Is there another way besides drugs to find help in the midst of one's confusion or despair?
As more and more therapists are turning ever more quickly to one or another prescription drug to aid their patients, a new breed of counselors is taking an entirely different tack. Rather than numb or stimulate the mind, they prefer to try to recast it.
Emily Wax reported on the new movement of "philosophical counselors" which is beginning to establish itself as an alternative, in some cases, to drug therapies ("Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers," Washington Post, August 22, 2011).
Come to such a counselor with your problems and you're likely to be prescribed readings from a variety of philosophers to help you set your circumstances in a different frame of reference. Ms. Wax says of these philosophical counselors, "They’re like intellectual life coaches. Very intellectual."
The intent of this effort seems to be to help people re-engage sound reason in an effort to sort through their problems without the aid of drugs. There are encouraging signs to make us believe such therapies can be of help, including the launch of a society of philosophical counselors: "There are about 300 philosophical counselors in 36 states and more than 20 foreign countries who are certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association."
I find this to be an encouraging development for two reasons. First, it takes seriously the possibility of the renewing of the mind - a very Biblical notion. This is probably the intent of those who prescribe drugs for their patients as well; however, the approach of reading and discussing perspectives from great philosophers has the dual advantage of exercising the reasoning powers of the brain and doing so in communication with a knowledgeable advisor.
Second, I'm encouraged by the fact that people are finding help in old books and venerable ideas. Most people who come for philosophical counseling have doubtless never read any of the works that are prescribed for them. But they often find the recommended works to be helpful in enabling them to sort out their difficulties and gain a new perspective, one less troubling and more hopeful.
There is divine wisdom in even the most secular of philosophies - which is not the same as saying that all philosophies are true. It's just that God has made all human beings in His image and, as my dad used to say of us boys, whenever we did something well in sports, "A blind hog will find a ripe acorn every now and then." C. S. Lewis wrote about the tao of generally-accepted principles of truth which could be found in every culture and civilization. Paul demonstrated dependence on such a bank of truth in his sermon on Mars Hill.
So if it helps people to think more clearly and live more purposefully and happily to contemplate a few pages of Milton or Socrates, then I rejoice. After all, anything that leads people to exercise sound reason and appreciate the value of venerable wisdom can't be a bad thing for those of us who hope to show our neighbors the truth that is in Jesus and God's Word.
Philosophical counseling won't completely unmess a person's mind. But if it helps to activate thought, exercise reason, promote the seeking of truth, and mitigate the suffering of our age, I think we have to praise God for such a development.
Related texts: Ecclesiastes 3.1-11; Acts 17.22-29; Romans 2.14, 15; Romans 12.1, 2; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5
A conversation starter: "Do you believe that, by being taught to think more clearly, people can resolve some of the deep troubles that are leading them to despair?"