Should you consult initially with someone other than a philosopher?
Perhaps—especially if you are suffering acutely.
If your present suffering is acute, it actually might be best initially to consult with either a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. They are often in the best position to assist you in getting back to normal as quickly as possible.
Let’s consider two distressingly common examples, namely, depression and suicide.
Please answer the following questions honestly:
Have you recently been in a depressed mood most of the time nearly every day? Have you recently had diminished interest or enjoyment in activities most of the time nearly every day? Has your body weight recently dropped due to poor appetite or has it gone up due to increased appetite? Are you having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much? Have you lost energy? Are you fatigued? Do you feel worthless, excessively guilty, or hopeless? Has your ability to concentrate diminished? Do you recurrently think about death or suicide?
If your answers to some of these questions are affirmative, you may be suffering from major depression, which is a common disorder in our society. If you are already getting professional help, that’s good. However, if your major depression is undiagnosed, please get some professional help immediately.
Fortunately, it’s usually an eminently treatable disorder that, left untreated, often has serious consequences. So please be kind to yourself and seek clinical treatment from a psychiatrist or other appropriate professional if you are not already receiving it.
Realize, though, that modern treatments may enable you to function normally without necessarily curing what ails you. I happen to believe that neither medication nor talking therapy cures the underlying problem. If you are already getting professional treatment, or are only normally depressed, and are interested in my pointing you towards the real cure, then seriously consider hiring me briefly as a consultant.
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in our population. In people aged 15 to 24, it’s the second leading cause of death.
Please answer the following questions honestly: Have you suffered family trauma, unstabilized turmoil, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, loss of a family member, feelings of being a burden, or had an alcoholic parent? Are you depressed? Do you feel hopeless? Furthermore, associated contributing factors may be indicated by affirmative answers to any of the following questions: Are you isolated or withdrawn? Do you use alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine? Is your academic performance poor? Do you frequently get into disputes with your peers? Have you been disappointed romantically? Are you worried about pregnancy, sexual orientation, or AIDS? Are you upset about the suicide of any friends, peers, or family members? Do you suffer from cancer, Huntington’s disease, MS, or anorexia nervosa? Have you had a head or spinal cord injury? Have you ever attempted suicide?
Suicidal crises are episodic. Definitive treatment does cause them to pass. If you suspect that you may be psychotic or highly neurotic and find yourself thinking about suicide, please be kind to yourself and seek expert help. Treat such obstacles as opportunities to teach yourself how to live better. You are capable of living well, so why not teach yourself how?
On the other hand, if you are wondering about the meaning of life or merely contemplating suicide abstractly, you might do better to consult with a philosopher than with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
The truth is that anyone contemplating suicide is being highly egotistical. The problem centrally concerns the ego.
Your ego is your sense of separateness. The more you think you are separated or isolated, the more egotistical you are. The suffering that comes from that may be intense and quite terrible.
The cure depends upon realizing that your deep sense of separateness is a delusion. Merely thinking that your sense of separateness is a delusion is not helpful, but directly experiencing your interconnection with everything else and deepening that experience permanently cures the problem. In other words, curing the isolation dissolves the problem of suicide.
Both medication and talking therapy are incapable of yielding that direct experience. If you want the cure, if you want the direct experience yourself, it will require sustained, but simple, practice of an appropriate kind. A philosopher may be more experienced in pointing you in the right direction than a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist
In general, other kinds of consultants such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists usually focus on helping people who are in a sub-normal state get back to normal. There are some exceptions to this—the most notable being Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. However, it is true of most of them, which is why there is no essential conflict with philosophers who are consultants.
Think of philosophers as trying to help normal people, who are dissatisfied, lead much better lives. Because the problems addressed tend to be different, there is usually no conflict either with respect to treatment options.
I am not aware of any psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who is against the kind of mental training I advocate. Indeed, many recommend it themselves!
Since it has been around for at least 2500 years, that should not be surprising. Having really started with the British Associationists in the 18th century, modern western psychology is relatively new—and modern psychiatry is even newer.
My personal perspective is that, while they may enable you to begin to heal, they cannot take you all the way. The kind of practice that I advocate is the only kind that ultimately works.
An analogy would be a sports injury. First, let the injury heal so that you return to normal functioning. Then begin training get develop the kind of strength, fitness, and flexibility required for sports. It’s actually foolish even to attempt the latter without first doing the former.
So, if you are really hurting, first get some other kinds of help and then come back when you are ready to thrive.
Suggestion: If you have not yet looked at the “Why Consult?” page, please do so. (It’s listed in the drop-down menu under the “Resources” tab at the top of the page.) If you have already looked at it, please go on to the “Self Assessment” page, which is also listed in that drop-down menu.