What is Philosophical Counseling

The last decades have seen much press on a more-or-less new approach in the field of life counseling. Over the years, Philosophical Counseling has become a global movement with different schools of thought, and resulting different approaches.

But what exactly is Philosophical Counseling, and how is it different from all those other forms of counseling out there?
(This article is long overdue, and it’s actually astonishingly difficult to write – because Philosophical Counseling may be defined differently, depending on the philosopher you ask.)

1. All of Us Are Philosophers. It’s Inevitable.

I’m finding that most questions on Philosophical Counseling stem from a confusion of what philosophy itself actually is.
Some people seem to think that philosophy is the pondering of questions regular mortals find hard to understand.
Others believe philosophy is a meandering conversation about – vaguely – the meaning of life (or whatever.)
And some even find that philosophy means mostly talking about philosophers and their books.
All these understandings essentially render philosophy a mostly pointless endeavor, simultaneously tiring and unnecessary to pay any attention to.
And that’s a shame.

The Greek word “Philosophy” translates to “love of wisdom or knowledge.” Some famous person said “If you reject philosophy, that’s you philosophizing.” You may not be the contemplative, musing type – but philosophy is inevitable.

It’s how we decide to live our lives. It’s the assumptions we make, the conclusions we draw. It’s the bones of our thought processes, and our resulting emotional well-being (or lack thereof.) You cannot not think.. so you might as well think well.

2. And So, Philosophy Is Kind of the Shortcut to Change

Philosophy focuses on thought and thinking itself. It’s not about what we think, but how we think.

Before we can do or change anything about ourselves or the world around us, we first need to gain clarity on what our beliefs are about that which we wish to do or change.
Know the saying “Where attention goes, energy flows?” It’s exactly that. First we align the mind with itself, then we watch everything else rearrange itself.. almost effortlessly.

Change – transforming or improving oneself, self-growth – has become a huge, huge market in the 20th and early 21st century. We saw the rise of several different kinds of psychotherapy.
Then, New Age gifted us various meditation schools and gurus.
Today, we have life coaches, motivational speakers, and teachers offering a vast array of different self-improvement techniques and systems.

Is Philosophical Counseling just another fad to add to the pile? I say no:

  • At its best, philosophy is free of BS. It’s concise and clear. It’s self-evident, transparent, and (thus) liberating. All you need is your own mind and the will to awareness.
  • The goal of philosophy is to get you to use your own mind. Therefore, it is necessarily opposed to selling you on special courses to teach you Elusive Skills Level I-III you never knew you needed.
  • Following this goal of encouraging critical thinking, Philosophical Counseling does not use any mind tricks to get you to think somebody else has the answer to your question.
  • Philosophy and its teachings are timeless and non-proprietary. Most everything we see out there in today’s self-improvement market was once in essence thought up by a philosopher. But as the market’s solution to life challenges changes along with the rise and fall of other fashions, philosophy remains quietly open to everyone.
  • Philosophical Counseling is unbiased and will not push you into any specific mode of thinking, feeling, or acting.

But the biggest difference: Philosophical Counseling is, in my own experience, the fastest way to lasting change. Instead of distracting you from the issue with short-lived feel-better approaches, or confusing you even further by adding more drama to the situation than you were aware of, it actually aims at making itself superfluous by getting you where you want or need to be as quickly as possible.

Ideally, just one session will create a first feeling of clarity in you about your situation, a sense of confidence that you are, in fact, capable and more than well-equipped to handle whatever you’ve been given, and a point from which to start.

3. The Art of Knowledge

And here is the starting point I want to give you with this article: All knowledge begins with self-knowledge.

If we don’t know ourselves, why we believe the things we believe, how we justify our choices, where we stand in the grand scheme of the universe, then there is no way of knowing anything. It doesn’t matter how many facts you amass through ravenous TED talk consumption or magazine subscriptions – you are lacking the context necessary for creating the understanding you are looking for.

Knowing yourself is not an exact science. It’s creative. It’s unorthodox. It’s readily available to you in all of your interactions and endeavors. It’s an art.

And knowing yourself is the art that is Philosophical Counseling.

Its methods and techniques are numerous, and its style depends on the practitioner you choose, but the goal is the same: To get you to really know yourself – to understand where you come from, where you are now and which way you are going. To unearth how your beliefs work together to create your world view, or your feelings towards others. And to liberate you from whichever limits you’ve been imagining or accepting. So you can finally start making sense of all that chaos around you.

And since monologues are rarely fruitful, and we are just starting out with this series, let’s hear your questions. What is it that you want to know about Philosophical Counseling?

Send me your thoughts, questions, confusions, wonderings, experiences, challenges, and ideas – leave a comment here or email me! I will make sure to address them in the articles to come.


Vesna Westbrook, MA, CPC, is a certified Philosophical Counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She maintains a private practice in Marin County.