27 Feb 2015

4. "Philosophical" counseling versus "Good" counseling

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- Tell me please, what is “philosophical” in your counseling?

- Well, as a philosophical counselor I don’t impose ideas on my counselees. I don’t express my opinions.

A strange answer. Not expressing your opinions may (or may not) be a good advice. But how is it connected to philosophy – to philosophy as we see it in Plato and Epictetus and Spinoza and Kierkegaard?

Let us not confuse between two different questions:

First, “What is PHILOSOPHICAL counseling?” Second, “What is a GOOD philosophical counseling?”

Compare this to the following two questions:

1) “What is a car?”

and:

2) “What is a good car?”

Obviously, these are very different questions.

“It has an engine and wheels, and it is used for transportation” – this is an answer to Question 1, since it distinguishes between cars and non-cars (between cars and computers, for example, or tables). But it is not an answer to Question 2.

“It is brand new, it has leather seats, and it has lots of electronics” – this is an answer to Question 2, because it distinguishes between good cars and bad cars. But it is not an answer to Question 1.

The same applies to philosophical counseling. If we want to understand which type of counseling can count as “philosophical,” then the issue of “good” counseling versus “bad” counseling is irrelevant. A bad car is still a car. A bad philosophical counseling is still a philosophical counseling.

- So tell me, why is your counseling philosophical?

- Because I listen to my counselee’s everyday experiences.

- Listening to everyday experiences may be a great idea, but why do you insist on calling it "philosophical"?

- Because I think that it is very important to listen carefully to the counselee!

- Very well, if it is important, then go ahead and do it. But "important" and "philosophical" are two different things.

The debate over how to do better philosophical counseling is very different from the debate over what is “philosophical” in philosophical counseling – in other words, the debate over WHAT IS philosophical counseling.

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Ran Lahav

I am a philosophical practitioner, working with individuals and self-reflection groups. I received my PhD in philosophy and MA in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1989. I then started teaching philosophy at a university in Texas, but was not satisfied with academic philosophy. In 1992 I started practicing philosophical counseling, and a year later started giving at Haifa University (Israel) the first university course in the world about this field, and continued teaching it for 15 years. In 1994 I initiated the First International Conference on Philosophical Counseling, and co-organized it with Lou Marinoff. In 2014 I envisioned the Agora webpage, and launched it together with my friend and colleague Carmen Zavala from Peru.

I now live quietly in rural Vermont (northeast USA), where I write, walk in nature, and teach online at two universities. I also give workshops on philosophical practice around the world. My publications include two novels in Hebrew, an anthology on philosophical practice in English, two books on philosophical practice in Italian, and more than 30 professional articles.

My professional website is PhiloLife.net