Philosophy behind my therapy practice

I have always considered myself as someone who values and seeks knowledge. After I completed my Masters in Psychology, it was my interest in philosophy, to understand different worldviews, which lead me to formally study philosophy by pursuing Masters in Philosophy. During that time, I came across various philosophical movements including structuralism and post-structuralism. I studied ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to postmodern philosophers such as Sartre, Derrida, and Foucault. I was a practicing therapist during the weekdays and a student of philosophy during the weekends! I made a point to critically think about my psychology practice and how I could incorporate philosophical ideas into my therapy practice or how I could align my practice with the philosophical ideas that I studied.

I am more interested in the rich descriptions of my clients stories and worldviews than to label their experiences in categories, and to locate the problem in them.

I would be a witness to the stories that my clients would bring in the consulting room. I am more interested in the rich descriptions of their stories and worldviews than to label their experiences in categories, and to locate the problem in them. I was aware of how Socrates’s famous ‘Socratic questioning’ and his method of Elenchus to the Roman philosopher Seneca’s practice of Stoicism to Foucault’s discourse on Power and power relations influenced my work. Through my experience with my clients and my study of philosophy, I came to an understanding that there is no one way of being or doing, but multiple ways of being and doing, that is, there is no single truth but there are multiple versions of it and subjective. In a way, truth is not singular but plural. What it means is that unlike objective or natural sciences, where there are certain laws which govern the cause-and-effect phenomena, that there is a causal relation, a single truth, it is difficult to apply the same causal relationship to the study of social sciences or the humanities due to complexities of human experiences.

The idea that these laws or ‘structures’ govern all physical phenomena, and the assumption that there are fundamental, unchanging ‘structures’ which govern everything from the cosmos to the behaviours of the atoms is known as structuralism, the study of structures. The idea that one should look for similar structures which would govern an individual’s behaviour is problematic. This kind of thinking implies that the problem is located in the person and needs to be ‘fixed’, like a car which needs to be fixed if there was a problem in the car engine! People are treated like objects who act independently based only on their internal states, or their internal truths, beliefs, patterns, etc., rather than individuals who are responding to the power relations, which are outside of them.

Individuals are constantly responding to external situations and threats that they are facing, rather than some internal conflict.

Poststructuralist ideas challenge this dominant way of understanding problems, if you see carefully, individuals are constantly responding to external situations and threats that they are facing, rather than some internal conflict; they are responding to external power relations, rather than some internal structures. The problem is not located in the person but in the relations with others, that is, the problem is social. Their identities are constantly created in relations with others. Poststructuralist ideas challenge the idea of norms, the idea that people’s lives should be in a certain way in order to be ‘normal’, instead Poststructuralist thought invites us to embrace the uniqueness of each individual and to stop measuring their lives according to a certain social norm but instead help them celebrate their uniqueness.

Being a product of a society, which endorses ‘structuralist’ ideas of mental health, I feel accountable and have been constantly questioning my practice to align it with post-structuralist ideas by questioning how my practice impacts me and my clients in the therapy room, how I exercise power, and how I act in relation to my clients, through my philosophical practice, if I’m helping my clients to recreate their identities which are preferable to them rather than the others, the society.

We offer therapy services Online over Zoom. Would you like to explore these dominant stories which lead to the current presenting problems and symptoms?

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Published by

Tejas Shah

TEJAS SHAH is a PhD Scholar and has M.Phil in Clinical Psychology (RCI), MSc in Psychology, MA in Philosophy and a Degree in Law (LL.B) from University of Mumbai; he is practicing as Chief Clinical Psychologist at Healing Studio. His research interests are consciousness, phenomenology, positive psychology, philosophical counselling and mindfulness. You can connect with him on [email protected].

One thought on “Philosophy behind my therapy practice”

  1. What a brilliantly written piece! At the end of the day, the question remains are we only to look at life from an individualistic aspect or as a contributive force to society… and where do we draw the line of what is the accepted norm? Is “structure” so rigid? And are we using the “Post- structural” doctrines to truly pursuing the concept of self- growth Or misusing them to rebel for the sake of rebellion and thereby justification actions.

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