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Critical Thinking Therapy

January 21, 2021

Critical Thinking Therapy
for Mental Health and Self-Actualization
through The Cultivation Of Intellectual and Ethical Character
as Well as One’s Creative Potential

We now offer counseling in Critical Thinking Therapy as well as instruction in Critical Thinking Therapy for Therapists. Critical Thinking Therapy uses the explicit concepts in critical thinking to help clients (or you) gain command of your emotional life, achieve emotional well-being and realize all of which you are capable as a unique individual. Critical Thinking Therapy is based in the assumption that to gain command of your life requires, first and foremost, gaining command of the thinking that is commanding your life. Contact Ms. Lisa Sabend at Lisa@CriticalThinking.Org for more information.

Moreover, Dr. Linda Elder is currently authoring a book with the working title Critical Thinking Therapy. This is currently expected to release in 2022.

Drawbacks of Conventional Mental Health Therapies

Critical Thinking Therapy begins with the assumption that mental health depends, among other things, on reasonable thinking. Being mentally healthy implies living a reasonable life. One cannot be emotionally healthy while also being an unreasonable person. To be a reasonable person requires critical thinking. Yet mental health professionals generally lack an understanding of critical thinking and its vital importance to effective mental health therapies.

It isn’t that mental health professionals never use critical thinking. All the best therapeutic approaches to mental health have a direct relationship with critical thinking. Yet clinicians do not always choose the best mental health therapies. This is true because they don’t always know how to choose among the theories and therapies within the various schools of thought relevant to cultivating mental health. In other words, they are frequently unclear as to the standards they should use in deciding on the best counseling strategies for their clients. Nor can therapists necessarily effectively apply the best theories when they do choose them, for this also requires critical thinking. And even the best approaches to mental health have limitations or weaknesses. Again, critical thinking is required to figure out these limitations.

Though we should never seek to boil critical thinking down to a single definition capable of explaining and entailing all of its complexities, it is useful to consider a beginning definition.

Critical thinking refers to reasoning (thinking) that adheres to standards of excellence (criteria for thinking). It entails the ability to explicitly take one’s thinking apart and examine each part for quality through intellectual standards (such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, breadth, depth, logicalness, fairness, significance, and sufficiency). It includes fairmindedness, since critical thinkers will always strive to consider relevant viewpoints in good faith. The cultivation of fairminded critical thinking necessitates working toward the embodiment of intellectual virtues such as intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, and intellectual autonomy. Critical thinking implies understanding one’s own native egocentric and sociocentric tendencies, and actively combatting these tendencies throughout daily life. Critical thinking also entails understanding the intimate relationship between thinking, feelings, and desires. And it involves a creative dimension that enables people to improve their thinking and the quality of their lives, to contribute to the development of human ideas and practices, and to achieve self-fulfillment and self-actualization.

It is clear that therapists typically neither use nor impart a comprehensive, explicit conception of critical thinking in their work with clients because they are rarely, if ever, taught such a conception. They may themselves think critically to some degree on any number of topics. But they will be limited by their overall lack of knowledge of critical thinking theory when attempting to advance critical thinking in the therapeutic setting (assuming they are even making such an attempt).

Again, some clinicians do use a considerable degree of critical thinking when working with clients, for instance to decide what therapeutic techniques seem best, but frequently without explicit awareness of the broad range of critical thinking concepts and principles from which they could be choosing. This limits their ability to foster critical reasoning skills in clients’ thinking, which is what is done (either implicitly or explicitly) in a successful therapeutic setting aimed at mental health.

Thinking, or reasoning, as an object of study has been given little notice by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors throughout the histories of these professions. In fact, critical reasoning has never been at the heart of most mental health programs. There are some notable exceptions, but those exceptions are frequently given short shrift by mainstream mental health professionals. Instead of relying on the cultivation of critical, creative and ethical reasoning for mental health, counselors still frequently ask people to re-create “bad memories” from their past, and then re-live these “memories” over and over again (traditional analytic psychology frequently using Freud’s approach). Or they may want their clients to feel good, rather than focusing clients on taking responsibility for their problematic behavior and for living a sensible life. Psychiatrists, entrenched in the “medical model,” typically give medications to treat mental health problems, sometimes in enormous quantities, with limited effectiveness, and often actually harming clients. Many mental health clinicians still use such archaic tools as the Rorschach inkblot test, which has no scientific evidence to support its use; in the process, these clinicians make deductions that cannot be logically deduced. Therapists typically ignore the essential role of ethical reasoning in the healthy person; they themselves are frequently unclear as to the distinction between ethics and social ideologies. They seem still to prefer to have their clients talk things out. They usually want them to return week after week to talk things out - operating under the assumption that talking things out will lead the client to a higher level of mental health. But while a supportive therapeutic setting does seem to help those with mental health problems, a kind person to talk to will not change the overall structure and quality of clients’ reasoning; this requires the tools of critical reasoning. Some clinicians do introduce a few concepts relevant to critical reasoning, but this will be hit or miss and usually at the implicit, rather than explicit level. And don’t forget that some therapeutic approaches cause harm rather than bring about good.

Characteristics of Mentally Healthy Persons

This leads to the fundamental question, how do counselors decide on the therapies they use? More specifically, what standards do they use to determine which to accept and which to reject?

Before going further it is important to distinguish two distinctly different uses of mental health, or what it means to be mentally healthy. Both imply positive and productive feeling states, but one is genuine and the other is sham. Geniune mental health is based on honesty to oneself, consideration for others, and the desire to achieve high levels of positive, creative self expression. It is based in understanding and respecting the needs of the individual person to grow and develop in her or his own right, while also respecting the rights of other people and sentient creatures. Sham mental health refers to those people who lack the ability to empathize with the feelings of others, but who experience positive feeling states themselves. These people may range from those who can learn to empathize, to those frequently referred to as sociopaths, who are presumably incapable of empathizing or sympathizing with others.

To be mentally healthy in our complex and commonly pathological world requires a relatively high level of command of one’s own reasoning and of how that reasoning leads to one’s own actions. In therapy involving adults and adolescents, the therapists’ emphasis on reasoning should be primary, and focus specifically on clients taking full command of their reasoning using the tools of critical thinking. In the case of child therapy, the emphasis should still be on the reasoning of the clients themselves (in this case the children), but must also include a focus on the reasoning of the adults caring for the children, since the problem often lies with the parents’ reasoning or the reasoning of both parents and children, as well as others in the family with influence or power over the child.

Mentally healthy people who rely on explicit tools of criticality are able to consistently and accurately assess their own reasoning as well the reasoning of relevant others in their lives, the reasoning of politicians, writers, great thinkers, indeed anyone they choose and in any context they choose. Again, to assess reasoning, they routinely use intellectual standards that come to us through critical thinking – standards such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, significance, logicalness, depth, breadth, sufficiency, justifiability, and fairness.

To be mentally healthy in our multifaceted world also requires that we be intellectually independent or autonomous thinkers. Therapists who make their clients depend upon them are not doing the most for their clients and are frequently harming them. Therapeutic programs for mental health should be designed to, as soon as is possible and as much as is possible, move the client away from therapy sessions with a psychologist or other counseling professional, and toward complete self-control and self-development using the tools of critical thinking. Critical Thinking Therapists are interested in ideas and how ideas affect behavior. They are coaches assisting clients in internalizing ideas that make sense and stand the test of reason. They are facilitators of self-empowerment through the tools of reasonability.

In addition to learning the fundamentals of critical thinking theory as it relates to therapy or self-therapy, there are a number of important domains of human thought within which most all of us should learn to reason, if we are to enjoy the highest degrees of mental health, or what has been termed self-actualization or self-realization.  Clients should come to appreciate 1) the tools of criticality we all need to function in a complex world, 2) the pathologies and neuroses of human thought to which all humans fall prey as well as those to which they particularly fall prey, and 3) the domains of life especially important to them, as individuals, in achieving self-realization

How Critical Thinking Therapy is Different

Put another way, clients should come to reason at the highest level of their capabilities within all important parts of life, those we all participate in, and those they individually choose. Critical Thinking Therapy stresses the importance of 1) again, learning the explicit tools of critical thinking for mental health, 2) understanding the complex and rapidly changing world in which most humans now must adapt, and 3) relying on the best thinking that has been done throughout history to address how best to live today – individually and collectively, and 4) helping clients forge the best path for their own self-fulfillment and achievement at the highest level of which they are capable.

Consequently, in addition to teaching clients explicit tools of critical thinking, Critical Thinking Therapists are able, through their own developed critical thinking skills, to effectively pull together and employ the best therapeutic approaches that have come to us through such fields as psychology, philosophy, sociology and anthropology. In developing or using the tools of critical thinking, they do not ignore the best ideas on mental health that have already been worked through by important thinkers from the past, but instead Critical Thinking Therapists appropriate and build on these ideas. In other words, they do not rely on any individual school of psychological or social thought, but instead pull together the best ideas from any field of thought relevant to the mental health of their clients (for instance art or music therapy).

Indeed, Critical Thinking Therapists recognize the importance of intellectual, cultural, and creative development to mental health, so they employ the best thinking from many fields of study - including the philosophical, artistic, literary, historical, and so forth. They focus on the importance of living according to the meaning and purpose one gives to one’s life, as well as the human responsibility to live an ethical life. They see the importance of perceiving humans as living in nature, as part of nature, if we are to appreciate and preserve nature, which Critical Thinking Therapists see as a human ethical responsibility. All of these understandings they perceive to be essential to mental health. They argue against living much at all within social media, gaming, and virtual space - if one is to find significant meaning in life which brings inborn pleasure and sense of fulfillment.

In short, Critical Thinking Therapy relies on not only on its own foundational tools for reasoning, but also the best thinking that has been done about mental health historically by theoreticians in the various fields of study. For example, we advocate for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy because it offers sound therapeutic techniques for taking command of one’s neuroses and mental pathologies employing some critical thinking essential concepts. We highlight parts of existentialism as linked to the vital importance of finding and pursuing one’s higher purposes in life. We rely on some classic works from antiquity for early critical thinking theory, including Socratic thought and Stoic philosophy. And we see the importance of helping clients learn to navigate the many essential domains of human thought within which all of us must reason well to be mentally healthy– including how we think about and manage money, how we think about the economic system that drives much of what humans do, how we think about sexuality, love, parenting, education, learning, technology, creativity, how we think about ourselves in relationship with the rest of the world, and how we relate to ourselves

In closing, through Critical Thinking Therapy, clinicians are able to directly use explicit tools of critical thinking to help clients intervene in pathological or neurotic thinking. Clients themselves are encouraged to internalize and use the tools of critical thinking as a central part of becoming mentally well. Further, through a robust conception of critical thinking, therapist and clients alike can learn to effectively assess all existing therapeutic techniques which purport to improve one’s mental health.

To inquire further about Critical Thinking Therapy and how we can bring it to your mental health journey, or to your practice if you are a therapist, please contact Ms. Lisa Sabend at Lisa@CriticalThinking.Org for more information.