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It looks like the 21st century will become one of philosophical therapy.
Philosophy has moved out of the ivory tower and back into the public sphere from where it began. At times, this trend enhances the public debate and, at others, only populates philosophy to make it more marketable. The latter is often disguised self-help literature.
Another, more important reason for the awakening of philosophy is that many of today's illness cannot be graphed using psychology. Stress, burnout, borderline, and depression can no longer be regarded as individual diagnoses. Rather, they are symptoms of a sick society. Among the philosophers who are often used in philosophical therapy, is the late Wittgenstein and his mantra "meaning is use," or existentialist, especially when they are dealing with a pallet of powerful concepts, such as false belief, anxiety, authenticity, responsibility, freedom, and perhaps most popular, stoicism, which some used to overcome their vulnerabilities and attain peace of mind. For example, the stoic tries to eliminate the passions that cause a person to suffer. Stoicism is closely related to religious or spiritual thinkers in that they operate based on a kind of salvation, a stage in which they no longer suffer from pain or loss.
Then, there is Nietzsche.
Psychotherapist Manu Bazzano has written Nietzsche and Psychotherapy. Unlike the stoic, Nietzsche saw suffering and loss as a part of what makes a life worth living. A full and flourishing life has something at stake. For example, my love for my wife and our children makes me vulnerable because I could lose them.
Nietzsche and Psychotherapy can be read as a Nietzschean experiment that brings some of the German thinker's concept, including joy, becoming, will to power, etc., into psychotherapy.
Bazzano shows how radical and powerful a thinker Nietzsche is, as well as how psychotherapists can learn or be inspired by his thoughts.
For example, he tries to compare the life-affirming and life-denying approach by taking what works from psychotherapy and adding a dose of Nietzsche where these practices do not work. "In person-centered therapy it is assumed—rightly, I think—that the person receiving therapy is in a states of incongruence…It is also generally assumed—wrongly, I think—that 'successful' therapy means the coming together of organism and self-concept" (p. 31).
The first is right, according to the author, because those who suffer from a crisis indirectly are inviting creative experimentation into their lives. However, they do not do so to find themselves but to overcome. The self is not found; rather, it is achieved or created.
According to Nietzsche, philosophy starts in fear. For example, fear in today's performance or achievement society has reduced education and therapy into punishment. Here, Bazzano tries to liberate psychotherapy so it becomes more creative and less judgmental. "Therapeia means, after all, healing…The nihilistic, life-denying influence of our culture has made sure that psychotherapy replicates these principles, thus functioning as a mouthpiece for a pervasive ideology of resentment" (p. 134). Instead of a passive nihilistic approach to life, Bazzano suggests the adoption of an "active nihilism" that turns therapy into a kind of entertainment, a term that originally means "holding together" (p. 150).
Holding what together, we might ask. A myriad of interpretations of what it is that actually is holding life together (or potentially might hold it together), and how intense it is doing so, etc. The approach related to Nietzsche goes against a mechanical, teleological or strictly normative approach; instead it opens for a more intuitive, poetic and liberating relationship to and with life. "Where you can guess, there you hate to deduce," Nietzsche is quoted for saying. Bazzano call it "therapy without prejudice" (p. 82).
In a psychotherapeutic setting it "means that the criteria of true and false no longer have primacy and are superseded by new criteria of high and low, noble and mean. What begins to matter more is the sense and value of what one thinks, feels and says" (p. 165). In his book on Nietzsche, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze said something like that we have the thoughts and feeling we have due to our form of life.
Reading Nietzsche and Psychotherapy, you instantly notice that Bazzano is a man with an agenda. He exemplifies Nietzsche, where the German said: "Every talent must unfold itself in fighting" (p. 50).
The book is not a critical inquiry into Nietzsche, but one using Nietzsche to conduct a critical inquiry into psychotherapy, yet always trying to do so in an affirmative way. I would not recommend the book to readers with no knowledge of either Nietzsche or psychotherapy. However, if the reader has some experience in these areas, the book is inspiring. Furthermore, the book is full of illuminating quotes by Nietzsche and Deleuze, which actually make it archaeological.
The writer ends, "We go on digging. The conversation is infinite."
© 2019 Finn Janning
Finn Janning, PhD, is a writer and a philosopher.