Meaning-Focused Therapy

Meaning centered counseling Lecture No 2

Meaning-Centered Counseling Described with a focus on relationship

Dr. Paul Wong, Ph. D., C.Psych
Toronto, Canada

Basic propositions or assumptions of MCC

  1. Humans have two primary motivations: (a) To survive and (b) To find meaning and purpose for survival
  2. Humans are meaning-seeking and meaning-making creatures
  3. Humans move and live is a world of meanings (both phenomenology and culture)
  4. People react to perceived meanings of events more than events
  5. People have the creative capacity to construct and transform meanings to protect themselves psychologically (you can make anything mean whatever you want)

Therapeutic goals

  1. To awaken people’s awareness of their responsibility for their lives and their potential for meaningful living
  2. To recognizing and confront people’s existential anxieties and needs
  3. To achieve a deeper self understanding from a larger perspective (need for a double vision)
  4. To become what one is meant to be (actualize the true self)
  5. To facilitate spiritual transformation (as an inner resource and coping mechanism)
  6. To transcend internal and external limitations
  7. To discover meaning and hope and regain the centre of the authentic self
  8. To learn from the past, hope for the future but live in the present

The therapeutic relationship

MCC: Meaning is all we need and relationship is all we have.
Martin Bauber: “I-Thou” relationship rather than “I-It” relationships.

Carl Rogers: The necessary and sufficient conditions for healing are unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence (genuineness), which are attributes rather than skills

Counseling by osmosis

  • The messenger is the message
  • The therapist is the therapy
  • Be the change that change others
  • The counselor’s presence is therapeutic
  • Need for inner healing and personal development
  • Need self-understanding, self-acceptance, knowing one’s own meaning in life
  • Need to be completely present psychologically and spiritually

Different levels of relationship

  1. At the social level, two strangers share the same space and get to know each other
  2. At the existential level, two human beings share their common humanity and try to help each other understand what life is all about
  3. At the professional level, the therapist is responsible for achieving certain therapeutic goals
  4. At the personal level, the clients may be our friends, but friendship should never be allowed to interfere with therapeutic relationship
  5. Dual relationship is often unavoidable especially in ethnic communities, but must be managed carefully to avoid ethically violations

Attitudes towards clients

  1. Do not treat them as a clinical case or a victim, but regard them as fellow human beings that need to be treated with dignity and honest.
  2. Recognize that each individual has inherent value regardless of the awful things they may have done. (Separate the behavior from the person).
  3. Do not use our clients or exploit them for our personal and professional benefits. Need to keep our purpose pure.
  4. Be willing to listen to our clients and learn from them. They have much to teach us, including our own failings and inadequacies. Don’t let pride and defensiveness blind our understanding.
  5. Recognize that each individual is both unique and similar. Avoid stereotyping.
  6. You don’t have like all your clients, but you need to care about their well-being
  7. Getting to know your clients intimately but guard against becoming attached to them emotionally– there should always be an invisible professional boundary
  8. Don’t take their resistance and their dependence personally, but explore the clinical significance of love-hate relationships

Understanding the client’s life

  • We need to explore clients’ world of meanings.
  • Focus on the meanings they attribute to events. “How does that mean to you?” is just as important as “How do your feel about that?”
  • Silence can be very informative. What is unsaid often tell you more than what is said.
  • Go beyond the presenting problem. Encourage them to tell you stories about their fears and hopes, about their friends and families.
  • Need to learn about their dreams and metaphors
  • Learn about their past experiences, present struggles and future concerns.
  • Learn about their relationships and persistent difficulties.
  • Find out what matters most to them and why.
  • Find out their understanding of who they are and they want to do with their lives.
  • Try to get near the centre of clients’ existence and have a glimpse of the core of their being.

Inviting the client into your life: The therapeutic implications of self-disclosure

  • Self-disclosure is both a counseling skill and a necessary part of human interactions, but make sure that your self-disclosure is never too much or too early to the detriment of your clients.
  • Self-disclosure builds trust by being open, honest and vulnerable.
  • Self-disclosure builds bridges when your reveal your own humanity and personal failings.
  • Self-disclosure builds hope by modeling a better future
  • Self-disclosure builds competencies by demonstrating new ways of relating, communicating and problem-solving
  • Self-disclosure builds strong relationship as a basis for venture into new territories

What do we learn from Yalom’s Mamma and the Meaning of Life about therapeutic relationship?

Yalom does a great deal of self-disclosure and honestly reveals his own personal struggles, especially with regard to his relationship with his mother and his difficulties in believing in God.

Relationship with clients is affected by his resolved relational issues with his mother. His unfulfilled emotional needs in childhood recounted in Chapter 1 continue to resurface in the following chapters. (Beware of transference and counter-transference)

Problems are inevitable when his relationship with Paula is no longer purely therapeutic. He may be guilty of exploiting Paula for his personal and professional gains. (Client’s well-being always comes first.)

Problems are inevitable when he offers himself and his friendship as an answer to Paula’s existential anxiety of loneliness. (Don’t play God!)”

Problems may occur when his motivation to help Magnolia is compromised by his need to impress the psychiatric interns. (Beware of your vanity)

What is transference?

Typically refers to what happens in a therapeutic relationship. Something about the therapist triggers one’s emotional past and transfers it to the present.

Reacting to someone emotionally without you knowing why you feel and react the way you do. It is likely that you project unconsciously your repressed and unresolved love and hate from the past to the present.

Can be helpful for the therapist to connect transference reaction to what happened in the past and make the unconscious conscious.

Transference is usually caused by unmet emotional needs or some form of abuses.
It is related to the bonding process of child-parent relationship, which can be present even in adulthood. As such, it often involves identification and projection.

Sexual transference and authority transference are common in therapeutic relationships.

Transference is often mutual, reflecting the feelings and interpretations by both the child and parent.

What is countertransference?

It refers to the therapist’s own transference or a reaction to a client’s transference reaction.

The therapist may tansfer his or her own umet emotional needs to the client, such as feelings of attachment as if the client were his or her own child or parent. The therapist may completely identify with the suffering and needs of his/her clients.

The therapist may also transfer his own unresolved existential anxieties (about death, aloneness, freedom and meaninglessness) to the clients.

There is no way to totally avoid or overcome countertransference. Need to gain insight about one’s own repressed needs induced by the clients. One can also intentionally use countertransference to facilitate healing.

Countertransference may result in “blockings” as evidence in hostile silence, attempting to change the subject, or avoiding unwanted feelings from rising to the fore.

Transference/countertransference helps reveal the unconscious existential conflicts and identify the maladaptive defense mechanisms so that the client may develop realistic steps to pursue life goals.