Logotherapy seems immediately relevant to another area of interest that I am pursuing right. Next week is the last of five modules that I have taken in order to become a Spiritual Care volunteer in the Fraser Health region. Within the next few weeks I hope to be working on the medical ward at the local hospital. As I read Man’s Search for Meaning I couldn’t help but find a wealth of thoughts that I think will become incredibly beneficial to working with patients who are probably at two of the most difficult stages of life: illness and death. Frankl’s personal experience of suffering in four different concentration camps during World War II and his subsequent reflection on the role of suffering in human life is fascinating.
For example, Frankl writes:
“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances [as a concentration camp], decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski [sic] said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” (75)
“Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” (76)
“When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.” (116)
“It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” (117)
“There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.” (118)
I finished reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning on the bus yesterday. The second section of the book is an essay entitled “Logotherapy in a Nutshell” wherein Frankl expands on his therapeutic technique. “Logotherapy,” writes Frankl, “is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.” (104) Logos can be translated from the Greek as meaning and as such can be explained as a therapeutic technique in which the patient illuminates and confronts their existence and its meaning. It is also a future focused therapy; logotherapy seeks out and cultivates “the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future.” (104) The patient is brought face to face with their ‘existential vacuum’ after which they must grapple with and reconfigure the meaning of their life. Recognizing the meaning of their life, or particular situations, can essentially break up their depression, anxiety, or other neuroses that are often simply reinforced by other therapeutic techniques through “vicious circle formations and feedback mechanisms.” (104)
I’m reading Viktor Frankl’sMan’s Search for Meaning and there is a superb section on the ‘existential vacuum’ and it resonates quite deeply with my experience.
Frankl is the father of logotheraphy, more literally translated meaning therapy. Unlike other forms of psychoanalysis, Frankl’s logotheraphy sees the locus of human problems as the lack of meaning in life, especially in suffering and death. Logotheraphy seeks to address the basic human need for meaning; humans posses a will to meaning, the desire to make sense of the world and their experiences within it. The therapist who practises logotheraphy encourages the individual to face their unique and irreplaceable position in life.
Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that he sees present in many of the patients he has worked with. The existential vacuum is simply defined as “the feeling of the total and ultimate meaningless of their lives.” (110) People who live with this existential crisis “lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the ‘existential vacuum.'” (110-111)