Philosophical counseling, also sometimes called philosophical practice, is a contemporary movement in practical philosophy. Developing since the 1980s, practitioners of philosophical counseling ordinarily have a doctorate or minimally a master’s degree in philosophy and offer their philosophical counseling or consultation services to clients who look for a philosophical understanding of their lives, social problems, or even mental problems. In the last case philosophical counseling might be in lieu of, or in conjunction with, traditional psychotherapy. The movement has often been said to be rooted in the Socratic tradition, which viewed philosophy as a search for the Good and the good life. A life without ethics was not worthwhile living for Socrates.
The world’s oldest association of philosophical counseling and practice appears to be the German Society for Philosophical Practice and Counseling, which was founded in 1982 by the German philosopher, Gerd B. Achenbach. In the United States, the oldest association of philosophical counseling and practice appears to be the National Philosophical Counseling Association (NPCA), formerly called the American Society for Philosophy, Counseling, and Psychotherapy, which was co-founded in 1992 by three American philosophers, Elliot D. Cohen, Paul Sharkey, and Thomas Magnell.
The American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA) was founded in 1998 in New York City by Professor Lou Marinoff. APPA offers a certification program in client counseling for those with advanced degrees in philosophy who wish to practice philosophical counseling. It also publishes a professional Journal and has a membership list of those certified as philosophical counselors on its website.  Marinoff was at the center of a 2004 controversy when his philosophical counseling practice at City College of New York was temporarily shuttered by college officials who feared he was offering mental health advice without proper training and licensing; Marinoff responded by suing for what he described as his freedom of speech being stifled.
There are presently a number of professional associations for philosophical counseling throughout the world, including France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Greece, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Israel, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Portugal, Korea, Turkey, Japan, and the United States.
Goals and methods
According to the Preamble of the NPCA Standards of Practice,
- a philosophical practitioner helps clients to clarify, articulate, explore and comprehend philosophical aspects of their belief systems or world views....Clients may consult philosophical practitioners for help in exploring philosophical problems related to such matters as mid-life crises, career changes, stress, emotions, assertiveness, physical illness, death and dying, aging, meaning of life, and morality.
Activities common to philosophical practice include:
- (1) the examination of clients' arguments and justifications; (2) the clarification, analysis, and definition of important terms and concepts; (3) the exposure and examination of underlying assumptions and logical implications; (4 ) the exposure of conflicts and inconsistencies; (5) the exploration of traditional philosophical theories and their significance for client issues; and (6) all other related activities that have historically been identified as philosophical.
The methods and orientations of philosophical counselors vary greatly. Some practitioners, such as Gerd B. Achenbach (Germany) and Shlomit Schuster (Israel) are dialogical and dialective engaged, while confessing to a "beyond method" method. They hold that philosophical counseling has the aim to empower clients’ philosophical abilities, which additionally may have therapeutic implications. "Others are directive oriented and view philosophical counseling as a form of mental health intervention". Some philosophical practitioners, notably Louis Marinoff (U.S.), view philosophical practice as a separate practice area distinct from mental health practices such as psychology and mental health counseling; while others think they are necessarily intertwined. Some philosophical counselors draw inspiration from the anti-psychiatry movement, arguing that widespread mental health diagnostic criteria as outlined in DSM IV have unfairly or inaccurately pathologized humanity.
According to a New York Times article on philosophical counseling, "only Cohen and Marinoff have branded easily comprehended techniques. Cohen's Logic-Based Therapy builds on the work of his mentor Albert Ellis, who invented REBT.”
- For the founder of the first philosophical practice, see Gerd B. Achenbach.
- Center Sophon. "The Philosophical Practice and Counseling Website". Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- Marinoff, L. (2002). Philosophical Practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- "American Philosophical Practitioners Association - Official Website". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
- Duane, Daniel (2004-03-21). "The Socratic Shrink". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- ASPCP. "Standards of Practice". Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- Schuster, S.C. (1999). Philosophy Practice: An Alternative to Counseling and Psychotherapy. Westport, CT:Praeger.
- Raabe, P. (2001). Philosophical Counseling. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Elliot D. Cohen. "Philosophy with Teeth: The Wedding of Philosophical and Psychological Practices". Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- See, e.g., Z. Kotkowicz (1997). R.D. Laing and the Paths of Anti-Psychiatry, NY: Routledge