Monday, September 28, 2009

Philosophy and Counseling

Here is an amusing little passage from my new textbook on counseling, The Professional Counselor: A Process Guide to Helping, Sixth Edition, by Harold L. Hackney and Sherry Cormier.

This is the kind of thinking I am up against in trying to bring a more integral approach (quadrants, states, stages, types, lines, and so on, basically AQAL) to a mainstream psychology program.
Counseling and Philosophy

Few people consider themselves to be philosophers. And yet, everyone has a philosophical outlook on life. Some people see life as a sequence of events and experiences over which they have little or no control. Others view life as a challenge to be analyzed, controlled, and directed. Some see the purpose of life to be achievement and self-improvement. Others view life as a process to be experienced. Who is right? Everyone. Philosophical outlooks on life are varied, allowing each individual to choose or to identify with that outlook that seems to fit him or her best.

Counseling theory has drawn from four philosophical positions. The first of these, essentialism, assumes that human beings are rational by nature, that reason is the natural goal of education, and that the classical thinkers are the chief repository of reason. From this orientation come the problem solvers, the analyzers, those who search for patterns in life.

The second philosophical position, progressivism, is concerned with the fundamental question, What will work? Knowledge is based on experimental results, truth is identified through consequences, and values are relative rather than absolute. From this orientation come the persons who rely on data and research for their truths, believe that pragmatic solutions do exist for human problems, and are committed to the pursuit of logical and lawful relationships in life.

The third philosophical position, existentialism, holds that life’s meaning is to be found in the individual, not in the environment or the event. Lawfulness (progressivism) or rational thinking (essentialism) are meaningless unless the individual gives them meaning. People who align with this view of life believe that values are real and individually determined, and that experiences are subjective rather than lawful or predictable. Individual responsibility is emphasized; human reactions are the result of choice or potential choice.

And the fourth philosophical position, postmodernism, raises the fundamental question, What is real? This question is particularly relevant in terms of the client’s experience versus an external reality. Or more specifically, which reality is more important, the client’s reality or an outside reality to which the client should adapt? Though there are some similarities between postmodernism and existentialism in this regard, the important point is that one can never know a reality outside oneself, and therefore must focus on personal reality. From this orientation come persons who believe that reality can only have a personal meaning; that reality gains meaning through one’s personal perceptions or explanations of experiences.

Obviously, all counselors enter the profession with some variation of these viewpoints. Each counselor’s philosophical view will be reflected in how he or she reacts to client problems and how those problems are addressed. Similarly, clients enter counseling with some variation of these viewpoints, which will be reflected in how they view their problems and what they consider to be viable solutions.
Admittedly, these are the dominant stances in American culture, although one could make a case for the inclusion of the mythic-authoritarian worldview prior to essentialism.

But what about those who understand that each of these is true but partial - that these four perspectives are equated with different developmental stages? This model offers only upper Blue (transitioning into Orange), Orange, and Green worldviews (the left hand portion of the image below).

The integral AQAL map is perhaps the most complete model we have for thinking about these issues, especially in psychology, and if we are going to speak of the philosophy of therapists, many of us already conceptualize in this way - and many more certainly can do so if they were introduced to the model.

Some days it feels like I am banging my head against the wall in trying to hold these perspectives in my classes, but every once in a while I have a professor who is willing to stretch - my current professor is one of the good ones.


Duff said...

Not only that, but the four strands they mention are contractory.

Essentialism is thoroughly critiqued by postmodernism.

What they are calling "progressivism" is normally called pragmatism, which is unconcerned with questions of metaphysics and human nature.

And the simplistic characterizations of all four (e.g. postmodernism appears to be solipsism in this description) misses the main thrust of each.

But then again, I'm one of those few people who considers myself a philosopher.... :)

Karl Higley said...

Indeed. In addition to being partial, the descriptions of these four viewpoints aren't particularly clear, accurate, or nuanced.

WH said...

I only know enough philosophy to get by (which is maybe more than the authors) so I don't get the finer points of their errors, but it is frustrating nonetheless.

Thanks for confirming my misgivings.