by Luigi Amato Kunst 

1. What is Philosophy Culture Therapy? A Definition

How can we give an account of understanding human behavior if we do ignore universal forces at play driving and dominating human behavior? Philosophy of Culture Therapy offers an interactive dialogue, a path to widen our understanding of universal essences of human behavior, along with literature, philosophy, narrative, tragedy, epics, myth.

Philosophical Cultural Therapy is not a form of therapy of any kind, but rather a cultural path that aims to separate the individual from the actual existing problem, allowing the person to move toward a higher level of description of reality. It relies on the individual’s culture amelioration and sense of purpose to guide them through difficult times.

Level of Descriptions means that reality might be “layered” or ‘stratified into levels’, according to a scale of 41 powers of 10, where different levels are organized hierarchically. From a microparticle up to a super bunch of galaxies, the levels in question are not just levels of description or explanation, but levels of reality or ontological levels. Reality is influenced by and communicated through language, which suggests that people who lack a proper language may lack the appropriate descriptive level of reality.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world” (L. Wittgenstein).

It might be quite problematic to use a chemical-physical language for asking a waiter for the menu.

For example, when having a dialogue with someone who postpones and temporizes, seeming unable to decide, I would encourage the individual to explore and trace the essence of sloth in literature, to see sloth as a universal component of human nature, rather than seeing themselves as an inherently “bad” felon. Was Hamlet affected by sloth in his postponing and temporizing behavior?  In Milton’s Paradise Lost, (Book I) Belial ‘counseled ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, not peace’ by using ‘words clothed in reason’s garb’. How often do we exchange benevolence with true compassion? Is the decision the opposite of sloth? Kierkegaard, in Enten-Eller, holds decision as to the essence of human existence. And so on.

I grounded this model in three main ideas.

1.Philosophical Cultural Therapy is not a ‘therapy’ but rather an investigation upon the essences of human nature.

This method respects the agency and dignity of every client, but it requires each client to active training and improving their level of description. The individual is not defective, or not “enough” in any way, but simply unaware of the existence of higher levels of reality. By investigating the ‘essences’ she can reflect upon her own struggles from a higher perspective.

Individuals who engage in philosophical cultural therapy are brave people who recognize issues they would like to address in their lives.

2. Philosophical cultural therapy is not focused on the actual existing problem but uses it to gain higher levels of description.

In philosophical cultural therapy, problems are moved from the individual into the essences of human nature, by identifying some keywords.

In this form of dialogue, clients are not that much focused on their problems. They are encouraged not to blame themselves, assigning fault to anyone or anything, but rather to make a step ahead toward forces at play human behavior.

Philosophical Cultural Therapy connects individuals with a higher level of description, viewing them as a whole of human nature who engage in some behavioral paths that they do not fully comprehend and therefore, they cannot change.

3. Philosophical Cultural therapy views the client as a non-expert of their own level of reality.

In philosophy cultural therapy, the classical gap therapist/patient is removed and the philosopher guides the client into a cultural path.

These three ideas lay the foundation for the cultural relationship and the function of philosophy cultural therapy. The foundation of this process asks clients to gain a higher life’s view.

Key Concepts and Approach

Making the distinction between “the individual with problems” and “the essence of human nature” is vital in philosophical cultural therapy. An adverse or damaging self-identity can be rationally removed only if the Self takes contact with the universality of the impulses and essences underlying the human condition.

“The individual problem must be seen from a richer and interconnected perspective. It is only by relating to the universality that the individual actual contingency can be properly understood”.

To this end, there are a few main principles of philosophical cultural therapy:

  1. Philosophy believes that most of the predicaments affecting people are not due to psychological distress but to a misinterpretation of structures or essences underlying reality.
  2. Reality might be “layered” or “stratified into levels”, according to a scale of 41 powers of 10, where different levels are organized hierarchically. Reality is influenced by and communicated through language, which suggests that people who lack a proper language may lack the appropriate descriptive level of reality.
  3. Having a narrative that can be understood means that we do possess an organized level of comprehension of our reality. In other words, stories and narratives help us to make sense of our experiences only if experiences are comprehended under a wider spectrum of general features and dynamics with the appropriate language.
  4. The postmodernist school of thought, views reality as a personal concept. Here, truth is meant as the Kierkegaard’s notion of “the truth that is true for me”. But we should not make confusion with universal truths or themes or (topoi) dominating men’s life. Death, illness, becoming, sufferance, sloth, envy, ethics, hatred, revenge, love, desire compassion, arrogance, hubris, are universal themes characteristic of the human nature, valid anytime, anywhere. We can trace them along with the epic, tragedy, myth, literature.

The postmodern skepticism over the idea of neutral language and universal truths does not take into account different levels of language description, and the fact that some truths are, universal and indisputable truths for all sentient beings.  

Of course, people need to create good storytelling that helps them to construct a plot. But this is not about storytelling or self-narration. It is about how can we give an account of understanding human behavior if we do ignore universal forces at play driving and dominating human behavior?

It’s impressive how much easier solving the problem can be when we stop seeing the problem as an integral part of who we are, and change the level of the hierarchy, mastering higher level of reality, and a higher level of language, higher capacity of connecting themes and tracing clues. Knowledge and combining are the keys.

“The more you know about, the more likely you are to combine things, to make an idea that is striking” (J.Patterson). Writing your storytelling and reshape your life, it is all about knowing things ad combining them.

Commonly Used Philosophical Cultural Therapy Techniques

Some of the skills applicable to solving problems through cultural therapy are skills that we may already possess; others take effort to learn and apply. The five techniques here are the most common tools used in the philosophy of culture therapy.

1. Enrichment technique

As a philosopher, your job in cultural therapy is about helping your client to explore new territories. During this first journey together, some issues come at stake.

Your client’s mind must be open. By reading (or listening) an author, our mind should not be attached to one’s side of personal belief, and thinking that people on the other side are wrong. Buddhists make the example of having the mind like a dirty bowl, a filthy vessel contaminated by the darkness of partiality and prejudice.

In the first part, the main aim is to make the client free from prejudices. It is quite common that when you assign a book to read, like a novel, the client starts making unrequested negative comments while reading. These comments show usually partiality or prejudice. It’s called ‘resistance’.

It is like while you are talking with somebody who finishes your sentence before you have completed your speech. It means her mind is not open.

Helping your client developing their knowledge allows them to discover new meanings, combining different things, all integral factors for success in the first stage of cultural therapy. If we try to interpret experiences without the enrichment stage, it is the same as an engine spinning into the void, for new ideas and creativity come from combining new things.

The philosopher identifies some keywords, which will be the starting point toward the second stage.

2. Detachment technique

The general idea of detachment technique is that it is easier to change or wide our worldview, if we reflect upon what great writers wrote around what others have done, taking a distance, being not personally involved. For example, if you are quick to be clumsy or lazy or undecided, then you must fundamentally widen your knowledge about sloth and ethics, akrasia and virtue, considering the essence of acting and decision as the main feature of human existence.

People are often much more focused on their defect of character than on the remedy of how to get rid of it. And the remedy usually lies outside their own life’s entanglement, on a higher level of reality.

This second step is to encourage your client not to place too much importance on their self-assigned labels and lets them know how easy and self-pity this attitude can be.

3. The focusing technique

This higher-level technique is about deeply reflecting on human behavior, connecting and comparing forces constantly fighting over and against each other. This deep reflecting is about getting closer to the very meaning of the theme (topos) and the truth, reading, studying and writing. To some extent, this process is quite similar to meditation, and it requires some discipline. The more we get into details, the more we get closer to the truth. It is not uncommon that the client attempts to escape at this stage. Attachment is the real problem. Philosopher has to be straight holding tight the tiller.

The higher level requires full engagement from the client. Here there is a passageway, from passivity into action. The experience of deeply reflecting, combining different things, striving for the purpose, generates new intuitions and ideas that can lead to the acceptance and respect that there are visions of life other than ours. It’s a creative process that only can be experienced by the client. 

As an example of the higher technique, imagine a person who feels her life meaningless. She keeps on doing things but she never really accomplishes anything and now feels that life is getting out of hand. She wonders after all, if there is a life for her out there in the world. A life worth to be lived. She has a good job, and quite a good life. But she feels restless and unhappy.

Based on this short description, there is no clear idea of what the problem is, let alone what the solution might be. A philosopher might start finding keywords, themes, topoi, rather than accepting a statement such as, “I feel quite restless and unhappy”.

The philosopher proposes a keyword. Esthetics. The esthetic approach opposed to the ethical one. The esthetic character is characterized by immediacy and desire. As soon as she gets the object of desire she feels unsatisfied and she looks for something else. In the end, it comes out that the problem of the esthetic personality is about the object of desire, which is desire itself. The esthetic desires its desire. But this is a trap. A behavioral path. Being esthetic means living in despair. The remedy is self-determination, choice, decision, independence, taking full responsibility for her own life.

Kierkegaard wrote in his Journal in 1835: “What I need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose (…) the crucial thing is to find a truth which is the truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”

Søren Kierkegaard who made this question the main issue of existence: the purpose, something we have to find, and Nietzsche said ‘You should become who you are’ (Gay Science).

Nowadays we are all surrounded and overwhelmed by external suggestions of doing, buying, learning etc. This state makes us blasé, and maybe it might be the case to examine this word in Georg Simmel’s work. Overstimulated.

This technique is an excellent way to help the client dig into the problem and understand the foundation of the stressful event or pattern in their life.

4. The returning technique

It is about descending and freeing our mind, to be able to decide and chose our life for the best.

The incredible power of philosophy is about training our mind. Remaining stable and focused on specific topics getting more and closer, refining, unfolding, reasoning, doubting, until we familiarize with very nature of the theme we are investigating, and this is something like approaching the truth. Truth, in this case, is something common to all human beings, and other than our personal opinions, believes and feelings.

This cultural therapy is a technique to control our mind and the descending, or returning technique is all about coming back to the main point. The theme at stake, (topos).

Some people are very good at dealing with their job, but not capable of dealing with making decisions in their own daily life. They are like prisoners of their fears and thoughts or behavioral paths, and it’s quite seldom they are aware of it. Usually, they find excuses outside themselves to justify their failure. It’s always someone else or something else’s fault.

What’s the problem here? They don’t catch the underground forces in play in their acting.

Why does Hamlet’s behavior look so strange? Undecided, postponing, temporizing? Because he’s a prisoner of a strong force, maybe the Oedipus complex, maybe the fear of something, that obstructs any action. And makes him unhappy. Why is Hamlet tragedy so beautiful? Because it shows something of human behavior that is universal, common to anybody. The lack of freedom. Being grabbed and prisoner of forces we cannot take under control. And such forces obstruct acting. T.S Elliot quotes “It is thus a feeling which he cannot understand; he cannot objectify it and it, therefore, remains to poison life and obstruct action” (T.S. Eliot, The Sacre Wood).

Therefore, we could easily begin understanding, by watching Hamlet, that we are controlled by inexplicable forces in our life that get us stuck. We are not free. We say something but our mind makes us do something else. Strong emotions can block our lives if we don’t see and recognize them.

What if we start by observing Hamlet? Of course, not ourselves, for we might find incredible resistance. What if we start deeply understanding what is that makes Hamlet so undecided? What is we start observing how much pain (Ophelia’s death) Hamlet’s behavior caused?

Freud said that Hamlet’s behavior was caused by a strong Oedipus complex toward his mother. Maybe. I don’t know. But we could decide just to follow this path. Who was Oedipus? He the hero of Sophocles tragedy Oedipus. By reading the tragedy we can see that Oedipus did not have any intention to kill his father and to marry his mother.

In his mind, he saw Laio as the king and not as his father, and Giocasta as the queen and not as his mother.

Freud figured out that every child has the unconscious desire of killing the father and marrying the mother. And called this force the Oedipus complex.

Everything in Sophocles tragedy and Shakespeare’s tragedy is about misinterpretation. And misinterpretation of how things are is called ignorance in Buddhist philosophy. Our sufferance is generated by ignorance. Accordingly, we act, doing a lot of things that produce other things and so on. What that moves our actions starts from a misinterpretation of reality, of how things are.

4. Final Outcomes

This cultural therapy technique is complex but vital for the acquisition of a more meaningful life. It changes our perspectives and widens our world. It makes us richer in culture and the ability to express our feelings and relationships. It makes us stronger. We can easily spend a Saturday evening with a good book and enjoy it. We can write more rigorously about what we think. We can be more precise. Less stressed in a traffic jam, traffic lights, and a long queue. We can just pick up a book from our pocket and start reading.

We can construct a storyline to our experiences that offer to mean. We are not limited and there are endless storylines we can subscribe to, and we can exchange them with others. We can propose new life’s perspectives and we can engage ourselves in quite deep discussions around human nature, and solutions and we can become more open-minded, less selfish, more compassionate. We feel our lives getting meaningful and rich and worth to be lived.