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The Power of PhilosophyWhat is Philosophical Consultation?
Online ConsultationThe PEACE Process
But isn't philosophy dry?Philosophy and Psychotherapy
Code of EthicsFAQ
The Power of Philosophy
Do you experience anomie, anxiety, confusion, mystification, ethical dilemmas, conflicts of values? Are you looking into issues of belief and knowledge? Do you feel tension between mind and heart, or ethical tension in the workplace? Are you feeling the loss of love, unease in relationships, questions about sexuality, marriage and family?
Are you searching for meaning in life, seeking self-knowledge, inner peace? Are you investigating personal identity, or contemplating issues related to the nature of reality, God, spirituality?
Whether the question is large or small, cosmic or pragmatic, philosophy is one of the world's most powerful tools. Philosophy can solve decision problems, pacify the experience of ethical and existential tensions, and provide peace of mind.
Pursued wholeheartedly, philosophy serves you by calling forth clarity and insight that live as your own experience.
And often it helps to articulate these issues, bounce them off another person. The role of the philosophical counselor is to facilitate your examination. By their disposition and training, philosophers are particularly well suited to assist in this kind of clarification, to make explicit what lay beneath the surface.
"At the center of your being you have the answer;
you know who you are and you know what you want."
—Lao-tzu
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What is Philosophical Consultation?
It is also known as:
  • practical philosophy
  • philosophical consultation
  • therapeutic philosophy
  • "therapy of the soul" (Epicurus)
  • "The world's second oldest profession" (Lou Marinoff)
Philosophical consultation is the engaging, therapeutic form of dialog used by many of the world's great and ancient sages, such as Socrates, Epicurus, Confucius, and Buddha. The goal is to "know thyself" and to experience relief from human suffering. It examines the meaning of life, the nature of the self, experience and happiness. It clarifies values and attitudes. It scrutinizes unspoken assumptions, and brings to light what was murky or implicit. It is intellectual and experiential. It yields peace and contentment.
You can find bits of philosophical dialog in many different contexts, from psychotherapy to legal, medical, and spiritual counsel. Teachers from the Eastern traditions, including the Dalai Lama, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and many others, have used philosophy extensively in self-inquiry and to relieve suffering. And philosophy even happens at neighborhood bars and pubs.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, philosophical consultation re-emerged as its own profession, practiced by trained philosophers. In 1999 it burst onto the popular scene with Lou Marinoff's book, Plato Not Prozac!. And now in the twenty-first century, it thrives in Canada, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, Venezuela, and the U.S.A. It's gathering steam in other European countries, Egypt, and Latin America.
Nowadays, the profession of philosophical consultation is conducted in Socratic dialogs, on the Internet, in "cafes philos," in restaurants, in corporate and organizational settings, and as a private practice.
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But isn't philosophy dry and academic?
This reputation comes from the way philosophy has often been conducted at certain universities in the U.S. and U.K. But this dry, detached approach is pretty much an early- and mid-twentieth-century Anglo-American phenomenon, where some university philosophy departments wanted to model themselves upon the prestige and methods of the physical science departments. Physics envy inspired philosophers to go for detached objectivity, not passionate engagement with ideas. Academic philosophers came to specialize so much and speak such a technical language that the audience for the average academic journal article in analytic philosophy was down to about a dozen people worldwide.
It wasn't always like this. Philosophy has a long tradition as a therapeutic enterprise. Epicurus (341-270 BCE) characterized philosophy as "therapy of the soul" and saw philosophy as empty if it doesn't relieve any human suffering. Boethius (480-524) wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while imprisoned under conditions of torture and impending execution.
And many of the world's great Western and Eastern philosophers have seen philosophy primarily as therapeutic. They include George Berkeley, Boethius, Martin Buber, John Dewey, Buddha, Simone De Beauvoir, Ecclesiastes, Epictetus, Epicurus, Heraclitus, Krishna Menon, Lao Tzu, John Stuart Mill, Nagarjuna, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Protagoras, Ramana Maharshi, Shankara, Socrates, and Wittgenstein.
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Thinking and Feeling
Part of philosophy's reputation for irrelevance is based on the dichotomy between thinking and feeling. Something like, "Thinking is what you're taught to do in math and English class. Thinking might build bridges and fly airplanes, but feeling is where most of the juicy stuff is. It's where the problems and cures really are."
But under examination, the sharpness of this dichotomy starts to blur. Thinking and feeling are intermingled. It's as though they never occur totally apart from each other. An experience that occurs whole is later analyzed. Upon analysis, various aspects are distinguished from each other. Feeling, thinking, evaluating, remembering and other mentations are abstracted out and distinguished.
Not only are feeling and thinking intermingled in experience, they relate in many other ways. We can think about feelings. We can have feelings about thoughts. Thinking can be required for feeling to happen: for a person to identify the current experience as a feeling (or as, say, anger), some conceptual thinking is required. Vice versa as well. Feeling can be required for thinking: in order for thought about means and ends to begin, feeling is required, such as the desire to achieve a goal.
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Causing Each Other
One's feelings can condition a change in thinking. Everyone knows the old saw of going to court for a traffic ticket. You hope the judge didn't get in a fight at home that morning before sitting your case!
The reverse is also true. A change in thinking can trigger a change in feeling. The Empty Boat story in Zen tells of a man lying peacefully in a rowboat on a placid lake. He's floating along looking up at the clouds. All of a sudden, he feels a THUD and hears a CRASH! As he begins to look over the rail, he sees the boat that hit him and starts to get angry at the other person. "What the !@#%^&? Who ran into me?" As he looks closer, he sees that it's another rowboat. But looking further, he sees that no one is in it, and that it's just drifting along, empty. Immediately his anger and sense of indignation vanish.
In short, feeling and thinking intermingle. They affect each other. There is a clear and definite portal to the feelings through philosophy.
Philosophy's ivory-tower insularity is changing as well. There have been advanced degrees given on the topic of philosphical consultation. And university departments have taken notice that philosophy is being conducted quite successfully outside the academy. Many of today's philosphical counselors in private practice also work at universities. I suspect that an university department for Philosophical Consultation isn't far away.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the twentieth century's most influential academic philosopher, was extremely passionate about philosophy. His approach was practical and therapeutic. He saw philosophy as a way of untangling the knots created by our thought and language. He asked,
"What is the use of studying philosophy if all it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions in logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?"

— Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Online Consultation
People are busier and more accustomed to electronic media than ever before. We use the computer for virtually every aspect of life, from banking and the weather to real estate, shopping, news and entertainment. People feel more comfortable online, and computers have changed the speed of life.
Surprisingly Effective
I've been doing online consultation since 1996. This method of dialog is more effective than, say, five years ago. It's a result of the general trend of greater comfort with online media. Not only have I witnessed this trend myself, but as a member of the International Society for Mental Health Online (founded in 1997), I have seen the studies and reports from other practitioners. E-mail is being taken ever more seriously as a medium of interaction. It is losing its reputation as a totally impersonal throwaway medium.
Advantages
There are even a few possible advantages to online consultation over face-to-face sessions:
  • Flexibility — You can be in transit, or anywhere on earth with an internet hookup.
  • Convenience — You can take your time thinking about how to say something. This allows thoughts to gather and feelings to settle.
  • Privacy — You can express yourself without the sense of being watched.
  • Review — You can save the transcript to review what was discussed.
  • Economy — There might be savings over telephoning or traveling.
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Code of Ethics
My practice follows the code of professional ethics drafted by the American Philosphical Practitioners Association (APPA). Analogous to the physician's Hippocratic Oath, it begins with the canon that states, "Philosophical practitioners will, above all, endeavor to do no harm," and continues from there. APPA's code of ethics is here: www.appa.edu/code.htm.
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The PEACE Process
The process of philosophical insight applied to life's problems often happens in a similar way, whether you do it on your own or with the help of a trained philosopher. The process can be summarized in steps. One neat scheme was given by Lou Marinoff in Plato Not Prozac. He called the scheme "The PEACE Process." Though he meant it as a method for conducting philosophical consultation (one among many), I adapt it here as a description. That is, regardless of the method, I have found that philosophical inquiry applied to personal problems tends to pass through transitions that can be likened to stages. I have see this with many clients, regardless whether the dialog is Western, Eastern, rigid or relaxed. If divided into 5 stages, they would be:

PProblem — identify the problem, such as a romantic breakup. The counselor enters the picture at some time after this point.
EEmotions — take stock of the emotions you are experiencing, such as grief, anger, resentment, insecurity, etc.
AAlternatives — enumerate the alternatives to consider in search of a resolution. The alternatives can include decisions for actions to take, as well as for inner work. Inner work can include:
CContemplation — this is actually the heart of the philosophical approach. It is where much of the consultation dialog takes place. The result may be a philosophical position that yields:
EEquilibrium — this is the peace of mind that dawns with insight into the roots of the issue.
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Philosophy and Psychotherapy
Whether a given dialog constitutes psychotherapy or philosophy is a matter of degree, in the same way that the color orange flows into red. Often the line between them is thought to parallel the line between feeling and thinking. But just as feeling and thinking are intermingled, the distinction between psychotherapy and philosophy is very blurry. There are therapies (such as cognitive or rational-emotive) that are quite philosophical. And there are philosophies (like existentialism or nondual self-inquiry) that fully involve the emotional and physical apects of the person. But in their stereotypical extremes, here are some way in which the two forms of dialog been known to differ:
PsychotherapyPhilosophical Consultation
Based on medical modelBased on peer model
Patient-to-doctor interactionConsultee-to-consultant interaction
Diagnosis is usedNo diagnosis
Patient is sickConsultee has questions
Problem to be fixedProblem to be understood
Emotion and affect are keyCognition is key
Goal is to change one's feelingsGoal is to understand a situation
Goes into personal historyGoes into present evidence
Patient is passive, therapist is activeConsultee takes active role in investigating issues
Readings usually not givenReadings sometimes given
Usually does not involve educationCan involve education
Talks about the things that psychotherapists talk aboutTalks about the things that philosophers talk about

But these are extreme differences. A safe way to characterize the difference is this — if the dialog is with a trained therapist, it's psychotherapy. If it's with a trained philosopher, it's philosophical consultation!
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F A Q

Q:
But I never studied philosophy!
A:
Not needed. Your intuition and common sense are enough. My approach is down-to-earth and practical, meeting you where you are. No bookish talk or ivory-tower concepts are needed to look into the issues of life.

Q:
Do you give me the answers?
A:
No, it's not like school or an SAT prep course. You actually bring the ideas with you - perhaps some of them are unexamined. You might feel confusion or conflict among them. My role as a philosophical counselor is like that of a midwife, giving light to the implicit assumptions and unarticulated ideas you already operate with, and finding ways to make peace among them.

Q:
Do I have to read anything?
A:
No, reading is never required. From the beginning, philosophy was an oral discourse. But that's not to say that it never happens. There can be times when you might actually want to investigate certain approaches more fully. And as we talk, we might discover that your own approach is like that of a famous philosopher or other writer. It might be exciting to read.

Q:
Can philosophical consultation be done over the phone? Via e-mail?
A:
Yes it can, actually! Face to face dialog is the most impactful, telephone is the next best, and e-mail is the least direct. I'm based in New York City. But over the years, I've worked with many people in other states in the U.S., and other countries. These days, online consultation is more accepted and more effective as people become more accustomed to electronic media (and they are busier too). Some surprising studies have been conducted by the International Society for Mental Health Online. In particular, see the article entitled "Myths and Realities of Online Clinical Work," by Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.
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Q:
My issue isn't philosophical. I just don't like the way I'm feeling.
A:
This is where energy healing and Thought-Field Therapy come into the picture. These new forms of healing are remarkably effective in dealing with stress, anxiety, rage and anger, fear, depression, addictive urges, and other distressing feelings.

Q:
But how do the energy healing methods work?
A:
At the present, they are in the experimental stage and have not been clinically tested. They have not been accepted or adopted by the American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association. They have even been written up as pseudoscience. The skeptical debunking has focused on the marketing hype and lack of clinical testing surrounding these methods; and this is true! But it is interesting that the same debunking has not revealed anything like a falsification of results or a proven lack of success relating to the treatments.

I have used Thought-Field Therapy with great success for people needing help with the feelings of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and depression. Shad Meshad, President of the National Veterans Foundation, says "What's fascinating about TFT is that it's quick and painless, and that its success rate is almost unheard of."

Q:
How much does all this cost?
A:
Inquiry should not be a financial burden. I follow the practices of the American Philosophical Association in using a sliding scale for fees. The fee is a tiny proportion of one's household income. Consultation can be in person, over the telephone, or online. There are two kinds of online communication. (1) Chatting or instant-messaging using MSM or Yahoo instant messaging, and (2) e-mail. For exploratory and general questions there is no charge.

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Any questions?
For information or an appointment:
Dr. Greg Goode
37 East 28th Street, Suite 800
New York, NY 10016
212-686-8082
201-585-2881 (leave message any time)
greg@heartofnow.com

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