I began my professional career as a philosopher trained in analytic philosophy at Brown University under the tutelage of Roderick M. Chisholm, one of the most influential analytic philosophers in contemporary history. This is incredibly rigorous philosophy, linguistic analysis with a deliberate attempt to avoid any value commitments. It can sharpen the mind; but I found myself at a loss when, after looking through my doctoral thesis, my wife very earnestly queried, “But what are you going to do with it?” I had a deep sense that there was a satisfactory answer to her question; only I just didn’t have one! Released from the Ivory Towers, I snagged a post doc at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida and spent an additional year working on a grant on values clarification.
One dark evening during the latter year, my beloved father suffered a massive heart attack at the young age of 60. At the moment of his heart attack, a telephone line went down (cell phones were not readily available at the time) and my mother’s phone did not work. She therefore had to run to a neighbor’s house to use the phone, but by the time the paramedics arrived, my father had passed away. I did not grieve, because I thought I was above all that. After all, I was a rational philosopher. Instead, I continued my grant work and did not come up for air.
The event had changed me, however. My affect was flat. About 8 years passed and I remained in this emotionally dormant state, going through the motions of life. Indeed, I was still producing credible work, but it was an incredibly difficult part of my life. My post work at the University of Florida ended. A two-year-old daughter, no money in the bank, jobless, and a mother in a state of deep depression over the death of my father, I managed to line up a visiting professorship for one year at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL, about 45 minutes north of Hollywood, where my mother resided. This was a juggling act for me, attempting to be there for my mother while being a father and spouse, remaining productive professionally, and earning a living. While in retrospect, I did my best, I was a shell of who I was before my father's death; I might as well have been a robot, emotionlessly programmed to do what it was "supposed to do." This included trying to teach my students to do philosophy like I had done at Brown University. Unfortunately, very few of these students were philosophy majors and many did not understand why they had to take such a course.
In 1980, I managed to get a tenure track position at Indian River State College (then Indian River Community College) in Fort Pierce, FL, which enabled me to remain in Florida. The Vice-President of the College, Dr. John W. Muir, a relative of the famed environmentalist with his namesake, was also a Ph.D. in philosophy, a motor cyclist whose favorite book was Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance, and bike-rally goer. He turned out to be a major underwriter of my work, and a good friend.
In 1981, I founded and to this day serve as Editor-In-Chief of the world's first comprehensive journal of applied philosophy, the International Journal of Applied Philosophy. At this early stage of development, applied philosophy was looked upon by most university philosophy departments as second rate philosophy, or not philosophy at all.
At this point, my wife was working on a master’s degree in mental health counseling and had been studying the work of psychologist Albert Ellis. She pointed out that my work resembled Ellis’ Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in that it also attempted to use philosophy and linguistic analysis
to clarify value conflicts arising in ordinary life.
It was, in fact, application of this theory to my own case, that helped to release me from the dark cavern I, by then, had inhabited for eight years. I blamed myself for not having visited my father when I had an opportunity because I was “too busy” (A few days before he passed, I had an opportunity to visit him in south Florida). I told myself that I was therefore a bad person. I demanded that bad things like the phone not working must not happen to good people like my father. These irrational or unrealistic beliefs had remained bottled up inside me until I finally allowed myself to let them come out.
In 1989, I published the first comprehensive edited textbook on applied philosophy entitled Philosophers at Work,
which, in addition to edited works by philosophers of antiquity, included articles by present-day philosophers who used their training in philosophy to work in a domestic violence shelter for abused women, medicine, elementary education, criminal justice, business, mental health, computer science, and the fine arts (dance).
Today, there are centers for LBT in the U.S., India, and Taiwan, and I have trained practitioners throughout the world in it. I never imaged this would be the direction my work would takeback in my graduate days at Brown. But is this not precisely what makes life so wonderful? Within this labyrinth of space and time, with its vicissitudes, uncertainty, and imperfections, there is wonderous potential for a new and vitalizing philosophical vision of reality to be painted in splendid, animated colors, even amid hardship and suffering.
The ASPCP was a brainchild of Logic-Based Therapy. It was based on the idea that psychotherapeutic approaches can benefit from philosophical approaches and conversely. It was thus, from its inception, a natural home for Logic-Based Therapy, which was an offspring of REBT, the world's first form of cognitive-behavior therapy.
To count as "real" philosophy, it had to be "pure," untainted by the soil of practical life. While this was what I had been trained in at Brown, it didn't work in the teaching environment I now occupied, but applied philosophy--showing how great philosophers can make contributions to problems of living, from sexual morality to business ethics--worked quite well to engage students.
So, I followed my wife’s lead once again and became immersed in REBT, got trained and certified in it by Albert Ellis; and until 2007, when he passed away, Dr. Ellis remained a dear friend and mentor. In many ways he was a father to me at a time when I had lost my way, personally.
I then looked carefully at the inferences I was making, and began to work through my irrational beliefs using some of the philosophical insights I had regularly taught my students, but had never before applied to my own life.
For instance, the Stoic philosophers admonish us not to demand control over things that are not in your control but instead to stick to things that you can control such as your own thoughts and actions. Likewise, Aristotle admonished that we should be our own best friends, which means not degrading or belittling ourselves because we are imperfect.
I experienced a miraculous ascent from the dark cavern in which I was kept prisoner (by myself) for almost a decade. When I saw the light of the sun (another metaphor compliments of the philosopher, Plato), it was as though a great weight had been lifted from me. I gained philosophical health and felt better in both body and soul.
It was then full speed ahead! I began clinical practice aimed at gaining valuable experience that helped me to further develop and modify LBT. My idea of "applied
philosophy" had finally come home to roost! Philosophy, which has often been said to bake no bread, was now pregnant with meaning and purpose. Artificial barriers between it and the helping professions had evaporated.
In 1990, I was contacted by a professor at Southern Mississippi State University Psychiatry Department, Paul Sharkey. He was a philosopher like me who was trained in REBT and had read my article, "The Philosopher as Counselor," which I had included in Philosophers at Work. He was impressed by it and asked me if I had any ideas about how we could support philosophers who counsel. I thought for a day or so and responded, "Let's start an association," and the rest is history, We started an association under the auspices of the American Philosophical Association (APA) which I named, the "American Society for Philosophy, Counseling, and Psychotherapy" (ASPCP). I drafted a code of ethics, and Paul created a set of standards for certifying philosophical counselors, and so the first philosophical counseling association in the United States was born.
As our training program in LBT evolved, in 2012, we changed the name of the ASPCP to the National Philosophical Counseling Association (NPCA).
Fast forward to 2007. Before Dr. Ellis passed away, I went to see him in a New York City hospital. There, I told him that I would continue to develop Logic-Based Therapy as a new and constantly evolving highly philosophical version of his REBT. He was pleased. This was the last time I saw this great man.
I have now spent much of my life helping others find their own philosophical visions to guide their future happiness. Still, my life is an ongoing portrait, and I am in at the gateway of writing the next chapters!