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Of the relatively few books on philosophical counseling currently available,
Peter Raabe has written one of the best: namely, Philosophical Counseling:
Theory and Practice (reviewed in Metapsychology
October 2001). The present volume is a follow-up addressed to practicing or
would-be philosophical counselors which combines a number of previously
published essays and delivered talks with new chapters. It offers practical
advice and encouragement and useful discussions of a number of quandaries that
might arise in such a practice. There are chapters that seek to define
philosophical counseling, to distinguish it from academic philosophy, and to
describe such counseling as worldly, experimental, and engaged philosophy.
There is advice relating to how women and men differ as clients and as
counselors. There is a critique of the inappropriate use of medication for
those suffering from non-physical ailments. There are wise discussions of
ageing, religion, suicide, humor, and of why the meaning of life is so often
sought. There is no step-by-step description of the counseling process (for
that, one would need to consult the earlier book), but there is practical
advice on how to set up a practice and how to protect oneself against the
pressures it might bring.
In all of these discussions (and especially in his examples of e-mail
advice - a practice which Raabe does not recommend) Raabe shows himself to be
insightful, intelligent, and wise. While he can be a little too dismissive of
academic philosophy (he should take note of Aristotles insistence that
contemplation or the pure pursuit of truth is an enrichment of life important
for the attainment of fulfillment.), he has a clear grasp of the possibilities
and limitations of philosophical counseling. He acknowledges that while there
will be many clients who need psychotherapy or psychiatry, there are many more
that can be helped by this relatively new form of helping practice. The central
assumption upon which philosophical counseling rests is that clients are
autonomous agents able, with assistance where necessary, to understand their
own situation and to change their own life for the better. While much
psychologically based practice (illustrated in this volume by theories of dream
interpretation) assumes that clients are subject to internal psychological
forces over which they have no control, the philosophical counselor accords
full respect to the autonomy of the client. (Of course, whether the assumptions
on both sides of this debate are justified is a matter which is open to debate
and this is another reason why, in my view, there continues to be an important
role for academic philosophy.) While rejecting the usefulness of the
psychodynamic notion of the unconscious, however, Raabe does acknowledge the
need for a hermeneutic approach to what clients say and do. It is often
necessary to help clients to see the hidden motivations and intentions for
their actions, emotions, and dreams.
The best example in the book of the rational method used by
philosophical counselors is the discussion of the reasons that have been proposed
for condemning homosexuality. While Raabe is a little too willing to use the
label of fallacy to refute these arguments rather than focusing on their
content, his critique is devastating and would certainly provide a reassuring
armory to any clients who felt themselves victimized by prejudice in this area.
Raabe is also more aware than many therapists of the need to discuss the
morality of what clients do or envisage doing. His discussion of suicide, for
example, addresses not just the psychological issues that are involved but also
Although there is not much discussion of cases in this book, one does
gain the impression of a typical client as one who shares the same broad
world-view as the counselor. In this way, even though Raabes method eschews
offering advice in a directive manner, the reader does gain an impression of
the counselor as an avuncular figure equipped with bon mots and rational
suggestions for solving lifes problems which clients can be expected to take
up because their basic outlook on life and thinking skills are already akin to
that of the counselor. There is no suggestion that clients might be
intractable. There is no suggestion either (though there is in the earlier
book) that the client might be taught to do philosophy for themselves so as to
be enabled to engage with the world in their own (possibly idiosyncratic) way.
Perhaps Raabes impatience with academic philosophy leads him to stress the
practical over the theoretical to the extent that it prevents him from seeing
the importance of engaging with the world-view of the client if one is doing
philosophy. (Raabe thinks that counselors should not challenge the religious
beliefs of clients.) But this is a muted criticism (from an academic
philosopher) of an admirable and useful book.
© 2002 Stan van
Stan van Hooft, Ph.D., Associate
Professor, School of Social Inquiry - Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts,
Deakin University, Australia
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