/herself from the attainment of the original goal that was in clear(er) proximity. Frustration, and a brewing sense of futility would alienate the client and hinder the cultivation of a personalized authentic dialogue of self-understanding. It is for this reason that certain traits of character seem pertinent, even if these may come in degrees and may also be strengthened by the philosophical counseling experience.

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Elly Pirocacos

I am a professor of philosophy presently on leave from the American College of Greece and Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Education, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, at McGill University. My research is focused on working out the inter-subjectivity of dialogical engagement to address fundamental epistemological issues with regards to counseling and teaching methods. I have a practice in philosophical counseling in Montreal, Canada and am secretary to CSPP (the Canadian Society for Philosophical Practice).