Metaphysics & Therapy

The following article is by Gregg Henriques (see bio below the article).

Metaphysics is not a topic that comes up often in discussions about psychotherapy or scientific psychology. I think that is unfortunate because I think it is a concept psychologists and psychotherapists should be familiar with. Speaking for myself, even though I have long been concerned with theoretical and philosophical issues, I was confused about the concept until recently. My new book, A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap, which is scheduled for release late next month, deals explicitly with metaphysics and offers a new metaphysical picture of the world to help us understand how to coherently frame what psychology is all about. 

To understand what metaphysics means, it is necessary to know its general meaning and then differentiate between two very different meanings that are too often used interchangeably. First, at the most general level, metaphysics refers to the concepts and categories one uses to map reality and how we know about it. Thus, it refers to our language definitions, our ontology (beliefs about reality), our epistemology (how we know), and our cosmology (our worldview). It is because metaphysics connects to all these areas that it is such a broad and general concept. In this sense Wittgenstein was clearly a metaphysician, in that he was deeply concerned with what philosophy could accurately say about the world. Indeed, in this sense, metaphysics is almost synonymous with philosophy in general. And in part because it is so broad that it lost its meaning. As that happened, the meaning split, and confusion emerged regarding its use. 

One common meaning refers to concepts that point to a world “above or beyond” the empirical, natural world. In my book, I call this pure metaphysics. The question: How many angels can fit on the head of a pin? is a classic pure metaphysical question. This shows why many natural scientists shy away from metaphysics. Indeed, pure metaphysics can be framed as being antithetical to natural science in that natural science is fundamentally anchored to the empirical world. 

But there is a second meaning of the term, which in the book I lay out as descriptive/systematic metaphysics. This refers to the concepts and categories that we have that map the natural-empirical world. Consider the question: “What is your conception of mind and how does it relate to the material world?” This is a descriptive metaphysical question that gets at your metaphysical system, which is your categories for the world (i.e., what is reality and how do we know) definitions for concepts (e.g., what is matter?; what is mind?) and how they interrelate to form a worldview that you use to make sense of things. 

And here is the point I make in my book: There is no coherent, consensually agreed upon descriptive metaphysical system that answers what our field (psychology) means by mind or the domain of the mental. Another way of saying this is that we are completely “pre-paradigmatic” when it comes to our collective ability to answer what is mind relative to matter. This is what I call “the problem of psychology.”Given that psychotherapists focus on “mental health” and conduct “psycho”therapy and many practitioners want to be grounded in science, this “Enlightenment Gap” in our knowledge should be a major point of reflection. The book highlights this problem and explains why it emerged and why it has been overlooked or brushed aside as unsolvable and argues why this is a mistake. It then it proceeds to offer a novel solution. 

Dr. Gregg Henriques is Professor of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University in the Combined Doctoral Program in Clinical and School Psychology. He is a clinical and theoretical psychologist who developed the “Unified Theory of Knowledge,” which is a consilient scientific humanistic worldview what works to unify both the science and practice of psychology. His scholarly work has been published in the field’s best journals, and he has developed a popular blog on Psychology Today, Theory of Knowledge, that has received over eight million views. He is the author of A New Unified Theory of Psychology (Springer, 2011), and A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap (Palgrave McMillian, November 2022). He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the 2022 President of the Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration, and he founded the Theory of Knowledge academic society.