Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counseling without Truth: Toward a Neopragmatic Foundation for Counseling Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counseling without Truth: Toward a Neopragmatic Foundation for Counseling Practice

Article excerpt

Within the academic bureaucracy, counseling and philosophy are considered separate disciplines, each with its own department and faculty. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret this disciplinary division to mean that philosophy has nothing to offer the counseling profession. Indeed, the foundational issues that drive counseling practice, such as what it means to help someone, how the mind and body are related, and whether it is reasonable to assume that one person can come to know another, are topics that fall squarely within the realm of philosophy (Chessick, 1987; Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange, 2002). Ongoing philosophical reflection, therefore, is vitally important to ensure the continued evolution of the counseling profession.

With this in mind, it is essential for counselors to consider the revolutionary developments in philosophy that have occurred over the past century. Specifically, contemporary philosophers (e.g., Rorty, 1979, 1999) have challenged the traditional goal of philosophy as a quest for absolute truth. This line of reasoning has enormous implications for counseling theory and practice. However, the discourse of professional philosophers is often tedious, jargon-laden, and hopelessly obscure to counselors and other nonphilosophers. Therefore, the purpose of this article is twofold: (a) to provide a clear update and summary of these philosophical developments for counselors and (b) to argue that neopragmatism, an important movement within contemporary philosophy, has particular relevance and applicability to the counseling profession. I shall communicate these ideas within the following organizational structure: (a) Truth as the Guide, (b) The Problems With Truth, (c) Counseling Without Truth, (d) Implications of Neopragrnatism for Contemporary Mental Health Culture, and (e) Discussion and Conclusions.

Truth as the Guide

Historically, Western thought has been dominated by a search for absolute and universal conclusions about reality that are completely independent of history, culture, language, and human constructions (Anderson, 1990; Rorty, 1999). The general assumption underlying this quest has been that knowledge of these final truths will guide humanity to a superior existence (Anderson, 1990). Plato (trans. 1968), for example, used the analogy of shadows on a cave wall to describe ordinary human knowing. The goal of philosophy, he posited, is to determine the essence (i.e., true nature) of the things that are casting the shadows. By discovering essences, philosophers could serve as guides to a more fulfilled life that is governed by truth. Likewise, Western religious traditions posit that truth can be known through divine revelation. Accordingly, this divinely revealed truth would serve as the guide to actualized living. Similarly, since the Enlightenment, the scientific method has been posited as the route to truth (Anderson, 1990). The implicit promise of science has been that the human race can advance through the discovery of objective truth, which is only made possible through use of the scientific method.

The search for truth has also been a key component of the counseling profession. That is, the conceptual foundation of traditional counseling theories is that helping people with psychological problems is dependent upon true knowledge of the causes of those problems (Hansen, 2002). For example, psychodynamic theories presume that unconscious motivation is the true cause of psychological problems (Hansen, 2000). Cognitive theories, alternatively, posit that distorted cognitions are the fundamental determinants of mental difficulties (Mahoney, 1991). According to humanistic theories, the true cause of psychological suffering is a developmental arrest of the drive toward actualization (Hansen, 1999, 2000, 2005b).

The methods of each of these theoretical orientations are derived from their foundational truths (Hansen, 2002). That is, psychodynamic theories dictate that counselors provide a therapeutic environment wherein unconscious determinants of problems are made obvious (Hansen, 2000). …

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