A cat has no idea how to stand above being a cat for instance. A human has the possibility to stand aside only on the basis that they are both a conscious and a self-conscious creature. Consciousness allows for life, whereas self-consciousness faces its holder with death, imperfection, expectation and the whole list of mental "disorders" that has become an encylopedia of its own.
Critical theory developed out of the German Schools of political and social analysis beginning with Hegel, extending to Marx and blossoming into Hermeneutics and theories of Being postulated by Heidegger and Habermas at the height of the Frankfurt School's influence on Western thought. In the present environment this tradition of Critical thinking has been watered down by rampant Capitalism and the sustained de-educating and misinforming of its political classes, especially about what real agency in political and social life really is. The Capitalist model is "consume this thing" therapy, and so when consuming a thing fails to render happiness the host of conditions causing unhappiness that buying that "thing" was supposed to cure, that was itching previously, becomes a full blown sore. The absence of any Critical thinking about information and the lack of social structures that help to empower and engender agency in people of all social classes has led to a huge industry of self-help, or professionally led therapies to guide people to some semblence of autonomy in the process of developing psychological health. Capitalism bends the narrative toward de-humanisation, commodification and the like.
Critical theory and the theories of Being (Foucault, Satre, Beauvoire) that predated the modern Tech centered world have become the bedrock of critical thinking but like Socrates and Plato, the ideas have sunk into the ground so far we can only see their influence when an earthquake occurs. To be able to think critically a person must be able to stand metaphorically outside the "landscape" they inhabit. A cat has no idea how to stand above being a cat for instance. A human has the possibility to stand aside only on the basis that they are both a conscious and a self-conscious creature. Consciousness allows for life, whereas self-consciousness faces its holder with death, imperfection, expectation and the whole list of mental "disorders" that has become an encylopedia of its own.
Gestalt Therapy (Fritz and Laura Peris, 1940s) grew up out of these existential questions, and presumed changing the internal and external environment or landscape of the conscious being were pivotal in bringing relief from psychological and mental conditions. By acting out a trauma in a safe "environment" the trauma will be thus moved into a safe place within the conscious being which was both bringing into self-consciousness and allowing the person to view what was being triggered and distorted in their self-conscious and sub-conscious minds. In person centered counseling or Narrative Therapy the person stands aside from them selves, or places their self-consciousness in an environment that can be critically analysed without the conscious self redirecting the "action" externally (projecting) or to the wrong place internally (blame, shame, guilt, etc). This was a breakthrough is made, the person no longer blames themselves for the phenomena and can find a way to address issues with a clear perspective. At least that's how it should go. Taking an non-personal and critical look at behaviour and the effect of behaviour can empower efficient self-conscious activity and create the means for agency.
But what does that critical mental-state look like in real life? Most people when asked to be critical believe that means to engage in pulling apart a thought or idea, to be "objective" about it and then provide their own take on the truth. This is flawed because the analysis that could have led to a more truthful understanding of the issue condenses into an opinion and rarely into a form of helpful self-awareness. No conscious being can stand far enough away from its own mind as to see an "objective" truth, its like trying to imagine a universe outside our own without placing some aspects of our own universe within that imagining. Impossible. A self-conscious being will recognise itself as just one of many possibilities and its mental states as particular mechanisms shared by many other beings, and can therefore judge itself critically, and make necessary adjustments to its behaviour and thinking that work toward more happiness conducing mental and physical states. This is why most modern therapies assume the agency of the client first, an aspect borne out of the Critical thinking schools of yesteryear. The guide to changing behaviour is not the therapist but the client, but the therapist can aid the client in recognising in themselves where they are not being truthful about themselves, and what behaviours occur as a consequence. Chart (1) depicts the kind of balance that is required to "stand aside" from the conscious self needed by the questioner to determine the direction of change that will bring the mind back into a "neutral" state.
The human response chart indicates primarily that our sub, super and self-conscious responses to our environment are more universal than we might think, and figuring out where we are either over or under responding gives us the ability to judge the correction we need to overcome self pity or importance, to be neutral about our response means we understand how we are responding in distorted ways, not that it is actually possible to be completely neutral. Forty percent of our responses are attraction (Like, Love) and forty percent are repulsion (Dislike, Hate) and the other twenty percent fall within the axioms at the centre where it is not extreme enough to judge. Once the questioner discerns their response to a phenomena within the spectrum of these responses they can gauge the correction, (if you always feel the need for love you are not being truthful to yourself about the fact that that occurs only 20% of the time generally, what needs to be heated (moved, illuminated, acted upon, etc) then in order to bring the questioner back into neutral response (I am able to feel happy without the need for "love"). This is grossly simplified but it points to self adjustment being visible and available to the client who is participating in creating positive mental health conditions in their life.
The Critical thinking ideas were based on the pre-Hegelian concepts of the nature of biological process described in great detail by hermeneutic theorists such as Heidegger and Habermas, as the theory of dialectics. Simply put it describes the action of splitting and rejoining, or binary development of consciousness through thesis, antithesis leads to synthesis. This trinity is exploited by Capitalists more than they would know, and provides the backdrop to most modern economic theory. The axioms of the above chart (1) are between Love and Like, Hate and Dislike (strong emotion to non-emotional), and in the centre of the axioms is the neutral state, or the synthesis. If the questioner can neutrally observe their honest reaction to a phenomena and describe where it falls within the spectrum of human responses, they are able to place themselves outside the situation they are describing and more likely to recognise why they might want to correct their response and how. Neutralism is not "objectivity" because it recognises that the questioner is emotional and has a being, is not just a mind disconnected from the body that houses it, no duality complex. For a counselor, to give a client the tools for their own emancipation is one way to then allow the therapy to work for itself via the actual agency of the client and to then give appropriate attention to the safety and security of the client during the counseling process. The neutralist counselor is able to provide a neutral space and hold it with intimacy without falling into extreme response triggers themselves, and that can provide the right conditions for healing to occur.