Photo: Rick Collins
Dr. Peter Raabe advocates for a philosophy-based approach to talk therapy over medication for most mental health issues.
“Not-so-crazy” talk Peter Raabe applies the basic tenets of philosophy to mental health counselling By Anne Russell
f people can talk their way out of mental illness, what does that mean for our definition of it? Is mental illness in its various forms indeed a disease, as modern psychiatric conventions say, or is it a less-thanoptimal state of being created by one’s life experience and perspective? UFV philosophy professor Peter Raabe is a well-known figure in the field of philosophical counselling, which guides counsellors and clients through a type of talk therapy that focuses on the basic tenets of philosophy. Raabe says that conventional talk therapy as practised by psychologists has its basis 16 Skookum | Spring 2011 | Volume 1 | Issue 2
in philosophical tradition, but that many modern psychologists and psychiatrists are unaware of this. “I use the analogy that they can drive the car, but they don’t know how the engine works,” Raabe notes. “They have success with talk therapy, but they don’t know why it works.” Some of the key aspects of philosophy that philosophical counselling encompasses include existentialism and morality, Raabe explains. “From an existential standpoint, you make the decision to run your own life,” Raabe notes. “And the essence of morality is to avoid harming others. So
we can ask the questions of who is being harmed by our actions, and what can we do to address that?” Raabe contends that the “biomedical model” of treating mental illness, which sees it as a disease and tends to treat it with medication, is flawed in the first place because it is not a complete medical model encompassing testing that identifies a distinct biological dysfunction (as can be done with physiological diseases such as heart disease or diabetes). “A true medical model includes biological testing that identifies a disease, diagnosis, and then treatment protocol,” Raabe says. “With mental illness you get the diagnosis without testing or physical proof of disease, and then a treatment protocol. And there is very little agreement among psychotherapists as to what constitutes a diagnosis or a treatment for particular set of symptoms.” There are diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and fetal alcohol