Saturday, October 11, 2008

Aristotle Will See You Now ($125, Please!)

Why do I have the impression that this movement was created by the board of directors of The Unemployed Philosophers Guild?

Life, as you may have heard, is difficult. Sometimes, all that's needed to pull us up is a good friend's ear. Or a therapist's chair. Or an hour in a spiritual place.

Or, perhaps you'd like an hour or two with Plato. A growing number of people, mostly in large cities, are paying professional philosophers, generally called "philosophical counselors," to help them think through life's challenges, from how to parent teenagers to how to love well and age gracefully.

"Most people have philosophical concerns, even if they cannot put them into philosophical terms," said Samuel Zinaich, past president of the American Society for Philosophy, Counseling and Psychotherapy and an associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University Calumet in Indiana.

Those concerns, he said, "can be as simple as how to raise children, how to have a good relationship with one's spouse, how to be a friend. These were all philosophical questions a long time ago that are being reintroduced."

In fact, while philosophical counseling is billed as the next big thing, the concept is as old as Aristotle. Ancient philosophers, Zinaich said, "were very concerned about how to live a right kind of life" -- mental health issues included. "The history of philosophy is 'How should we live? How do we live a life that is emotionally appropriate. . . ?'

More common in Europe [where support systems are even more rare].

Unfortunately, Minnesotans eager to sit at the feet of a modern Plato will have to wait. While philosophical counselors are abundant in Europe (Zinaich has an Israeli friend who makes her living as one), they're only slowly hanging up shingles in the United States. New York City, for example, has about two dozen philosophers certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA), said Andrew Fitz-Gibbon, an assistant professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Cortland.

The APPA lists one Minnesota member, but he said his practice is still in its infancy. (Don't despair: You might consider taking a philosophy course or reading one of the recommended books in the accompanying box.)

The dearth is largely the result of strict standards of practice established by the American medical establishment, Zinaich said. Although philosophers have advanced degrees and can be certified as "philosophical practitioners" by the APPA after a three-day training program, therapists are licensed by their respective states and must have far more extensive training in the assessment and treatment of complex issues, such as mental illness. . . .

Merging philosophies

Many professional thinkers [not surprisingly] believe, though, that there is room for everyone at the table as we try to discover the meaning of happiness or, at least, why we can't seem to throw anything away. The best practitioners draw insights from many disciplines, they say, including psychology, philosophy and religion.

If nothing else, musing philosophically makes for great conversation-starters about things that matter to us. Relationships, for example. "When you're younger, the foundation of relationships is based on pleasure," Zinaich said. "As you get older, the need for a deeper relationship emerges into something we'd call 'character friendships.' These are relationships based not on anything I can get from you, but instead on mutual support, affection and love to get through the tough times. . . ." StarTribune

One more modern fee-based innovation created after the disappearance of support systems furnished by God, saints, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, parishes, scouts leaders, etc. I wonder how well the ASPCP will do during our current economic upheaval?

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