What is Philosophical Counseling?

Explore philosophical counseling, an emerging practice that blends ancient philosophy and modern therapy to address life's big questions. Learn about the role of philosophical counselors, training requirements, and the benefits of integrating practical philosophy into personal development.

What is Philosophical Counseling?

Amethyst Rayne

What is Philosophical Counseling?

What is Philosophical Counseling?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Philosophical counseling is an emerging modality that offers a unique approach to addressing life's big questions and personal problems. Rooted in the Socratic tradition and practical philosophy, this form of counseling diverges from traditional psychological counseling by focusing on philosophical aspects of belief systems, logical reasoning, and existential inquiries.

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Origins and Evolution of Philosophical Counseling

Philosophical counseling, sometimes referred to as philosophical practice, has its origins in ancient philosophy, particularly the methods used by Socrates. Socrates engaged in dialogues that encouraged critical thinking and self-reflection, aiming to help individuals understand their own beliefs and values. This tradition of philosophical inquiry laid the groundwork for modern philosophical counseling, a relatively new movement that began to take shape in the late 20th century.

In the United States, the first association of philosophical counseling, the National Philosophical Counseling Association (NPCA), was established to promote the practice and ensure professional standards. Organizations like the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA) and the American Society for Philosophy have also contributed to the development and recognition of this field. These associations provide certification, training programs, and professional support for philosophical counselors.

Key Concepts and Principles

Philosophical counseling is distinct from psychological counseling and psychotherapy. While psychological counseling often focuses on mental health issues and emotional well-being, philosophical counseling addresses the philosophical aspects of life, such as the meaning of life, ethical dilemmas, and existential crises. Philosophical counselors, or philosophical practitioners, use various philosophical theories and methods to help individuals navigate their problems.

One prominent method is Logic-Based Therapy (LBT), developed by philosopher Elliot Cohen. LBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that uses logical analysis to identify and correct irrational beliefs and faulty reasoning. This approach is grounded in the idea that many emotional and behavioral problems stem from logical errors in thinking.

Another significant aspect of philosophical counseling is its focus on practical philosophy. Philosophical counselors draw on a wide range of philosophical traditions, including Stoic philosophy, which emphasizes resilience and emotional control, and existential philosophy, which explores themes of existence, freedom, and authenticity. By integrating these philosophical approaches, counselors can help clients develop new ways of thinking and living.

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Training and Certification

To become a philosophical counselor, individuals typically need a strong background in philosophy. A master's degree or PhD in philosophy is often required, along with specialized training in philosophical counseling. Programs like the Primary Certificate in Logic-Based Therapy offer targeted education in specific methods and techniques used in the practice.

Institutions such as the City College of New York and the Institute of Critical Thinking provide training programs and courses that prepare individuals for careers in philosophical counseling. These programs cover topics such as ethical theory, logic, and the history of philosophy, equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary to practice effectively.

Certification through organizations like the NPCA and APPA is also important for establishing credibility and ensuring adherence to professional standards. These certifications often require completing training programs, passing examinations, and demonstrating proficiency in philosophical counseling methods.

Philosophical Counseling in Practice

Philosophical counseling can address a wide range of issues, from mid-life crises and career changes to physical illness and personal conflicts. Clients may consult philosophical practitioners for help in exploring their belief systems, resolving ethical dilemmas, or finding meaning in life. Philosophical counselors use techniques like Socratic questioning, logical analysis, and philosophical dialogue to guide clients through their problems.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy, which often focuses on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, philosophical counseling emphasizes understanding and addressing the philosophical dimensions of a person's life. This can involve exploring one's values, examining the coherence of one's beliefs, and developing a more reflective and reasoned approach to life's challenges.

Philosophical consultants, such as Lou Marinoff and Paul Sharkey, have gained recognition for their work in this field. Marinoff's book "Plato, Not Prozac!" has popularized the idea that philosophy can be used as "medicine for the soul," offering practical guidance for life's difficulties. Sharkey, a professor of philosophy, has also contributed significantly to the field through his teaching and practice.

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Benefits and Criticisms

Philosophical counseling offers several benefits, including the ability to address complex life questions and ethical issues that may not be adequately covered in traditional mental health counseling. By focusing on philosophical thinking and reasoning, clients can develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their worldviews, leading to more thoughtful and intentional living.

However, there are also criticisms and challenges associated with philosophical counseling. Some argue that it lacks the empirical basis and standardized practices found in psychological and psychiatric treatments. Additionally, the scope of practice for philosophical counselors is more limited, as they are not licensed to diagnose or treat mental health disorders.

Despite these challenges, philosophical counseling continues to gain recognition and acceptance as a valuable complement to traditional counseling and psychotherapy. Its emphasis on logical reasoning, ethical reflection, and existential inquiry provides a unique and enriching perspective on personal development and problem-solving.


Philosophical counseling represents a distinctive approach to addressing life's big questions and personal problems through the lens of philosophy. By combining ancient philosophical traditions with modern methods like Logic-Based Therapy, philosophical counselors offer a unique form of guidance that complements traditional psychological and mental health counseling.

As the field continues to grow, organizations like the NPCA and APPA play a crucial role in promoting professional standards and providing training and certification for practitioners. With its focus on practical philosophy and critical thinking, philosophical counseling offers valuable insights and tools for navigating the complexities of life.

Whether you are facing an existential crisis, seeking to understand the meaning of life, or grappling with ethical dilemmas, consulting a philosophical practitioner may provide the clarity and direction you need. Embracing the wisdom of philosophy can help you develop a more reflective and reasoned approach to life's challenges, ultimately leading to greater self-understanding and fulfillment.

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Logic Based Therapy

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Mental Health

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