Alumni Letter from Lawrence Kistler (CLA ’69)

Lawrence Kistler
4/15/2011

A Clinical Psychologist’s Thoughts on Having Majored in Philosophy

I was a 1969 Philosophy major at BU, and later earned degrees in theology and psychology, becoming a licensed clinical psychologist with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I feel blessed to have earned degrees such varied fields, and to bring to my psychotherapy practice the wisdom of not one, but three, major disciplines.

I thank my BU major for helping build the foundations of my thought.

Studying epistemology raised fundamental questions of how are things known and makes me cautious about claiming to know the truth. I find the strongest epistemological awareness in psychology in the practice of marriage and family therapy, where systems and narrative theory see treatment in terms of recursive processes and the active, social construction of meaning (see Gregory Bateson’s or Kenneth Gergen’s work).

Metaphysics taught me to ask “ultimate” questions about existence, the nature of reality, matters that often overlap religious questions about the meaning of life. Studying existentialism in particular provides valuable ways to shed light on clients’ core struggles.

Logic helped me think more clearly, and now enables me to analyze with clients ways in which their thoughts don’t make sense. It has been remarkable how much the field of cognitive therapy builds on the insights of this philosophical field.

Finally, clients endless present ethical dilemmas. Having studied ethical theory provides countless touchstones to help people make ethical decisions.

Overall, the most profound impact of my undergrad degree was in helping me learn to think. I think of Dr. Donald Dunbar’s exemplary Socratic questioning in my intro course, and Dr. Erazim Kohak’s teachings in phenomenology. Such teachers inspired, informed and challenged my mind at the most basic level, opening alternative points of view, and helping me understand how little I’d considered. I left BU with a wider intellectual perspective for having majored in philosophy, and feel it left a lasting impact on my practice as a clinical psychologist.

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Lawrence Kistler: BA, Boston University 1969 with Distinction in Philosophy, Phi Beta Kappa, Magna cum Laude; ThM, Harvard and Boston Universities 1972; PhD, Boston University 1980; former Clinic Director, Interfaith Counseling Service, Newton, MA; private practice, Westboro, Newton and Needham MA.