Saturday, September 10, 2011

Philosophy and psychotherapy

I came across this article in the Washington Post about "Philosophical counseling." I had heard of philosophical counseling before, when I was an undergraduate majoring in philosophy at Michigan State. I seriously considered philosophical counseling as a career--and today, I would consider myself a philosophical psychotherapist.

Here's a quote from the article:

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.

I support their intentions, with one major caveat: It is  incorrect for philosophical counselors to assume that they are the only ones applying philosophy to every-day problems. I have asked many of my clients to read Epictetus and Sartre. (Well, not as much Sartre, as he can be a big obtuse.) I have quoted Nietzsche and Kierke­gaard to clients. I frequently encourage clients to discuss epistemology or ethics when they are confronting difficulties in their lives, as appropriate. And I am not a philosopher; I am a therapist, with a master's degree in social work. (Side note: One of the nice things about being a social worker is that I had a very broad liberal arts education before I got my master's degree.) And I am not alone--I know dozens of other psychotherapists who apply philosophical principles to their practice.

Never the less, the article is good, and addresses the reality that philosophy (and literature and art, as well) are means through which people can examine the concerns they have in their daily lives.

Read the whole thing here.

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