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FAQ About Philosophical Counseling


Q1: What's the difference between academic philosophy and philosophical counseling?

Q2:
Is philosophical counseling a substitute for psychological counseling?

Q3: Is philosophical counseling a substitute for psychiatric counseling?

Q4: Is philosophical counseling an art-form, or a science, or both, or neither?

Q5: What kind of training do philosophical counselors have?


What's the difference between academic philosophy and philosophical counseling?

There's a significant difference. Academic philosophy involves a study of the history of ideas, of arguments about various ideas, of arguments about arguments about various ideas, of ... well, you get the idea. Philosophical counseling involves a study of your ideas and how they affect your life--and how changing your ideas can change your life. One might compare academic philosophy to art history, and philosophical counseling to painting. The former studies paintings; the latter paints them.

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Is philosophical counseling a substitute for psychological counseling?

No, it isn't. Psychological counseling can be a very important stage in your self-understanding and self-development. There are many kinds of psychological counseling theories and methods, and each may have something to offer you. At the same time, many if not most psychological counselors are focused solely on the emotions, and never get beyond them. Then again, many important psychologists--like Jung, Rogers, Ellis, Frankl and Fromm--moved toward philosophical ways of counseling. Most philosophical counselors appeal to higher aspects of your being than your emotions--such as your reason--which in the long run is a stronger force to be reckoned with in your life. Many clients of philosophical counseling have sensibly explored psychology as a prelude to philosophy--like learning to swim in shallow waters before venturing into deeper ones.

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Is philosophical counseling a substitute for psychiatric counseling?

No, it isn't. Some people suffer from cerebral illnesses, which can render them dysfunctional or even dangerous to themselves or others. Such persons may benefit from psychiatric care. Philosophical counselors, however, are concerned that psychiatry potentially labels every kind of human problem or behavior a "mental illness": we find such a view unacceptable. People experiencing moral dilemmas, professional ethical conflicts, problems concerning value, meaning or purpose, conflicts in relationships, uncertainties about identity or career change, or difficulty coping with loss, are usually quite normal in every respect, and not at all cerebrally ill. Diagnosing such problems as "mental illness" may do more harm than good. People with severe cerebral, emotional or behavioral disturbances may benefit from psychiatry, from psychotropic drugs, and the like. People with ordinary human problems may benefit from psychological or philosophical counseling.

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Is philosophical counseling an art-form, or a science, or both, or neither?

Tough question.

If we say it's an art-form we'll soon be in trouble, because if philosophical counseling is an art, and if art can be anything, then philosophical counseling can be anything. Which it isn't. Then again, it's also true that talk-therapy depends somewhat on the artistry of the therapist, and also on the aesthetic match between the counselor and counselee. Insight, imagination and creativity are crucial in both artistic and therapeutic endeavors. So while philosophical counseling isn't strictly an art-form, it has some things in common with art-forms.

On the other hand, if we say it's a science we'll be in trouble too, because science has cumulative theories and methods which give us more and more reliable knowledge over time--as for example in medical science. While you wouldn't want your physician to apply medical knowledge from Aristotle's era to your physical problem, you might want your philosophical counselor to apply Aristotle's theory of ethics to your moral problem. In this sense, philosophical counseling isn't a science: older theories and methods can be more useful in a given case than newer ones. Then again, Nelson's method of Socratic dialogue is definitely scientific in so far as it's reliable and has been improved overtime. And of course, Indian philosophy has developed many highly effective forms of meditation, which are both philosophical practices and sciences of self-development. So while philosophical counseling isn't exactly a science, it has some things in common with science.

So, at the risk of sounding completely paradoxical, we'd have to say that philosophical counseling combines elements from both art and science, but is neither art nor science. Confused? Maybe philosophical counseling can help!

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What kind of training do philosophical counselors have?

Good question. The APPA believes that people who call themselves philosophical counselors should have all the following qualifications:

(1) an advanced degree in philosophy, such as an M.A. or a Ph.D. (or equivalent);
(2) documented experience in counseling clients philosophically;
(3) professionalism and reputability of character (which includes recognizing clients who are not good candidates for philosophical counseling, and providing appropriate referrals).

Many philosophical counselors have cross-training in rational emotive therapy, or Zen, or applied ethics. Although individual styles and methods may vary considerably, all APPA-certified counselors satisfy the above criteria. For further details, see our Standards (select Archives from the menu).

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