Connecting the dots

Sometimes problems are straightforward. More often they’re not. There’s a reason why a particular problem is bothering someone. A more fundamental issue is lying beneath it. The deeper issue is what has to be uncovered and this is what the presenting problem is really about. As in other approaches we want to pay close attention especially to the first thing the person says, not in order to hear the “presenting problem” but in order to understand the “meaning crisis.”

The use of the word “meaning” in logotherapy is misunderstood, as if we are now turning an ordinary human problem into a philosophical or theological discussion. That’s not what logotherapists do.

We want the person to discover the meaning of what is happening in his life by viewing it within the context of who he is, how he is relating to it, what his past experiences are and what are the responsibilities and opportunities in front of him right now. To pull a technique out of our grab-bag of tricks without first understanding the meaning, would in the end be ineffective

Many people have feelings of self-doubt. They have a voice of self-sabotage in one form or another. The problem they are presenting has become a problem only because of the self-doubt and self-sabotaging voices and behavior.

We can consider using a technique like dereflection to focus the person on something outside himself. But we can’t do that too fast. We have to first understand the crisis of meaning. Why is this so important to him?

Only once the meaning becomes clear does it make sense to determine whether dereflection or any other technique would be useful.

As Steve Jobbs said when talking about how life works: You can’t connect the dots forward. You can only connect the dots backward. Meaning to say, you can’t see at the time how a particular experience might be useful for you in the future and how all of the experiences in life add up. But sometimes you get glimpses of it when you look backwards and connect one experience to another, this challenge and how you overcame it and where it brought you, that mistake and what you learned, what a particular experience has to do with who you are and who you want to become. In logotherapy the aim is to try to help people connect the dots backwards.

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