Meaning-Focused Therapy

Meaning centered counseling Lecture No 4

Logotherapy and Spirituality

Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych
Tyndale University College, Toronto, Ontario

The Three Viennese Schools of psychotherapy

  • All three schools recognize the importance of unconsciousness
  • All three schools believe that people are psychodynamically motivated
  • All three schools practice “depth psychology”
  • But there are also major differences in theory and practice

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – Psychoanalysis

  • Lived in the authoritarian and autocratic society
  • Patients were victims of Victorian attitudes of prudishness
  • Freedom of expression was not tolerated
  • Feelings and desired were repressed
  • Neurosis resulted from repression
  • Looked deep into the human psyche and discovered the unconscious world of repressed memories
  • People are driven by Id like animals
  • Will to pleasure
  • Need to strength the ego to balance the pleasure principle with the reality principle

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) – Individual Psychology

  • Childhood health problems – rickets, pneumonia, near death
  • Lived through the aftermath of the first World War
  • An existential vacuum in Vienna
  • Patients struggled with loss of traditional values and life styles
  • Looked deeply into people’s inner struggles and discovered the unconscious motive for mastery and affiliation
  • Rebelled against Freud’s biological and environmental determinism
  • Believed that individuals are unique and have the freedom and responsibility to develop their own identity and create their own future
  • Rejected Freud’s focus on sexual drive
  • Emphasized people need to compensate and overcome inferiority complex
  • Compensation refers to the tendency to make up for under-development of physical or mental functioning through interest and training
  • Overcompensation can lead to extraordinary success or contribute to neurosis
  • Neurosis resulted from misguided ambitions and failure to reach unrealistic perfectionist goals
  • All people are motivated unconsciously and consciously for mastery, competencies and success
  • Will to power and significance
  • People are driven by their need for social status and significance
  • Individuals are responsible, goal-oriented social beings
  • Individuals have the freedom and responsibility for setting one’s own life goal and life style
  • The importance of community feeling or social interest
  • Feeling accepted can reduce inferiority complex and alienation
  • Feeling rejected can contribute to anxiety and inferiority complex
  • One’s meaning of life depends on life tasks that include completing realistic life goals and social responsibility
  • Need to awaken people’s sense of social responsibility and help people make realistic life goals.

Adlerian quotes

“What we believe determines our motivations.”

“To be a man means to suffer from an inferiority feeling which constantly drives him to overcome.”

“Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority.”

“Neurosis is the natural, logical development of an individual who is comparatively inactive, filled with a personal, egocentric striving for superiority, and is therefore retarded in the development of his social interest.”

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) – Existential analysis and logotherapy

  • Went through the great depression and the Holocaust
  • Patients were victims of suffering and meaninglessness
  • Believed that we can “wrest meaning from life by turning suffering into a human triumph” (Frankl, 1997, p.64)
  • Looked deeply into the suffering soul and discovered the human spirit and the will to meaning
  • Challenged Freud’s pandeterminism and pansexualism
  • Shared Alder’s idea that individuals have the freedom and responsibility to discover their meaning in life
  • Criticized Individual Psychology for failing to consider the dimension of the human spirit
  • Individuals are spiritual beings
  • Neurosis resulted from blocking or frustrating the will to meaning
  • Need to awakening the human spirit
  • Will to meaning

Franklian quotes

“We cannot ask what life can do for us, but what life asks of us.”

Nietzsche “He who has a why to live for can bear with nearly any how”

“Even if all universal values disappeared, life would remain meaningful, since the unique meanings remain untouched by the loss of traditions” (1967, p. 64).

“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.” (1984, p. 58).

“Only in his heights is man truly himself “(1994, p.86).

“Everything can be taken from a man, but…the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (Frankl, 1963, p.104).

What is logotherapy?

It is therapy through meaning or meaning-centered therapy.

It is an existential therapy based on the realities of life (i.e., suffering and death).

It is a spiritually oriented therapy.

Existential analysis is the therapeutic method or process used to make the unconscious human spirit conscious and awaken patients’ awareness of their responsibility.

Logotherapy seeks to remove the blocks and empower the human spirit to fulfill its tasks, regardless of the circumstances.

Logotherapy is the overall label to identify its focus on meaning, spirituality and the imperative to live responsibly (Making a spiritual rather than social-psychological argument).

It is specially designed to heal existential neurosis.

It can be an adjunct or medical ministry to complement all kinds of therapies.

Can’t practice logotherapy without evoking the human spirit or the spiritual dimension.

What does it mean to be a human being?

The spiritual dimension is the very core of our humanness, the essence of humanity. Spirituality is the uniquely human dimension.

Frankl (1986): “three factors characterize human existence as such: man’s spirituality, his freedom, his responsibility” (xxiv).

According to Frankl’s dimensional ontology (Frankl, 1986), human beings exist in three dimensions – physical (somatic), mental (psychic), and spiritual (noetic).

However, these different dimensional entities must be understood in their totality, because a person is a unit in complexity.

Two unique human capacities – self-distancing and self-transcendence.

What is the dimension of the human spirit?

The defiant power of the human spirit (Frankl, 1965) refers to man’s capacity to tap into the spiritual dimension in order to transcend the negative effects of situations, illness or the influence of the past.

The human spirit is our healthy core. It does not get sick, even when the psychobiological organism is injured.

According to Fabry (1994, p.18), the noetic dimension or the human spirit, is the “medicine chest” of logotherapy, which contains various inner resources, such as love, the will to meaning, purpose in life, creativity, conscience, the capacity for choice, sense of humor, commitment to tasks, ideals, imagination, responsibility, compassion, forgiveness.

From the human spirit springs will to meaning and an awareness of responsibility.

The dimension of the human spirit is a meta-physical and meta-psychological phenomenon. The spirit is not what we possess but what we are.

What are Frankl’s three ways of discovering meaning?

Values are abstract meanings based on the meaning experiences of many, many individuals. Frankl (1967, 1986) believes that these values can guide our search for meaning and simplify decision-making. Here are the three values to discover meaning:

  1. Creative – what I give to life through making a difference in the world
  2. Experience – what I take from life through experiencing the joy and pain of living
  3. Attitude – how I view life – accepting what cannot be change, by taking a defiant attitude towards suffering

Frankl (1984) commented, “The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?” (p. 83). Logotherapy is concerned with how to discover and cultivate spiritual meaning and values in our lives.

Spiritual functions of meaning

  • Spirituality is an expression of the human spirit
  • Spirituality refers to our relationships to God
  • The quest for meaning and spirituality comes from the spiritual dimension of humanity
  • Develops a spiritual worldview to address larger questions of existence (origin of life, suffering and death)
  • Understand one’s true identity (how one is distinct and yet part of nature, society and the spiritual world)
  • Understand the meaning of life and death
  • Understand one’s place in the universe
  • Develop wisdom of living
  • Develop a sense of the sacred
  • Experience spiritual transformation

Logotherapy and religion

In his writings (1967, 1969, 1985a, 1986), spirit refers to one of the dimensions of humanity. Spirituality is manifest in a person’s quest for meaning. Religion encompasses the ultimate meaning, super-meaning, as well as God.

According to Frankl (1967), logotherapy and religion necessarily overlap somewhat.

Frankl (1967):

“The goal of psychotherapy, of psychiatry, and quite generally of medicine is health. The goal of religion, however, is something essentially different: salvation. So much for the difference in goals. The results achieved, however, are another matter. Although religion may not aim at mental health, it might result in it. Psychotherapy, in turn, often results in an analogous product” (pp. 45-46).

Basic tenets of logotherapy

Logotherapeutic credo includes: freedom of will, will to meaning, and the meaning of life

Freedom of will

Freedom of will is possible because of the human capacity for self-distancing or self-detachment.

Fabry (1994): “Responsibility without freedom is tyranny and freedom without responsibility leads to anarchy, which can lead to “boredom, anxiety, and neurosis” (p. 121).

Frankl (1984, 1986) points out that we are responsible not only to something but also to Someone, not only to the task, but the Taskmaster, which many people refer to as God.

Frankl differentiated between responsibility and responsibleness. The former comes from possessing the freedom of will. The latter refers to exercising that freedom to respond to the demands of life.

Will to meaning

The will-to-meaning is “the basic striving of man to find meaning and purpose” (Frankl, 1969, p. 35). The will-to-meaning is possible because of another human capacity of self-transcendence.

As spiritual beings, individuals have the capacity to transcend their own limitations to achieve a higher purpose.

Self-transcendence is the human capacity to transcend their immediate circumstances to be better persons. They are able to move from what they are towards, what they “ought to be” or “what should be”.

The meaning of life

Specific vs. ultimate meaning

Specific meaning — the present meaning, or meaning of the moment.

The ultimate meaning – the supra-meaning. At this point, we only talk about “Basic trust in Being” (Frankl, 1967, p.65) and the existence of meaning in the supra-human dimension.

It is more productive to address specific meaning of the moment, of the situation, rather than talking about meaning of life in general, because ultimate meanings exist in the supra-human dimension, which is “hidden” from us.

Each individual must discover the specific meanings of the moment. Only the individual knows the right meaning specific to the moment. The therapist can also facilitate the quest and guide them to those areas in which meanings can be found (Fabry, 1994; Frankl, 1984, 1986).