Today’s Solutions: January 28, 2023

Why the philosopher has as much to offer as the therapist

Jurriaan Kamp | December 2004 issue

German philosopher Gerd Achenbach was concerned about the growing group of people who subjected themselves to endless analysis of their mental problems, which didn’t seem to make any difference. He offered an alternative by volunteering to help them himself, drawing on his knowledge of philosophy. This idea has since been imitated worldwide. “Thinking, not shrinking,” is the slogan for it.

The contrast is interesting. The psychologist zeroes in on a human shortcoming, brings problems to light, and even magnifies them, in an effort to heal. The philosopher, however, places the same problems in the context of human experience, puts them in perspective and reduces the problem. As Achenbach once said in an interview with the Dutch Filosofie Magazine (October 1996): “I want to give people the ability to withstand the trends of the times. That gives them freedom.”

Achenbach believes that excessive attention to personal issues propels people into a downward spiral. Psychologists emphasize the misfortune and unhappiness that he wants people to leave behind. “Those who start to analyze their own soul stirrings can discover a whole lot of problems,” says Achenbach. “And that can preoccupy you from here to eternity.”

Achenbach says the vast majority of day-to-day problems are related to how we lead our lives and our vision of life. These are areas where philosophy can help, Achenbach believes. “To me, it’s about exposing the opportunities. I look for the conditions that will help people make progress. And this ties in with the tradition of Socrates. What do we need to make progress? And what should I become? To me the question is not: how do I reach that blissful state that is supposed to be normal? But instead: what do I need now to take a step forward?” According to Achenbach you shouldn’t study your own life with a magnifying glass, but in fact put it in a broader perspective. That gives you a better view of the world and of yourself.

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