The Philosopher As
by Michael Russell, Phd.
I have a problem with the concept of 'psychotherapy.' If it weren't for that, I could get right to my main point, which is that therapy-which I would prefer to call personal consulting-- is something for which being trained in the discipline of philosophy is every bit as good an academic foundation as being trained in psychology or in medicine. In ways, philosophy is a better background than either of these fields. I do not mean that philosophers are better therapists. I do not think academic preparation is anywhere near as important here as personal traits and practical training. My thesis is modest, if stated somewhat polemically: philosophy is a fine foundation for a counseling practice, and these other fields are over-rated.
I. Therapy is a sick word
The practice of encouraging others to talk about their thoughts and feelings, trying to exercise good judgment about when or whether to give advice, must be nearly as old as pre-historic parenting. Making this something of a profession must go as far back as villages having designated wise men and women. No group can justly call this their sole domain. But ever since Freud (and Breur) wrote about "the talking cure" this has been too often regarded as the special province of psychoanalysis and its myriad psychotherapy descendents. Training in psychoanalysis was largely restricted to psychiatrists trained to think in terms of medicine and the vocabulary of illness. So talking became treatment! Subsequently, forms of psychotherapy not presented under the aegis of medicine came to be regarded as the province of psychology. Psychologists are trained in empirical research into the purported causes of human behavior. They are familiar with research on correlations between behavior and environmental contingencies, which they tend to think of in a causal and deterministic language. Both vocabularies smack of passivity: therapy is something you undergo, something done to you, something supposed to bring about a change, a fix, a cure.
But what sort of activity is this? What is actually done? Listening, mainly. With empathy, occasional interpretations, occasional advice. There is a focus to the discussions: the thoughts and feelings and struggles of the person undergoing the therapy. There is a body of theory and literature, much of it by persons known to be psychotherapists, which may inform the direction and content of this talking and listening. These ingredients --- the kind of talking, the focus of the discussion, the surrounding theoretical milieu --- are enough to give us a rough grasp of the meaning of the word 'therapy'. They do not provide clear enough parameters to identify what therapy is, with enough precision to settle territorial disputes about who ought to do it.
A monopoly on any form of human discourse is simply offensive. The idea that some forms of discourse count as undergoing something by one of them is, at least, to be regarded with some caution. The idea that such interactions may have a clear-cut and definitive outcome in which a person is "fixed" or "cured" simplicitare, is, I think, naīve. The idea that discourse becomes the province of specialists just because the subject matter is very important to one of the participants is arrogant.
The idea that one might be excluded from an arena of human discourse precisely because one has come to know something about it, because one happens to have become informed about ideas which are, after all, part of the public's intellectual domain, is patently absurd. Neither do one's communications become psychotherapy if and when one thinks about people in ways influenced by theories about people which have been advanced by psychotherapists (Freud or whoever), for this would have the absurd consequence of making the interactions of every decently educated person in our civilization into psychotherapy. We all have been profoundly influenced by a number of psychotherapists' theories.
Neither activities nor theoretical indebtedness will do for demarcating what counts as the practice of psychotherapy. In sum, it is hard to see why therapy should be the property of any group, and, indeed, even hard to see what therapy is. Even when all these ingredients are present --- the kind of talking, the focus of it, the intellectual setting --- there is no really clear-cut criterion for what activity counts as doing therapy.
II. Therapy is a context-dependent concept
The answer, I think, is that therapy is a context-dependent concept. Psychotherapy, to be psychotherapy, must be represented as such, and must be thought of by both the provider and the recipient as something undergone by persons for the purpose of their receiving treatment and cure. As examples of context-dependent concepts: merely moving a chess piece does not count as playing chess, even though the movement is indistinguishable from one by someone who is playing chess. In part, you must think you are playing chess. Merely saying the words "I do" does not make you married, though exactly these words will make it so in the right context. If you have a sore back and your friend, or the coach at your gym, advises you to do sit-ups, or if you have a cold and your grocer advises you to drink orange juice for the vitamin-C, this is not the practice of medicine even though the advice, the activity, and the hoped-for outcome are all identical to what you might receive from your physician.
And when two people talk about the personal problems of one of them, the first trying to understand and encourage the expressions of the second, and the second seeking to express feelings and gain insight, they are not, on just that account, engaged in "doing therapy" even though the way they communicate, and the sorts of things they communicate about, are exactly the sorts of things that people called therapists or psychotherapists do. The activity does not count as therapy unless certain surrounding contextual conditions are fulfilled, including their both sharing certain assumptions about what they are doing.
I think the key conditions are these: (1) Representation. The consultant identifies himself or herself as a "psychotherapist" or a "therapist." (2) Suffering. The consultee, or client, identifies himself or herself as suffering from some sort of psychological or emotional problem or disorder, or a physical disorder assumed to be psychologically or emotionally related, for which he or she wishes to undergo some form of treatment in the hope that the problem can be cured or removed. 3) Expectation. The client believes that the psychotherapist may have the technical expertise to bring this about. The psychotherapist will do something for and to the client, drawing from certain theories, training, and technical know-how, which may bring about a change and cause the problem to be cured or to disappear. (4) Diagnosis and prognosis. The psychotherapist believes the client's problem can be diagnosed and treated in accordance with theories and skills with which he or she is familiar and proposes to practice. (6) Explicit agreement. These conditions and assumptions being shared by both persons, they deliberately enter a relationship for the express purpose of attempting to treat the problem at issue, and, perhaps, related problems, similarly understood, which may come to light. (7) Professionalism. Both understand that this is a relationship entered into with a professional, who is presumed to have certain relevant abilities, to have met the standards and codes of the profession, and that it is a sort of interaction for which a fee is generally expected. (8) Passivity. While the client may be expected to do certain things, once this relationship is entered into the client is regarded as undergoing something called therapy under the guidance of a therapist presumed to be an expert and presumed to be a healer. It is understood that if this is done well it may help the person, and if it is done poorly or incompetently it may be useless or may harm the person.
I believe that the absence of any of the contextual conditions outlined above suffices to make a consulting activity not count as an instance of doing therapy, and want to underscore the importance of those factors which emphasize assumptions of sickness, diagnosis, and passivity. Many professional psychotherapists will not want to agree to this. I expect them to say that the list does justice to the way behaviorally oriented psychotherapists may see themselves, and to much of psychoanalytic theory, but there are numerous practitioners from the existential-humanistic modalities who will take exception to the various ways in which the client is portrayed as passive. A reply might go like this: "I don't do anything `to' my clients. I don't `treat' them. I don't heal the sick. I don't make them change, nor do I think I could, and I don't really make them do anything at all. They choose to talk with me, and I choose to talk on a level which I hope is meaningful to us both. Having talked with me, they sometimes decide to make some changes in what they do. If they do decide to change, nothing that has gone on between them and me is going to make them do it, or guarantee that they will follow through. What they make out of our time together is going to have to be up to them. About all I can promise is that I will be as fully with them as I am able, during the time we meet together."
Exactly! But if this is how these consultants see what they are doing then it shouldn't be called therapy. The word practically reeks of the grammar of passivity: healing, treating, curing, causing to be made well, something which makes things change, makes things different and better. One doesn't get rid of these implications by the mere caveat that many psychotherapists are moving away from the "medical model," or that the bulk of contemporary private practice is with persons who are not so much "sick" as wanting to examine their lives and enhance the quality of their experience. Nor do I think it an exaggeration to say that much of the public that seeks out the counsel of a psychotherapist is lured by the presumed wizardry of these technologists of the soul, who can discern your innermost thoughts and then set your life in order for you. One can understand the incentives of economics and prestige, which would tempt psychotherapists to keep their seductive, if misleading, labels. One can see why they might maintain that image, which effectively sells them to the public, the lawmakers, and the insurance companies. But that doesn't mean they are doing what their titles suggest they are doing.
If anything, the dilemma is sharpened for those theories and modalities of therapy, which proclaim that they depart, form sickness language and deterministic assumptions. If, in actual practice, all these varieties of consultants do not see themselves as curing sickness, then what justifies them in calling what they do "therapy?"
But those approaches to therapy which more openly embrace passive language may also recoil from some of its implications. This point may be put quite simply in the form of a challenge to any persons who would call themselves psychotherapists: If a client were to complain to you that you had failed to cure his or her problem, would you think that this client had fundamentally misunderstood what you had to offer? And when you reflect on your actual practice, how much of it, do you think, is a matter of what you do, and how much a matter of what it is up to your clients to do? Do you really think that you cure them? If you are comfortable saying that (and there may still be plenty of practitioners who answer this in the affirmative) go ahead and call it therapy. If you are from the other end of the theoretical spectrum, and think that your clients choose what they call their problems, then the best you can do is sensitively communicate this to them in the hopes that they will choose to consider the options they already have. Then you don't see them as sick, and you don't see yourself as curing. So why call it therapy?
My own sympathies will be clear enough. I think we can provide contexts that invite change. I do not think we can fix people. I do not think that anyone really makes good on an offer to diagnose an emotional disorder and then cure it. Human transformation is not a passive matter. The conclusion: there is no such thing as therapy! So to represent one's activities as "doing psychotherapy" furthers a false promise. It becomes difficult to say, with a clear conscience, that anyone --psychologist, psychiatrist, philosopher-- ought to do therapy. It's rather like being asked whether someone ought to practice witchcraft. If I don't believe in witches, I cannot honestly advocate that someone practice the requisite craft.
IV) Should psychologists do therapy?
Enough quibbling about the word 'therapy'. Call it what you will: should psychologists do it?
There is an impressive amount of empirical research (something done by psychologists) which indicates that independently of diverse theoretical orientations, effective psychotherapists have certain personality traits. The three most frequently mentioned conditions or traits are empathy, genuineness, and positive regard. Now on the face of it, and giving ourselves latitude for generalizations, we may expect that any rigorous academic training, including psychology, philosophy, or medicine, is liable to foster traits of intellectualization, affective detachment, coldness, criticalness, abstractness, impersonality, insecurity and defensiveness swinging at times over to grandiosity and snobbery. Indeed, some research suggests that a decrease in therapeutic effectiveness goes along with an increase in graduate education!
One may well wonder whether the (any) academic background of a therapist is an asset, and wonder whether it not only does not foster but even selects against or discourages traits regarded as most relevant for effective therapy. Set in the larger picture of questions about whether psychotherapy is effective at all, skepticism is sure to mount.
Three possible explanations for the apparently low correlation between therapist effectiveness and graduate education come to mind. One is that there is little connection between academic ability and consulting ability. A second is that formal education fosters the wrong sorts of personal traits, or selects against them. The third is that there could be a positive connection between academic background and consulting ability, depending on whether one's studies were of a helpful sort. My guess is that a combination of the second and third accounts is likely right, and that much of what people study in the academic work in psychology graduate school (distinguished from internship experience) is not particularly helpful both with respect to content and with respect to the way it is studied. Much of the psychology taught in universities (particularly the prestigious universities, and not so much in the professional schools for clinicians) is concerned with topics which have little bearing on the practice of consulting. Often there is open hostility toward the applied realm of the clinician. This goes with the premium placed on seeing the discipline as an accumulation of facts which are causally related and such as can be described significantly only by propositions which have been empirically verified. Psychology suffers from physics-envy. In search of the respect accorded the "hard sciences," psychologists are trained to think in terms of causal language, to measure "effectiveness" in a context of "outcomes," and hence, when it comes to discussing therapy, are drawn toward affiliating themselves with the cold pragmatics of what can be "operationally defined' and measured. Academic psychology fosters competitiveness, objectivity, coldness, and distance, and this is the usual background for personal consultations which call for subjectivity, warmth, and involvement.
Carl Rogers managed to retain his traits of warmth and empathy, so it can be done. And yet it is interesting that Rogers is well within the psychologist's penchant for wanting to talk about effectiveness. Here one does not find much latitude for looking at self-exploration and personal consultation as something which just might be intrinsically worthwhile, apart from the positive (or negative) repercussions which may attend them. (Philosophers, artists, and pure theorists are used to doing things simply because they think them important, and not simply as means to some other end. This can be a good trait in a personal consultant. It is not a trait psychologists are quite so often comfortable with.) Relatedly, we should question talk of what therapists "produce" in their clients. On this score, the self-actualization theorists (Rogers amongst them) turn out to be cheerful closet determinists. They believe that the provision of the desired therapists' traits - empathy, genuineness, positive regard - will automatically produce positive change. I prefer to think of the therapist or consultant as inviting something (self-expression, self-understanding, and an exploration of self-deception) rather than producing (change, cure, improvement). The effective consultant is someone with a talent for making invitations. Particularly with those clients who are more or less getting along all right in life without much more than the usual allotment of self-deception and human folly, the effective consultant is one who invites the client into an intrinsically important sort of self-inquiry. It is not the consultant's business to "produce change" but to invite looking and to join in trying to understand the person being looked at. When we think of "therapy" as something, which might be undertaken because it is intrinsically important to inquire into oneself, quite apart from its possible side-benefits, the research on therapist effectiveness starts to fall into a different light.
I do not deny that the traits of empathy, warmth, and positive regard are appropriate to a consulting relationship, which would invite deep and meaningful self-expression and self-inquiry: they encourage a client's acceptance of his or her own feelings. I see no reason to assume that these traits are encouraged by formal study of psychology. But more to the point, it is my contention that the perspective of passivity is fundamentally inappropriate for clear thinking about the actual practice of personal consulting, and that this is a point of view, which is nothing short of rampant in psychology. I have been maintaining that personal consultation does not do anything to anyone, doesn't bring about anything. At most, what personal consultation does is provide a client with an invitation to examine his or her conduct, perhaps with the hope that the client will remember afterwards that change is difficult, maybe unlikely or not worth the price, but possible. We must wonder whether psychologists are going to be adept at either comprehending or communicating an invitation to explore, simply because it matters, and to change, but only if one wants. Psychologists are steeped in a tradition of causal language, and of research which aspires to contribute to an understanding of what makes people do what they do. If it is true that the grammar of "what makes people do what they do" is fundamentally inappropriate for the task of inviting people to accept responsibility for the authorship of their lives, then psychologists who practice personal consulting must either be wise enough to transcend their tradition and training, dull enough to fail to see the conflict, or wishy-washy enough to not have sorted this out. Even in the best of circumstances where the psychologist transcends tradition, it seems to me that the psychologist will be working with the disadvantage of having had less opportunity than another person might have had, to learn how to really think through a theoretical perspective which does fit with what personal consultation is all about.
In this section I have argued that psychologists are very confused about what they are really doing when they say they are doing therapy. I have also considered some reasons why, because of an alienating academic background, a means-ends way of looking at the world, and clumsy theorizing, psychologists might not make very good personal consultants.
V. What are philosophers good for?
I think of personal consulting, and much of what others call therapy, as like dancing with another person. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow, and sometimes the hardest part to learn is how to stay out of your partner's way. You must understand your partner's way of moving very well indeed if you are to follow it, move with it, and know what will embellish and accentuate and what will interrupt. The "dance" of personal consulting requires the kind of intellectual ability we should expect a well-trained philosopher to have, even if it also calls for traits and skills philosophers are not likely to have. Philosophers are specialists in understanding people who are notoriously hard to understand. What philosophers do is listen to, and think about other philosophers, and their job is to pit their minds against the minds of some of the greatest intellects our civilization has known, understand -- which is not the same thing as memorizing -- what those thinkers did say, would say, avoided saying, assumed or presupposed, who influenced them and how, which ideas connect with which, and how it all fits together. They must be able to do this so well that they can take the part of any major philosopher, know that philosopher so well that they can become him or her "from the inside," and convincingly present a given weltanschauung as absolutely right. Then they must be able to turn around and say exactly what's wrong with it and why. This I advance as an a priori argument that any well-trained philosopher, other relevant traits being assumed, ought to make a good personal consultant.
Perhaps all academic disciplines breed a degree of self-criticism that goes with a sense of never knowing as much as one ought to know. But this is especially true in philosophy, which has historically been one of the most self-critical and introspective of disciplines. Indeed, the popular image of philosophers as not being good for much owes a great deal to philosopher's criticisms of themselves, from Socrates on, and perhaps the world at large would not have had enough imagination to charge the discipline with being useless if the philosophers had not, themselves, intimated as much. It is no wonder that philosophers are insecure, given the stature of the minds against which they must match wits, and given the complexity of the problems with which they deal. Granted, philosophers tend to be "out of touch with their feelings" -- a drawback in a consultant which would be shared by representatives of other disciplines such as psychology or medicine -- but they are very used to keeping themselves in focus, to bringing a question back to, "What do I make out of all this? How does what I'm trying to understand in this other person match with what makes sense to me?" (The first person is offensive to many academics.) Some philosophers may have managed not to lose their more affective sensitivities; for others, their introspective habits may be a natural bridge to regaining their feelings. Hoping for the best on that score, I would venture that the philosopher's habits of self-criticism and ongoing evaluation of one's own views are a decided asset in a personal consultant. Perhaps the posture of the confident physician is more "curative" in the realm of medicine, but in the larger enterprise of personal reflection and consulting, I think we best invite self-scrutiny in others by modeling this in our own conduct. Would you want a personal consultant (therapist) who exuded confidence? I wouldn't.
Philosophers are in the habit of puzzling for what seems an eternity on the beauty of an esoteric argument like Zeno's, which has it that an arrow can never reach its target and that motion is, indeed, impossible. People from the empirical disciplines are more likely to shoot the arrow and say, "See!" Who would you rather talk to about the way you look at the world?
Philosophers are in the habit of really concentrating for a long time on a theme, which many would find boring and too hard to follow. They are in the habit of going back to the same passage again and again, each time seeing it in a new and deepened way. This is an important trait for a consultant, whose most urgent practical task will sometimes be, "How am I going to stay alive through this hour, and remain interested in the same old story?"
In contrast to the empirical disciplines, which tend to view the acquisition of knowledge in a linear or "building block" fashion, philosophers are used to treating little that is important as settled. The perspective of a great thinker is treated as eternal, and discussed in present-tense grammar: "Plato thinks...," rather than "Plato thought...." I find it hard to imagine a philosopher being comfortable with the American Psychological Association's mandated style of referring to works by their date of publication, and speaking in the past-tense success-verb grammar of what so-and-so "showed" or "demonstrated." In philosophy, issues tend to remain present and open, and are thought about in a way, which leaves one as ready to advocate as to criticize. In empirical disciplines, such as psychology, claims are talked about in a way, which highlights their date, summarizes them, and treats them at a distance. (It is pathetic to hear psychologists speak about Freud as an interesting bit of history.) Here again, I urge that the philosopher's training is appropriate for personal consulting.
Philosophers are familiar in depth with a large spectrum of the most fundamental schemas through which anyone has ever looked at anything. The chances of being able to follow, restate, anticipate, and "dance" with a client in personal consultation have got to be markedly improved by this training.
Philosophers are first and foremost theorists and they are good at thinking in terms of theory. Now theories can get in a consultant's way, and it is not uncommon for psychotherapists to be blinded and inhibited by being wedded either to a theory about a given individual, or a more general theory about how one is supposed to be a therapist. Ideally, a theory helps you focus without giving you blind spots, and allows you to fit specifics without forcing them; it should augment the "dance" rather than constricting it. Philosophers are familiar with logical positivism, which is pretty much the singular vision of psychologists, but do not tend to take it too seriously. They are professionals at shifting quickly from one theory to another and being able to work with many theories in a way, which makes sense of the details to which they are applied. Philosophers have an extraordinarily rich repertoire of theoretical perspectives at their disposal, and are especially adept at picking up new ones (such as may be offered by psychotherapists, or by clients or students) and seeing their implications or assumptions. This fosters being open-minded, and cultivates an ability to make some kind of sense out of what practically anyone says about anything. Other disciplines, by contrast, are often intellectually constipating.
Among the intellectual assets for consulting which philosophers in general ought to have, one should mention the advantages of having in-depth familiarity with particular philosophers from the tradition. There are many major philosophical thinkers with theories philosophers know well, which are decidedly better thought-through than much of what one finds in the empirical sciences. I refer to philosophical positions which are broad in scope, open-textured enough that one can listen to another through this perspective without forcing an interpretation on what is heard, and which are rich enough in specific insight as to provide a treasure-house of feedback. I can readily imagine a consultant (or a therapist, if there is such a thing as therapy) whose perspective was adapted from Aristotle, or Spinoza, or Hume, or Marx, or Hegel, or Wittgenstein, or -- especially -- any of the existentialists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre, working in a powerful and inviting way. This is important if (a) having some theoretical perspective which guides the way one "dances" is helpful, and (b) it is not as significant as is popularly supposed just which theoretical perspective one identifies with for one's "effectiveness" in consulting.
I shall conclude this section with very brief remarks on talents for consulting which philosophers might have, depending on the specifics of their backgrounds; and shall comment critically on specific therapy modalities for which philosophical training might be appropriate.
Anyone who has done any personal consulting and yet cannot sense the value of psychoanalytic theory is, in my view, too dense to be interesting. I say this notwithstanding the flaws in psychoanalytic theory, which I believe, are massive. I do not propose that persons not thoroughly trained in psychoanalysis should (or even could) practice it. (I do believe that persons with advanced education only in philosophy could be well qualified for admission to analytic training, and there are a growing number of "Research Psychoanalysts" who are licensed to train in and practice psychoanalysis after earning a doctoral degree in a discipline such as philosophy which is not traditionally preparation for a mental health field.) I suggest, only, that psychoanalytic theory remains singularly profound, and that any would-be consultants do well to become as familiar with it as they are able. Because of the wealth of philosophical literature by philosophers on psychoanalysis, it is not uncommon for philosophers to have familiarized themselves with psychoanalytic theory in some depth. The exposure one is liable to get in graduate study in psychology, particularly at a prestigious university (which often means an experimentally oriented university) is liable to be grossly hasty and superficial by comparison.
Consider also: Wouldn't a solid background in ethics be appropriate for the sort of "value clarification" which is coming into vogue? Struggling with values has always been an important dimension of therapeutic practice, yet is undertaken by persons who often do not have even a basic idea of how to think intelligently about ethical relativism, and who haven't the faintest idea of what the genetic fallacy is or whether it is, indeed, a fallacy. Wouldn't formal training in logic and critical thinking be the appropriate background for doing the consulting equivalent of Rational-Emotive Therapy, which seeks, with conspicuous absence of warmth and empathy, to challenge a client's illogical thinking and irrational beliefs? If consulting or therapy is the business of challenging a person's muddled thinking (syllogistic healing?), that's what philosophers do most. Wouldn't the appropriate background for what Glasser calls Reality Therapy be to study the American Pragmatist's vision of epistemology and metaphysics? How could anyone follow the theories of Jung who did not thoroughly understand Kant? Regarding those practitioners who adapt heavily from Zen and Taoism: wouldn't it help to come from a discipline where one studies these traditions? Wouldn't the application of a "self-actualization" perspective better come from people who have studied really solid thinkers on this score, like Aristotle and Hegel? Wouldn't a Radical Therapy best be pursued by someone who really knew Marx? Wouldn't a feminist perspective on therapy come better from those who had really studied feminism? Mightn't a Nietzschian scholar have as much of an insight-generating theoretical perspective as an Adlerian? And, if one could be found willing, shouldn't a Wittgensteinian scholar, used to contemplating primitive language games, quickly get the hang of Transactional Analysis?
Finally, philosophers who have studied existentialist philosophers have a monumental advantage as personal consultants, over the academic backgrounds of virtually everyone else. The existentialists who philosophers know best -- Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre-- provide well thought-out theories with profoundly specific applicability for the concerns of personal consulting. This is widely acknowledged by psychotherapists, as is the fact that the writings of these thinkers are obscure and practically inaccessible to the philosophically unsophisticated. With fairly few exceptions -- such as Binswanger and Boss, who have made important adaptations of Heidegger's work and Laing's profound indebtedness to Sartre, and in Irvin Yalom's work) -- the therapeutic and consulting applications of existentialist philosophy have only begun to be mined. By and large, the adaptations made by psychologists have not vaguely approximated the sophistication to be found in the original sources and have been grossly lacking in comparable rigor. More commonly, what one gets from existentially oriented psychologists are the more banal and superficial themes, such as that it's important to be authentic, everyone must make choices (this, likely as not, getting boiled down to a biological imperative that we need to actualize, and will or will not do so depending on the environmental contingencies), we all must face death, responsibility is scary, and meaning matters. If existentialism is as relevant to consulting as psychotherapists say (I think it is much more relevant than they have begun to fathom), then it stands to reason that the people to best mine its sources are the people trained to understand them. If a theory of applied existentialism is forthcoming it may best and most likely come from philosophers who are experienced in consulting practice.
Looking back over what I have written I find that I have not been sparing of polemics and rhetorical flourish. I suppose I have grown tired of seeing philosophy dismissed by people who are regularly engaged in doing philosophy without realizing it. A theory is a philosophical theory when its principle claims are predominantly justified by arguments based on the implications of concepts, rather than empirical data. Everyone does philosophy, frequently; not everyone knows what he or she is doing. The role of philosophy, and the relevance of philosophical training, has been pathetically under-rated. The contributions to an understanding of persons by the empirical disciplines, in their role as empirical disciplines (gathering data and advancing hypotheses strictly required to organize that data) have been vastly over-rated. The psychologists whose ideas have been really influential here -- and I include the Freudians, the behaviorists, and the existential-humanistic practitioners -- have been advancing theories, which were predominately philosophical in character.
Let me be more blunt. Psychology is shot through and through with conceptual muddles, which any decently trained philosopher could demonstrate, in short order, to an attentive listener, with any consecutive five pages of any psychologist's essay, picked at random. Under the guise of empirical research, psychologists are typically doing philosophy, and doing it badly. Psychology is founded on a causal perspective in its theories, in spite of the fact that in consulting practice one cannot talk about human actions in consistently causal terms. It is riddled with unclarity about the nature of explanation. It is lost in a sea of confusions about the status of mentalistic language. In short, psychology is founded on a whole way of thinking which consistently gets it into the kinds of troubles to which philosophers are sensitive. As long as theories about persons are going to be so heavily philosophical, philosophers should be playing a central rather than a peripheral role in developing theory of personal consultation.
There continues to be a desperate need for empirical research about what actually happens in a consulting relationship, and that is what psychologists are trained to do in the bulk of their academic studies. Yet the very tradition that is appropriate for conducting this research on personal consultation is inappropriate for consulting practice. For there the task is not to stand apart from one's clients and summarize the data about them, but to join with them in looking at the world as they do, and understanding what it's like to think as they do. Little in the formal academic training of psychologists equips them for this, which is, again, the sort of thing philosophers do.
This is in no way meant to deny the importance of the applied experience psychologists and psychotherapists have in doing personal consulting; they are the people who have mainly been doing it lately, and they are the people to learn from. I would like to see psychologists and philosophers work together as affiliates in the practice of personal consultation, and I am certain that both theory and practice would advance dramatically from this association. Responsible consultants will prepare themselves through extensive self-inquiry comparable to what they wish to offer to others, will have extensive supervised training and practice, and, within reason, will have supplemented their academic backgrounds with relevant study. Whether philosophers will in fact be good consultants remains to be shown, so I would hope that philosophers who want to do personal consulting will seek out these supplements from professional psychotherapists, who at least have something of a proven track record.
I favor regulating who may represent themselves and their services to others with titles which serve to recommend them. Terms like "psychoanalyst," "licensed counselor," etc., imply a recommendation and sanction of training, and I approve of restrictions on their use. I think it would be a mistake to carry this copy-righting of nomenclature so far that it would be practically impossible for the unsanctified to find meaningful descriptive language with which to try to honestly represent what they think they do. Hence I think that words like "therapist," "counselor," "consultant," ought to be left to anyone to use or abuse.
It will come as no surprise that I am opposed to regulating or licensing the sorts of communicative activities which personal consultation and insight-oriented psychotherapy have in common, for these are part of a larger human enterprise which ought to be open to all: talking about things which matter, listening, trying to understand, empathizing, advising, challenging, criticizing, interpreting, confronting, exchanging feelings and reactions, discussing dreams and fantasies and frustrations, imagining and reminiscing, supporting, considering options and choices. I do not think any person or group can rightfully prohibit any other person or group from doing these things, nor from proclaiming themselves to be talented at it by whatever criteria they like, nor from requesting payment for their time if they wish. There are, admittedly, dangers in not regulating these things, which can be done in ways, which are stupid, inept, or wicked. There are greater dangers in regulating such communications, and a more repugnant form of audacity.
So I think it would be bizarre to believe that the philosophers doing personal consulting--- which is to say, doing an important form of philosophy --- must wait upon the approving not of psychologists. Neither is it realistic to expect a philosopher to be subjected to the whole program of psychological education popularly regarded as a prerequisite for beginning training as a consultant or as a "therapist." This would be an extraordinarily trying thing for philosophers to do, requiring a kind of hasty thinking for which they have little aptitude, and for relatively little intellectual or practical compensation.
Thus the philosopher who longs to talk personally with people as people, but timidly awaits permission from the psychological professions, should be compared with what H. L. Mencken said of the democratic man: "He is an ox whose last proud, defiant gesture is to lick the butcher behind the ear ."
J. Michael Russell, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy and Human Services
California State University, Fullerton
Newport Psychoanalytic Institute
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