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Philosophy of Psychotherapy

This project is led by Craig French and Joe Cunningham with Giorgio Mazzullo as Research Associate, and Liz Frissell as Research Assistant.


 We believe that the power of philosophy can be harnessed to a achieve a greater understanding of psychotherapy. Our core questions are: What is the nature of psychotherapy? What is its distinctive value? What is the relationship between psychotherapy and authenticity? 

The philosophy of psychotherapy is distinct from related areas of philosophy like philosophy of psychiatry and psychoanalysis: it concerns all psychotherapy, not just that associated with psychiatry or psychoanalysis. The philosophy of psychotherapy is a neglected area.

The philosophy of psychotherapy involves various other areas of philosophy. It considers questions such as what assumptions about the nature of mind do forms of psychotherapy make? (The philosophy of mind behind psychotherapy). How should we understand the role of evidence in psychotherapy research? (The epistemology behind psychotherapy). What is the link between psychotherapy and living a good life? (The ethics behind psychotherapy).

The Nature of Psychotherapy

Image by Alexander Grey

The project leads are in the process of writing about the nature and value of psychotherapy.

French is writing a monograph provisionally entitled The Nature and Value of Psychotherapy: A Philosophical Study. In it, he will look to reject Szasz's claim that psychotherapy is a myth, and develop a pluralistic conception of the nature of psychotherapeutic intervention. He will then look to explore how the practice psychotherapy has value quite apart from any of its outcomes or effects: an intrinsic value tied to its interpersonal character.

Cunningham is looking at the nature of psychotherapy by asking: does psychotherapy aim at authenticity? Authenticity is, roughly, what happens when an individual is true to who they really are. A philosophical account of authenticity goes beyond this slogan and identifies the psychological states and traits which are constitutive of being true to oneself. Cunningham will look to defend a distinctive account of authenticity, and then explore whether the process of psychotherapy is successful only if the recipient’s capacity for authenticity is enhanced in some way. 

In 2021-2022 French and Cunningham received an AHRC IAA grant to develop partnerships with local psychotherapists and psychotherapy institutes to inform their philosophical work. In 2022-2023 they received a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Grant to continue this work - as well as writing on the nature of psychotherapy, they are currently planning CPD sessions in the philosophy of mental health for psychotherapists.

Sources of Funding

The project has been generously funded through an

The British Academy Logo
The Leverhulme Trust Logo
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