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Past Debates: Lou Marinoff

Chat with Lou Marinoff, author of Plato, not Prozac!, on philosophical counseling.
10 December 2001

Massimo: hello everybody! Hi Lou! Welcome to our chat room!

marinoff: Hi Massimo and all. Thanks for inviting me.

Massimo: Lou, you are most welcome. Thanks for coming. We'll wait a couple of minutes and then start. People will keep trickling in.

marinoff: OK. I signed in as "Marinoff", but you should call me "Lou" (note, later on the name changes to Lou)

Skeptyk: Dr Marinoff, hello. I have your book in the stack next to my bed, alas, my husband snatched it to read first.

marinoff: Thanks, Skeptyk--you can always get "his" and "hers" copies :-)

Skeptyk: Actually that is not such a bad idea, since i tend to write comments and debate authors and play with ideas in the margins of books.

Massimo: OK, let's get started. Who wants to ask the first question or make the first comment?

Skeptyk: Philosophical counseling sounds so mature and suited to rationalists, a class in far higher percentage here in this chat than in the world at large, i presume, but what is it?

Chris_O'Connor: Good question.

Massimo: Hi Dale, nice nickname ;-)

Phil: Yesterday at the Skeptic Book Club, we decided a philosophical counselor is to an atheist as a priest is to a catholic.

Devora: I always dreamed of being like Lucy... 5 cents please...but I chose philosophy...I thought my dream would never be realized. And now I find out that I may be able to have both...

Mon Dec 10 20:10:57 EST 2001: Delusional Dale : Delusional Dale: Massimo, thanks. The first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem.

Massimo: Dale, yes, I could never quite bring myself to that first step. ;-)

Massimo: As for Phil comment, I think that's a bit of a restrictive definition of philosophical counseling, although it does fit a group of heathens like ours.

<Anne>: Does existentialist malaise count as a problem?

Devora: you needn’t be a heathen to be philosophical counselor.

Massimo: Anne, if your malaise brings you to the bring of suicide, yes.

Massimo: Devora, no, you are right. What I meant is that philosophical counseling for a non-believer is in fact (or could be) the equivalent of going to a priest or rabbi.

Devora: How about existential ennui?

Lou: Sorry, I had to reboot my computer. I'm back now!

<Anne>: Well... no, but it sometimes robs me of a certain joi de vivre.

Massimo: Lou, no problem, I thought that's what happened. So, the question was what - in a nutshell - is philosophical counseling. We have exchanged a couple of ideas in the meantime.

Lou: Yes, philosophical counseling is good for secular clients. Religions are faith-based, while philosophies are doubt-based.

Chris_O'Connor: Obviously, philosophical counselors employ a more intellectual approach than faith-based.

Massimo: Anne, then it seems to me that philosophical counseling might help. I recall reading in Lou's book that existentialism should be a phase to ponder and then move on. If you linger in it too much you might have a problem.

Devora: I don’t know that that is necessarily "obvious."

Lou: We use philosophy as a way of making sense of things--a guide to the art of living, not just theorizing about ideas.

Devora: How about Anselm and Augustine, or the Talmudic rabbis...

<Anne>: But where does one go to after one encounters the "abyss" of a meaningless universe?

Massimo: Anne, Lou will probably say something to address the question, here are my two cents...

Chris_O'Connor: Excellent question Anne...I have my own answers, but none that suit theists.

Lou: Sometimes existentialism actually depresses people. It is not a good modality for people seeking meaning.

Massimo: Anne, it seems that after you have contemplated the lack of universal meaning in life you can start working on local and temporary meanings, which are none the less meaningful for finite beings like us.

Chris_O'Connor: How do atheists deal with existential dread...fear of our insignificance...no real purpose to life?

<Anne>: Lou, I wouldn't think so, but what about those seeking a meaningful life?

Lou: There are many ways of recovering purpose in one's life, even if the universe is an accident. In fact, if the universe is an accident, that makes our finite purposed even more important.

Devora: Realize the world doesn’t care. Only you care. Move on.

Massimo: Chris, I'm an atheist but I got plenty of purpose and meaning (which, as Lou points out in his book, are different things). My mission (I consider it that) as a teacher, my family, my friends, and my involvement with secular humanism are all important components that give meaning to my life.

Chris_O'Connor: Massimo, that’s how I respond to people when they ask me what the meaning of life is. I tell them there isn't an intrinsic meaning, for their isn't an intelligence that gave it meaning. We all must find our own meaning.

<Anne>: I think it has more to do with formulating a successful living plan for day-to-day mood control and ability to handle what comes up.

Scott: Anne: it seems to me that asking "is the universe meaningful?" is taking a human question and applying it to things. What is meaningful for me is paying bills, setting the alarm clock, drinking a glass of wine, relationships...but I could be wrong about it- change my mind, decide that meaning is process, not a final product. How's that for mumbo jumbo?

Lou: Devora, if you care about something then you can find others who care too.

Devora: I am not suggesting that I have a problem. I was offering a solution.

<Anne>: I think the questions about meaningfulness are rather meaningless. What we need is a "memeplex" that does for us what religion does in terms of mood control and direction.

Massimo: Oh, oh, Anne has used the m-word! ;-)

Chris_O'Connor: Great point Scott. To ask the meaning of life is like asking the meaning of an orange. Yes, you can talk of the oranges characteristics, but the orange doesn't have a "meaning.." An orange "is."

Delusional Dale: Question for the queue: Of disorders like neurosis, psychosis, character disorders, depression, addiction etc ..... Which ones are most fruitfully addressed by philosophical counseling?

Massimo: Lou, I have read that scathing letter the Sunday Times published against philosophical counseling. Would you care to comment for the group?

Devora: Let’s not get so subjective that we cant communicate...THAT’S depressing.

Scott: Anne: I don't know. Life seems good enough to live. I don't have a flip side to compare. Not everything is an experiment. ;)

<Anne>: Yes, Lou, who is helped by phil counseling?

Skeptyk: I think that a philosophical counselor may be uniquely suited to rationalists, but not exclusive to, of course. More cognitive therapy, more here and now as adults and individuals, than much conventional therapy.

Lou: I agree that moving on is sometimes a solution. At other times, engagement can be a solution too.

<Anne>: Lou, can phil counseling help bereaved people?

Devora: please tell me I am not in a room full of people that define their identity by their membership in mensa.

Lou: Massimo: you are referring to Roger Scruton's uninformed polemic? The APPA website, and my new book, both contain replies.

Massimo: Lou, thanks, but what is your response to the accusation of sophistry? Yesterday Devora came up with a good way to distinguish philo-counseling from sophistry.

Lou: Massimo: my reply to Scruton is that *he* is the sophist. He levies criticism at works he has not read, and at people he does not know.

Massimo: Lou, yes, I agree. Devora's distinction was that a sophist is somebody who gets paid in order to teach rhetorical tricks (essentially, a proto-lawyer ;-) while counseling is about helping somebody figure out their philosophy and get out of a particular problem they have.

Lou: Massimo, Devora: Yes, one meaning of sophistry is defending absolutely any view in exchange for money. That is essentially what some (too many?) lawyers do. On the other hand, helping a client develop a sophisticated view of things which is helpful in difficult times is sophism, not sophistry.

Scott: chris: there seems to be a lot of "is"ness. Asking what it means is a latent response.

Stefan: I don't belong to mensa.

Devora: The use of philosophical counseling is not only for the intellectually developed.

Chris_O'Connor: I think Mensa isn't a shining example of an intellectual atmosphere. My understanding is they have astrology groups, amongst other pseudoscience groups.

Lou: Anne: of course pc can help with bereavement. The philosophy of suffering through attachment, and release through letting go of attachment, is ancient.

<Anne>: Lou, are you talking Buddhism?

Devora: One would hope that philosophical counseling could broaden the scope of those who don’t always find a use in philosophical ruminations.

Chris_O'Connor: That’s Buddhism all right.

Lou: Anne: Buddhism, Hinduism, Stoicism, and Taoism all treat this subject.

Skeptyk: Yeccch, Devora. I hope no one defines themselves on such slim identity. I am not a member of mensa, not much of a joiner, and I think that says something about my attraction to the idea of Phil Counsel.

Massimo: I agree with Devora: phil-counseling is not just for egg-headed intellectuals, though this group might be made mostly of those. ;-)

Devora: I was being overly sarcastic. I apologize.

Scott: for me, the problems of philosophy are therapy. Just working on them is to explore self, reality, others, etc.

<Anne>: How does phil counsel deal with emotional distress?

Chris_O'Connor: Can we get some insight into a sample dialogue between a phil counselor and client?

Devora: My point is that we need to address the larger applicability of philosophical counseling.

Stefan: Suppose your problem is that you can't stand your job, but can't see how to quit. How can phil. counseling help?

Skeptyk: I recall James Hillman saying c=something about a psychotherapist who lamented that because of his profession he could not grow into his eccentricity. The few chapters I read of Lou's book last month was giving me hope that here was some help for folks who want to, and will, grow into their uniqueness, their eccentricity. Lou?

Massimo: Stefan, I'm sure Lou will address your question directly, but his book does in fact contain a good example of a client who had exactly the sort of problem you are referring to.

Stefan: Sorry, didn't get to read the book. :(

Devora: As a grad student in philosophy I have been very interested in the possibility of getting into counseling, but I am uncertain how one gets the proper training and start.

Lou: Stefan: sometimes you need to know what you want freedom to do, not just freedom from doing.

Stefan: OK, Lou.

Massimo: Stefan, reading the book ain't mandatory to come to the chats. But you might want to read it afterwards. Lou suggests that counseling can often be summarized in five steps, the last two of which are particularly important to address your question.

Phil: I agree with Anne that a mechanism for dealing with a problem is as important (or perhaps even more so) than an understanding of the problem.

Lou: Devora: The APPA trains philosophical practitioners. You need an MA, ABD or PhD in Philosophy to take our training.

Massimo: Phil, yes, but don't you think that the two are related (mechanism and understanding)?

Phil: Not necessarily.

Chris_O'Connor: Wouldn't you wish to understand a problem so that you can develop a mechanism for dealing with it?

Devora: What does the training consist of and how long does it last? Additionally, what do you say to those who claim that you are overstepping your authority by dabbling in such important medical affairs?

Massimo: Stefan, all, the process Lou refers to in his book consists of the following phases: identify the problem, recognize and account for the emotions provoked by the problem, analyze the available options, contemplate (philosophically) the situation by taking a step back and looking at the big picture and finally reach an equilibrium and take appropriate action.

Stefan: Thanks, Massimo. This reminds me a little of psychological therapy, actually.

Massimo: Lou, the last part of Devora's question came up often last night when we were discussing your book in person. The problem is: how do you know if you have to refer a client to another type of professional? Does the APPA offer training on that aspect?

<Anne>: I'm curious if you use the models of Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence") or Michally Czenmichell(czech name) "Flow". I don't know how Plato...

Skeptyk: Do you expect your certified counselors to have not only the ethics but the means to do appropriate referrals? Echoing Devora's query, too?

Chris_O'Connor: Taking a step back and seeing things as objectively as possibly is a crucial step.

Lou: Devora: the primary training is three intensive days. You can find a syllabus on our website: www.appa.edu --> programs.

Phil: 3 DAYS!!!

Massimo: Stefan, right, except that the last two steps tend to be more philosophical than psychological.

<Anne>: What does Plato have to do with counseling?

Lou: We define a scope of philosophical practice. Clients with problems lying outside that scope get referred.

Stefan: Yes, Massimo. But I think the differences are shades of grey rather than distinct.

Chris_O'Connor: Ah...that probably helps Lou.

Chris_O'Connor: So explain the scope for us...what is off limits?

Stefan, yes, there are shades of grey here. My understanding (and I'm only a graduate student in philosophy) is that the last two steps require a serious discussion of philosophy. Which philosophy depends both on the situation and on the subject.

Lou: Those of you who really want to delve into the intricacies of distinguishing among philosophy, psychology and psychiatry should read my new book: Philosophical Practice (Academic Press, NY, 2001).

Stefan: OK, I see.

Devora: How do you determine who lies outside your scope, and is there communication between the psycho- community and your organization? I am not trying to question the value of the counseling, but I am trying to understand your responses to common objections.

Chris_O'Connor: That’s basically what I'm asking too

<Anne>: Me also.

Chris_O'Connor: Anyone else?

Lou: Devora: Good candidates for PC are rational, functional, and able to carry on an intelligible conversation without exhibiting too much emotional or behavioral distress.

<Anne>: Spock-like people?

Stefan: Lou, isn't that true for the other PC, Psych. Counseling?

Massimo: As Dale put it yesterday, if the client talks to the ashtray, he probably needs referral to a doctor.

Chris_O'Connor: The I wouldn't be a candidate. I'm fairly emotional. I guess in formal debates and discussions I can control it, but otherwise...

Phil: Being "functional" eliminates many of the cases that surely should be referred to psychological counseling.

Chris_O'Connor: Yes, talking to an ashtray is a red flag for sure.

Lou: Phil: That's right: many psychologists are doing philosophy (badly!)

Devora: Does the PC community find it necessary or beneficial to be schooled in traditional psychology and psychotherapy, or is the idea a rejection of traditional psychotherapy?

Shawn: Forgive me for joining late...I'm wondering what are the criteria for successful PC? Also, seems to me that there is philosophy built into all 5 steps of the process - i.e. your view of philosophy influences what you identify as the problem, etc.

Chris_O'Connor: But at least the ashtray is really there.

Massimo: Despite the title of his book, Lou explains at the beginning of it that if your mind is not quite together you might actually need Prozac *before* philo-counseling.

Lou: Chris: there is a difference between expressing emotion in a dialogue, and being so emotionally overwrought that one cannot enter into a dialogue.

Devora: Not to say that any PC wouldn’t easily agree that if an individual believes that psychotherapy is good they ought to try it.

Chris_O'Connor: True Lou.

Lou: Devora: Right. One should try many things!

Chris_O'Connor: Devora asked a great question.

Massimo: Shawn, yes you are right, philosophy does enter into all five phases of the process, I just meant that its contribution is most obvious toward the end.

Devora: Not a rejection of psychiatry...of psychotherapy specifically.

Matthew: Lou, what makes you suppose that Plato or any other ancient philosopher is better than modern therapeutic technique, how do you test?

Skeptyk: Lou, is it just that in the time and structure of the counseling session (if it is done that way) there is an expectation working with a decorum that actually aids the work? Keeping you in your head, so to speak, because your head is where you live with the rest of your body and life.

Massimo: I am personally rather skeptical of psychotherapy, especially the Freudian variety, given that most of Freud's theories have gone the way of the phlogiston.

Chris_O'Connor: What in tarnation is a phlogiston?

<Anne>: The stuff that makes stuff burn (I think).

Devora: Just a little mistake that’s all.

Lou: Devora: You really should read Plato Not Prozac, because it describes cases in which philosophy is more appropriate and helpful than psychology or psychiatry. Each has its place, but philosophy neglected its own place during most of the 20th century. Now it is re-assuming its responsibilities.

Massimo: Chris, sorry. Phlogiston was a hypothetical substance people believed left metals when they rust. Instead, as you know, it's oxygen that enters them.

Matthew: Max, have you read V. Ramachandran? he partially resurrects Freud on neurological basis.

Massimo: Matthew, yes, I've read Ramachandran, but the part of that book that convinced me the least was his re-interpretation of Freud.

Devora: I apologize for coming unprepared.

Massimo: Devora, no apologies necessary, this is a friendly discussion.

<Anne>: Uh- Massimo, did phlogiston have something to do with burning?

Massimo: Anne, yes, phlogiston was also used to explain burning -- which is also a matter of oxygen instead.

Chris_O'Connor: I'll have to out that book on my amazon.com wish list Lou.

Devora: It was the explanation for why flames went out when you put a glass over them, I believe...

Chris_O'Connor: Are any of you into Ayn Rand’s Objectivism?

Shawn: Again, sorry I haven't read your book Lou. :) Seems that your concept of PC is basically Socratic and I'm wondering how you see it relating to another "philosophical movement", the Socrates Cafes, started by Christopher Phillips.

Massimo: I am not, but I noticed that Lou used her in a couple of cases. Lou, what do you think of Rand's approach?

Chris_O'Connor: I'm dying to hear this.

Massimo: Shawn, good question. Lou, you got a couple of things on your plate: Socrates cafe` and Ayn Rand. Take your time.

Lou: Shawn: Philips didn't start this! He learned from Mark Sautet in Paris. I have been running a cafe in New York for five years, and it's a great experience.

Chris_O'Connor: I accept 3 of her 4 main principles...the 4th, Laissez Faire Capitalism as the best form of govt. has me uncomfy.

Massimo: Chris, what are the other three? Refresh my memory.

Chris_O'Connor: The first is Objective reality, 2nd is Reason, 3rd is Rational Self Interest.

Devora: Rand seems a bad paradigm for the understanding and accepting ideal that any counselor ought to aspire to.

Matthew: : Lou, what makes you suppose that Plato or any other ancient philosopher is better than modern therapeutic technique, how do you test?

Massimo: Matthew, I'm not sure Lou will get to your question, but reading his book it seems to me that the question does not really apply. It's not that Plato is better than Freud, but rather that phil-counseling uses a whole different approach, with different goals, from psychological therapy.

Massimo: Yes, I guess I would go for them too, it's the fourth one that almost made me throw one of her books in the sea.

Skeptyk: I read a novel in which a character described Ayn Rand's doorstop novel as "a sort of Das Kapital for capitalists with car chases and heavy petting'

Scott: skept: funny.

Chris_O'Connor: Rand says reality is reality, independent of mans thoughts, whims, desires or fears = "Objective Reality Principle."

Lou: Please understand that "philosophical practice" means working philosophically with individuals, groups and organizations. Counseling individual clients get a lot of media attention (because it appears to compete with psychology and psychiatry), but in fact philosophy has many more uses than that.

<Anne>: Can philosophy help ordinary people in their ordinary every-day lives?

Massimo: Anne, everybody has a philosophy, that they have thought it out or not, so counseling can at least help you think through the philosophy you already had. In true Socratic fashion.

Lou: Philosophers can also work with corporations and governments. These are more advanced forms of practice. Most of us started out as counselors, and worked our way into more complicated settings.

Chris_O'Connor: Ayn Rand was brilliant I believe, but she came from Russia, and was therefore extremely opposed to socialistic ideas. She took it to an extreme and asserted that the best form of government is complete 100% Laissez Faire Cap

Massimo: Chris, yes, her origins might explain her reaction. But I still don't like it. ;-)

Phil: But sometimes, Massimo, one's philosophy is precisely the problem ...

Massimo: Phil, how so?

Devora: Are you saying that Rand is an appropriate example of a PC? She certainly analyzed, planned and fictionally implemented a plan for a bettered society, but I would think that ethics communities might want to shy away from an objectivist bent in consulting.

Massimo: Devora, here here!

Matthew: Massimo, the thing I would like to know is what makes him think that the one would be better than the other, and how he would know this.

Lou: On the Ayn Rand question: yes, of course some of her Objectivist ideas are useful in counseling. As a romantic capitalist, she appeals to certain people at certain stages. A good friend of mine, Alex Howard, just published a book in which he illustrates how the ideas of about 100 different philosophers can be useful in counseling.

Chris_O'Connor: I don't either....at least not her idea about government. But I cannot argue with her other 3 main principles.

Delusional Dale: Massimo: It sounds like you are saying that PC is most appropriate for those with Philosophical 'illnesses.'

Lou: ...100 different philosophers can be used in counseling.

Chris_O'Connor: That’s a good point Lou. It seems that helpful philosophical ideas can come from many places...not just one.

Phil: So, Lou, do you pick the philosopher that "makes the problem go away?"

Chris_O'Connor: I like that.

Massimo: Matthew, again it's not a question of better or worse, but of what the problem is. As Lou says in the book, if you have a chemical imbalance in the brain, go to a psychiatrist; if you have to deal with emotional repression, go to the psychologist; if your problem requires a rational solution and an overall detached view, go to philo-counseling.

<Anne>: What's an example of such a problem?

Phil: Good question, Anne!

Devora: You can find something useful in nearly any philosophy, and certainly by combining philosophies and determining the particular aspects of each that might help an organization or individual you would use a variety of approaches, but is there perhaps an opinion here for an ethic of philosophical counseling?

Massimo: Anne, Phil, one such problem might be an ethical dilemma.

Chris_O'Connor: Exactly Massimo. And if your problem stems from, oh lets say depression or low self esteem, dig into the philosophies of those who addressed these points in their works.

Matthew: Massimo, I am just trying to establish some epistemological grounds.

Chris_O'Connor: Better example Massimo...sorry, I had a brain freeze.

Massimo: Chris, right. I doubt a psychologist can help you find meaning in life, but it seems like a lot of philosophers have thought about that problem.

Lou: Devora: The APPA is pioneering a profession, and of course we have a code of professional ethics! You can also find that at our website.

Matthew: actually an ethical dilemma would be a great example.

Chris_O'Connor: Exactly Massimo. In fact, I get all of my "soul nurturing" from the philosophers who addressed the big questions.

Massimo: Right, let me give you an example that has affected my life directly...

Matthew: my comment is that I would like to see a philosopher in every court and at all board meetings 8^).

Massimo: My wife and I felt increasingly uncomfortable about being environmentally conscious and yet owning a big house, two cars, commuting a fair distance etc. Then we read one of Peter Singer's books. Even though we didn't agree with everything in there, he made very clear the source of our problem...

Chris_O'Connor: And what was that Massimo?

Massimo: We went ahead, sold the house and one car and moved downtown. We are much happier! Talking about practical philosophy!!

Massimo: Thanks everyone, and especially Lou. The transcripts (somewhat polished) of this session will be available soon at www.rationalists.org.

Lou: You're all welcome. It's been furiously active but fun. The APPA website is www.appa.edu.

Lou: Yes, thanks to Massimo for facilitating this!

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