Richard Katzev & Ryan Schutt on our greatest modern therapist Viktor Frankl

http://marksinthemargin.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-suffering.html

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http://marksinthemargin.blogspot.com/search/label/Viktor%20Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning

 

According to a survey reported in the Times a while ago, Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning is among the “ten most influential books in the United States.”  I read the book a few months ago for the first time and it has taken me a while to say a few words about it.  Given its account of the horrors of life in the Nazi concentration camps, I guess that is perfectly understandable.

Frankl describes the impossibly hard struggle to survive under one of the most brutal conditions man has ever devised, the moment to moment struggle for warmth, food, safety, clothes, shoes and indeed for existence, including his own. 

We stumbled on in the darkness over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp.  The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles.  Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm.  Hardly a word was spoken;  the icy wind did not encourage talk.

…only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence;  they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. Out of this experience or perhaps because of it, Frankl developed his theory of Logotherapy built around its core assumption that finding a meaning to one’s life is man’s primary motivational force.  Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.  In my notes, I wrote, “Is this what most people think?  Is the search for meaning our primary concern, the dominant motivation of our life?”

According to Frankl there are three places where man can find meaning in their life—the work they do or create, the love they experience with someone else, and their response to suffering.  He argues that without suffering human life cannot be complete. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering. A person’s character is revealed in their response to the inevitable suffering they experience.  Here he turns to his experiences in the camp for support. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners. Throughout his account I kept thinking, well, he was one of the lucky ones.  The odds of survival in the camp were about 1 in 28.  Did those who didn’t survive think their life had meaning as they were being forcibly marched to the gas chambers?

(Whenever I think of the Holocaust, I think of the millions who perished and I wonder what would the world be like today if they had not been killed, if the Holocaust had never occurred?  The question takes on meaning for me as I think about the remarkable achievements of some of those who did survive.) I have thought a lot about Frankl’s theory of suffering and the significance he attaches to the experience.  Man’s Search for Meaning has left an enduring mark on my life.  It seems to have left its mark on most everyone who reads it.  The other night I took to the book to a restaurant to read while I was having dinner.  And once the waitress saw me reading the book, she actually sat down next to me and proceeded to tell me how much the book meant to her and how it had changed her life.

Her experience is not uncommon.  In an Afterward in the edition I read, William Winslade writes:

…the darkness of despair threatened to overwhelm a young Israeli soldier who had lost both his legs in the Yom Kippur War.  He was drowning in depressing and contemplating suicide.  One day a friend noticed that his outlook had changed to hopeful serenity.  The soldier attributed his transformation to reading Man’s Search for Meaning.  When he was told about the soldier, Frankl wondered whether “there may be such a thing as autobibliotherapy—healing through reading.

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http://godaftergod.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/some-notes-on-logotherapy-pt-1/

http://godaftergod.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/some-notes-on-logotherapy-pt-2/

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Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 1

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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)

 

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor.

Some key points of logotherapy.

  • Logotherapy sees the “will to meaning” as the greatest motivating characteristic of human life (in contrast the Freudian will to pleasure or Adlerian will to power). (104) The will to meaning is the “primary motivation” of one’s existence. (105)

  • Existential frustration is another way of saying that humans are often exasperated by their lack of meaningful existence. Frankl defines existential as “the specifically human mode of being,” “the meaning of existence,” and “the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence,” (i.e. the will to meaning). (106)

  • A sense of a meaningless existence is not a mental disorder but an existential distress (could we perhaps call it an existential disorder?). (107)

  • Logotherapy’s main purpose is to assist the patient in undergoing their individual process of finding meaning for their life. Logotherapy sees the will to meaning as the basic human concern. (107)

  • Meaning makes life possible in all of its glories and depths of suffering. Frankl quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to lie for can bear almost any how.” (108)

  • Frankl ardently argues against the assumption that one needs to find balance, or equilibrium, a tensionless state, in order to find fulfillment. “Mental hygiene,” as he calls it, often begins with this assumption borrowed from the biological concept of homeostasis. In fact, what humans really need in order to be healthy is not a lack of tension, but a presence of tension. Humans need “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” The aim at creating balance defers the responsibility of the individual to do the hard work of living. (110)

  • This concept of tension is called noö-dynamics: “the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole is represented by a man who has to fulfill it.” (110)

  • Frankl moves on to talk about the existential vacuum which I discuss in this previous post.

  • Meaning is transitory; it changes with the hours of the day and experiences of life: “What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” (113)

  • A totalizing, universal, unchanging, and abstract meaning of life is a myth. Meaning is unique to the individual and also to the individual’s daily life. (113)

  • The human is subject to a question proposed by life itself: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” (113-114)

  • Logotherapy stresses individual responsibility for life. The responsibility of the individual for their own life is accentuated by the finiteness and finality of life. You only get to do this life once. (114)

  • The logotherapist will never let a patient attempt to transfer the responsibility of transformation onto someone else (including the logotherapist himself). (114)

  • “Logotherapy is neither teaching nor preaching.” Instead, the logotherapist enables the patient to see life from new and different perspectives. The logotherapist assists the patient in “widening and broadening” his or her “visual field…so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to [them].” (114)

  • Logotherapy assumes that meaning is not discovered “within man or his own psyche, as though it were a a closed system” but in the world. This is called “the self-transcendence of human existence.” (115)

  • Self-transcendence means that to be a fully human being is to be oriented towards something or someone other than one’s self, “be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.” (115)

  • “The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.” (115)

  • How is meaning discovered outside of the self? There are three different possibilities: “by creating a work or doing a deed;” “by experiencing something or encountering someone;” “by an attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.” (115)

  • On the way of encountering the Other, Frankl writes that “Love is the only way to  grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” (116)

  • On the way of suffering, Frankl proposes that even in the most hopeless experiences of life, one can still find meaning. Human beings have the potentiality to transform and transfigure situations that are seemingly meaningless, such as the Holocaust, into opportunities for new life and new meaning. Suffering is the site of natality. (116)

  • But it is important to realize that “in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning.” If suffering can be averted or ended then that one must work to change the situation. Otherwise, to think that suffering is a requirement for meaning is simply to be a masochist. (117)

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)

 

So some final notes on Logotherapy:

  • Edith Weiskopf-Joelson observed that North American culture emphasizes the pursuit of happiness to the point that unhappiness is seen as a deficiency. With such a strong emphasis on happiness, above all else, a problem arises: “Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.” (118) In other words, the more one knows they are unhappy, the unhappier they get because society puts an incredible pressure on ‘being happy.’ Weiskopf-Joelson continues, “the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading…” As a result of the unhealthy North American focus on happiness, the one who suffers “is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.” (118)

  • Frankl makes a very insightful observation that many people go to therapists seeking help for what they think is a neurosis (a mental disorder) when in fact what they are experiencing is the human condition. (I speak from experience!) Then Frankl, who as far as I know was only a nominal Jew (if there is such a thin!), states that these days, people don’t want to talk about this human condition with clergy persons, but rather with doctors of psychology and psychiatry: they “confront the doctor with questions such as ‘What is the meaning of my life?’” (119-120) Perhaps this is both an indication of a the Western mindset that sees science as the solution to humanity’s greatest questions and the inability of religion to enable people to live fully human lives with responsibility, rather than preaching other-worldly escapism.

  • On the question of the meaning of human suffering, Frankl again, despite his scientific training, seems to push us further beyond the limits of reason and science to solve existential issues: “Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?” (122)

  • In other words, does reason have the capacity to explain everything? No, says Frankl. The demand made on the human person is not “to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos (meaning) is deeper than logic.” (122)

  • An apophatic or mystical psychoanalysis? Yes!

  • Life changes and so does meaning. But this doesn’t mean that life is meaningless. The transitory nature of life requires that the human person respond to each moment, making responsible choices, choosing what will be made a reality. “Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal ‘footprint in the sands of time’? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.” (124)

  • Frankl coins the phrase “hyper-intention” to refer to what we might call a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ That is, hyper-intention refers to what happens when “fear brings to pass what one is afraid of” or “a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes.” (125) An example of hyper-intention is sleeplessness caused by one’s obsession with falling asleep. “Hyper-reflection” is a related term that refers to an intense focus on something that one wants that they are unable to achieve what they actually desire. He uses the example of a patient who was so focused on herself, her past history of sexual abuse, and the orgasm itself that she was unable to actually enjoy the sexual act nor achieve an orgasm itself. (126)

  • How can one change the negative results created by hyper-intention and hyper-reflection? Paradoxical intention is the logotherapeutic technique that combats the obsessive focus of hyper-intention and hyper-reflection.

  • Paradoxical intention results in doing the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. For example, someone who suffers from the inability to sleep because they are so anxious about not being able to fall asleep needs to instead try to stay awake. One who cannot achieve an orgasm tries not to achieve an orgasm at all. (126-129)

  • Frankl argues that man is totally free and determines their own self. Humans are not things that are pre-determined in the way they act. We are what we make ourselves and we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures.

  • Humans have the freedom to become “swines” or “saints,” says Frankl referring to his observation of fellow prisoners in the concentration camps he lived in. Some became assistants to the mass murderers while others did unthinkable acts of heroism. “After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” (136)

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/thriving-learning-having-wisdom-are-about-getting-up-each-morning-with-intention-clarity-commitment-to-seek-nurture-connection-along-lifes-healthy-healing-path-of-inner-nouris/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/viktor-frankl-analog-desmond-tutu-on-suffering-choose-to-be-ennobled-instead-of-embittered/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/finding-meaning-in-suffering-a-la-great-master-viktor-frankl/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/ante-cuvalo-stipo-sosic-the-road-to-hell-and-back-viktor-frankls-analog/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/in-praise-of-kathie-melocco-and-her-ontic-the-master-viktor-frankl-have-you-reached-a-turning-point-in-your-life/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/writing-and-eventually-dying-a-good-death-expressing-sharing-love-to-the-end/

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5 Responses to Richard Katzev & Ryan Schutt on our greatest modern therapist Viktor Frankl

  1. Pingback: Greg Garrett: Great stories make us feel as though we are not alone, and these stories offer us the opportunity to enter into stories of great suffering — and to cultivate the fervent belief that suffering will somehow, someday, pass. | Curtis Narim

  2. Pingback: Greg Garrett: Great stories make us feel as though we are not alone, and these stories offer us the opportunity to enter into stories of great suffering — and to cultivate the fervent belief that suffering will somehow, someday, pass. | Curtis Narim

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