Patricia Anne Murphy is a philosopher with a real-world mission.
Murphy may have a PhD and an intimate knowledge of Aristotle and Descartes, but in her snug Takoma Park bungalow, she’s helping a broken-hearted patient struggle through a divorce.
Instead of offering the wounded wife a prescription for Effexor — which she’s not licensed to do anyway — she instructs her to read Epictetus, the original cognitive therapist, who argued that humans often mistake their feelings for facts and suffer as a result.
Murphy is one of an increasing number of philosophical counselors, practitioners who are putting their esoteric learning to practical use helping people with some of life’s persistent afflictions. Though they help clients cope with many of the same issues that conventional therapists do — divorce, job stress, the economic downturn, parenting woes, chronic illness and matters of the heart — their methods are very different.
They’re like intellectual life coaches. Very intellectual. They have in-depth knowledge of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist theories on the nature of life and can recite passages from Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological explorations of the question of being. And they use them to help clients overcome their mother issues.
What a good idea. When I was in college, the best thing that I read to get me out of my head was Kierkegaard, that profoundly psychological philosopher. His three stages of existence — the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious — gave me a framework for understanding my own state of mind, my confusion, my impulsiveness, and why various attempts I made to overcome the anxiety emerging from all this were doomed. This little book explaining Kierkegaard’s philosophy absolutely changed my life, and very much for the better. No therapist could possibly have helped me more than the Dane did.