Sara Ellenbogen, Ph.D, Philosophical Counseling

“The counselor is not a critic,
not even a constructive one,
rather is a guide who
awakens or instills in the
client the capacity
to philosophize for himself.”

—Lou Marinoff,
Philosophical Practice


Frequently Asked Questions

How is philosophical counseling different from psychotherapy?

You will find some overlap between psychology and philosophy. That is because psychologists have been borrowing ideas from philosophers for years. In general, however, psychology and philosophy address different dimensions of problems. Psychology will help you understand the causes for your beliefs, feelings, and behavior by looking at life experiences. By contrast, philosophy will help you understand the reasons you feel and behave as you do by looking at questions of meaning, justification, and value in your belief system. For example, suppose you are having marital problems. A session with a psychologist might focus on your feelings and beliefs about marriage resulting from your childhood experience of marriage in your family of origin. By contrast, a session with a philosopher might focus on reasons for and against the institution of marriage, your perspective on duties to the self and others (including children) in marriage, or your views about philosophical concepts—the nature of freedom, responsibility, love etc. Through philosophical dialogue your philosophy of life will be clarified and enriched.

How is philosophical counseling different from life coaching?

Again, you will find some overlap between life coaching and philosophical counseling. However, life coaches generally mentor and encourage clients in working toward their goals. Philosophical counselors understand that people are not always clear about what their goals are. They guide clients in clarifying what is important to them and in formulating goals.

If philosophical counseling focuses on reasoning and thinking, can it help me deal with my painful emotional life—i.e., with the anger, fear, and sadness that have led me to seek counseling?

Yes, absolutely. Philosophical counseling does not ignore feelings. But philosophical counselors hold that feelings spring from thoughts, and that when we identify, examine, and challenge these thoughts, the feelings pass or become easier to cope with. Fear and anger generally result from judgments we have made about ourselves or others and tend to lessen when we see those judgments as inaccurate or as presenting an incomplete picture of a situation. So while philosophical counselors acknowledge the importance of emotion to well-being, they see themselves as working on the root causes of emotion by focusing on clients’ reasoning processes.

Is philosophical counseling covered by medical insurance?

No, because philosophical counselors do not present themselves as treating illnesses., but rather as assisting people facing “life problems” or wrestling with issues such as meaning, vocation, creativity, spirituality, ethical decision making, etc. Philosophical counseling has been called “therapy for the sane”—clients who come for philosophical counseling are people who are of sound mind but whose thinking has become confused or riddled with self-defeating beliefs

What are the benefits of philosophical counseling?

Philosophical counseling cultivates independent thinking and encourages thoughtfulness; in doing so, it liberates us from entrenched habits of thinking and widens the range of perspectives that we can use in our thinking. This leads to greater understanding, self-awareness, and a feeling of equilibrium.

Do I need to have studied philosophy in order to benefit from philosophical counseling?

No, because counseling does not consist of theoretical discussions of philosophy, but rather of discussions about specific issues, questions, or problems. All you need is your ability to reason. My approach is practical, meeting you wherever you are.

Does philosophical counseling involve writing?

It can, though it need not. Writing can be a wonderful way of discovering and exploring your deepest thoughts about a problem or issue. When it seems that incorporating some writing would be useful, this is easily arranged on a client by client basis. The primary mode of communication in philosophical counseling is in person conversation because it offers certain possibilities that writing lacks: in a conversation it is easier to press for a more critical formulation of a reason than it would be if communication were written.

I would like to talk with someone about my spiritual/religious beliefs, doubts, and questions. Would you be an appropriate person?

Spirituality is a strong interest of mine. I have explored Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and New Age thought, studied the intersection of philosophy and religion, and would be happy to pass on what seems of value to me. So if you are looking for a guide in working out your own worldview, I may be able to help. Unlike some religious professionals, I have no agenda to get you to subscribe to any religious belief, and I certainly do not hold that one must subscribe to some religious belief in order to be a “good” person. I am not a theologian, and I am less interested in theology than in what religions do to people—whether they make it easier for people to live with themselves and with others.

What credentials do you have to practice philosophical counseling?

I received my Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Toronto and I am certified in philosophical counseling by the American Philosophical Practitioners’ Association, trained by Lou Marinoff, author of the well-known book Plato, Not Prozac!