At least since I was a teenager, I have been vaguely aware of how strange the times we live in are. Growing up in a culturally diverse society, I felt pulled in so many different directions–drawn to different cultures, lifestyles, and belief systems. I found it hard to know what to believe when moral values, language, and cultural norms seem to change so often.
It was at least partly for those reasons that when I started my undergraduate degree, I was drawn to two fields: philosophical ethics–which asks questions about what it means to be a good person and live a good life–and international relations, which deals with conflicts between different cultures. I continued to pursue these questions completing a master’s degree focused on ethics and political philosophy.
While the study of philosophy helped me to clarify my values, it only did so in a very abstract kind of way. I wanted to learn how to live my values. I wanted to learn how to apply abstract moral principles in the messiness of everyday life and how to address situations where moral principles conflicted with each other. I was fortunate to get this kind of education by going to law school. But I never really got interested in legal problems; I wanted to work on human problems–the conflicts and challenges that people (myself included) face every day.
So, after graduating law school, I began studying the science of human behaviour–in part through reading extensively in cognitive and evolutionary psychology, anthropology, history, neuroscience, and the major religious texts. I worked with mental health professionals, participated in addiction recovery groups, and trained in mindfulness meditation.
While there was so much of value I gained from this work, I didn’t want to become a mental health professional myself. The interests of governments and the pharmaceutical industry have a strong influence over research, public policy, and clinical treatment. There is also a tendency to turn every human problem into an illness, and to offer one-size-fits-all solutions to people with unique needs. I believe these constraints and pressures make it difficult to provide the best possible treatment and counselling.
Instead, I carved out my own path that allows me to draw on my background and training in philosophy, law, and psychology. I got trained to become a family mediator and became a licensed philosophical counsellor.
Mediation is a growing field that many judges, lawyers, and legal researchers have found to be not only cheaper, faster, and more satisfying to clients than the formal legal system–but also a very effective way of preventing conflicts from escalating to the point of needing lawyers.
Similarly, philosophical counselling offers an alternative to psychotherapy, viewing (many) mental health problems not as illnesses in need of treatment but as features of the human condition to be addressed with insight, wisdom, and courage.
Though these two fields emerged out of very different professions, I see them as being very closely linked–perhaps at least because my approach to them is very similar. Conflict, fear, loss, resentment, uncertainty, regret, loneliness–these experiences and feelings are just part of what it is to be human. But that doesn’t mean we are doomed to suffer.
We can, of course, numb the feelings with drugs or avoid these problems with all sorts of pleasant distractions. Or we can muster the courage to face them directly. But this doesn’t mean simply accepting a harsh reality. Instead, we have the power to find new ways of looking at our problems. We can tell new stories about our lives; we can learn to see things from the perspective of others and our past and future selves; and we can apply the time-tested wisdom from the great philosophical and spiritual traditions.
My role is only to help you do that in a way that makes sense to you, and in a way that transforms your challenges into an opportunity to strengthen yourself and develop a deeper sense of satisfaction and purpose in life.