Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thursday's Therapy - Viktor Frankl: Meaning Therapy - Turning "a Mess into a Message"

Thursday's Therapy

Viktor Frankl: Meaning Therapy

Turning "a Mess into a Message"

Logotherapy: A Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy

Tommy and I went to a graduate school (which is where we met!) in Atlanta, Georgia at a time when there were only three graduate schools in the country whose purpose was to integrate psychology and Christianity. Today, as I read of psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, tell his amazing story in the book Man's Search for Meaning, I am amazed that we did not study his work within our curriculum as it holds the heart and soul of the integration work we were trained to do.

In his chapter, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell," Frankl describes the difference in his unique approach to psychotherapy. (Frankl was a psychiatrist before and after he was imprisoned by the Germans into four of their concentration camps for three years.) Logotherapy is in essence Meaning Therapy, a meaning-centered psychotherapy. Frankl clarifies the basis of the term "Logotherapy": "Logos is a Greek word," Frankl says "which denotes 'meaning.'"

"(I)n logotherapy, the patient is actually confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of his life... According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man."

For those of you familiar with the history of psychology, starting with the infamous Sigmund Freud, you will appreciate Frankl's comparison of theories:

Frankl states,

"According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man.

"That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term 'striving for superiority,' is focused."

His premise for his type of psychotherapy is,

"Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning."

He explains,

"(A)s for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my 'defense mechanisms,' nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my 'reaction formations.'

"Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!"

Perhaps we child-loss grievers can best relate to the following study's conclusion:

Frankl relates,

"A public-opinion poll was conducted a few years ago in France. The results showed that 89 percent of the people polled admitted that man needs 'something' for the sake of which to live.

Moreover, 61 percent conceded that there was something, or someone, in their own lives for whose sake they were even ready to die....

"Another statistical survey, of 7,948 students at forty-eight colleges, was conducted by social scientists from Johns Hopkins University. Their preliminary report is part of a two-year study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. Asked what they considered 'very-important' to them now, 16 percent of the students checked 'making a lot of money'; 78 percent said their first goal was 'finding a purpose and meaning to my life.'"

Frankl explains, "(Logotherapy) tries to make the patient aware of what he actually longs for in the depth of his being. Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment."


Meaning, with or without Happiness...

When my mother was in her last days, she had some amazing helpers who came to the house to stay with her when we, her adult children, could not be there. One was Shirley ~ Shirley felt inspired to be there and felt she was on, in her words, "a mission from God" to help my mother, and help her she did, ever serving her, even serving her her favorite foods that Shirley would cook especially for her, but also loving her in intangible ways, keeping her spirits up...

(Aging persons can begin to wonder what their life is worth given they no longer feel "useful" to society or even to their family as they once did when they were busy serving their every need. - My mother once expressed this to me, and I told her,
"You have no idea the power you have in our lives, that just a little bit of time next to you, loving you and being loved by you, means the absolute world to us!"
I later wrote a poem to her about that very subject reminding her of her amazing impact on me every minute I was privileged to be with her. She asked me to read that poem over and over to her, and she would clap through it every time I read it :)
~Such sweet times together, I am so thankful for so many sweet memories.)

Shirley loved her in other many intangible ways, talking to her about us, her children, and about our lives, reminding my mother for whom she had sacrificed her entire life, reinforcing her remembrance that she had such an ennobling life of love and investment of herself into us, her beloved children.

She often invited my mother to pray, and I was witness to some of the most amazing prayers coming from my mother's precious soul. So there were constant reminders to my mother that life is so much greater even than just this life; that the life to come ennobles all the suffering here. There were reminders that the God she would be going to is the God who had always been faithful to her, in her happy times, and in her sad or suffering times. And my mother's fighting through her ever-weakening body was commended and praised, reminding her there is even meaning in the fight for strength. Shirley was and is amazing to me, and I will be forever grateful to her for her influence on my mother, and on my family.

Mother's other helper was Ping, and her gentleness, patience and perseverance with my mother was amazing to watch as well. Ping is from China; he told us of the communist days of China and what it was like to suffer in that repressive environment, and then in her last days in China where communism had been defeated but there was dictatorial repression. One day as she relaxed with my mother, my son Nathan, and me, she noted that in America, we seemed always to be smiling, even in all our pictures taken, and she wondered why there was such an emphasis on this need to always be happy. Her insights gave a new perspective to me amidst my own suffering.

One of Dr. Frankl's proteges, Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, actually had been a professor at my own university there in my hometown of Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia (many years before I was there). Dr. Frankl quoted her several times in his book; she had some enlightening things to say about this emphasis on happiness in our culture:

"To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to "be happy."

And then Dr. Frankl and she had some enlightening words that gave a glimpse of understanding of what we child-loss grievers are up against in this happy-fixated culture:

Dr. Frankl said,

"(E)ven the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph,"

Dr. Frankl then quoted Edith Weisskopf-Joelson's words expressing the hope that logotherapy

"may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading" so that "he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy."

Amen sister! It is hard enough to be hurting over the loss of our baby; how hard then to have to experience those who should be loving and supportive of us essentially shaming us (whether wittingly or unwittingly) for having to live such a painful existence without our child! Thank goodness there are those wise and loving creatures like Dr. Frankl and like Edith Weisskopf-Joelson who "get it" and know that life is about so much more than transient happiness...


Loving our child, even if losing them,

is a "raison d'être" that gives

our lives a beautiful and

redemptive meaning, such that...

"Only God can turn

a MESS into a message,

a TEST into a testimony,

a TRIAL into a triumph,

a VICTIM into a victory."

~ GirlFromParis / Tumblr

Quote from Girl from Paris / Tumblr
Viktor Frankl content from his book Man's Search for Meaning, (1946), written one year after leaving three-year vigil at the German concentration camps of the Holocaust


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