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Dr. Peter Raabe’s philosophical approach to mental health

Interview with UFV professor Peter Raabe on his new book, Philosophy’s Role in Counseling and Psychotherapy, pushes for a shift in the way we think about mental illness and discusses philosophy’s role in the new paradigm of mental health.

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By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: May 7, 2014

“What I’m arguing is that there should be a shift in thinking away from the idea that mental illness is a medical problem ... There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we think of brain and mind.” (Image:  UFV Flickr)

“What I’m arguing is that there should be a shift in thinking away from the idea that mental illness is a medical problem … There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we think of brain and mind.” (Image: UFV Flickr)

Peter Raabe is an instructor in UFV’s philosophy department and a philosophical counsellor.  He is a prolific writer and advocate for the use of philosophy for mental wellness. His new book, Philosophy’s Role in Counseling and Psychotherapy, pushes for a shift in the way we think about mental illness and discusses philosophy’s role in the new paradigm of mental health. Raabe book photo Arts

What is the problem with current views on mental illness?

[My new] book starts with a clarification of the problem in mental health care, which is the conflating or the putting together of the two ideas of mind and brain. I talk about the difference between brain and mind. The brain is a container, an organ just like the liver; it holds things in it. The mind is the content in the container and the mind is propositional. In other words, it’s made up of ideas, thoughts, beliefs, values, problems, fears. There’s no such thing as something in the mind. The mind is all these things … And that mind is, of course, held in the brain. If the brain is damaged, the mind will stop functioning properly. If the container is damaged, the contents will not stay in the container.

Mental illness is defined by many disciplines, by many professionals, as being “brain problems.” And that’s where the problems start. What I’ve said is: look, mental illness is where the contents of the mind are a problem in themselves. A person’s beliefs, values, and assumptions is what caused the problem. The brain is not what caused the problem; it’s the content itself that is problematic for the person. So that’s where the book starts, is to try to clarify, try to differentiate, and to try to tell people how especially the pharmaceutical companies have been very happy to have you believe that the brain is the same thing as the mind, and then defining mental problems … as brain problems that we can then treat with medication.

 

What about the medication model of mental illness? 

So what you’ve done is you’ve approached mental problems in thinking about life and so on as though they are medical problems … What the research shows is that medication doesn’t solve mental problems. Medication dulls the brain. All the medication out there — for medication works the same way: it dulls your brain function. You tend to forget or not care about what your problems are in life. 

I argue very strongly in my book that there’s no such thing as the medical model for mental illness. Just because you’ve given someone drugs doesn’t mean you’ve approached it in a medical way.

There’s no concept of recovery and cure in mental illnesses. The belief in the field is that once you have a mental illness, you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. 

What I’m arguing is that there should be a shift in thinking away from the idea that mental illness is a medical problem … There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we think of brain and mind.

How is philosophical counselling different from talk therapy?

We differ from psychotherapy in the fact that we don’t diagnose and we don’t label. We put ourselves on par with the client; we don’t consider ourselves authority figures. 

What I promote in the book is that counsellors and psychotherapists ought to learn philosophy because it will improve what they’re doing already. If you look at history, counselling, especially psychotherapy, came out of the historical background of philosophy. Freud studied philosophy, Jung studied philosophy, Adler and all these people were trained in philosophy. But they developed methods of dealing with people that they then called psychoanalysis and psychotherapy because they didn’t want to be called philosophers, as philosophers had a bad reputation … for being these navel-gazer sorts of people who were not interested in helping people.

If you’re going to talk with people to resolve problems, the best training you can get for that is philosophy. 

Our problem in our society is that when a student wants to become a therapist or a counsellor, they study the methods, the technique, but they don’t study the background behind it …  They’re learning how to do it but they don’t know what it is they’re doing. 

What are the problems inherent in labelling and diagnosing?

For one thing, diagnosing people leads the doctor to believe things about you that might not be true. The second thing it does is it makes the person live up to the diagnosis. So if you’re diagnosed with schizophrenia, you’re going to start listening for voices because that’s part of the diagnosis. You’re going to start worrying about the music you hear in your head sometimes; you’re going to think it’s because of your “condition.” The third thing it does is it makes people look at you and assume everything you do or say is part of that. When you spill your coffee, people will say it’s because of your schizophrenia … There’s a stigma attached. 

What is philosophy’s role in mental health?

We can use philosophy to not only treat problems but also prevent them in the first place. 

Prevention is about how philosophy and students learning philosophy can actually prevent mental illness in themselves, because they’re going to be better able to think about their problems and issues and sort things out. So I promote the idea of teaching young children philosophy, so that people grow up with the skills and tools to be able to think about stuff better and to avoid those things that are then diagnosed as being mental illnesses.

See pg. 16 for Christopher DeMarcus’ review of Raabe’s book.

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