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Wise TherapyReview - Wise Therapy
by Tim LeBon
Sage, 2003
Review by Matthew Ray
May 28th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 21)

Tim LeBon's Wise Therapy is an accessibly pitched and clearly written introductory book on the application of philosophy to counseling, a specialty which LeBon, in several places, traces right back to the practice of Socrates (in Plato's dialogues). Though viewed with intense suspicion in some quarters (often seen as a kind of modern day sophistic movement which tells people what they want to hear regardless of truth considerations), LeBon in Wise Therapy makes not just a sane case for the therapeutic benefits of a philosophical brand of counseling but also presents us with a kind of handbook for how philosophy should actually be practically applied by therapists (I am thinking here particularly of the exercises found in the sixth chapter). The main target audience for this text is, therefore, counselors wishing to be informed by philosophy, rather than professional philosophers wishing to be trained as therapists. Both counselors and philosophers, however, can read the book with some profit, although the latter will no doubt skip or skim the early pages devoted to trying to 'demystify' philosophy and also those pages devoted to explaining what inductive arguments and arguments from analogy are whilst perhaps spending more time on the specific characterizations of philosophical counseling, existential-phenomenological counseling, cognitive therapy and logotherapy. Philosophers and therapists alike will be happy to learn that according to the program outlined in this book philosophical theories -- such as those concerning what the good life consists of -- are to be 'put forward tentatively as part of a genuine dialogue with clients' (p.8, see also the reiteration on p.138), rather than totally accepted at the very outset and only needing to be applied to one's life. Philosophers in particular will be happy to learn this as they will no doubt be the most acutely aware that there is no shortage of competing and conflicting positions on every philosophical topic.

After a brief chapter on the philosophical foundations of ethics, LeBon considers the notion of the good life and introduces a rigorous method, which he calls RSVP (p.48; we are only informed in a note on p.175 that this stands for 'Refined Subjective Value Procedure'), which one can follow to explicitly think of and assess one's most important values. The following chapter then tries to apply ethical theories to the issue of ethical dilemmas that crop up for the therapist him- or her-self in his or her practice. LeBon here introduces an ethical decision making procedure which he calls 'Progress' (p.63). A third method of decision counseling, involving critically measuring the pros against the cons, completes the triumvirate of methods outlined here. These methods are reintroduced and looked at in more length in a later chapter.

After these looks at ethics and at decision counseling comes a discussion of the emotions. The main philosophical theories of the emotions are outlined and explained very well by LeBon and some very difficult material indeed is rendered accessible in this part of the book. LeBon himself advances a view of the emotions that draws on aspects of various theories but the present reviewer would not easily accept his claim, later qualified but not abandoned, that 'Emotions result only when an event is evaluated to be of personal significance' (p.89). Some explanation of why we can feel very strong emotions toward or for people we see on television footage from other countries (or even toward fictional characters) appears to be lacking from LeBon's presentation here.

The next chapter deals in a secular manner with how the idea of the meaning of life might impact on therapy and then the final chapter offers a resume and more fine grained description of the kinds of specific exercises which philosophy can offer in counseling and therapy.

In sum, then, Tim LeBon's Wise Therapy is a comprehensible and well argued book dealing with the practical therapeutic applications of philosophical research that may well be of interest to philosophers but -- as the author himself intends -- will be of most obvious benefit to therapists and counselors, both by informing their dialogue with clients in new ways and by helping them become more informed about ways to resolve the ethical dilemmas arising within the context of their own work.

†††

© 2005 Matthew Ray

    

 Matthew Ray, Bristol, UK


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