Thursday, September 29, 2016
Was Socrates a Philosophical Counsellor?
This was my talk to the 5th Internal Conference on Philosophy in Practice at Oxford in 1999
Socrates has been cited as the most important precursor of philosophical counselling (Schefczyk, 1995). Certainly Plato's portrayal of Socrates, as a philosopher who uses dialogue to help people examine their lives, inevitably invites comparisons with philosophical counselling. Yet there are also apparent differences in the context, assumptions, purpose, style and technique of Socrates and many modern philosophical counsellors. This paper aims to explore both these similarities and differences. To provide a focus, Euthyphro (Plato, 1959), a relatively early, short, two-person dialogue concerning one of the participant's "problem in living", will be discussed in the context of philosophical counselling. Although it is recognised that Euthyphro was written by Plato and may be largely fictional, it will be instructive to consider the dialogue as if it portrays Socrates at work accurately. In so doing it is hoped some light will be shed Socrates, philosophical counselling and the relationship between them.
Click here to download PDF for free access to the full article
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Some clients may tell you if they have any doubts, directly. They are the easy ones.
The harder clients are ones where the doubts are less obvious
This may show in a small hesitation, in a slightly unsure tone of voice. Look out for these and check out what is going through their minds
Doubts might raise themselves as questions which indirectly show doubt. Such questions might seem innocuous enough
"Do you have clients as complicated as me?"
"Have you dealt with cases like this before?"
Best to empathise with the doubt, ask what is behind it rather than take it too literally or brush it side.
Sometimes doubts manifest as statements
"I've been reading this book ... [which suggests a different explanation or strategy]"
"I'm feeling better this week so maybe I dont need therapy".
Again, look at the pros and cons of this ideas - and go back to your formulation, your understanding of what is keeping the clients problems going
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Irvin Yalom has got to be one of the most inspirational writers on psychotherapy. He has penned textbooks, case studies and fiction and is still going strong at the age of 83. In this recent radio intervew Yalom reflects on Mortality and 50 Years of Psychotherapy
Monday, March 02, 2015
I make a point of regularly expressing my positive thoughts and feelings about my patients about their social skills, intellectual curiosity, warmth, loyalty to their friends, articulateness, courage in facing their inner demons, dedication to change, willingness to self disclose, loving gentleness with their children, commitment to breaking the cycle of abuse, and decision not to pass the "hot potato" to the next generation. Don't be stingy - there is every reason to express these observations and your positive statements. Acceptance and support from one who knows you so intimately is enormously affirming. For more on The Gift of Therapy
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Positive Psychology can be criticised for being too reductionist, lacking a strong philosophical base, and for being - well, too positive. Whilst these criticisms have some merit, there is a lot of good research and discussion happening in the positive psychology world, and the task is to harvest this rather than debunk it.
I'll post some more ideas on this in due course, but here are some thoughts.
I'll post some more ideas on this in due course, but here are some thoughts.
- If positive psychology can show that interventions increase subjective well-being, can it also show what interventions increase the richer notion of eudaimonia (or flourishing, or the good life)?
- Will the same interventions that increase subjective well-being increase eudaimonia?
- Will other interventions, for example those aimed at enhancing meaning or wisdom, have more effect on eudaimonia than subjective well-being?
- Can the work on flow and strengths increase eudaimonia?
- Here's one way that they might ... By knowing and focussing on our strengths, we have more chance of achieving our life goals.
- Here's another ... By turning the activities that will help us achieve our life goals into flow activities, we will be more motivated to carry them out
So I believe a dialogue between positive psychology and those interested in enhancing eudaimonia is important - and yes, positive psychology can bring something to the show
It's sometimes argued, and with some validity, that psychology, especially positive psychology, ends up advocating interventions that are "just common sense". For example, one of the most frequently cited interventions is to count your blessings - hardly a new idea. Proponents of positive psychology like Martin Seligman have pointed out that there are in fact a number of findings uncovered by Positive Psychology, some of which which are well described in this article
One of the concepts I find most intriguing that comes from Positive Psychology is that of Flow, as researched by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a state of optimal experience.
It’s being in the zone, it's losing yourself in a task. I've written a more academic style post on the criteria for finding flow, so I won't repeat that here.
Here I want to consider just two ideas that may be helpful when working with coaching or even therapy clients.
The first makes use of the absorbing and enjoyable nature of flow activities. When you lose yourself on the ski slopes, or on the tennis court, or in a game of chess, a film, a conversation or a video game, you want to do the activity again. So if you can find flow in an activity, you will be more motivated to do that activity. A key -and perhaps under-used - life coaching exercise is to ask the client to list their major life goals. The problem many people find though, is that, paradoxically, although the items they have just listed are at one level very important to them, they just don't feel motivated to do them - at least not now! For example, suppose you've written down "write a novel" or "get really fit" or "be a successful parent" as a life goal. Seeing it down can just make people feel guilty that they aren't doing it already and not at all motivated to start doing the task. One of the tricks here, as all life coaches know, is to break it big goals down into smaller steps, make the goals SMART and so on. So you might aim not to write a novel (because that goal is too daunting) but to research the subject of your novel, and to do that by next Sunday. That's better -but what if you still don't feel motivated to do it. Then your coach may suggest you visualize success. imagine seeing your book in Waterstones and imagine how proud and pleased you feel. Whilst this can sometimes be helpful in giving more motivation , I'd like to suggest another approach.
If you can find flow in everyday activities connected with your life goals, then you'll be motivated to do them and you'll take a step towards a life goal and find flow - two good things.
The trick here is partly to match the criteria for finding flow - for example, make sure you set realistic but also challenging goals, aren't distracted and that you get feedback. So the would-be novel-writer finds a quiet space to start their novel, having set the challenging but realistic goal of writing the first paragraph of the novel today. The challenged parent takes their kids somewhere they are all likely to enjoy, plays an absorbing game with them, or puts on a video of the family holiday when the children were toddlers (these all work for me!). For sure, not all life goals necessarily have the potential to produce flow - the anxiety may be just too high, or the tasks too mundane - but if you can combine the two its a great win-win.
However, by no means all flow activities are good ones. Recently, I've found myself spending far too much time playing chess on the internet. Flow theory helps me understand why. Chess is absorbing, you lose yourself in the game (even if you lose the game ...), there's feedback, there are specific goals ... it's no surprise I experience flow when I play chess. Yet I don't really want to spend that much time playing chess - my work and family are much more important and playing chess distracts me from my important life The lesson I - and clients - may benefit from is that flow activities may be potentially addictive andso one needs to be wary of over-engaging in them. To do this, you might need to take quite strong preventative measures e.g. asking other people to stop you doing these activities or in my case taking the link to the chess game off my browser so it's that much harder for me to get started. Whilst chess might seem a relatively harmless addiction, I am sure that being in flow is part of the attraction of more damaging activities, for instance those concerned with alcohol and drugs. The useful insight here is that whilst flow may be part of the good life it certainly isn't the only thing that matters - and that activities are addictive partly because they lead to flow.
These two points are really two sides of the same coin. Flow is addictive, and if you experience it in activities that are part of your good life, then that's a double win - flow and your life goal. But if you attain it in neutral or even harmful activities, then whilst it's perfectly understandable that you keep doing that activity, it's something to be wary of.