Canadian Society for Philosophical Practice
Société Canadienne pour la Pratique Philosophique

What is philosophical counselling?

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This statement is by CSPP Board member  Professor Petra von Morstein, who has been a practicing philosophical counsellor for many years. It represents her work and views and not adopted policy of CSPP. We appreciate her allowing us to reproduce it here.

Philosophical Counselling


The most basic issues in philosophy are concrete problems. Philosophical inquiry begins with questions arising directly from human experience, on social or individual levels.


Philosophical counselling is based on the ancient view that emotional, moral and other problems are of a philosophical nature. Conversation with a professional philosopher can clarify a client’s personal problems and transform them into resourceful aspects of his or her life.


Topics a client may bring to a philosophical counsellor include: moral dilemmas; experience of illness; troubled relationships’ conflicts from his or her past; professional crises; confidence crises; or less defined experiences such as depression, anxiety, despair. Topics may also include foundational questions about the meaning of life, God, freedom, death.


A philosophical counsellor is also a professional academic philosopher who is experienced in the study of such topics from a great variety of historical and contemporary perspectives. Because personal problems are of a philosophical nature, a philosophical counsellor is committed to philosophy primarily as an activity arising directly from lived experience.


Philosophical counselling is dialogue about unique individual experiences. Philosopher and client engage together in a search for the philosophical ideas most illuminating and useful for the client. In consequence personal difficulties may be transformed from hostile to empowering forces, whether or not they can be entirely resolved.


The appropriateness of a philosophical idea or method emerges from a client’s situation, not from the counsellor's theoretical or personal convictions.


The benefit of philosophical counselling does not depend on a client’s formal education. The attitude of inquiry and the goal to make sense of one’s experience are sufficient.


Philosophical counselling is therapeutic because it aims to enliven and empower a person. It does not work through diagnosis and treatment; rather it is a supplement or alternative to psychotherapy. A philosophical counsellor may, in some situations, refer a client to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist; equally, a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist may refer a client to a philosophical counsellor. Different areas of expertise may thus be conjoined for the benefit of a client.


Philosophical counselling typically involves a fee set in advance by the counsellor. This may or may not depend on the means of the client. Client and counsellor determine the frequency and number of sessions. For many counsellors, the first session is free.


A philosophical counsellor is committed to strict confidentiality.


Statement of Petra von Morstein,

CSPP board member and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Calgary



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