How Can You Become a Philosophical Counselor?

Beware false dichotomies in pursuing training in philosophical counseling.

Posted Sep 13, 2014

There is a relatively new movement in the world of counseling and psychotherapy known as philosophical counseling, or practice. I have frequently talked about it on this blog, but where can you go if you want to be trained in it; and what sort of credentials will you need? 

Presently two philosophical counseling associations exist in the U.S., both of which offer training in philosophical counseling.  One is the National Philosophical Counseling Association (NPCA) and the other is the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA).  Established in 1991 (by myself and a colleague, Dr. Paul Sharkey), the NPCA is the oldest of the two organizations, and was the first to offer training in philosophical counseling.  

Ideologically, there is a fundamental difference between these two associations, which is reflected in the type of training provided. The NPCA holds that psychological and philosophical counseling are intrinsically related to one another. According to the NPCA website,

"The key note of the NPCA has always been that philosophical and psychological forms of counseling are complementary and mutually supportive avenues for helping people to confront their problems of living. Thus, from its inception, it has sought to bring philosophers and mental health practitioners (including social workers, psychologists, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurses) together to share ideas and make inroads to more efficacious modes of helping."

In contrast, the APPA claims that philosophical counseling is distinct from psychological counseling and even has its own kind of client.  It is, it claims, “therapy for the sane.”  According to the APPA website,

"Not every personal problem is a mental illness. If you are physically ill or emotionally dysfunctional, see a doctor. But if you want to examine your life, see a philosophical counselor. You'll get dialogue, not diagnosis. If your philosophy of life is not performing well, maybe it needs a tune-up. Philosophical counseling is therapy for the sane."

This is quite unfortunate because it suggests that mental health professionals only treat the “insane,” and if you are sane then you should speak to a philosopher rather than to a psychologist. 

The NPCA denounces such a dichotomy as bogus, misleading, and alienating. Instead, it works with psychologists and other mental health practitioners to advance philosophical counseling without creating artificial barriers and turf battles.  Indeed, notable psychologists allied with the NPCA include some of the original trainers of the Albert Ellis Institute, such as Bill Knaus, and other notable psychologists such as Adlerian scholar, Jon Carlson.  

The NPCA, in alliance with the Institute of Critical Thinking (ICT), offers training programs in a particular type of philosophical counseling known as Logic-Based Therapy (LBT).  This brand of philosophical counseling, which I invented in the mid 1980s, grows out of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), the form of cognitive-behavior therapy invented by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950s as a reaction to the psychoanalytic approach that dominated psychological practice at the time.  Thus, LBT has its roots in psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavior therapy, even though it is presently one of the most prominent forms of philosophical counseling in existence today.  Clearly, here is an instance of how philosophical and psychological counseling are intrinsically related to each other.

The NPCA/ICT offers both a distance learning training program as well as live training workshops.  The NPCA/ICT has a Center at Purdue University Northwest where it offers intensive training workshops in LBT.  The next workshop is on October 24 through 26.  Details about this workshop can be found here. The distance learning sessions are ongoing, and details about them can be found here.

To qualify for either of these training programs, one must have at least a masters’ degree in philosophy or in a mental health counseling area.  These courses, which lead to the Primary Certificate in Logic-Based Therapy, train basic skills needed to practice LBT. 

So, to sum up, philosophical counseling is united with psychological counseling.  Programs such as the APPA program create a false dichotomy between philosophical and psychological counseling, and therefore misrepresent the important interplay of psychological and philosophical approaches to dealing with problems of living. There are not two sets of problems and two sets of therapies—philosophical and psychological, the former for “the sane” and the latter for “the insane.”  Rather, there are human problems that can be addressed through the synergy of both philosophical and psychological tools. The NPCA provides the facility for training that reflects this basic truth.