Philosophy as therapy
The questions asked by ancient Greek philosophers revolved around the central issue of how to live well, how to flourish, how to establish the great virtues of courage, equanimity, practical wisdom, and insight. They did not reason for its own sake but in the service of the human task.
Many of the most interesting ideas, strategies and practices they developed help us navigate a way through many of life’s most pressing issues. Indeed, modern therapies often draw directly on the ancient ideas: Stoicism shapes CBT; Freud referred to Plato as ‘divine’. Reflecting on these sources is not only engaging for its own sake but can help to freshen and vivify the assumptions and methods deployed in modern therapy.
This workshop will explore philosophy as a therapy and way of life. It will major on the 6 main ancient schools: the Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, and Cynics. It will draw in insights that aim to tackle anxiety and fear; to cultivate love and friendship; to nurture equanimity and flourishing; to engage spirit and soul; to address emptiness and meaning.
No knowledge of ancient philosophy will be assumed. The field will be explored via lecure-style input, individual questioning, and short experiential exercises. We will think about these type of issues:
Anxiety and Equanimity
Disquiet and uneasiness are part of the human condition, and have therefore been high on the agenda of many philosophers, seeking steadiness and equanimity. The Stoics aimed at trust. The Epicureans at balance. What can these insights offer to the ways we struggle with anxiety?
Love and Friendship
No-one can say they have lived well without love and friendship, argued Aristotle, and philosophers before and since who have struggled with what it is to be human and live the good life have always placed love and friendship centre stage. They have wondered about the nature of these loves; how they operate; what they offer; where they fall down. How might their wisdom be applied, particularly to friendship, about which modern therapies often say little?
Happiness and Flourishing
It might seem obvious that human beings desire happiness, and some philosophers in the modern world have placed it at the top of the list. And yet, there is another tradition that proposes not worrying too much about pleasant and elated states, but seeking instead what it is to flourish – a quest that might also involve pain. Is happiness a goal?
Spirit and Soul
It is no surprise that an age which knows the value and power of science finds it hard to address questions of spirit. Our lack of balance would have surprised most philosophers in history who viewed the material, embodied world as just one manifestation of a deeper stream or current of life that can be spoken of as soul. How can we relate to this aspect of existence that, until recently, was regarded as foundational?
Belonging and Place
For the modern mind, the first question we tend to ask, when it comes to meaning, is: who am I? But there was a prior question, according to the ancient mind: where am I? There was a profound connection to place, as opposed treating the world as a series of utilitarian spaces, and being receptive to that was crucial to belonging. But what sense can be made of that today?
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About the host
Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist, writer and teacher. He has written a number of books on ancient philosophy and life, and has also written an introduction to Jung for the Guardian Shorts series.
Mark has degrees in physics and theology, as well as PhD in ancient philosophy. He has a London-based private practice and also works at the Maudsley.