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Give a Boost to Your Relationship

Has your relationship lost its spark? Breathe new life into it to stop familiarity breeding contempt

The first in an occasional series on relationship issues by ProvenTherapy Director and Therapist, Matt Butler

Relationship feeling a little jaded? Lost the spark with your nearest and dearest? It’s unfortunately all too easy to take our partners for granted sometimes. The familiarity factor whereby we drift along in our most important relationships is common, though ultimately corrosive. We all need that extra spark in our relationships to keep them alive – the feeling that we are involved in something special; a frisson of excitement, a soupcon of … well … sauce. When in a committed relationship though we need to realise that we must act to make these things happen. This is vital in order to keep our relationships alive. It’s no accident that the word for keeping relationship alive is the same as that for keeping a fire going – relationships need kindling and re-kindling. The fire needs stoking. Ultimately such sparks of desire signify something we all yearn for but are sometimes phased by, maybe even a little scared of, intimacy and perhaps for some this is the root of the problem.

Relationship Counseling
“Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all” – Psychologist and Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson

Relationship difficulties should remind us of the central importance of intimacy in our lives. Clearly a human desire, it is perhaps more than that, a human need.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg said, “Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still”. In an age of advanced communications it remains the case that people can still feel lonely amid apparent togetherness, even in outwardly committed relationships.

So, to keep your relationships kindled, re-kindled and positively fizzing here are ProvenTherapy’s tips for maintaining a great relationship.

6 tips to give your jaded relationship a boost

  1. Make a point of paying your loved one a compliment or two, pick out something you like about them and tell them you like it! Don’t lay it on too thick – just be honest about it
  2. Be physical but gentle. Take time for touch – a hug, a kiss .. and who knows, maybe something more ..
  3. Go on a date together. It’s so easy when in a long term relationship – especially if you have children – to get out of the habit of going out together so make a date and stick to it. Even if you can’t go out try taking time to dress up and have a candle lit dinner together indoors every once in a while
  4. Talk! Spend time each day talking to your significant other, find out what’s happening for them
  5. Listen! Take time to really listen to your partner. You might feel tempted to dive into communications with ‘answers’ or comments on your partner’s self-expression. Try not to act on these – really give them space to talk and freely express themselves. This will be time well spent
  6. Have some fun! Try not to take things so seriously. Even in the most difficult situations it is often possible to find some humour

In summary, if you find your relationship with your significant other is showing signs of strain then take some time out to re-connect – make time to rekindle those closest of relationships with tenderness, gentleness and understanding – before things have a chance to take a turn for the worse.

Meet Matt Butler here for further support

The Ventral Vagal

Janette Strokappe


The Ventral Vagal

Expert advice by veteran Family Therapist and Psychologist

Janette Strokappe – Online Counselor and Therapist

For many years, the autonomic nervous system was thought to be the sympathetic nervous system in balance with the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic revved the body up and the parasympathetic calmed it down.

Dr. Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory changed all that. As I am just summarizing the polyvagal theory, if you want more thorough information, just google Polyvagal theory.

Dr. Porges discovered that the parasympathetic system is composed of two branches of the vagus nerve which arise from different areas of the brain.

The unmyelinated branch is an ancient system found also in reptiles. Its action is below the diaphragm. Myelin is the outer coating of a nerve which allows it to transmit impulses more efficiently. This branch lacks myelin.

The ventral vagus which we are interested in is found only in mammals and it is myelinated. It arises from the brain very close to the area that stimulates the face muscles and voice box. Stimulation of the ventral vagal allows up to be more relational.

When we are threatened the responses come down the development chain starting with the most developed.

We try:

  1. Smile and try and act pleasant to defuse the situation.
  1. If that doesn’t work, we prepare for fight or flight.
  1. If that doesn’t work, the body may go into freeze mode. Freeze dulls pain if we are attacked and if the predator relaxes its grip it gives us a chance to escape.

This is all below the level of consciousness. We do not have voluntary control over these responses.

It is possible with chronic stress to get stuck in fight or flight or freeze. It is also possible to alternate between them.

The signs of hyper-arousal (fight or flight)

Exaggerated startle reaction Outbursts of anger
Extreme vigilance Irritability
Feelings of panic and anxiety Insomnia
Reduced tolerance for pain Fatigue
Difficulty concentrating Constantly being on guard.
Feelings of electricity going through your body especially the legs. (feelings of bugs under the skin Frequent urination

The signs of hypo-arousal (freeze) are:

  •  Feelings of being hopeless and helpless
  • Dissociating into daydreaming, or into a book where you are startled if someone calls or touches you.
  • Just wanting to be in a dark room, lying in bed with the covers pulled over your head.
  • We can alternate between these two states.

Stimulating the Ventral Vagus.

The only way out of these states is to activate the ventral vagal (relational) nerve.

There is two-way traffic in this nerve. Many signals come from our internal organs and travel up the vagus to the brain. This is the “gut feelings” that we get.

Signals travel back down the ventral vagus to have a calming effect.

There are some experiments being done with electrical stimulation of the ventral vagus for depression and epilepsy.

While we can’t do that, there are things we can do for ourselves to stimulate the ventral vagus.

butterfly hug

What We Can do at Home to Stimulate the Ventral Vagus:

Remember, safety above all. If you do not feel safe, it is below the level of conscious response, and the ventral vagal will not activate.

  1. Values: Friends, family good health and generosity are essential.
  1. Being creative: Whether through writing, art, acting, singing or dancing.
  1. Prolonged exhale is the best way to stimulate the ventral vagus. If you haven’t seen the video I usually make available, then follow the instructions for conscious breathing which will follow.
  1. Conscious Breathing: The breath is one of the fastest ways to influence our nervous system. The vagus nerve is stimulated when the breath is slowed from our usual 10-14 breaths per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute. Breathe in through your nose and give a very prolonged exhale through the mouth. Like you are saying AAH!
  1. Valsalva Maneuver: This involves attempting to exhale against a closed airway. You can do this by keeping your mouth closed and pinching your nose while trying to breathe out. This increases the pressure inside of your chest cavity increasing vagal tone.
  1. Diving Reflex: Considered a first rate vagus nerve stimulating technique, splashing cold water on your face from your lips to your scalp line stimulates the diving reflex. You can also achieve the nervous system cooling effects by placing ice cubes in a ziplock bag and holding the ice against your face and briefly hold your breath. The diving reflex slows your heart rate, increases blood flow to your brain, reduces anger and relaxes your body. An additional technique that stimulates the diving response is to submerge your tongue in liquid. Drink and hold lukewarm water in your mouth sensing the water with your tongue.
  1. The Butterfly Hug: The butterfly hug is a soothing gesture you can do anytime. Wrap your arms around your body at the level of the shoulders. Alternating pat one shoulder and then the other until you feel calm.
  1. Connection and Feeling Safe: Reach out for relationship. Healthy connection to others can initiate regulation of our body and mind. Relationships can evoke the spirit of playfulness and creativity or can relax us into a trusting bond with one another. While it is most effective in person, connection can be made through the phone or texts or social media. Texting only becomes a problem when it is used to avoid person to person contact.

This is a very simplified version of Dr. Porges polyvagal theory.

 Contact Janette Strokappe for online counseling support

Family Meetings

Janette Strokappe


Relevance of Family Meetings

Expert advice by veteran Family Therapist and Psychologist

Janette Strokappe – Online Counselor and Therapist

I work a lot with children and their families. The biggest complaint I get from parents is about the disrespect and arguing over doing chores. I strongly recommend no arguing with children, especially teenagers. That is a fool’s game. I would tell any child being disrespectful; you can talk to me when you are willing to talk to me respectfully. I would then disengage.

Instead I recommend monthly family meetings, more often if an emergency arises. These meetings are scheduled and everyone in the family attends, and there are no interruptions allowed. This is our time to talk about how the family is doing, and the children have a say.

We talk about who does what. Chores are assigned according to age. Even very little children can take their dirty dishes to the sink. Older children must realize that the little guys cannot do as much as they can, and that the day will come for the little guys as well.

I don’t recommend consequences for young children. I like behaviour charts where the children can mark down when they have completed a chore. This is done with a star or little sticker just to make it more fun. At the end of the week, if the chart is full, they get to pick the Saturday night video or what the family will be having for Saturday night supper. They do not get an expensive gift.

For children with ADHD, sometimes they need to see the reward before they will work for it. For these children I would make up a little treasure chest of things from the dollar store so the child can see the prize. If they complete chores as agreed upon, they get to pick one thing.

FamilyThere are three things to remember about chores. First, the parent should demonstrate what they are looking for in, for example, a clean bedroom. Too many times, I have had kids tell me that they will clean the bedroom and mum or dad will say, “That’s not good enough”, but never explain why. The parent has to demonstrate what a clean bedroom looks like. Also putting things away properly, and what do they have to do for the parent to decide the bedroom has been cleaned properly. Is a clean bedroom, all the clothes put away properly, and nothing shoved under the bed?

The second thing is how many days a chore has to be done to get the privilege at the end of the week. Is it 5 out of 7, 7 out of 7. This is decided at the family meeting.

Thirdly, a time limit has to be set on the chore. Does the garbage have to be emptied by 6 o’clock in the evening?

We do make exceptions for special occasions. With our own children, mum and dad covered the chores if the child had a party or a concert. However, if the child wants to take on a sport where they need to attend once or twice a week, this has to be decided at the family meeting, so chores can be discussed again.

With older children, we use consequences. By that I mean removed privileges. Consequences need to be immediate and appropriate. We do not tell children that they can’t watch next week’s game. Instead it must be immediate. The consequence has to happen tonight. We don’t take away the European trip they have been planning for two years with the school.

Children get to have a say in what the consequence will be. If it is losing the phone, then the decision is for how long. If it is not playing video games for a day, then the computer, laptops, tablets and phones have to be turned over.

If the parents set consequences, then they must follow through. Parents must never undermine one another. If a consequence has been agreed upon, then both parents must support one another to make sure it happens.

What are the exceptions? If the family has been away for the weekend, having fun at a sport or just doing things together, we do not tell children to do chores the minute they walk in the door. The same goes for a teenager that has just played at a music competition, participated in the science fair or played in a sports tournament; we do not tell them “you’ve had your fun, now do your chores”. We savor the good times with them. Chores can wait until tomorrow, unless the dog needs to go outside.

Meet Janette Strokappe here for further support

Biological and Neurological Causes of Addiction

Tracie Timme


Addiction – Biological and Neurological Causes

An academic paper by

Tracie L. Timme – Online Counselor and Therapist

This paper is about the biological and neurological causes of addiction, how it affects many people, and systems of the body that are affected.

The category that addiction best falls into is a behavioral syndrome, noted for compulsive drug use with relapse into more drug use.  Addiction can happen without being physically dependent, and physical dependency can happen without being addicted (Spanagel & Heilig, 2005).  For the past 20 years scientists have looked at positive drug reinforcement as what lies beneath addictions.  According to Spanagel & Heilig (2005), other neuronal systems must aid in addictive behavior, all systems work together.  This means that one system affects the other.  One of these systems, which detect influencing environmental stimuli, is the mesolimbic dopamine system, which affects the core brain reinforcement system.  The hypothesis for the neurobiology of addiction is that there are changes on the molecular and structural levels that are irreversible, caused by the dopaminergic reinforcement system having synaptic plasticity, due to constant drug use. (Spanagel & Heilig, 2005).  Scientists seem to think that there is some kind of modular switch that explains the irreversible transition from controlled drug use to compulsive drug use.  These scientists say “It has been claimed that transcription factors such as “AFosB” may constitute such a molecular switch” (Spanagel & Heilig, 2005, p. 2).  This transition factor builds up in the mesolimbic dopamine system with continuous drug use.  However a modulator of transcription factors is Per2 and that does remain in the brain for quite a few weeks after drug treatment.  Some change in the mesolimbic dopamine system that is irreversible that has been seen is the micro structural alterations on the dendrites of medium spiny neurons, which are the essential cell population inside the mesolimbic dopamine system.  However, that change is not seen past 3 months after drug treatment ends.  That contradicts the irreversible switch theory of moving from controlled drug use to compulsive drug use (Spanagel & Heilig, 2005).

Schepis, Adinoff, & Rao, state that adolescents are more persistently and acutely affected by addiction than are adults.  These differences possibly have to do with neuroplastic changes that aid entrenchment and accelerated use, which leads to more neurobiological liability and SUD (substance use disorder) being great factors as the outcome (Schepis et al., 2008).  This study also shows that adolescents with a family history of substance use are more likely to have neurobiological and neurobehavioral dysfunctions (Schepis et al., 2008).  Adolescence is the period when most neurons grow.  Neurocognitive functions such as decisions, monitoring oneself, controlling impulses, and gratification delay, are relative to the PFC (prefrontal cortex) and the anterior cingulate activity; these things seem to be affected by changes in pretty much all of the neurotransmitter systems.  The most important factors in becoming a SUD are alterations in the dopamine related systems.  Dopamine is a key factor in the mesolimbic neural pathways (Schepis et al., 2008).  According to Schepis et al., “This circuit originates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and projects to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and various limbic structures” (p. 8).  A variety of environmental reinforcers trigger the mesostriatal to release dopamine (DA).  In order to assign value to these reinforcing stimuli, there needs to be an increase in striatal concentrations of DA (Schepis et al., 2008).

Big scary spiderIn an article about SUD by Taylor, he explains Gray’s behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and the behavioral activation system (BAS), which, may be seen in the physiological reactions and shown in the psychopathology.  Gray also says that the neural structure of the BIS incorporates information to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and the neural structure of the BAS could be related to the dopaminergic reward circuit (Taylor, 2005).

Love passion, what some people consider an addiction, has neurobiological links with addiction.  In love passion, neurochemicals that play a part in wanting that feeling all the time are dopamine, ocytocin, and vasopressin.  Dopamine plays a major role in addictions.  Other neurotransmitter systems that are common between addiction and love passion are GABA and glutamate, noradrenaline and serotonin, opioid, and cannabinnoid.  These are implicated in the addiction process, as is the corticotrophin system that regulates the oxytocinergic and dopaminergic systems (Reynaud, Karila, Blecha, & Benyamina, 2010).  Even though love passion is not considered to have a recognized definition or diagnosis criteria, it is very similar to addiction.

Alcohol affects GABAA  receptors and a subtype of glutamate receptors called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA).  These neurotransmitters control the excitatory tone and activity of the brain.  GABA is the inhibitory neurotransmitter and glutamate is the excitatory neurotransmitter (Devaud, Risinger, & Selvage, 2006).  Incoordination, reduced nervousness, anticonvulsant, and relaxation, the symptoms of intoxication, are partly controlled by coming across these neurotransmitter systems.  These actions show how the central nervous system (CNS) reacts to more GABAergic activity and less glutmatergic activity (Devaud, et al., 2006).  GABAA  and  NMDA receptors are part of a larger receptor family and each has their own protein make-up.  The different neurological responses are due to the combination of the different receptors.  Men and women have a different chemical make-up as far as systems go.  The difference between men and women when they drink is in the brain- and endocrine-mediated stress reactions.  Men take the flight or fight response, whereas women tend to try to nurture the other and avoid aggressiveness (Devaud et al., 2006).

Another test shows that substance use and most psychiatric disorders are common and complex and have multiple genes that play into the phenotype, which show no pattern of Mendelian transmissions.  There are two parallel mechanisms that influence this genetic complexity.  One is the explanation of polygenicity, which means many genes come together at the same time to ensure vulnerability.  In SUD, the genes that might be involved are genes related to drug-specific metabolism, neurobiological processes regulators similar to all abused drugs, and some that comorbidity-related that change environmental vulnerability.  The second parallel mechanism that influences genetic complexity is heterogeneity, which shows that it is only one genetic variation that could make up a single specific phenotype that could be needed for the initiation and possibly the upkeep of addictions (Schumann, 2007).

Different people have different chemical make-ups, so everyone, more than likely, will have different effects from addictions.  The many different receptors bind with different chemicals; if there is some disruption of that binding, many different affects could happen.  Some people simply do not to become addicted to things, where others become addicted very easily.  It is all in how chemicals bind together with the receptors, and apparently in the genetics.

Alcoholism is a terrible addiction that has been shown to be passed down from generation to generation.  People who have a history of alcohol abuse in their family, have a greater chance of using themselves.  According to previous studies Hanson, Medina, Nagel, Spadoni, Gorlick, and Tapert, (2010) hypothesis says that there is a difference in the size of the hippocampus of adolescents with a family history alcohol use problems and those adolescents who do not have a history of alcohol use issues.  When the hippocampi of non-drinking youth with a family history of alcohol use was compared with youth who did not have a history of alcohol use in the family, those who had the history had smaller hippocampi or asymmetry that was abnormal (Hanson et al., 2010).  The hippocampus is involved in making new memories.  There is ongoing myelination in teen years, so if there is a problem with family history of alcohol use, then there will no doubt be a neurodevelopmental lag that hinders the proper growth of the left and right hemispheres of the hippocampus (Hanson et al., 2010).  From their own preliminary findings, their hypothesis found not to be correct.  Hanson et al. (2010) found that the hippocampal asymmetry was the same for youth with and without a family history of alcohol use.

Slutske et al. (2002) looked at four different studies on alcohol expectancies.  Out of those four, three of them were done on twins.  All of the participants of these studies were experienced drinkers (Slutske et al., 2002).  What people expect of alcohol starts when they are young.  Children see adults drink all the time, whether it is on the television, the radio, in a restaurant, or, sadly enough, in their own homes.  From these experiences we can see how others are affected by alcohol.  They look like they are having a lot of fun. Whether they are laid back and relaxed, laughing hysterically, or not afraid of anything, almost superhero type, so we expect what we see to happen to us.  With that in mind we start to drink.  Those who have a family history may start sooner than others, because they were exposed to it much younger and on a regular basis.  In a recent study Slutske et al. (2002), examined how genetics, parents’ thoughts, and the same peer groups, affected thoughts of alcohol use, compared to thoughts of alcohol use with factors that are unrelated, peer groups that are not the same.  What they came up with from this study, was that genetics alone did not make a significant difference, but when added to the family environment, together they made a huge difference on how people thought of alcohol and its use (Slutske et al., 2002).  The thought here is that the social learning theory has more to do with alcohol use and dependence than does only genetics.

The ethanol in alcohol effects the predisposition of abuse and dependence.  The way neural pathways are activated or deactivated by alcohol.  With this in mind, research has turned to pharmacology, where medications affect cellular and physiological levels in the brain (Ray et al., 2010).  These endophenotypes affect the subjective responses of alcohol, therefore may work to help treat alcoholism.  The medication that is approved by the FDA has shown to lessen the good feelings of the alcohol, bring out more of the fatigue, stress, and confusion felt by alcohol use, therefore lowering the enjoyment (Ray et al., 2010).

Carlson (2010) explains that there are variations of genes that do play a big role in becoming addicted to substances.  Environment also has a lot to do with whether you become dependent or not.  He also goes on to explain that being prone to becoming an addict could be how your body metabolizes substances or by how the structures and biochemistries in your brain differ (Carlson, 2010).

A cause for alcoholism could be that the person is predisposed to the genetics of an alcoholic.  However, just because you may be predisposed to alcoholism does not mean you will automatically become an alcoholic yourself.  It may take outside factors to play a role in becoming an alcoholic.  Coming from a line of alcoholics and seeing it every day, may have great impact on how you see the disease.  Having friends that you spend most of your time with, could also have a great impact on whether or not you drink.  A trusted friend, colleague, boss, or family member may offer you a drink to calm down, and it works, you like it, therefore you use it to chase away the blues or your bad day.  You repeat these feelings of being alright enough that you now need it to get through your day.  You become addicted.


Carlson, N. R. (2010). Physiology of behavior (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Devaud, L. L., Risinger, F. O., & Selvage, D. (2006). Impact of the hormonal milieu on the neurobiology of alcohol dependence and withdrawal. Journal of General Psychology, 133(4), 337-356. doi:10.3200/GENP.133.4.337-356

Hanson, K. L., Medina, K., Nagel, B. J., Spadoni, A. D., Gorlick, A., & Tapert, S. F. (2010). Hippocampal volumes in adolescents with and without a family history of alcoholism. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 36(3), 161-167. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Ray, L. A., Mackillop, J., & Monti, P. M. (2010). Subjective responses to alcohol consumption as endophenotypes: Advancing behavioral genetics in etiological and treatment models of alcoholism. Substance Use & Misuse, 45(11), 1742-1765. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Reynaud, M., Karila, L., Blecha, L., & Benyamina, A. (2010). Is love passion an addictive disorder? The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 261-267. doi:10.3109/00952990.2010.495183

Schepis, T. S., Adinoff, B., & Rao, U. (2008). Neurobiological processes in adolescent addictive disorders. The American Journal on Addictions, 17(1), 6-23. doi:10.1080/10550490701756146

Schumann, G. (2007). Okey lecture 2006: Identifying the neurobiological mechanisms of addictive behaviour. Addiction, 102(11), 1689-1695. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.01942.x

Slutske, W. S., Cronk, N. J., Sher, K. J., Madden, P. F., Bucholz, K. K., & Heath, A. C. (2002). Genes, environment and individual differences in alcohol expectancies among female adolescents and young adults. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 16(4), 308-317. doi:10.1037/0893-164X.16.4.308

Spanagel, R., & Heilig, M. (2005). Addiction and its brain science. Addiction, 100(12), 1813-1822. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01260.x

Taylor, J. (2005). Substance use disorders and cluster B personality disorders: Physiological, cognitive, and environmental correlates in a college sample. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 31(3), 515-535.

Click here to contact Tracie Timme for your counseling needs.

Spirituality in Psychology

Tracie Timme


Spirituality in Psychology

An academic paper by

Tracie L. Timme – Online Counselor and Therapist

This paper is about exploring the use of spirituality in the practice of psychology and how it could potentially strengthen their bond with their patients.  There could be a better understanding of issues and treatment if spirituality were apart of therapeutic practices.

Psychology got its start in ancient times from philosophy.  Psychology remained part of philosophy until nineteenth century (Leahey, 2004).  Here we have the beginning of the mind-body problem.  To some the mind was our essence and the body a mere vessel.  When the physical body died, the soul moved on to an afterlife (Leahey, 2004).  The soul (mind) has the spiritual world knowledge, whereas the body has the physical world knowledge (Leahey, 2004).

spirituality-in-psychologyEverybody but atheists, have a faith that they follow.  It has been addressed that psychologist show gain education and knowledge as to the role that religion and spirituality plays on personal factors (Shafranske, 2010).  There was an introduction of value in different consciousness in therapeutic practices.  It is very important for the therapist to integrate the patients’ spirituality in the course of interventions (Shafranske, 2010).  It is also important to take into consideration the personal and professional influences of inspiration from the therapists’ point of view.  This can greatly impact how the therapist entices the patient to open up, and help the therapist to relate better to the patient (Shafranske, 2010).  “This leads to an associated point: Given the lack of attention given to the religious and spiritual dimension in most psychology training, how prepared are clinicians to be mindful of the potential impacts their religious and spiritual commitments have on their professional practice, to appropriately and ethically integrate spirituality in psychological treatment, or respond to emergent transcendent experiences” (Shafranske, 2010, pp. 125)?  This seems to mean that therapists should have the understanding to be able to mindfully talk about spirituality in their practice and treatment plans for their patients.

Spirituality is hard to define, but it has been explained a few ways.  One is that spirituality can be called one’s highest or ultimate values or reality, and the relationship one has with those realities or values (Braud, 2009).  A second way is the belonging or link to the transcendental ground of being.  Another is how people relate to God, other humans, or Earth.  Some refer to it as how committed one is to practicing a particular faith.  However, it is important to distinguish between healthy practices and beliefs and ones that are unhealthy to well-being (Braud, 2009).  Yet another general term by Lindholm and Astin is involving the process inside when you look for personal authenticity, wholeness, and genuineness; transcending one’s center, having a deeper sense of connecting to self and others from having relationships and community, having meaning, direction, and purpose in life, being open enough to the possibility of a relationship with a higher being that is above human existence and knowing, and having a value for the sacred (Braud, 2009).  There are other definitions of spirituality for femininity and other cultures.  But they were not included in the ones above.

There is a relatively new field of psychology called transpersonal psychology.  In addition to conventional ways, transpersonal psychologists use heuristic research, intuitive inquiry, organic inquiry, and integral inquiry.  These are depicted in these psychologists by a higher level of integration and inclusiveness in the whole person, more variety of benefits and functions in a session, sources of inspiration, more ways of knowing, topics and questions researched, different ways of gathering, using, and explaining information, including epistemology and ontology, and ethical thoughts and values that are relevant  (Braud, 2009).  This gives a broader perspective of all aspects of the issues at hand.

When we think in terms of helping people with their psychological issues, it just makes sense to include everything you possibly can to understand what the patient is going through and how they see thing possibly running their course.  Because a lot of people do follow some sort of faith, it is important for the therapist to know as much as possible about their patient’s spirituality, in order to help them the best way possible and include every aspect of that person as a whole.  Having this knowledge will provide the best treatment plan for that specific patient.


Braud, W. (2009). Dragons, spheres, and flashlights: appropriate research approaches for studying workplace spirituality. Journal Of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 6(1), 59-75.

Leahey, T. H. (2004).  A history of psychology: Main currents in psychological thought (6th ed.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Shafranske, E. P. (2010). Advancing “the boldest model yet”: A commentary on psychology, religion, and spirituality. Psychology Of Religion And Spirituality, 2(2), 124-125.


Tracie Timme is a Privileged ProvenTherapist. See her Profile for counseling support.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from California Joins the ProvenTherapists Team

Janeen Wilson, a qualified and experienced Family Therapist and Counselor has started her online counseling clinic at She is available to potential clients for individual and couples therapy through live chat or email service.

JaneenPress Release – 21 Nov. 2014: Janeen Wilson, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California (August 2006) has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. Janeen began practicing therapy in 2000 working with a variety of different therapeutic issues and problems. Janeen initially began working with women in Domestic Violence and with adolescent boys struggling with psychiatric issues, bipolar issues and attachment disruption that were in a Residential Treatment setting. Janeen has worked with all ages of children in school based settings and their families addressing issues related to family dynamics, ADHD and emotional disruption. Janeen became very interested in an strength based evidence approach (Multi Dimensional Foster Care) and was formally trained as a Program Director and Family Therapist through this program (MTFC). With this training she focused on assisting families in reuniting youth from foster care back to their homes and strengthening their family systems. She has also worked with families as the Director of the Family Stabilization Team in Boston, MA to prevent youth from being removed from their home, as an Outpatient Therapist and with specialized populations such as the blind. Janeen has worked with a variety of different types of people in different areas, ranging from the tundra in Alaska to urban Boston, rural and urban Pennsylvania as well as in Southern California.

Issues Janeen has worked with ranges from working with the blind community, SED children and their families, Adoption, Foster Care, as well as Addiction and Trauma. Janeen has also been formally trained to work with firefighters to address their specific needs related to work and trauma.

For the last two years Janeen has been working as a Individual and Family therapist in an inpatient dual diagnosis residential setting for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health/trauma issues. Now she has opened her virtual clinic at

Read full press release here…

Love and Addictions!

Could a Person in Active Addiction Love His/Her Partner the Way They Expect and Deserved to Be Loved?

Rodica MihalisRodica Mihalis

Addictions!!! Addictions everywhere, to various drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, various harmful behaviors… just about anything that would product a quick HIGH to only leave the user wanting more, needing more and using/doing more! Addictions plague our lives, some in the open, some hidden under the mountains of lies and pretense.

Addictions run in my family and my husband’s, or to tell the truth, my ex-husband’s, who two years after our separation killed himself. Why? It is hard to tell, because suicide is a complex matter, and the ways depend on each person and not what those around do, or do not do.

When I first met my husband of almost 20 years, I knew he was smoking weed, I suspected he was using other, more potent drugs, but in my innocent mind, believed I was going to CHANGE HIM!!! Stop the addictions because they were bad for him and I was so skilled in showing him the “healthy” path, he would just turn away from addictions and follow my lead to a long, happy life. To put it plainly, I thought I could control the bad… I overestimated the evil…

At the beginning, it worked. One by one, he quit all the damaging substances. Later, I realized that perhaps, at the beginning, the needed “high” was coming from the novelty of the situation, from a new sexual  relationship and a new life that came with it: a home, children the admiration of those who thought he was “hopeless…”

Temporary!!! Yes, it was all temporary!

Unless an addicted person wants himself or herself to CHANGE!!! other people’s efforts are useless!

I don’t mean to “deflate” anyone, but YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANYONE PERMANENTLY!!! A PERSON MUST WANT TO CHANGE HIMSELF OR HERSELF!!! Changing  others is not possible. We only have control over ourselves and our attitude and what we do with our lives.

So… could a person in active addiction or forced to quit LOVE YOU?

My experience? May be in the beginning, when you are the new high, the novelty. But is this love or lust? Is it deep and lasting? Is it trustworthy?

Big scary spiderIn a few years, if the person was forced to quit because of YOU, it may turn to resentment, fear and ultimately lies, when your addicted partner starts hiding from you the fact  that they went back to their first love: the bottle, weed, cocaine, gambling, sexual encounters with no strings attached…  you might not even know! I didn’t. For years I thought his sudden sweats where the result of a  mysterious health condition and our lack of money, the result of a bad economy!  Until one day, when I received a letter from the IRS and I looked through our finances to find tens of checks written to cash… $5,000 each. And that was the day when I was pushed from the top of the tower of blind trust into the dark waters of fear and mistrust! The addictions won over our lives, our children, my love and trust. I was powerless and humbled.

Do they love YOU, the children you conceived together? The answer, as I experienced it, is, may be, but are they able to EXPRESS their love for you, their children? The love for the “addiction” comes FIRST!!!  You and your family compete with the addictions! Everything is done to cover the truth: lies, financial deceit, promises, lies again…

The only path I know of, which leads to a good like, is the person’s own will and decision to change. God gave us FREE WILL and CHOICES and CONSEQUENCES. Each person is only responsible and may only make theirs.

I humbly must admit that no one could “save” or “change” anyone else, unless they want to. A partner may support, encourage and be with someone who, on his/her own wants a change.

Control over others is a myth! Control over our own attitudes, is the truth!

Rodica Mihalis is a Privileged ProvenTherapist, an author, and blogger. Contact her for a counseling appointment.

Tips for Troubled Relationships

Dr. Adam Pearson

Dr. Adam Pearson

Relationships are vital to the human experience. Relationships and the way a person perceives a relationship should be starting at the moment the person is born. The attachment of a child to his/her parent(s) will be a model for relationships with friends, intimate partners, roommates, bosses, etc. Romantic relationships and marriages seem to be the most prevalent among patients seen in online therapy. Communication is one of the most important aspects of a relationship including how we talk to each other, what we say, when we say it, and what we really are trying to say. It seems most people in a troubled relationship believe they know how the other person thinks and act upon these false perceptions. In marriage and family therapy arguing in a troubled relationship becomes a pathological pattern of coping with anger, resentment, hurt, jealousy, and is called the “dance”. Couples argue for the sake of arguing. They bring past mistakes the other person made and use them as a weapon to gain ground or power against their foe. If you do this you are hurting you, the other and the entire relationship.

men are from marsThe key to healthy communication is being humble and honest with one another, forgiving one another and not holding those mistakes against the other person. In an argument timeouts are a very easy and successful avenues of allowing each other to calm down and thinking with logical thought versus thinking with pure emotions. Decisions should NEVER be made when highly emotional, logical thought is minimized and instant gratification is sought when emotions are at their peek. The divorce rate in the United States is around 50% and divorce is proven over and over again to have ill effects on each partner and the children. Living together before marriage has been found to be the number one variable in predicting divorce. Commitment is diminished when a couple goes from living separate to living together and then getting married. The commitment and feeling of being married has been spoiled by living together and the sanctity and fortitude marriage is supposed to bring decreases and makes divorce an easy escape. People are disillusioned and somewhat delusional when they believe living together will help them make a more informed decision about getting married.

In any relationship there are bound to be times when the other person does certain behaviors which negatively have an impact on the relationship. It is not good to “suppress” negative feelings towards someone as they always come out in an uncontrolled and pathological way. There are also times when you will have to decide “Is this worth bringing up or is the problem actually me”. There is nothing wrong with doing a quick “check-in” with the person you are in a relationship with. While it might be uncomfortable to ask “Is there anything I am doing or saying that bothers you?” but for the health of you and your relationship this helps avoid blowups and arguments that severely damage the relationship. Yelling in an argument, name calling, talking down to someone, or demeaning someone all equal different ways of verbal and emotional abuse. Neglecting a partner and putting yourself first is a sure fire way to create problems in the relationship. Loving someone means serving each other and communicating with a balance of grace and justice. It is also important to work together as a team to develop boundaries in your relationship. This helps increase the quality and strength of the relationship when working together towards the same goal. This article is just a snippet to help aid people in their everyday relationships but simple, small things, the way we talk to each other, the validation of each other, a text message, doing something without being asked can make the difference between joy or pain.


It is not too late to save your relationship or marriage… Talk to an online counselor now!

Normalized Immersion

The necessary change for eradicating fear based prejudice is normalized immersion.

Eric Holmes

Eric Holmes – Privileged ProvenTherapist

The more time we spend experiencing and being around things outside our common communities (people with disabilities, the elderly, minorities, homosexuals etc) the more normal and acceptable they become.

We must become an actual melting pot – break down nationalistic barriers, and fear based bubbles or communities of intolerance.  Our current such paradigms perpetuate our feelings of separation, heightening our anxiety and encouraging the ‘us and them’ mentalities that lead us to fear which moves us further away from connecting and progressively towards oppressive policies that harm ‘us’ by harming ‘them’.

We are all one – but we live in collectives like insulated church groups, like senior centers, disability homes, sports teams, tribes whereby the expression ‘we are all one’ comes to mean We (in this group) are all one… thus putting everyone else as other.

We must change the paradigm to a collective ‘us’. All of us, living breathing creatures, represented as citizens of Earth, working together for the collective benefit of us all.

Projecting ‘The Good Life’ in Philosophical Counseling

Prof Fatic

Prof. Aleksandar Fatic

Philosophical Counseling and Contemporary Mainstream Philosophy

Projections of the good life are key to philosophical counseling, given its practical orientation and the fact that philosophical counselors work with troubled people. Thus, in a sense, by definition philosophical counseling works with those who lack the good life, in the effort to claim (or, in some cases, re-claim) it. In doing so, philosophical counselors differ from psychologists or psychiatrists merely in the methods used. The range of concepts and methodologies used in philosophical counseling is philosophy as a whole: any doctrine or method, if used skillfully and with proper judgement, may help clients understand and resolve their life issues. While the task of philosophical counseling so described does not appear controversial in any way, occasional friction with the therapeutic professions such as psychology and psychiatry can be understood primarily as economic, or professional ‘turf’ issues, However, much more puzzling at first sight is the unwillingness of mainstream contemporary philosophy to embrace philosophical counseling. Given that philosophical counseling is inclusive of all philosophical theories, concepts and methods, such reluctance by the philosophical industry of our day to work constructively with colleagues who pursue philosophical practice may seem unwarranted and unexpected.

Philosophical counseling builds on and radicalizes the paradigm-shifting view by Pierre Hadot that the fundamental role of philosophy is to be a way of life (Hadot, 1995). Hadot’s argument mainly concerned ancient Greek philosophy, which he described as a quest for the good life, accompanied by ‘superstructures’ in the form of cosmology or metaphysics. These superstructures portrayed the universe, the earth or the gods in terms that would help people adopt values which were going to improve their quality of life. On this view, when Epicurus developed his ‘atomistic’ philosophy of nature, he did so with the intent to present fear of death as immaterial: if everything consists of atoms, which merely disperse at the time of death, then death itself is not a frightful experience. Fear of death, along with fear of gods, was among the main reasons for anxiety that members of the Epicurean ‘Garden’ worked to ameliorate. Similarly, when Plato developed his metaphysics of ‘Ideas,’ on Hadot’s reading, he did so in order to illustrate, on the level of ontological concepts, the fundamentality of values, which one tries to approximate in the course of cultivation of one’s character, and virtues. Hadot generalized this interpretation of ‘core philosophy’ and ‘superstructure’ to all ancient philosophical schools.


Philosophical counseling as a contribution to contemporary philosophy is more radical than Hadot; it adopts Hadot’s principle and takes it one step further. Philosophical practice, including counseling, aims to take any philosophical school or method of thinking and turn it into a tool to alleviate human suffering. It does so on certain conditions: that the client’s problems are philosophical rather than medical, that they seek philosophical insight rather than a diagnostic label, and that their goal is the good life rather than to make the bad life bearable enough to live another day, which is typically achieved by mind-altering drugs.

The problem with this approach, from the point of view of mainstream philosophical industry, could be the perception by mainstream philosophers that, if philosophical practice were embraced by mainstream contemporary philosophy, much of the current specialized philosophy, detached from real life, might appear as ‘mere superstructure.’ Even a cursory glance through some of the dominant journals issued by mainstream philosophical clans shows that the range of topics and approaches, by and large, remain irrelevant to the ordinary person. In fact, some of the debates led within these clans concern only a few members of the clan who have previously already said something on the same topic, meaning that the readership of some of these arguments is no more than a few dozen people worldwide. With some of the topics, even the dozen readers would find it very difficult to find any practical use for the texts. Most modern philosophical production neither seeks to assist the achievement of the good life, nor is useful for this purpose. In fact, much of that production is not useful for any practical purpose at all.

On a methodological level, the treatment of many of the philosophical problems by the mainstream philosophical industry today is what Russian theatre director Nikita Michalkov recently called ‘McDonalds Science’: a nicely and neatly processed, well packaged, nicely presented and hygienic stuff with dubious ‘nutritional value.’ The standardization is applied rigorously: the packaging of style must be perfect, the methodology must be clear and make the product easily digestible, and the combination of ingredients must be well documented on the product label. For most ordinary readers, even educated ones, once the dense packaging of references and bibliographies is unwrapped, and as with many modern products to do away with the packaging can be a time consuming task, the product is often bland and unconvincing. The production standard of mainstream modern philosophy is industrial, and this is why the entire mainstream philosophy, divided in its families and ideologies, could be called ‘industrial philosophy.’ The industrial standard of philosophy, as any other industrial standard, allows no major deviation from the sample. Any product likely to cause indigestion or containing ingredients knowing to cause upset is routinely eliminated. The industrial philosophy of today would never allow the publication of Nietzsche’s or chopenhauer’s ideas if they were to emerge now. It would probably consider Hegel nothing short of seriously psychotic. And most likely the noble patriarchs of the contemporary philosophical ideological tribes would call for the arrest of Epicurus as a ‘rogue.’

Simply put, philosophy is incompatible with industrial standards. Philosophical progress is predicated upon a freedom of intellectual creativity and right of expression, and any ‘quantification,’ ‘indexing,’ ‘counting of citations,’ or anal-retentive ‘editorship’ militates against such progress. The existence of all these things borrowed from the natural and mathematical sciences is the reason why contemporary philosophy is stagnating. At the same time, mind-altering drugs in most nations are used on a par with food. As philosophy, the primary intellectual way to make sense of life, has rendered itself impotent, caged in the selfimposed Procrustean frame of quantitative sciences, the new professions, defected from philosophy and led by psychology, have proceeded to medicalise the increasingly unhappy and ‘unreflected’ daily lives of millions worldwide.

One wonders what would happen if philosophical practice more generally assumed its natural place in mainstream philosophy journals, at philosophy departments and in undergraduate philosophy curricula? How many readers or students, once they encounter the vista of practical ‘general’ philosophy, would opt for career devoted to understanding what it means to follow a rule or to utter a malapropism, if the alternative is to study what it means to lead a good life or join a community of intellectual friends? How many PhDs would be written about what it may mean to make a decision, when the alternative is to write about what it means to make oneself and others happy with their lives?

The above is not to suggest that specialized work on various miniscule topics is not philosophically valuable, but it is to suggest that such work is less directly relevant to improving the quality of life and is much less attractive for most people than a more generalist use of philosophical concepts and methods to address real-life dilemmas and conflicts. This is where the modern ‘McDonalds’ philosophical industry may feel that a threat from philosophical practice might lie. It could be that the dominant philosophical clans who disown philosophical practice, or pretend that ‘they do not know what it means’, as they sometimes phrase it, in fact fear that their painstakingly achieved status of specialized manufacturers of industrially standardized philosophical burgers might quickly be relegated to ‘mere superstructure.’ This is a scary prospect. Fortunately, the fear is unfounded.

Philosophical practice, and especially philosophical counseling, can provide a context for almost any type of philosophy to become practical and relevant to real life. While for the strict disciplinary philosophy of language the preoccupation with malapropisms or with reference may take place within an isolated ivory tower, guarded by clan worriers armed with mathematical formulae and hermetic symbolic language, the use of philosophy of language in counseling is one of the most potent tools to help people understand their issues. John Searle’s famous idea that philosophy of language is essentially the philosophy of mind comes to life most directly in counseling sessions, where people are faced with the intricacies of their linguistic intentions and the features of language as Wittgenstein’s ‘picture of the world’ of themselves and their important others. Analytic ethics dealing with what it is to lie is confined to a narrow academic readership per se. However, when it is brought to life in philosophical counseling, it can help people to give meaning to and resolve dramatic and debilitating relationships and frustrations. The same applies to almost any type of philosophy when it is placed in the counseling context. Philosophical counseling is potentially emancipating for almost any type of academic philosophy; it offers specialized contemporary philosophy a chance to become relevant to ordinary people again.

‘The Good Life’ Ground Zero: Pleasure

The-ThinkerThere are various conceptions of the good life for various philosophical schools, systems of religious belief, and even various therapeutic schools. Many of these concepts are mutually contradictory and arise from opposed starting premises and mutually incoherent value systems. In what remains of this paper I will focus on what I believe to be ‘ground zero’ of the good life from a practical point of view: the life of sustained pleasure. While the idea is historically Epicurean, and is commonly associated with the philosophy of ‘hedonism’, I will argue that it is in fact a much more serious component of any feasible conceptualization of the good life in any type of counseling, including philosophical, but also pastoral counseling. I will explore the initial Epicurean concept of pleasure and show that the pleasure Epicureans sought was in fact one found in ascetic life. I will then proceed to argue that even those forms of counseling that explicitly oppose pleasure as the founding value of the good life implicitly rely on pleasure. To illustrate this, I will examine the Orthodox Christian view of the good life as a life of asceticism, and show how the Christian doctrine of redemption, which putatively denounces pleasure, in fact logically presupposes the cultivation of particular types of pleasure in order for the faithful to achieve the good life and earn redemption through such life. If this argument is sufficiently compelling, it should establish the quest of pleasure as the primary goal of practical philosophy, with special focus on philosophical counseling. This should go some way towards proving that it is both practically and logically difficult to viably conceive of the good life without founding it on pleasure.

Epicurean Principal Doctrines no. 1, 2, and 34 read:

1. A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.

2. Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.

34. Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which is associated with the apprehension of being discovered by those appointed to punish such actions.

These lines suggest a ‘brutal hedonism’ devoid of any reference to virtue and morality. They are partly the reason Epicureanism has been perceived as simple hedonism and rejected by much of subsequent moral philosophy. There are, however, different lines in Epicurean teachings that reflect an entirely different practical relationship with moral philosophy: 5. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

15. The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.

19. Unlimited time and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.

Many lines in Epicurean writings show that they were far from advocating profligate life styles. The ‘calculus of pleasure’ inherent in Epicurean ethics reaches the inevitable outcome that a quiet, ’withdrawn’ life amongst a small group of friends, focused on the minimum of ’necessary needs’ which rule out even some of the ’natural needs’ is sure to result in lasting pleasure, defined predominantly as the absence of pain:

21. He who understands the limits of life knows that it is easy to obtain that which removes the pain of want and makes the whole of life complete and perfect. Thus he has no longer any need of things which involve struggle.

27. Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.

Philosophical counseling provides a framework in which it is particularly easy to depict the practical value of the Epicurean views of pleasure and the good life, because it allows moral standards to be examined in the context of real everyday motivations for action. When moral concerns are integrated with the dynamic role that pleasure plays in our lives, two things become clear. First, practically, the ideal situation for the good life is that a person enjoys doing what is morally desirable for them to do. This is the practical meaning of ‘virtue,’ which ensures both individual fulfillment and social acceptance. Second, the reason pleasure has been treated as a suspect concept in much of the moral philosophy of virtue has been the lingering sentiment of Kantian aprioristic ethics, which insists that acting rightly, if it is motivated by personal preference rather than abstract understanding of duty alone, deducts from the moral nobility of such action. This view entails that it is more ‘noble’ to act morally correctly when such action causes deprivation and suffering to the actor, then to do so when acting rightly brings satisfaction and joy. The logic has been mocked my philosophers who ‘apologized for finding pleasure in doing good,’ but it has marked an entire era of moral philosophy which has caused apprehension of pleasure and a downgrading of the good life as the goal of ethics in favour of absolutist rationalist constructs of duty.

The reason why the ethics of duty is not easily reconcilable with ethics of the good life and with the goals of philosophical counseling (or philosophical practice more generally) is in the fact that it is a theoretical reconstruction of what a human being ought to be morally, rather than a statement of what the human being naturally strives for. Ethics of the good life works to integrate moral standards into the interpretation of what actors are naturally motivated to do. It tries to merge natural motivation with moral ideals, and perceives character-development, or ‘moral training’ as an empirical life project where one learns how to become a better human being by using one’s natural motivations in more sophisticated, socially constructive and, ultimately, personally fulfilling ways.

David Hume was perhaps the clearest exponent of the ideal of moral learning without aprioristic prejudice as to the nature of the motivation for such learning or for moral action itself. (Hume, 1963). He argues that the development of virtues is possible through practice and repetition, as long as the person is ‘tolerably virtuous’ to begin with. ‘Where one is born of so perverse a frame of mind, and of so callous and insensible a disposition, as to have no relish for virtue (…) such a one must be allowed entirely incurable, nor is there any remedy in philosophy’ (Hume, 1963: 172). However, with sufficient discipline and a reasonably sound character one could develop the virtues that one choses in order to improve one’s character. Moral practice will lead to moral improvement, and one will gradually learn not only to act rightly, but also to find satisfaction, or pleasure, in so acting. This type of moral improvement is more sustainable than discrete aprioristic choice to act out of duty because it depends not only on the substantive description of the action one choses and the moral value of that action; the empiricist’s moral improvement works on the sensibilities of pleasure as well. Such moral training aims not just to cause the person to choose the morally right action, but to develop one’s character so that on any occasion one finds pleasure in choosing the right action. This idea is essential for the practical application of philosophy in counseling, whose goal is to instill lasting capacities in the person to act in most optimal ways while at the same time finding personal value in such action that will improve her quality of life. This is a dramatically different perspective from that of purely academic considerations of what it means to choose the right as opposed to the wrong course of action.

On a practical level, the value of the language of pleasure in philosophical counseling arises from the intuitive nature of the Epicurean idea that ‘all men seek pleasure and avoid pain’. Starting from such an intuitive premise allows the counselor to work with the common prejudices and problems that the counselee brings to the session with greater ease and with less resistance by the client than if the counselor starts from a ‘moral distance’. More fundamentally, however, the introduction of pleasure early on in the counseling is useful for the process of influencing value-judgments in the counselee. One good example of how the transformation of pleasures works relates to an exceedingly common problem in philosophical counseling, namely that of a deficit of self-esteem. Self-esteem is a significant source of satisfaction in modern society, where it arises from the fulfillment of externally imposed, and subsequently internalised expectations of oneself. A deficit of self-esteem will be triggered only by failure to achieve goals that the person has internalized, not just from any failure to measure up to someone else. As Alain de Botton (2004) pointed out one will not experience a crisis of self-esteem because one cannot dance as well as somebody else or because one cannot fly a plane, unless someone has already set these things as one’s goals and has worked to achieve them. On the other hand, even in things seemingly unnoticeable to others, such as specific social skills or conversational habits, one might experience a lack of self-esteem if one has tried to improve without success, while somebody else, especially if this is a significant other (family member, colleague at work, close friend) has achieved the goal. Botton points to William James’ formula of self-esteem:

Self-esteem = Success/Pretensions (James, 1890: 311)

The problem arises when the specific elements of this equation are considered separately. Success in various endeavors obviously depends in part on the resources available. However much resolve one might have to achieve a goal, if resources are inadequate the result will inevitably be difficult to achieve. Modern societies have provided far greater opulence of resources than had been the case throughout earlier history, and this would suggest that people’s self-esteem should have increased, because their success has multiplied in most areas of life. However, the current epidemic crisis of self-esteem is caused by the much greater increase in the expectations, or size of goals, imposed by the society. The increase in the resources to achieve certain things has been dwarfed by the increase in expectations of achievement. The ‘mathematical’ result of such quantitative changes in the elements of the equation has led to a true crisis of selfesteem and the resulting mass problems with anxiety and depression. The pharmaceutical industry has eagerly tapped into this structural problem to temporarily ‘fix’ the subjective side of self-esteem, while leaving the entire causal structure untouched. It has capitalised on a steady and increasing demand for temporary and sometimes damaging ‘quick fixes’, while maintaining a deliberate oblivion for the structural causes of the problems.

One obvious way of resolving this issue is contrary to the dominant modern civilizational trends: rather than trying to catch up with the ever increasing expectations and muster maximum resources to do so, one might consider reducing self-expectations and learning to find pleasure in the existing successes. According to James, this will automatically lead to increased self-esteem. However, the strategy presupposes at least two conditions. The first is a reduction of perceived personal needs (similar to the Epicurean reduction from ‘all natural needs’ to just ‘necessary needs’). This is a step that introduces a turn from the habits of the mainstream community. The second condition is the existence of an ‘organic community’ that will support such lowered standards of expectations and provide motivational support and an alternative external valueverification to the person. Such a community will largely differ in its values from the mainstream, as the Epicurean Society of the Garden did, and as the contemporary well-integrated parish communities often do. A potent example, of course, is the monastic life within many religions, including the Christian one. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, ‘absence of all worries in a quiet life is more precious than the shining of a public office.’ St. Isidore of Pellusium writes that ‘(…) the person who moves in a crowd, while seeking to know what is of the Heaven, must have forgot that whatever is sown among the thorns will be chocked by the thorns, and that a person who has not found pleasure in a rest from the everything of this world cannot know God’ (Turner, 1905). St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite makes it explicit that monastic life makes finding pleasure in asceticism easier than does secular life (St. Nicodemos, 1989).3 The reason is that monastic life is lived with strong support by the organic community which shares the same ascetic values, and it takes place far away from the mainstream secular community that is motivationally caught up in the vicious circle of chasing the ever increasing social expectations of success with modestly increasing means to do so.

A shift in the concepts of pleasure as a prerequisite for the achievement of a ‘good life’ was a common precept in Ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle argued that the intellectual pleasures are nobler than the pleasures arising from victory at war or from success in sports. The Epicureans were probably the first to recommend such ‘ascetic’ pleasures to everyone as a way to avoid anguish, guilt and fear, and live a happier, more peaceful life. This is why Epicurean ethics is potentially so useful for pastoral counseling. Its fundamental precept is that reducing the expectations of pleasure will ultimately lead to increased pleasure perceived as absence of pain and peace of mind, because in the long term the adverse events typically arising from the pursuit of more ‘full blooded’ or extreme pleasures will be avoided. Not just moderation, but asceticism in the proper sense is the Epicurean way to minimalist yet sustained pleasures throughout one’s lifetime. Lowering what could be considered inauthentic aspirations and personal goals in a perspective of ascetic character-building can considerably benefit from an initial adoption of Epicurean views on pleasure.

Moral Pleasure and Character-Building

The view of pleasure as integral to virtue and of character-building as instrumental to the ability to achieve a sustained good life highlights a strange fact about morally right action that is at sharp odds with the idea of a good life. This fact is that it is possible to act morally rightly while retaining the affinity to act morally wrongly. This is possible either through conformance to moral pressure exerted by the community or family, or through active self-interruption and independent self-discipline. Hence, it is possible to act morally correctly, while remaining ‘a bad person’ as far as one’s affinities and true wishes are concerned. Clearly such morally right action will not contribute to the achievement of the good life, because it does not accord with one’s true wishes and sensibility. From the point of view of duty-ethics a morally desirable state of affairs could therefore exist where moral communities are inhabited by morally upright, yet utterly unhappy people.

PlatonetAristoteThe point has struck a nerve with Christian authors as well. Emanuel Swedenborg espouses a view that ‘God casts no-one to hell,’ because the ‘testing of the soul’ that the Christian dogma stipulates as occurring after death ensures that everyone ends up where one’s affinities lie: those who have a strong affinity to sex and extreme pleasures would simply not be happy in Heaven. Those who find the meaning of life in the adrenaline-charged business transactions or sports may likewise belong elsewhere. However
controversial his views might be for the mainstream Christian scholarship, Swedenborg illustrates a point that ought not to be so controversial: depending on the affinities developed through the character-formation that this life ultimately represents, the future destiny of the soul will be guided precisely by the affinities it has developed during life. The idea is common to the Patristic theme that in order to qualify for salvation one should learn to ‘lead an angelic life’ here on Earth. What needs to be made explicit is that such ‘angelic life’ inevitably involves pleasure being found in the Christian virtues of moderation and self-denial. It is very clear that a sensibility for pleasures needs to be developed through character-building, and that the tests attributed to the initial after-life experiences in fact ‘verify’ the results of change of character. It is character that opens up the soteriological perspective in the Christian ethics, as far as a person’s own efforts are concerned. As has become clear earlier on, it is possible for a person to act rightly, while retaining the desire to act wrongly, and thus to fulfill the demands of duty ethics, while remaining a ‘bad person’ psychologically. Clearly the Christian dogma does not allow the ascent of ‘bad people’ into Heaven, nor would they be happy there, according to Swedenborg. In other words, the ideal of an ‘angelic life’ here must be conceptualized as a ‘good life’ with pleasures being found in the exercise of virtue. The threshold of salvation is higher than moral duty, aprioristic self-restriction and discipline in the repetition of rationally chosen ‘virtuous’ actions. What is required in a Christian ethics of the good life is much the same as what Epicurean ethics suggests: recognition of pleasure as the main drive of human action, and the successful transformation of this drive from a quest of ‘base’ pleasures to a yearning for quiet and ascetic life of peace, contemplation and absence of disturbances by worldly concerns.

One of the key Epicurean principles of the good life is to lower the level of expectations and find pleasure in the small things that are easy to obtain. The safest way to lead a ‘pleasurable’ life is to remain within a circle of friends, learn to enjoy peace and absence of pain, avoid public life, and cultivate trust and mutual support between members of the community who share the same values. One wonders just how radically this ideal differs from that of a monastic community or that of a harmonious Christian parish.

Moral pleasure as the dynamic side of character-building is not limited to Christian or any other religious morality. It is a logical presupposition of any type of sustained virtue that is relevant to the achievement of a good life. However one perceives the good life, assuming that it is founded on basically morally upright principles and that it is socially desirable (not the ‘good life’ of drug traffickers or professional assassins), there are two key elements to it: the values and virtues defined by those values, and the character required to attain the virtues and approximate the values in life.

The goal of attaining a good life through the cultivation of adequate character, based on upright and instrumentally productive values, and virtues that embody these values, defines philosophical counseling. The functional base-line for the success of philosophical counseling is working with the client to develop sensibilities for finding pleasure in virtues and the corresponding character that are productive for the attainment of the good life. In this process, the client’s initial values and strategic choices in life are taken seriously, but they are not treated as unchangeable. The dynamics of the counseling is a philosophical interaction between the client as she enters the counseling and the counselor as he enters the counseling. At the end of the counseling, neither the client, nor the counselor need be the same, however the success of
the counseling is measured by the progress one (the client) or both (the client and the counselor) have made towards the good life. For the client, this progress might consist in the development of specific new sensibilities for moral pleasures and the corresponding habits, resulting in character-modification, which will make their life more satisfying, freer and more autonomous than before. For the counselor, the progress might consist in a better appreciation of another philosophical theory of method, or a new understanding of the practical application of particular philosophical concepts. For both, progress and success in the counseling will manifest in particular pleasures, which for various clients might be vastly different, while for the counselor are likely to be of the intellectual type of pleasures. These pleasures have an irreducible moral character, because they arise from a specifically moral goal: to do right for oneself by doing right for others. Philosophical counseling uses philosophical theory to produce moral pleasures on several levels in the counseling process, and in the lives of the client and the counselor.

Conclusion: Running with the Wolves

In their highly illuminating book on the neural foundations of emotions, including an account of the effectiveness of counseling from the point of view of neuroscience, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon argue that counseling success has no significant connection with the discipline, method or school of counseling: counseling of whatever type is only effective if the counselor is willing and able to abandon the ‘therapeutic distance’ which some still consider as the professional credo number one, and become deeply immersed in the counselee’s world, to the extent of almost losing touch with one’s own world (Lewis, Amini and Lannon, 2000). The counselor must go with the flow of the client’s emotional and neural processes, empathise and even identify with the client’s perceptions, emotions and reactions, and only then refer to his own world, outside the client’s, for tools, judgements and values with which to address and alleviate the problems caused by the clients thoughts, perceptions and feelings. The effectiveness of the counseling depends more on the personality and empathic capacity of the counselor and on the receptiveness of the client to the counselor’s persona than on professional skills.

At first sight, this might seem as a mechanistic view, and certainly one that might alarm the dogmatic adherents to various ‘therapeutic approaches’ in the healing professions. On another level, however, it is a sobering truth: counseling is a bi-directional process, where one personality uses her personal (including the professional) resources to empower another, compromised or threatened personality to find the lost way. All else concerning counseling is a myth. No amount of theory, expertise or empirical knowledge will assist the counselor if her personality does not have access to the resources to address the client’s problems. At the same time, this sobering truth lays bare the practical value of philosophy for counseling: it assists the counselee by resourcing the counselor on a personal, as well as professional level. The philosophical way is one of self-improvement, not of the accumulation of methodological or technical expertise or information. A person who leads an ‘examined life,’ to use Socrates’s famous concept, is a philosopher. By definition, a good philosopher should be well equipped to help others reflect on their problems and develop strategies, both rational on the one hand, and emotional and volitional, on the other, to resolve or heal these problems. To do so, the philosopher must be one who perceives philosophy as a way of life, and not as a discipline that in its use of scientific methodology falls just a little behind physics and is so much the worse, as many modern industrial philosophers perceive it. Further, to be an effective counselor the philosopher must embody the character traits and values inherent to philosophy as a way of life: he or she must be open-minded, tolerant of differences, refined in his emotions and genuinely interested in the puzzle that the other human being is and the drama that makes them who they are. Most importantly, however, to be effective as a counselor, the philosopher must be at ease with the task of a life-long search for ‘the good life,’ and must be experienced, if not with clients, then with oneself, in putting all the conceptual resources of philosophical thought and tradition to the task of making a good life for oneself and for others. This is another way of saying that the effective philosophical counselor must be a decent philosophical ‘generalist,’ as Lou Marinoff puts it, with skills and depth of insight that result from living one’s philosophical dilemmas and meanderings, and with keen interest in and empathy for other human beings. This is a lot to ask.

The combination of professional and human qualities required for effective counseling will obviously make the proponents of some philosophical disciplines and approaches more likely candidates for philosophical counselors than others. An existentialist or an ethicist are more likely candidates for counselors than formal logicians or philosophers of mathematics or physics, simply because the latter are likely to have chosen their fields partly based on certain character-traits and sensibilities that are less concerned with other human beings, and more with abstract truths pursued in privacy. This is not necessarily, always so, but it is the case more often than not. A keen philosophical mind is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success as a philosophical counselor; a keen interest in other people and a propensity to identify and empathise with them are also required. Finally, the acceptance of professional risk to ‘run with the volves’ in their territory, along the private midscape of another person while retaining clear view of the main postulates of philosophical counsel—quest of the good life by virtuous character-building, clear reasoning and healthy discriminating judgement—must be part of the counselor’s own projection of the good life. These pre-conditions for becoming a philosophical counselor, while required, must also be desired. They are the virtues that make up the type of character and the range of moral pleasures which define a person well suited to run with the volves and take professional risks in order to help others articulate and attain their own value- and character goals. Ultimately, these are the character requirements for a philosophical good life that is suited to helping others create their own good lives.

In short, philosophical practice is fundamentally about reflected pleasure as the base-line of the good life, and about the moral education required to reach such pleasure. It is inclusive of all the conceptual and methodological wealth of philosophy of almost any tradition or school, and is able to make any such theoretical philosophy a vibrating and living helping tool, however far removed it might seem from real life initially. By placing philosophical theory in the context of the simple conceptual matrix of reflected pleasure and moral education, philosophical practice, and philosophical counseling as one of its main applications, is emancipatory for theoretical philosophy as a whole. By virtue of being put to use in helping identify and attain the good life of philosophy’s clients, philosophy becomes the way of life of its practitioners and, whatever its substance and concepts, becomes ‘core philosophy’, and not ‘mere superstructure.’ Philosophical practice is likely the ultimate realization of Hadot’s paradigm shift for philosophy in its entirety.