"To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates … It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically." – Thoreau
Philosophical counselor PJ Mills FAQs

Philosophical Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions


How does the process of philosophical counseling work?

A person who comes for counseling is usually questioning his or her behavior, assumptions and values, or is trying to decide how to act in a given situation. Often, the person is motivated to seek counseling by a specific trigger – confusion about career or life goals, a disappointment or setback, an unexpected event, a personal or professional conflict with another human being. There are also vaguer problems that may move someone to seek philosophical counseling – a general feeling of unhappiness or emptiness, or of being bored with one's life. Or, something or someone may have suddenly provoked the question: "What am I doing with my life?"

What occurs in a counseling session is a conversation, a dialogue, in which, through careful listening and questioning, we unravel your immediate problem in order to get to the concepts involved and your thought processes. Examining how you are thinking about your problem or dilemma generates creative solutions, solutions that are well-reasoned, ethically sound, and fully your own.

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What can I expect to gain from philosophical counseling?

In philosophical counseling you begin to think more carefully, more cogently, and more logically. And, as you acquire the mental discipline of philosophical practice, you learn how to clearly articulate the principles and concepts that are the foundation of your approach to everyday life. Ultimately, the goal of philosophical counseling is to help you solve your immediate dilemma by fostering both your reasoning ability and your self-understanding.

The practical benefits of philosophical counseling come about when your solutions to your problems are reasonable, well thought-out, and reflect good judgment. And by relieving the stress and anxiety that attends a life filled with intellectual confusion, unhappiness, or dismay, philosophical life-counseling often has emotional benefits as well as practical ones. You may come away from philosophical counseling feeling calmer, more at peace, and, at the same time, you may feel more alive, ready to meet the vicissitudes of life with greater confidence.

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Can I benefit from philosophical counseling
if I've never studied philosophy?

Yes. Absolutely.

Previous knowledge of academic philosophy is not necessary for you to benefit from philosophical counseling. In fact, there is a significant difference between academic philosophy and philosophical counseling. Academic philosophy devotes itself to the study of great philosophers, examining what and how they think, the development of their ideas over time, and the arguments or reasoning used to justify their claims. Philosophical counseling, on the other hand, begins from lived experience – from life – the origin of all philosophical questions.

Thus, the focus of philosophical life-counseling is not on what some famous philosopher might have said about your problem, but on talking through your problem with you to see how you can best resolve it. And a good philosophical counselor is not someone who lectures you on philosophy, but someone who provides a meeting place where he or she uses philosophical ideas and methods to explore and clarify your thinking about your life experiences and concerns. With the careful guidance and support of a philosophical counselor, anyone can learn to approach personal predicaments philosophically, without ever having studied philosophy.

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How does philosophical counseling differ from psychotherapy?

Because of the prevalence of vague and all-inclusive definitions of psychotherapy, it is impossible to definitively distinguish philosophical counseling from all the various forms of psychotherapy. And there are branches of psychotherapy, such as existential therapy, that share some common ground with philosophical life-counseling. In general, however, it can be said that most psychotherapists are primarily concerned with diagnosing and treating emotional problems, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a guide.

On the other hand, reasoning – as critical thinking – is what is central to the dialogue that takes place in philosophical counseling. And while reasoning affects the emotions, and good reasoning can sometimes alleviate emotional problems, the emotional life is not the starting point of philosophical counseling. Rather than concentrating on the realm of the emotions, philosophical counselors call upon the ideas and methods of philosophy, the tools of reasoning, to help understand and resolve real life issues.

Issues that might cause someone to come for philosophical counseling include uncertainty about a career change; ethical conflicts or difficulties in a personal or professional relationship; a spiritual crisis; questions about basic values or the meaning or purpose of one's life; coping with a loss. Philosophical life-counseling is also for those without a specific problem but who feel they are moving through their lives as in a dream, without direction or purpose. In general, people come to philosophical counseling to resolve life issues by deepening their thinking and self-awareness.

Simply put, philosophical counseling emphasizes dialogue, not diagnosis, and is intended for normal human beings who are experiencing ordinary human problems, people who have a general feeling of disorientation or unhappiness, are concerned about the ambivalent course of their lives, or who have a particular problem or entanglement they can neither resolve nor dispel.

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Is philosophical counseling a substitute for psychiatric care?

No. Philosophical counseling is certainly not a substitute for psychiatric care. That is, it is not for people who suffer from severe forms of mental illness that make them dysfunctional, or who are dangerous to themselves or others.

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How does philosophical counseling differ from psychoanalysis?

Traditional forms of psychoanalysis focus on what is seen as the "unconscious" – primal emotions that are repressed and need to be brought into conscious awareness. As opposed to this, philosophical counseling begins not from any debatable theory about the hidden forces of the unconscious, but from the premise that we have too little understanding of our conscious, thinking lives. Philosophical counseling maintains that if someone develops his or her reasoning ability, and thereby learns to think more like a philosopher, with more discernment and coherence, more "mindfulness," the difficulties that person faces can be alleviated.

Another important difference is that in psychoanalysis the client is encouraged to open up, to speak out about his or her pain, but the analyst rarely comments or speaks. Philosophical counseling, on the other hand, is fundamentally a dialogue between client and counselor so there is more conversation, more give-and-take, in a counseling session than there is in a psychoanalytic session. This is because a philosophical counselor is an educated thinker exploring with you your specific problem and your thought processes, not someone searching for evidence of a preconceived "disorder" or neurosis.

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What kind of training do philosophical counselors have?

The American Philosophical Practitioners Association states that philosophical counselors should have the following qualifications:

  1. An advanced degree in Philosophy, such as an M.A. or Ph.D. (or equivalent)
  2. Documented experience in counseling clients philosophically
  3. Professionalism and integrity

Although there is no single method of philosophical counseling, so that styles and methods of philosophical counseling vary, all APPA-certified counselors satisfy the three criteria listed above.

For more details about the training required of philosophical counselors go to the menu on the home page of the APPA website, click on Documents, and follow prompts to APPA Client Counseling Certification Standards.

Please note: APPA-certified counselors are not affiliated in any way with The School of Practical Philosophy®.

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Is philosophical counseling covered by medical insurance?

No, it is not. In order to make philosophical counseling affordable, my fee is based on a sliding scale, determined by household income, with a minimum of $70 per session and a maximum of $300 per session. The minimum fee for couples counseling is $150 per session with a maximum fee of $400 per session.

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