Approach.  In the allegory of the cave, Plato tells of people chained in an underground cave who have only been exposed to shadows projected on a cave wall, and mistake the appearances (the shadows) for reality (the things casting the shadows).  What people often don’t realize about this allegory is that the prisoners don’t just see shadows of the things behind them:  they also see shadows of themselves; that is, they have never really seen themselves, much like how they have never used certain muscles.  The prisoners’ struggle to escape the cave, then, is two-pronged:  in reaching for truth, they are not just trying to touch and know the real world, but to know their true selves.  One of the lessons of the allegory is that we have to do both together.

My basic approach to philosophical counseling is to provide a clear, safe space for a client to “show up”:  for the whole person to emerge.  Most of the time, we only show part of ourselves, not just to others, but to ourselves.   Our personal and professional roles and relationships often pull us in different and disparate directions.  As in Plato’s cave, we cast multiple shadows, in various shapes, throughout our lives.  Once these patterns of behaving and relating get solidified, we start to identify with the pieces, and we can begin to lose sight of the whole; it’s like a lack of psychospiritual circulation.  Rarely do we get the chance to step back and discern how, and whether, these different parts of our lives, our selves, fit together.  Even more rarely do we have the chance to do this with another person who, removed from our lifeworld, can provide a check against our tendencies toward ignorance, self-deception, and muddled thinking.  This movement–from darkness to enlightenment, dependence to autonomy, bondage to liberation, fragmentation to wholeness, stasis to growth–is what philosophy, practiced at a personal or existential level, is all about.

Training.  I received a thematically broad, historically deep, and pluralistic training in philosophy, receiving my PhD in philosophy, and Certification in philosophical counseling, in 2011.  I am also a long-time practitioner of Zen meditation, and founded a sitting group where I provided beginner instruction.  Finally, I have served as a facilitator for Socrates Cafés.  I apply this training in general and specific ways.

General.  These include basic philosophical skills and techniques that any philosophical counselor draws on:

  • concept clarification
  • argument analysis
  • probing hidden or dubious assumptions
  • striving for coherence among beliefs
  • Socratic questioning
  • Instruction in basic meditative techniques

Specialization.  I incorporate three parts of my training into my practice:  Ethics, Existentialism, and Buddhism.  Which tradition, theory, or thinker we emphasize, if any, will of course depend on the client.

Ethics.  How do I make difficult decisions?  What should I prioritize?  What do I mean by success?  How do I understand happiness?  Where did my moral beliefs and values come from?  Am I practicing the virtues?

Existentialism.  Am I living my own life, or someone else’s?  How are others’ expectations and standards influencing my own choices and life direction?  What is my overarching goal or purpose in life?  How do I cope with the sense of anxiety, dread, or meaninglessness?  Where/how do I find/create meaning?  Am I blind to the pockets of meaning in my life?

Buddhism.  Why am I suffering?  What am I attached to?  What are the connections between my speech, conduct, and thought?  What is the core of my identity?  How am I practicing, or failing to practice, compassion?  Have I made room for reflective practices in my life?  How do I meditate?