Healthy Beginnings

Is philosophical counseling the solution to modern day stress?

Philosophical counselors are turning to history’s great thinkers — such as stoic philosopher Epictetus — to help people see the irrationality of their thinking. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

A new brand of therapy that harnesses the wisdom of ancient philosophers is working to relieve the stresses caused by modern life — and illogical thinking.

“Philosophical counseling” emerged in the United States in the 1990s with the formation of the National Philosophical Counseling Association (NPCA).

Founded by American philosophers Elliot D. Cohen and Paul Sharkey, NPCA seeks to train and accredit licensed mental healthcare professionals and philosophers to assist with mid-life crises, career changes, everyday stresses, morality, death, aging and the meaning of life.

“Philosophical counseling can be helpful in relieving stress both related to pseudo-problems and issues that can be cleared up by reframing your thinking and making constructive changes in your behavior,” explained Cohen in an interview with Healthy Beginnings.

And to help people see the irrationality of their thinking, philosophical counselors like Cohen turn to history’s great thinkers.

“Take for instance the ancient stoic philosopher Epictetus,” said Cohen. “Epictetus said you should stick to trying to control what’s within your power, and not try to control things that are outside of your control, such as other people’s actions.”

Practice makes perfect

This idea of control is something that Cohen talks about with patients who are “approval junkies.” Once they understand the concept, he assigns them “homework” to work at changing behavior.

“For instance, do something that gets someone’s disapproval and live with it. Use your cognitive ideas, your new philosophy, and talk to yourself and get used to it,” said Cohen. “The idea is the more you practice the better you get.”

For counselees dealing with issues of self worth, Cohen might bring up Immanuel Kant’s “Metaphysics of Morals” and the notion that humans are not objects valued only for their utility.

Cohen asked one client with a domineering husband to read “Subjection of Women” by John Stewart Mill.

“In one part of it Mill said that women are ‘willing slaves’ who are brought up to be subservient to men and at their beck and call,” said Cohen. “She read it and came back the next session, looked me squarely in the eye, and said ‘no more willing slave.’”

Taking it one step further

In Reno, Avanti Wellness takes it one step further with a method of treatment called Medical Philosophical Therapy, a combination of philosophical counseling and medical care from physicians.

“So you’re working with medical doctors, nutritionists, massage therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists if necessary, and practical philosophical therapists who have worked on their own self for almost 30 years,” explained Kristine Modzelewski, an educator at Avanti Wellness, located at 200 S. Virginia St.

Avanti acts as an American-based conduit for the Medical Philosophical Therapy treatment center, Candor, located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The treatment, which takes a complete mind-body approach, has helped a number of patients referred through Avanti to overcome severe addiction after numerous failed stints in rehab.

“It takes a lot of internal work,” said Modzelewski. “We always want to change other people because we see that as the easy fix. ‘It’s because of her. It’s because of him. It’s because they said this.’ Life would be so easy if we could do that. It’s changing you.”

Candor’s website boasts a 95 percent success rate for patients fighting addiction that complete the recommended treatment. But Medical Philosophical Therapy has applications beyond substance abuse treatment, according to Avanti Wellness.

“It could even be for someone who has a high-stress job and they just need to recalibrate their thoughts because it’s affecting parts of their physical body,” said Modzelewski. “We know that if you don’t know how to manage ideas it can manifest into headaches and other physical conditions.

“We need to let Americans know this exists. They deserve this as an option.”

Claire Cudahy is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings. Email her at with feedback.