Professor at The City College of New York
Lou Marinoff, author of the bestseller Plato, Not Prozac, and a professor of philosophy at the City College of New York is not only a controversial figure at his university, but also among his philosophical counseling colleagues; some of the latter even consider him dangerous. This is because he has attempted to present himself as the international leader and legislator of this new type of counseling. My aim in this review essay is to expose and challenge some basic problems in his writings and practice. In 1999, when Marinoff, presented his first book on philosophical counseling, Plato, not Prozac, its aim was to reach the masses. At his publisher’s request Marinoff created the acronym “PEACE” for the five stages of the process that his clients go through: “Problem identification,” “Expressing emotion,” “Analyzing options,” “Contemplation,” “Equilibrium.” Yet, in Philosophical Practice (p. 167), Marinoff discloses that when he worked with his clients in the period preceding the publication of Plato, not Prozac, he “eschewed the very notion of a method 2 as antithetical to philosophical inquiry into personal problems.” He further mentions that when he reflected on his practice for the purpose of differentiating it from what psychologists and psychiatrist do, he discovered that he actually had worked methodologically with the approach he later named the PEACE process. Then Marinoff claims, in a rather paradoxical manner, that PEACE is “a contentless form that suggests some contours of philosophical counseling, without prescribing any particular methodology” (Philosophical Practice, p. 167). Nevertheless, he still calls it a meta-methodology that can be applied for working with organizations, as well with individuals. (Philosophical Practice, p. 168). Like many other philosophical counselors, Marinoff found his inspiration for his counseling practice mainly in the pioneering work of Gerd B. Achenbach. In 1981, Achenbach, a German philosopher, opened the first philosophical counseling practice in the world. He is briefly mentioned a few times in Plato, not Prozac, Philosophical Practice, and Therapy for the Sane. Except for applying the term “philosophical counseling” to his own counseling practice, Marinoff’s approach has nothing in common with Achenbach’s. Additionally, Marinoff distorts the history of philosophical counseling in the USA: In 1995, I read a paper at the American Philosophers Association, in a special session sponsored by the American Society for Philosophy, Counseling, and Psychotherapy, in New York. This gave me the opportunity to interview (and I kept the recordings of these interviews) some of the USA pioneers of philosophical counseling, e.g. Professor Elliot Cohen and Professor Paul Sharkey. They both said that at that stage no philosopher in the USA had hung out a shingle with the name “Philosophical Counselor,” but they were preparing and organizing themselves to begin this new type of counseling as professionally as possible. Both philosophers had been working in other institutional frameworks (respectively, in psychotherapy, and as an ethical consultant in a hospital), jobs that they felt had something in common with that of the philosophical counselor, but no more than that. Nevertheless, in Philosophical Practice Marinoff names Professor 3 Sharkey and other USA philosophers and psychotherapists as early pioneers and visionaries of contemporary philosophical practice, i.e. as if they were predecessors of Achenbach(p. 68, and note 3 at p. 105).