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Philosophy's Role in Counseling and PsychotherapyReview - Philosophy's Role in Counseling and Psychotherapy
by Peter Raabe
Jason Aronson, 2013
Review by Kamuran Elbeyoğlu
Aug 19th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 34)

Since Lou Marinoff wrote his celebrated book Plato Not Prozac! Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems, a unique movement called philosophical counseling has emerged to return philosophy to its classical roots by combining wisdom and practice to help people solve their most common everyday problems. Peter B. Raabe, one of the leading figures and a central force in the application of philosophical insights into psychotherapy and counseling, in his last book of Philosophy's Role in Counseling and Psychotherapy  questions the underpinnings of the concept of mental illness and discusses three areas that are often neglected, or simply ignored in the books on the topic of so called mental illnesses: (1) the prevention of mental illnesses; (2) the recovery from and cure of mental illnesses; and (3) the importance of philosophy in treating mental illnesses.

The discussion about what mental illness is falls into two main streams: those who believe "mental illness" concerns incorrect thinking, problematic beliefs and mistaken assumptions about the mind, and others who believe it involves the organic or chemical imbalance or malfunctioning of the brain. Raabe shows with several convincing arguments that defining mental illness as something biological and neurological in nature in the mainstream professional and academic literature stems from a wrong conception of identifying mind with the brain. He claims that "in defining human thinking as being just the biological functions of their brains, biological psychiatry has eliminated the person: the active agent who is motivated by reasons and intentions" (p.4). In order to distinguish his position from, in his own words, the misleading traditional perspective, maintained by the majority of contemporary psychoanalytic, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic literature, Raabe uses the term "mental illness" either in quotes or refers to it as "so-called mental illness.

 This book makes two connected arguments: One is that post-secondary counseling and psychotherapy programs should include philosophy as their required courses. And the second is that because philosophy is important in the prevention and treatment for so-called mental illness, post-secondary institutions should keep their philosophy departments active. The main argument of this book is that a philosophically trained counselor or therapist will be a much more capable helper to individuals suffering from emotional and cognitive distress than those whose training is predominantly in the medical approach of psychiatry, or the scientific approach of psychology.

This book examines the differences between psychotherapy and philosophy as well as the similarities between so-called talk therapies and philosophy. The point of this book is that "talk therapy", in whatever form it may take, will always be in poor quality if the counselor or the therapist is not familiar with both the theories and application in philosophy.  Raabe throughout the book maintains that philosophy is useful to the fields of psychotherapy in three main ways: first, it explains the meaning of empirical data that are constantly used in the practice. The first two chapters of the book take on this point; second, philosophy is practical and it is already in use by psychotherapists in all the many schools of therapeutic practice. This aspect is primarily discussed throughout chapters 3 to 5. And third, inter-personally, as discussed in the remaining chapters, as a heuristic device that can be taught to, and used by, those troubled individuals who request the assistance of practitioners.

Part I of this book deals with psychotherapy as it exists today, at the start of twenty-first century. The first chapter, aptly titled as Problematic Paradigms, clarifies the confusion surrounding the definitions of the words "mind" and "brain" to show that they are different in kind as a requisite first step in any discussion of what constitutes mental health. The second chapter, titled Problematic Practices, continues the discussion of the serious problems inherent in the field of mental health care services. While medications are often called for in combating physical diseases, their use in treating non-physical distress in the mind raises complex issues which are connected to the distinction between the mind and the brain discussed in the first chapter. Chapter is an overview of the various contemporary approaches to counseling and therapy to illustrate how extensively the originators of these main psychotherapeutic methods have borrowed from both the content and the practice of philosophy.

The second part, through the chapters 4 to 7, focuses on philosophy as both a therapeutic method in the past, and as a major constituent of contemporary modalities. Chapter 4 begins with a brief overview of how philosophy was perceived and employed as a therapy for the "soul" or mind from the pre-Socratics onward. The fifths chapter investigates some major psychotherapies, such as psychoanalysis, Adlerian therapy, Existential therapy and so on, with a focus on specific philosophical contents and practices inherent in their methods, and concludes with a discussion of the therapeutic benefits of the use of philosophy in counseling and psychotherapy.

Chapter 6, the main chapter of the second part, discusses philosophy as a therapeutic method in mental healthcare. Since the argument in this book is that philosophy is ought to be taught to counseling and therapy students, the chapter clearly answers the question "what is philosophy?". It then goes into the examination of the claim that counseling can simply be described as philosophical therapy. The last chapter of this section deals with a completely new concept: teaching philosophy to youngsters in order to prevent the kind of emotional suffering and cognitive distress that can be clinically diagnosed as "mental illness".

The third part turns to discussion about the application of philosophy in counseling and psychotherapy. Chapter 8 offers concrete suggestions on what an education plan in philosophy for counselors and psychotherapists ought to contain. Raabe carefully notes the main distinctions between philosophy and psychotherapy to clearly show that psychotherapy is not sufficiently like philosophy to rule out the need for philosophy in psychotherapy, nor is philosophy as therapy simply an inferior form of psychotherapy.

Chapter 9 investigates the process of teaching the client or patient the content and practice of philosophy in order to make them more proficient in examining their own lives. The tenth chapter consists of three actual case studies from Raabe's own practice. The last chapter covers the concepts of recovery and the aim for a cure. Raabe claims that neither of these concepts are considered to be attainable in almost all cases in the traditional perspective. Raabe suggests that for recovery and cure to become the "new" goals in mental healthcare, a paradigm shift is required in all areas of mental healthcare, from the definition of mental illness, to diagnostic criteria and treatment methods, to prognosis and outcome expectations, and even prevention.

This book restores the philosophical wonder of theorizing about psychotherapy. Raabe demonstrates his counseling approach in many inspiring ways and thereby exemplifies the richness of the philosophical approach as an effective tool in psychotherapy in three ways: philosophy can prevent the onset of so called mental illness in the person who studies it, it can be used to help individuals suffering from the distress that is labeled as "mental illness", and it will certainly enhance the competence of the counselor or therapist who practices it.

I heartily recommend this book to all students whose aim is to work in the field of mental healthcare. Philosophy's Role in Counseling and Psychotherapy could also be very helpful for the general public in raising awareness of how philosophy may show the way out of some of the mental dilemmas and distress created and caused by the self and society. I can recommend this easily readable, understandable and yet very authoritative book for anyone who is interested in mental healthcare. But, this book is especially of interest for academicians and the students of psychology, counseling, psychiatry and philosophy who wants to have a better understanding of the nature of mental health and its relevance to philosophical insights from early Greeks to our day. I believe it will make an excellent textbook and a source book for scholars.


© 2014 Kamuran Elbeyoğlu


Kamuran Elbeyoğlu, Toros University, Department of Psychology, Mersin, Turkey


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