25 Mar 2015

10. A clinical approach in philosophical consultations

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When conducting my first philosophical consultations in 2007, after being a psychotherapist for some years, I was struck by the free space of the dialogue in which persons could appear in a totally unexpected, uncontrolled, authentic way. I had to position myself in this space, meeting the client as a philosopher.

In due course, I developed a way to conduct philosophical consultations called "clinical" after the original meaning of the word, i.e. "klinikos" (Gr.): going out to meet a person in his or her natural environment in order to understand. In philosophical practice we go out of university or philosophical schools in order to meet and understand persons.

My approach (not a method) is based on identifying philosophical content in the speech, acts or life of a person. In a philosophical consultation, I distinguish three steps:

1. Working on the question

2. Identifying philosophical content

3. working on philosophical content

Starting point of my consultations, is a question or a theme of a client. I approach a client in a Socratic way. When the client presents a theme, I work towards a question. When the client presents a question, I work towards a philosophical question. A philosophical question should be the outcome of the first phase of a consultation.

Next, I try to identify the philosophical content of this question by regarding the history of philosophy on the one hand and the personality of the client on the other hand. The content identified should fit the client. A conceptualization of this content is the outcome of this second phase. I call this the "philosophical diagnosis".

From this identification of philosophical content we move on to a deepening and/or understanding of philosophical content. I consider this understanding, captured in a metaphor (i.e. meaningful story) suiting the situation or life of the client the most valuable outcome of a philosophical consultation.

The structure of my consultations resembles the development in Plato's work on the one hand - from a critical (Socratic) questioning as such to an interpretation by a theory of ideas, to a critical questioning of this theory, etc, - and the reflexive nature of philosophy on the other hand. Thus, by both form and content my philosophical consultations are distinguished from psychology, psychotherapy or coaching, a distinction important for the identity of our philosophical consultation practice.

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Peter Harteloh

I am Peter Harteloh, born on July 5, 1960 in The Hague. I studied medicine (graduation at Erasmus University as MD: 1987) and philosophy (MA at University Utrecht: 1996). I received additional trainings in occupational medicine, psychotherapy and philosophical counselling. I wrote a PhD thesis on quality management in which I explored the philosophical origins of the quality concept and its social application in quality management (2000). Since 2007, I work as a Philosophical Practitioner in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

In my practice, I offer individual consultations, Socratic group dialogue, courses on lifestyle management and philosophical walks. My main sources of inspiration are Pierre Hadot (philosophy as a way of life) who provides a theory for my philosophical practice, and Oscar Brenifier who offers an example of a radical Socratic way of doing consultations. My style can be called clinical, after the "klinikos" (Gr.) who went out to meet the patient in his or her own natural environment in order to understand. In my consultations, I combine a Socratic style of questioning with a phenomenology of understanding against the background of an eternal cycle of Wisdom as expressed in Western or Eastern philosophy.

Since 2011, I am a lecturer in philosophical counselling at the school for higher education of Utrecht. My research is on dialogue, silence and the relationship between concepts and place (topology). I conducted lectures and/or master classes on philosophical practice in Italy (2008, 2010), France (2009, 2012, 2014), Japan (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013), Thailand (2009, 2013), Tai Wan (2009), Cambodia (2012, 2013), Korea (2012, 2014), China (2013), Sweden (2013), Greece/Athens (2013) and Serbia (2014). I was the secretary (2007-2010) and president (2010-2012) of the Dutch Association for Philosophical Practice.