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Philosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousReview - Philosophical Counselling and the Unconscious
by Peter, B. Raabe (Editor)
Trivium, 2006
Review by Rob Harle
Aug 21st 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 34)

This book is a must read for all counselors.  All too often counseling modalities become closed systems, rigid and stubbornly resistant to change or new ideas.  This is particularly the case with the Freudian and Jungian modalities where adherence, of an almost fundamentalist nature to the "master's" principles, prevents growth and a positive outcome for counselees.

Read with an open mind this book will help counselors overcome this myopic view of the psycho-therapies and perhaps bring about a more acceptable, consistent and holistic outcome for their clients.  Peter Raabe has done an excellent job of editing this book so as to include a balanced approach to a long overdue critical review of the efficacy of traditional psychotherapy.  s he notes in the introduction, the various contributors all have slightly different approaches to the unconscious, "...some defend a concrete conception of the unconscious that "drives" the physical mechanism", others claim "...that any conception of a substantive unconscious is ultimately logically and scientifically indefensible, or worse nonsensical, and that counseling and therapy cannot claim to be concerned with an unconscious because there is simply nothing to be concerned about" (p. 14) Given the broad scope of the high quality, scholarly essays there is as the saying goes, "something for everyone", all with the one aim, that of improving our understanding and practice of counseling. Given the inherent complexity of psychotherapy and some philosopher's writing, the book much to the contributor's credit is easy to read and only requires a basic lay person's knowledge of counseling terms such as transference, repression and so on.   

Philosophical Counseling and the Unconscious consists of fifteen chapters and an Introduction which summarizes each chapter.  This means the book may be read in order of interest, rather than sequentially.  The key methodology of this book is to present various approaches to therapy which create a dynamic tension for the reader between philosophical counseling methods and psychotherapy.  Within this, three aspects of the unconscious are discussed, from the perspective of philosophy, clinical psychology and personal mental health.  Psychologists and psychotherapists have a tendency to believe they are the only ones capable of dealing with the unconscious and those not trained in this area, such as philosophers, have no business dabbling in areas they don't understand.  This book may help temper this arrogance a little, not only through the carefully argued logic of the various essays but also because none of us really understands what constitutes the conscious mind, let alone the so-called unconscious!

The philosophical counselor quite often has to try and undo the damage caused by therapy based on "the psychotherapeutic medical model of distress as 'mental illness'".  There is now ample evidence which should dispel "...the popular misconception that the unconscious is a controlling but ultimately incomprehensible entity buried deep within the mind" (back cover).  One such study in this regard is Allan Hobson's, The Chemistry of Conscious States, this book deserves far more recognition than it seems to get.

Chapter Five by Cameron Tsoi-A-Sue in Philosophical Counseling and the Unconscious has the brilliant title, Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar, at first glance this title seems simple enough, however for me, it encapsulates and exposes the whole myth of Freudian psychoanalysis (and much psychoanalytic cultural discourse) in one sentence. .  The reader is in any doubt regarding Tsoi-A-Sue's position in this regard I'll quote the first paragraph of his contribution in full.  "Forms of therapy that center on Freudian psychodynamics are not therapeutic; the fundamental concept of the two-part human psyche, conscious and unconscious, is flawed, both practically and philosophically. The treatment models of psychodynamics are dehumanizing, create co-dependency, and encourage moral irresponsibility".  (p. 145)

This rather provocative paragraph and other similar ones indicate the book will be challenging for many counselors, especially those who believe their methods express an almost 'universal truth'.  There is no space in this short review to describe each chapter in detail so I will list their titles as they give a fairly comprehensive indication of the subject matter discussed.

  1. The Unconscious: Sartre versus Freud
  2. Mankind Cannot Bear Too Much Reality: Wishful Thinking and The Unconscious
  3. Divided Loyalties: Cultural "Weltanschauungen" and the Psychology of the Unconscious
  4. Humean Character Revision: Reflections of Pride and Shame.
  5. Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar
  6. Nietzsche and the Unconscious
  7. Addressing the Crisis of Meaning: Towards a 'Psychotheological' Reading of the Unconscious
  8. The Pathologos: the Unsuspected Underlying Belief
  9. Critical Thinking, Not "Head Shrinking"
  10. Dialogue and the Unconscious
  11. Hidden Kantian Full Thoughts in Modern Socratic Dialogues
  12. The Unconscious and Philosophical Counseling
  13. Can Philosophers Deal With the Unconscious
  14. Causal Nets and the Disappearance of the Unconscious         
  15. Transcending The Unconscious: Philosophical Counseling Sessions With Arthur Schopenhauer

Philosophical counseling attempts to, "...help counselees to overcome their predicament by going beyond their narrow, self-regarding needs towards a broader attitude about life" (p. 22).  This together with sympathetically encouraging counselees to take responsibility for their own character traits and actions in the world is a far cry from  blaming the 'predicament' on a fictitious unconscious, which the hapless counselee has no control over and by extension, cannot really be held responsible for.  Philosophical counseling suggests that even if an unconscious does exist it is not necessary to dig into it but rather transcend it in an attempt to allow a person to live a more balanced contented life.  This particular concept is creatively expressed in the final essay in the book.

As I mentioned earlier this book is essential reading for practicing counselors of all persuasions.  Philosophical counselors will find support for their own unique approach to counseling and discover help in expanding their methodology if they choose to do so.  Psychotherapists will be challenged as to the validity of their fundamental counseling assumptions and hopefully realize that at very least, addition of the 'philosophical way' to their oeuvre will increase the efficacy of their counseling efforts.  I do not think the book is especially suitable or useful for young or first year students as an understanding of basic counseling techniques and modalities is assumed.  Of course final year students about to go into practice may well find this book one of the most useful they'll ever read.  For the lay person who has been left bewildered by psychotherapy and perhaps still have their 'problem' after extensive psychotherapy the book will be well worth buying.

My only minor criticism of this book is that it comes from a very much Western cultural background and a particularly Eurocentric one at that.  Obviously to a degree this is unavoidable, as psychotherapy originated in Europe, and the Western philosophical tradition goes back to the Greeks.  However, I would have liked to have seen at least one essay from an indigenous/tribal healing perspective to give a little more balance to the overall approach.  We have much to learn from these traditions (as well as the Chinese approach to holistic living) and I would encourage Peter Raabe to produce a follow-up volume which transcends the moribund, Eurocentric psychotherapeutic model completely and concentrates further on philosophical counseling methods together with at least an overview of indigenous or tribal philosophical healing systems.

© 2007 Rob Harle

Rob Harle is an artist and writer, especially concerned with the nature of consciousness and high-body technologies. His current work explores the nature of the transition from human to posthuman, a phenomenon he calls the technoMetamorphosis of humanity. He has academic training in philosophy of mind, comparative religious studies, art and psychotherapy. Rob is an active member of the Leonardo Review Panel. For full biography and examples of art and writing work please visit his web site: http://www.robharle.com


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