At different times in our lives, we are faced with crises and suffering. How can we cope with trials with serenity? How can we find a sustainable direction for our existence through our actions and our values? The answers to these questions can be found in logotherapy.
From Tragedy to Discovery
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, was one of the few survivors of the Nazi death camps during the Second World War. Through his hellish experience of the Holocaust, he developed a psychotherapeutic approach he called Logotherapy (logos meaning “reason” in Greek).
But what’s Logotherapy? It is an approach that brings the meaning of human existence in the foreground. Through speech therapy, people improve their ability to cope with life’s challenges and increase their resilience and awareness of their active role in their health and wellbeing.
According to Frankl, it is the meaning we give to our lives that motivates and guides our actions. A lack of direction can make life very unhappy. Thus, Logotherapy is not intended to show us a “way”, but it helps us identify the values and opportunities that attract us. It is us who have the responsibility and choice of the attitude we adopt towards people and situations. Logotherapy is useful in many contexts, especially in periods of transition such as divorce, job loss, bereavement, in short, all the changes that we can score in depth.
Three Ways to Give Meaning to one’s Life
By observing his fellow prisoners in concentration camps, Frankl observed three main dimensions through which humans give meaning to their life.
1. Meaning through a work or a goal. The desire to achieve goals in the short-, medium-, and long-term, is the guarantor of meaning and motivation. The Nazis once confiscated and destroyed an important manuscript that Frankl had written. In giving himself the goal of completing this work, it gave meaning to his life and fueled his courage in the face of adversity.
2. Meaning through relationships. The relationships we have with others are a source of meaning and happiness. Several camp inmates dreamt to see their wives and children, and this idea fed their desire to live despite the atrocious conditions under which they were.
3. Meaning through a vision of “transcendence.” People who have a vision that transcends their existence enjoy a life filled with meaning. Different religions provide this kind of meaning for many people, but an important vision, such as surviving the Holocaust to prevent similar events happening again, plays the same role.
Logotherapy Strategies to Use Every Day
Choose your attitude. In his book Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl recounts a key finding that he made in the concentration camps: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance. Thus, whatever the difficulties relating to a situation, we can always choose to make an opportunity to grow or, conversely, an opportunity to suffer more.”
“Live as if this was the second time.” Dr. Frankl also proposes to see the present as it was before. This exercise helps us to see the same mistakes we made and to avoid repeating them. It is as if we have the power to change the past!
Consider the metaphor of a calendar; we can compare our lives to a calendar. If we throw away the leaves of each new day that passes, the blues are never far away. By contrast, if we approach difficulties with enthusiasm, it is as if we hug each leaf of the calendar to read the latest notes we take. Moreover, we look with pride on what we have accomplished. We become aware of the richness of our past and we know that we continue to build our lives.
Interview with Alex Pattakos alias Dr Meaning
Dr. Alex Pattakos based his own work on the discoveries of Alex Frankl. Author of the book Prisoners of our Thoughts, he helps us to understand and use logotherapy. Health & Happiness Magazine interviews him:
Health & Happiness Magazine: What is the aim of logotherapy (in the way it helps patients)?
Dr. Pattakos: Logotherapy is focused on promoting or advancing “health through meaning.” To be sure, there are patients and clients who need other kind(s) of psycho/social and/or medical interventions and Logotherapy is not intended to be substitute for them when needed. This said, there are many existential issues that can be addressed through Logotherapy. Moreover, Logotherapy, which also can be described as a type of “height” psychology (as opposed to “depth” psychology), can complement and augment other therapeutic approaches. By meaningfully engaging patients/clients and focusing attention on the search for meaning in life (and work), the results of Logotherapy include an increased capacity to deal with life’s challenges, an increase in personal resiliency, and an increased awareness by patients/clients of their personal responsibility in achieving health and wellness.
Health & Happiness Magazine: What are the different contexts in which logotherapy could be useful? (what kind of problems, what kind of situations, etc.)
Dr. Pattakos: I haven’t yet encountered a context in which Logotherapy can not be useful! In this regard, the kinds of problems and situations are wide ranging, in both personal and work-related contexts, and typically comprise different kinds of “life transitions” (such as divorce, job loss, career change, marriage, death in the family, imprisonment, separation from the military, at-risk youth, victims of natural disasters and war, organizational mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring, etc.).
Health & Happiness Magazine: Have you few concrete strategies of logotherapy you can suggest to use for our readers?
Dr. Pattakos: Logotherapy is effectively “values-driven” and its underlying “strategies” include techniques to uncover the embedded values, i.e., creative, experiential, and attitudinal, that provide sources of meaning for patients/clients. One such technique that I employ regularly is called “existential digging,” a process used to help patients/clients learn how to respond to various life situations in a more “healthy” and “appropriate” manner, as well as help them leverage this learning for their personal growth and development. Likewise, there are other techniques and processes that can be used to help patients/clients discover the deeper meaning of their life experiences, as well as help them learn how to respond in a more healthy way and chart a more positive future for themselves.
Moreover, in his book, Dr. Pattakos suggest another very good strategy:
Find 10 good things that emerge from a situation. By highlighting the positive aspects, you choose to adopt a constructive attitude to the situation you face. This attitude enables you to develop new opportunities (creative visualization), which then helps you to act and turn those opportunities into reality. It’s not just positive thinking, but rather attaching your attention to a meaning that is more acceptable to yourself.
Alex Pattakos, Ph.D.
Author of Prisoners of our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work
CENTER FOR MEANING. 223 North Guadalupe Street, #243, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501-1850 USA
Barcelona, Spain: http://www.solocom.es/bcm/
Youtube Channel of Dr. Pattakos: http://www.youtube.com/user/DrMeaning