Canadian Society for Philosophical Practice
Société Canadienne pour la Pratique Philosophique

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Summaries on this page are by Michael Picard. All attempts have been made to be accurate, but no attempt to make a complete or current expositions. If authors or experts would like to correct amend or add to the above, they are invited to do so by email (go to "Contact Us" page)

Approaches to Philosophical Counselling

 For ancient sources, click here.

Contemporary Sources:

Gerd Achenbach

 Gerd Achenbach is widely regarded as the founder of contemporary philosophical counselling. His approach, however, has been influential but is not everywhere adopted. The following summary is based some of his writing, but is not meant to be a comprehensive statement of his views or his current position.

1) ‘Never treat universally what god intended to be totally different’

respect differences in clients; one size does not fit all; match response to particular case, e.g. thinkers, emoters; depressives…

2) At first and at length, the sole goal is to understand the other being before you.

Be client centred; be open to “surprises” from them

Don’t apply pre-existing theory, or “teach” but rather learn from other

3) ‘Do not want to change the client’

do not “work on people”;

do not ameliorate human nature;

let clients discover goal of sessions for themselves.

4) Attend to detail and enlarge the context of the client’s story 

observation and attention to detail are philosophical virtues;

consider neglected aspects of problems;

add multiplicity of perspectives.


Lou Marinoff

Lou Marinoff is the president and founder of the American Philosophical Practitioners association, which runs certification programs in philosophical counselling. He has developed the following schematic approach to counselling, which he calls the “PEACE” process:

  1. Problem: listen, seek to understand the client’s issues from their perspective

  2. Emotion: be aware of the emotions surrounding the issues (not necessarily to find the locus of problem in them)

  3. Analysis: survey options; examine aspects of the problem looking for consistency, assumptions, new perspectives, etc

  4. Contemplation: find broader outlook, consider ideas for their own sake.

  5. Equilibrium: seek peace of mind; find resolution in action (justified decisions to act).

Peter Raabe

Peter Raabe wrote his doctorial dissertation in Educational Studies at UBC on the topic of philosophical counselling. His approach involves four stages, but not all counselling sessions need or require all four.

1) Free Floating : “listen with maieutic silence”

clarify mutual expectations; 

listen to client’s needs/wishes; why have they come?

determine together where to go next.

2) Immediate Problem Resolution:

attend to the specific life issue that brings the client in (if there is one);

apply philosophical reflection to precipitating issue

use “insider” perspective as fellow human to offer a relatively more universal, multisided views

3) Teaching: augment the client’s capacity to engage in philosophy (provided client so interested);

intentional teaching not limited to client’s personal issues; but which also serves the moral autonomy of client to think for themselves;

assist critical reflection; may instruct in logic or about ethical frameworks or spiritual traditions.

 4) Transcendence : “emerging from Plato’s cave”

edification toward ecological relationship to world;

go beyond compressed immanence of lifeworld;

objective (not necessarily rational) liberation from bonds of passion; choice/discernment of good; greater understanding, not a unique higher Truth


Ancient Sources:


Cicero said that Socrates brought philosophy down from heavens into the soul

Socrates has been described as many things:

  • as barren midwife (wisdom born in others through his own ignorance);

  • as matchmaker in conception;

  • as electric eel, who stuns others, but who is himself constantly dazed and stunned

  • as horsefly, gadfly, pesterer with questions;

  • as Silenus;

  • as lover;

  • as wearing an ironic mask, over-conceding points to keep is interlocutors off-guard.

· Unexamined life is not worth living; each must think for themselves (moral autonomy)

· philosophy as tending to the soul, not the body

· purpose of soul is to know; thus involving inquiry and dialogue

· purpose of life: to make the soul good as possible

· (Socratic Paradox) Virtue is knowledge; sin is ignorance

· (Socratic Paradox) Evil is always the result of mistaken judgment; thus, no one ever does evil wittingly.



Advocated the tetrapharmakos or fourfold remedy:

“God presents no fears, death no worries; good is readily obtainable, evil readily endurable.”

· Blessed nature has made what is necessary easy to obtain, and what is not easy unnecessary.

· Cry of flesh is for no hunger, no thirst, no cold; if this is secured, one may rival the gods in happiness.

·   Goal of philosophy is ataraxia: undisturbable state of mind; imperturbability.

· one must train the soul to relax into pleasure and serenity, with gratitude to nature and life

· one ought to grow friendships by confessing faults, by mutual correction, mutual examination of conscience



 Stoics equated the following: God=Nature=Fate=Logos=Fire=Reason

Possessed of reason, therefore, we are one with the divine, or at least partly divine.

But the function of reason is to deal with our desires, to effect a kind of therapy of desires.

Freedom lies in knowing what is up to us and what is not.

Bondage lies in concern with what does not depend on us.

Our doing: conception, choice desire, aversion, judgment

Not our doing: body/health, property, reputation, office, prophecy

Will what happens!   Reason over passion!   Death before dishonour!

Key Methods in Stoic  “therapy of desires”:

  • Attention (vigilant, mindfulness, tension, keeps truths at hand, keeps mind in present); Anagnosis (reading and explicating texts);

  • Skepsis (investigation, putting into practice of learning);

  • Meditation (to be affectively prepared; as in praemeditatio malorum, imagining poverty, suffering, death)

  • Listening;

  • Enkratia (self-mastery);

  • Fulfilling of Duty. (duty for duty’s sake).


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