Philosophy and Counseling: A Very Brief Introduction to My Field.

A brief introduction to my field. Part 1.

COUNSELING, psychotherapy, psychology, psychiatry are often conflated into the same category to mean the same thing.  Upon beginning my course of Master’s instruction, I myself had to ask what the difference is, since I am indeed studying to be a counselor, and not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  Of course, you can do a search, but I will give you my short and incomplete general assessment here.

Cupid and Psyche

Something happened in the mid to late 19th century.  Georg Hegel could be said to be in the middle of it, and perhaps then Kierkegaard and Nietzsche indicated the problem which precipitated, or otherwise represented a kind of thinking that was circulating around the centers of study in Europe.  Whatever it was, an idea arose that crazy people had something wrong with their physical brain; the people who started to consider this possibility called themselves neurologists. Sigmund Freud came out of this school; he was a neurologist and not a philosopher. Before these people, mental illness was thought to be based in all sorts of random causes, such as being possessed.

I point this out because philosophy and psychology have been conflated or mushed together in all sorts of interesting ways so that we find Freud and psychoanalysis being at the heart of some philosophies (like Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, Zizek. And I have to mention Levi Bryant, who is a current philosopher who did a spell as a Psychoanalytical therapist). But what I see is that despite of all the involved intellectualizations, there is something off in many formulations of philo-psychology. I am starting to see that perhaps the problem lay in how one approaches the situation more than how one smashes together various intellectual, textual or methodological stimuli.

There were plenty of people that were trying to figure out what to do with people who exhibited various sorts of mental issues, but I have been told by more than a few people that the reason why Freud became so popularized is because he wrote shit down. I don’t know just how true that is, but it does say something about where we get our ideas from: It is probably not so much that Freud had such great and perfect theories of the psyche (certainly we know now that much of Freud’s formualtions were kind of wacko), it is that he wrote his ideas down and had a lot of people read them. Whatever was happening for people, a certain kind of knowledge that people were starting to focus in on to call science was beginning to form around the idea that physical and mechanical bases were responsible for everything.

Anyways. So we had Freud theorizing that everyone’s psychic mechanics were screwed up because they were not dealing squarely with sex. His approach to handling this repression, which he got from Josef Breuer, that he called “the talking cure”, took everything else over.  It seemed that all one had to do was allow for a space where a person would just talk and talk, and eventually they would figure stuff out on their own.  Yes: There was no analysis to help the person; psychoanalysis was exactly that the person came into Freud’s office and talked for two or three hours.  When the session was over, Freud said, see you in a couple days! It seems that Freud, while very compassionate for his patients, was really worried about coming up with a scientific (physical/empirical) explanation for human experience, of the human psyche.

Now keep in mind that the sessions of Psychoanalysis took place about 3 or 4 days a week, two-hour sessions, for years.  Who could pay for this kind of help? Well; rich people.

Then came Alfred Adler. Freud thought Adler was pretty cool and so invited him to be a part of a new organization of psychoanalysis. But Adler saw that other people besides wealthy people might need help; while Freud thought everything psychic was caused by a sort of mechanical drive, Adler saw that people developed in a social dynamic. Pretty much everything we have now that has to do with social help, like social services, job counseling, school counseling and such, came out of Adler’s idea that everyone deserves mental health and help in their lives and that people develop throughout their lives dynamically involved with society.  So; one of the earliest kind of this social help was the job counselor, or skills counselor.

Out of this effort came the psychologist. The original job of the psychologist was to develop and give people tests to find out their interests and abilities so that they perhaps could be placed into work that they enjoyed and were best fitted for.  The psychologist did not give people therapy or counseling.  They worked for psychiatrists (experts), who then did the heavy lifting to analyze, decide and diagnose upon the individuals (patients).

Counseling originally had to do specifically with social concerns. Using the assessments and such to help people be, as Adler termed, superior and opposed to inferior, which is to say, to help people get out of the mental state of inferiority which kept them from achieving happiness and contentment in life.

Over the years, the job of the counselor has morphed, conflated and butted heads with in various ways with the psychologists and psychiatrists.  It was only around 30+/-years ago, in the 1970’s -90’s that people began to identify themselves as counselors in distinction from the other two biggies. Counselors have thus been involved in a somewhat recent and still on going process of defining ourselves and our profession as a positive activity, not unrelated to psychology and psychiatry, but nevertheless doing something slightly but significantly different than those historically empirical and traditional lineages of the medically determined psyche. We work with the soul, the original idea behind the term psyche, the spirit, and I would say, of being.

One guiding general maxim of my field is counsellors are not the experts; We are not doctors who diagnose the individual disease and then proscribe the cure. In fact, some counselors, such as Carl Rogers, denied that treatment of the psyche can be adequately and ethically addressed through the traditional medical model.  On the contrary; the client is the expert and the counselor serves to help the individual come to their own solution for their own problems, responsibly. Also, a founding tenet of counseling is that the client (aside from the more insistant mental disturbances) is not sick, the client is not understood to be in need of a diagnosis or a cure, and that the individual is behaving entirely naturally and healthily given the particular situation and circumstance that she finds herself in.

And this is exactly where I propose to begin to bring philosophy back into the scheme of mental health.

1 Comment

  1. Great, I am on that path also. Of course I read Lou Marinoff, and do respect other disciplines including and very philosophy but philosophy above others shoould be able to give a man a proper conversation at least when he has some doubts. I totally support you on this one.

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