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Review of "Philosophy for Counselling and Psychotherapy"

By Alex Howard
Palgrave, 2000
Review by Elson H. Bihm on Mar 31st 2001
Philosophy for Counselling and PsychotherapyPhilosophy for Counseling and Psychotherapy: Pythagoras to Postmodernism is a unique blend of philosophy and psychology. As a text, it should be of interest to psychology and counseling students wanting to apply philosophical ideas to their subject matter. To philosophy students it proposes practical applications of age-old principles. The book will also appeal to practitioners in the helping professions interested in philosophical issues, for many counselors and therapists are interested in exploring the broader implications of their work. Few scholarly or trade books attempt to integrate such a broad range of philosophical ideas and psychological issues, and the book is, therefore, sui generis.

In 380 pages, the book examines more than 32 major philosophers. The author is adept at presenting on-target summaries of the basic concepts of each philosopher. The "greats" are here: Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger. To his credit, Howard does not neglect some of the lesser-knowns who have something important to say -- for example, Heraclitus and Bentham. Each chapter is well organized, proceeding from a list of key points to suggestions for applications. Following the traditional exposition, there is a list of questions and exercises that require the reader or student to consider the possible role of philosophical concepts in counseling and psychotherapy. Following the conclusion of each chapter, the author provides a list of relevant web sites (an excellent resource) and a bibliography of suggested readings. Howard displays a sure grasp of philosophy and an impressive ability to get to the heart of the matter in each chapter.
In psychology, theorists should reconsider many of the issues suggested by philosophy. Although many university programs in psychology require a course in the History of Psychology, which is traditionally more about old philosophers than old psychologists, contemporary psychology has forgotten its debt to philosophy. There is even less emphasis on philosophy in counseling programs. However, a reconstruction of psychology and counseling from the perspective of philosophy is needed, and this text offers many tools and materials for such an endeavor.

Within the profession of philosophy there is a movement to develop "philosophical counseling." Alex Howard appears to be part of this movement, and he provides many resources, web pages, and organizational contacts in this regard (e.g., the Society of Consultant Philosophers, the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, and the International Society for Philosophical Practice). One would hope that such organizations make use of the vast practical literature from psychology, psychotherapy, and counseling and acknowledge the many empirically-validated treatments these professions have developed. These professions are not as intellectually bankrupt nor as trivial as he might suggest. Further, one would hope that philosophers do not neglect the many ethical and legal issues that are at the foundation of the helping professions.

Philosophy for Counselling and Psychotherapy has a few other shortcomings that may appear as deformities to some (particularly academic psychologists and counselors). Howard slights the many successes of counselors and psychotherapists, and he only mentions two approaches, the client-centered approach of Carl Rogers and cognitive therapy. For example, he does not acknowledge the existential therapy movement of Boss and Binswanger. He repeats again and again the shibboleth that counseling and psychotherapy are vastly inferior to approaches based solely on the great works of philosophy. For this reason, many teachers of psychology or counseling may be hesitant to adopt this book, although programs in philosophical counseling may see this as a strength. Some of the chapters are a bit rambling, and some of the essay questions and exercises are a bit contrived. Finally, there was no section on the American Philosophical movement, pragmatism, the philosophy of Peirce, James, and Dewey. Pragmatists did not neglect philosophical issues, and their approach has the potential to integrate disparate approaches and content. Recent pragmatists such as Rorty and Quine deserve mention.

The book, whether read for learning or for pleasure (it is capable of facilitating both), makes a unique contribution to psychotherapy, counseling, and philosophical counseling. One hopes that books like this encourage the scholar in philosophy and the scholar in psychology (or counseling) to consider the perspective of the other.

© Elson Bihm, 2001.

Elson M. Bihm is an associate professor at the University of Central Arkansas. He received his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Texas Tech University (TTU) in 1982 and has been employed at the Research and Training Center in Mental Retardation at TTU, the Acadiana Mental Health Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the Conway Human Development Center in Conway, Arkansas. Among his published papers are those in the Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, and the American Journal on Mental Retardation. His professional interests are in the fields of counseling psychology, pragmatism, and behavior analysis.

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