Philosophical counselors

Psychiatrists medicalize personal problems, while psychologists apply the social sciences.  Now there are counselors who use philosophers to help people think through their problems:

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. . . .

Unlike a visit to a conventional psychologist or psychotherapist, seeing Murphy won’t involve lying on a couch or reaching for the obligatory tissue box. Though she works from a home library lined with tomes by Albert Camus, Søren Kierke­gaard and Immanuel Kant, Murphy takes clients outside for brisk strolls through her leafy neighborhood because Kant believed that walking helped thinking and was soothing for the soul.

The therapy is not covered by health insurance but is typically offered on a sliding scale and averages about $80 an hour for one-on-one sessions. . . .

The field is still in its early stages. There are about 300 philosophical counselors in 36 states and more than 20 foreign countries who are certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, along with another 600 who practice but are not certified, said Lou Marinoff, president of the organization and author of the international bestseller “Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems.’’ . . .

“You can go on the Internet and find 100 people who are giving you advice,” [Practioner Anne] Barnhill said. “But there are thinkers who are recognized for their knowledge, and ignoring them in our generation just seems like such a loss.”

via - The Washington Post.

I was skeptical reading this–for one thing, there are so many philosophers offering conflicting perspectives on everything–and yet Dr. Barnhill here makes a good point.  We do have a heritage of wisdom that one might draw on.   There is also, of course, spiritual counseling, which, at its worst tries to emulate secular psychology but at its best brings Christ into people’s difficulties.  Do you think there is room for the philosophers?

Have you ever been helped through a personal problem by just reading something that pulled you through it?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Econ Jeff

    I think this relates to the previous Dominionist post. (Actually, the Pearcy Report that you linked to.) The issue here is worldview. In my view, some people are so disconnected from the line of Western thought (or Eastern, or whatever), that they are just floundering. Philosophical systems give people a worldview that can help them get an understanding of what’s going on around them and in their lives.

  • Econ Jeff

    I think this relates to the previous Dominionist post. (Actually, the Pearcy Report that you linked to.) The issue here is worldview. In my view, some people are so disconnected from the line of Western thought (or Eastern, or whatever), that they are just floundering. Philosophical systems give people a worldview that can help them get an understanding of what’s going on around them and in their lives.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Reading and meditating on the Holy Bible (or even reading the works of those faithful ones who write about the Christian faith), Christ has often pulled me through my personal problems and sins – by pointing me once again to His gospel action toward me at the cross and in the sacraments.

    By the way, I also think that walking helps thinking and can be soothing to the soul – it all depends upon what I’m meditating on.

    Although certainly interesting and thought provoking, we perhaps should caution anyone whose meditation only revolves around the internal meanderings of the likes of Kant and Kierkegaard.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Reading and meditating on the Holy Bible (or even reading the works of those faithful ones who write about the Christian faith), Christ has often pulled me through my personal problems and sins – by pointing me once again to His gospel action toward me at the cross and in the sacraments.

    By the way, I also think that walking helps thinking and can be soothing to the soul – it all depends upon what I’m meditating on.

    Although certainly interesting and thought provoking, we perhaps should caution anyone whose meditation only revolves around the internal meanderings of the likes of Kant and Kierkegaard.

  • Dennis Peskey

    Prescribing John Paul Sarte’s Being and Nothingness for any perceived disturbance in the force should cure everyone of their innate desire for gnosticism.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Prescribing John Paul Sarte’s Being and Nothingness for any perceived disturbance in the force should cure everyone of their innate desire for gnosticism.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I actually like the sound of it. Of course, I may be reading something into it. Philosophical counseling seems so much more dignified and respectful to the individual who is conflicted on some point. It seems like it is for most folks who aren’t psychotic or schizophrenic or some other genuine mental illness. Rather it is for those who struggle and could use some thoughtful help and reflection. Even normal people have struggles and can use some wise guidance. Seems far better than taking medication etc. The popular medicalization/pathologizing of every occurrence of stress seems over the top.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I actually like the sound of it. Of course, I may be reading something into it. Philosophical counseling seems so much more dignified and respectful to the individual who is conflicted on some point. It seems like it is for most folks who aren’t psychotic or schizophrenic or some other genuine mental illness. Rather it is for those who struggle and could use some thoughtful help and reflection. Even normal people have struggles and can use some wise guidance. Seems far better than taking medication etc. The popular medicalization/pathologizing of every occurrence of stress seems over the top.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard were my paths out of adolescent depression.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard were my paths out of adolescent depression.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    My La Leche League leader and magazine sure helped me a lot. I gained so much confidence and peace from the kindness and help of the ladies in the La Leche League. I would call it a sort of philosophy of mothering. They were very compassionate and encouraging. That is what people need often times.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    My La Leche League leader and magazine sure helped me a lot. I gained so much confidence and peace from the kindness and help of the ladies in the La Leche League. I would call it a sort of philosophy of mothering. They were very compassionate and encouraging. That is what people need often times.

  • Michael Benoit

    Dr. Veith, I actually looked into Philosophical Counseling quite seriously after coming across it quite by accident during my graduate school career. As a licensed psychologist, I have the ability to draw on philosophical and theological concepts without the limitation of being an “applied philosopher” or Christian Counselor, though I like to think of myself as having characteristics of both. I use the concept of Vocation with clients who espouse a Christian faith of almost any variety, sometimes to considerable effect. I have been to Christian Counseling conferences in which Kierkegaard’s name is tossed around quite a bit.

  • Michael Benoit

    Dr. Veith, I actually looked into Philosophical Counseling quite seriously after coming across it quite by accident during my graduate school career. As a licensed psychologist, I have the ability to draw on philosophical and theological concepts without the limitation of being an “applied philosopher” or Christian Counselor, though I like to think of myself as having characteristics of both. I use the concept of Vocation with clients who espouse a Christian faith of almost any variety, sometimes to considerable effect. I have been to Christian Counseling conferences in which Kierkegaard’s name is tossed around quite a bit.

  • steve

    I suppose it’s a better option than going to a psychiatrist (not psychologist, psychiatrist!) and being told to dump church and read Eckart Tolle. This is not hyperbole but a true account of what a local psychiatrist told one of his patients. There wouldn’t be a bigger case of malpractice if he’d actually amputated the wrong limb (now that was hyperbole, but not by much).

  • steve

    I suppose it’s a better option than going to a psychiatrist (not psychologist, psychiatrist!) and being told to dump church and read Eckart Tolle. This is not hyperbole but a true account of what a local psychiatrist told one of his patients. There wouldn’t be a bigger case of malpractice if he’d actually amputated the wrong limb (now that was hyperbole, but not by much).

  • fws

    There is also, of course, spiritual counseling, which, at its worst tries to emulate secular psychology but at its best brings Christ into people’s difficulties. Do you think there is room for the philosophers?

    Can we say that counseling is about teaching people morality and coaching them in it, that is , contextualizing it, making it situational? I think that would be the Lutheran definition.

    And for a Lutheran, morality is about relationships. Most mental health issues, seem, at least to me, where people look inward to be moral , or get stuck in thoughts rather than doing good actions for others and so become disengaged from reality.

    The Lutheran Confessions tell us that regarding earthly morality, nothing can be demanded beyond the ethics of that Pagan Aristotle. I would not think it wise to discount other pagans such as Eckhard Tolle. Tolle , in fact, at the end of his book “The Power of Now” asserts that ALL he teaches can also be achieved by “The Way of the Cross”! This is a Christless, bloodless version of the Cross applied to everyday life. And this is not wrong really.

    Luther tells us that Christ comes to us in two ways: As Example, and as Savior. We dont really need Christ as Example. Moses, Ghandi, etc serve just as well there. But no one else can come to us as Savior. And so for that reason, we need Christ.

    So what would “christian ” counseling look like then?

    Well. it looks like two things that only true baptism-wrought faith in Christ can do!

    1) It would be for faith to be terrified at our best works.

    This is to believe that our own efforts at faith in Christ, our right thinking such as avoiding being Gnostic, our right emotional response or avoiding basing our life on feelings… are all the moral equivalent of a used Tampon.

    They are the moral equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titannic called our Old Adam.

    It is to recognize that these things will all perish along with all who seek Life, rather than seek baptismal death in these things.

    God wills that we do these things and will punish us if we refuse to do them in order to be ordered enough (not screwed up so much that means in our heads and actions ) to be able to serve our neighbor in love. And faith trusts that God will punish us into submission if we fail to learn to do these things, including to pray as he has commanded, willingly.

    2) Faith , because of the aforementioned, will then hide its best efforts and works in the Works of Another. This is to trust in the Promise in one’s Baptism.

    This christian “counseling” happens every week in the Divine Service, and in the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and in rememberance of and living in our Baptism.

  • fws

    There is also, of course, spiritual counseling, which, at its worst tries to emulate secular psychology but at its best brings Christ into people’s difficulties. Do you think there is room for the philosophers?

    Can we say that counseling is about teaching people morality and coaching them in it, that is , contextualizing it, making it situational? I think that would be the Lutheran definition.

    And for a Lutheran, morality is about relationships. Most mental health issues, seem, at least to me, where people look inward to be moral , or get stuck in thoughts rather than doing good actions for others and so become disengaged from reality.

    The Lutheran Confessions tell us that regarding earthly morality, nothing can be demanded beyond the ethics of that Pagan Aristotle. I would not think it wise to discount other pagans such as Eckhard Tolle. Tolle , in fact, at the end of his book “The Power of Now” asserts that ALL he teaches can also be achieved by “The Way of the Cross”! This is a Christless, bloodless version of the Cross applied to everyday life. And this is not wrong really.

    Luther tells us that Christ comes to us in two ways: As Example, and as Savior. We dont really need Christ as Example. Moses, Ghandi, etc serve just as well there. But no one else can come to us as Savior. And so for that reason, we need Christ.

    So what would “christian ” counseling look like then?

    Well. it looks like two things that only true baptism-wrought faith in Christ can do!

    1) It would be for faith to be terrified at our best works.

    This is to believe that our own efforts at faith in Christ, our right thinking such as avoiding being Gnostic, our right emotional response or avoiding basing our life on feelings… are all the moral equivalent of a used Tampon.

    They are the moral equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titannic called our Old Adam.

    It is to recognize that these things will all perish along with all who seek Life, rather than seek baptismal death in these things.

    God wills that we do these things and will punish us if we refuse to do them in order to be ordered enough (not screwed up so much that means in our heads and actions ) to be able to serve our neighbor in love. And faith trusts that God will punish us into submission if we fail to learn to do these things, including to pray as he has commanded, willingly.

    2) Faith , because of the aforementioned, will then hide its best efforts and works in the Works of Another. This is to trust in the Promise in one’s Baptism.

    This christian “counseling” happens every week in the Divine Service, and in the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and in rememberance of and living in our Baptism.

  • fws

    I wish pastor could become unburdened by the idea that their vocation includes counseling and that they are equipped to do it.

    And I wish that christians would not think that only a “Christian” counselor is who they should go to. This is exactly the same as seeking only a christian doctor, or chiropractor, or plumber or ….

  • fws

    I wish pastor could become unburdened by the idea that their vocation includes counseling and that they are equipped to do it.

    And I wish that christians would not think that only a “Christian” counselor is who they should go to. This is exactly the same as seeking only a christian doctor, or chiropractor, or plumber or ….


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X