email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
Maximizing Effectiveness in Dynamic Psychotherapy Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy101 Healing StoriesA Clinician's Guide to Legal Issues in PsychotherapyA Map of the MindA Primer for Beginning PsychotherapyACT With LoveActive Treatment of DepressionAffect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfAlready FreeBad TherapyBecoming an Effective PsychotherapistBefore ForgivingBeing a Brain-Wise TherapistBetrayed as BoysBeyond Evidence-Based PsychotherapyBeyond MadnessBeyond PostmodernismBinge No MoreBiofeedback for the BrainBipolar DisorderBody PsychotherapyBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBrain Change TherapyBrain Science and Psychological DisordersBrain-Based Therapy with AdultsBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCase Studies in DepressionCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChoosing an Online TherapistChronic DepressionClinical Dilemmas in PsychotherapyClinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Intuition in PsychotherapyClinical Pearls of WisdomCo-Creating ChangeCognitive Therapy for Challenging ProblemsCompassionConfessions of a Former ChildConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConfidingContemplative Psychotherapy EssentialsControlConversations About Psychology and Sexual OrientationCoping with BPDCouch FictionCounseling in GenderlandCounseling with Choice TheoryCouple SkillsCrazy for YouCreating a Life of Meaning and CompassionCreating HysteriaCritical Issues in PsychotherapyCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesDeafness In MindDecoding the Ethics CodeDeconstructing PsychotherapyDeep Brain StimulationDemystifying TherapyDepression 101Depression in ContextDialogues on DifferenceDissociative ChildrenDo-It-Yourself Eye Movement Techniques for Emotional HealingDoing CBTE-TherapyEarly WarningEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEnergy Psychology InteractiveErrant SelvesEssays on Philosophical CounselingEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Plain EnglishEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingExpectationExploring the Self through PhotographyExpressing EmotionFacing Human SufferingFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFamily TherapyFavorite Counseling and Therapy Homework AssignmentsFear of IntimacyFlourishingFolie a DeuxForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFoundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in PsychologyFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFrom Morality to Mental HealthFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGod & TherapyHalf Empty, Half FullHandbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for TherapistsHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHeinz KohutHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHigh RiskHistory of PsychotherapyHow Clients Make Therapy WorkHow Psychotherapists DevelopHow to Fail As a TherapistHow to Go to TherapyHypnosis for Inner Conflict ResolutionHypnosis for Smoking CessationI Never Promised You a Rose GardenIf Only I Had KnownIn Others' EyesIn SessionIn Therapy We TrustIn Treatment: Season 1Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInside the SessionInside TherapyIs Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Issues in Philosophical CounselingIt's Not as Bad as It SeemsItís Your HourLearning from Our MistakesLearning Supportive PsychotherapyLetters to a Young TherapistLife CoachingLogotherapy and Existential AnalysisLove's ExecutionerMadness and DemocracyMaking the Big LeapMan's Search for MeaningMetaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and HealingMind GamesMindfulness and AcceptanceMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMindworks: An Introduction to NLPMockingbird YearsMoments of EngagementMomma and the Meaning of LifeMotivational Interviewing: Preparing People For ChangeMulticulturalism and the Therapeutic ProcessMultifamily Groups in the Treatment of Severe Psychiatric DisordersNarrative PracticeOn the CouchOne Nation Under TherapyOur Inner WorldOur Last Great IllusionOutsider ArtOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsOverexposedPathways to SpiritualityPersonality and PsychotherapyPhilosophical CounselingPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPhilosophical Issues in Counseling and PsychotherapyPhilosophical PracticePhilosophy and PsychotherapyPhilosophy for Counselling and PsychotherapyPhilosophy PracticePhilosophy's Role in Counseling and PsychotherapyPillar of SaltPlan BPlato, Not Prozac!Polarities of ExperiencesPower GamesPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPsychologists Defying the CrowdPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychosis in the FamilyPsychotherapyPsychotherapyPsychotherapy and ConfidentialityPsychotherapy As PraxisPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy for Personality DisordersPsychotherapy Is Worth ItPsychotherapy Isn't What You ThinkPsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy without the SelfPsychotherapy, American Culture, and Social PolicyRapid Cognitive TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRationality and the Pursuit of HappinessRebuilding Shattered LivesReclaiming Our ChildrenRecovery OptionsRelationalityRent Two Films and Let's Talk in the MorningSaving the Modern SoulScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologySecond-order Change in PsychotherapySelf-Compassion in PsychotherapySelf-Determination Theory in the ClinicSelf-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and RecoverySerious ShoppingSex, Therapy, and KidsSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySigns of SafetySoul Murder RevisitedStaring at the SunStraight to JesusStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherTaking America Off DrugsTales of PsychotherapyTales of UnknowingTalk is Not EnoughTalking Cures and Placebo EffectsTelling SecretsThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Brief Couples Therapy Homework Planner with DiskThe Case Formulation Approach to Cognitive-Behavior TherapyThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Couch and the TreeThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Crucible of ExperienceThe Cure of SoulsThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Ethical Treatment of DepressionThe Ethics of PsychoanalysisThe Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Gift of TherapyThe Great Psychotherapy Debate: The Evidence for What Makes Psychotherapy Work The Healing JourneyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Heroic ClientThe Husbands and Wives ClubThe Love CureThe Making of a TherapistThe Mindful TherapistThe Mirror Crack'dThe Mummy at the Dining Room TableThe Neuroscience of PsychotherapyThe Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social BrainThe New Rational TherapyThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Other Side of DesireThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Pornographer's GriefThe Portable CoachThe Portable Ethicist for Mental Health Professionals The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday LifeThe Problem of EvilThe Problem with Cognitive Behavioural TherapyThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy of HopeThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Schopenhauer CureThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Talking CureThe Therapeutic "Aha!"The Therapist's Guide to PsychopharmacologyThe Therapist's Guide to Psychopharmacology, Revised EditionThe Therapist's Ultimate Solution BookThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe UnsayableThe Way of the JournalTheory and Practice of Brief TherapyTherapy with ChildrenTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsTheraScribe 4.0Thinking about ThinkingThinking for CliniciansThinking for CliniciansThoughts Without a ThinkerThriveToward a Psychology of AwakeningTracking Mental Health OutcomesTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreating Attachment DisordersTreatment for Chronic DepressionTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersUnderstanding Child MolestersUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsWhat the Buddha FeltWhat Works for Whom?What Works for Whom? Second EditionWhen the Body SpeaksWhispers from the EastWise TherapyWittgenstein and PsychotherapyWorking MindsWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting About PatientsYoga Skills for Therapists:Yoga Therapy
In the relatively young movement known to most as philosophical counseling, there have already been some deep disagreements among its enthusiasts. One of the central issues is the relation between philosophical counseling and counseling and therapy aimed at curing mental disorders. Schuster is deeply opposed to the mental health profession and therefore she opposes any use of philosophy as a form of psychotherapy. She uses the term "philosophy practice" to refer to the use of philosophy to help people solve their problems in the way she approves of.
It might seem that the disagreements between different groups of philosophical counselors are clear. She opposes certification of philosophical counselors or any attempt to bring philosophical counseling into the house of mental health. She thinks that philosophers should work independently of insurance companies, HMOs and national health schemes. Indeed, that is how she works: people simply pay her for her services in a one-on-one interaction. I think, however, that in fact the differences between philosophical counselors are far from clear.
It is her antipsychiatric stance that motivates Schuster's conception of philosophical practice as she describes it in Part I of her book, especially the first chapter, "Philosophy as an Alternative Practice." Elsewhere she has endorsed the criticisms of the mental health profession as self-serving and oppressive. So it is important to her that philosophical counseling bear no resemblance to mainstream psychotherapy. Thus she denies parallels between philosophical counseling on the one hand and, on the other, rational emotive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and existential psychotherapy.
This raises a question. To what extent can a theory dictate or describe what actually happens in an extended interaction between two people sitting together in a room? One person has a problem, the other is trying to help by asking questions, listening, waiting, and giving advice. One point that philosophical counselors seem to agree on is that there is no specific method behind their approach. What they do cannot be broken down into simple steps. There can be no manual of philosophical counseling that tells you to how to do it. (Louis S. Berger makes this point concerning psychoanalysis, for example, in Psychoanalytic Theory and Clinical Relevance: What Makes a Theory Consequential for Practice.)
So no matter how much one sets out theoretical differences between philosophical counseling and other approaches, this will not tell one how what philosophical counselors do is different from what psychotherapists do. Nevertheless, Schuster tries hard to give the reader some sense of how she goes about talking to her clients. The remaining three chapters of Part I are "Classic Instances of Philosophy as Practice, " "Philosophical Care," and "Philosophical Narratives of Lives." Part II consists of eight chapters describing Schuster's sessions with clients.
Schuster argues for philosophy as a "grass-roots" movement rather than as an "ivory tower" activity. She says that what is known as "applied ethics" has failed. "Business ethics," "environmental ethics," and "medical ethics" are far removed from real life, she says. Not only is she against professionalized mental health, but she is also against professionalized philosophy. She summarizes the ideas of thinkers with whom she is sympathetic, and these people are mostly unknown to American philosophers, let alone the general public -- Gerd Achenbach, Alexander Dill, Petra van Morstein, and Eite Veening, for instance. She also approvingly discusses the existentialist ideas of Martin Buber and R.D. Laing. So her book probably has something to teach most people, although I have to say that I was not very convinced or impressed by the ideas of the philosophers she summarized.
The accounts of the sessions with clients are probably the most enlightening part of the book as a way of understanding what her approach is about. She encourages her clients to talk about their views of life, and she often recommends that they read some philosophy. Here's a snippet from her account of her sessions with "David."
Since I thought that the problems with his children were based on a kind of distrust--I talked to David about Buber's idea of existential trust and Nietzsche's amor fati. I thought it helpful in his situation to think about our planet as a place where "all is well, and all will be well," although this cannot be proven, and there seems to be more evidence to justify the opposite conclusion. However, it might be helpful to think with a confident attitude, with an accepting "Yes," about all the events of existence.
While the aim of philosophical counseling is not to get to client to adopt the counselor's views, it is inevitable the counselor will tend to discuss views with which he or she is more familiar. If I were a philosophical counselor, I dont think I'd be encouraging my clients to read Martin Buber or Friedrich Nietzsche. I might recommend the work of the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume, who doesn't even make it into Schuster's index. Schuster does not make any claim to provide total neutrality, and so it's fine that she gives preference to the kinds of philosophers she finds helpful. Clearly, different counselors will have different approaches.
But we are left with many questions. What makes a good philosophical counselor? Can one be trained to be good at it? How does the counselor know what to say and when to say it? Is it the philosophy that helps, when the client is helped, or is it simply having a sympathetic person to talk with? Since I'm neither a philosophical counselor nor a psychotherapist, the closest experience I have that helps me think about these questions is from teaching undergraduate philosophy classes. I was never taught to teach--I just picked it up as I went along. In my classes I try to stay neutral rather than indoctrinating my students with my personal views. I try to make philosophy useful to my students. But apart from their ability to do philosophy tests and write philosophy papers, I have no independent evidence that suggests that my students have gained from taking my classes. Occasionally I get testimonials from past students, but we know very well that testimonials are unreliable as evidence of what works. While there are rules of thumb to follow in being a good teacher, there is no recipe book to tell me how to teach. Yet I continue to teach and I even like to think of myself as a good teacher. I certainly hope that my classes are useful, although I know that the ways that studying philosophy can affect people's lives is somewhat unpredictable. In a similar way, philosophical counselors do their work, and their clients may well be happy with the results. Even if we don't have proof that it is effective, it could still be as worth trying as taking a philosophy class.
What is notable about Schuster's account, and what she does not note, is that it her criticism of psychiatry and the mental health profession is independent from her account of how she does philosophical counseling. She could do philosophical practice in the same way, even if she changed her views about psychiatry. Indeed, I don't see any great differences between her methods and those of rival philosophical counselor Lou Marinoff, as described in Plato Not Prozac! (reviewed in Metapsychology, August 1999), with whom Schuster is not inclined to agree on most issues.
This separability of theory and practice is probably for the best, since most people, including myself, do not agree with her criticism of the mental health profession. Of course there are plenty of problems with psychiatry today, and many people have legitimate complaints about their experiences with psychiatrists, therapists, groups, and medication. Other people, even if having no axe to grind concerning mental health treatment, may simply want or need other forms of treatment. Philosophical counseling may therefore be attractive to many. Schuster's book can serve as a helpful introduction both to potential clients and also those who might want to try becoming philosophical counselors themselves.