In the process of asking our logotherapy students what they have learned I was inspired by their “Aha!” insights into what makes logotherapy unique. I am attempting here to collate all of their various answers, organize them by topic and see what comes out. In their experience of studying logotherapy they found that:
1) The logotherapist sees the client eye-to-eye
2) The answers are not inside of you; growth only comes in response to…
3) Suffering can’t ever make sense to you. Its meaning comes through the greatness it evokes in you.
4) The search begins at the point of saying “I am not a victim; I’ve been entrusted with greatness”
As a logotherapist I see the human being sitting opposite me eye-to-eye. This goes beyond unconditional positive regard and beyond the camaraderie of being a fellow human being who says “Don’t worry. I too have problems, as you do.” Being in the therapist chair usually negates equality, in spite of protestations to the contrary, because I the therapist see the hidden problem and you don’t see it. I am still the authority.
What is special in logotherapy is the authentic meeting. The recognition that a great soul sits before me and that the greatness of God is shining through this person help evoke this greatness.
This encounter is not between therapist and client. There is a third voice in the room, where therapist and client are both looking together to hear a voice beyond both of us.
The answers are not inside of you; growth only comes in response to…
Humanism has picked up on the importance of love and compassion but has missed the important element of discernment and the responsibility that comes with it.
In humanism there is no discernment. Reflective Rogerian listening is based on the assumption that the answers are all inside of you and you only have to hear yourself.
In contrast logotherapy starts with the assumption that the answers are not inside of you. They are not in the therapist either. The answers can only come in response to the reality outside you.
In the words of one student: “I find comfort in not knowing the answer but knowing there is one. In psychology there is no answer; you just have to look inwards, while we say the answer is out there.”
Although you don’t have all the answers in you, you are capable of finding the answers.
The logotherapist is prepared to meet you wherever you are, and provoke the divine spark in you, that is to provoke your ability to sense what is good and what is not, thereby helping you find the answers.
Growth only comes in response to, in the process of discerning what is good and what is not. Discernment only comes in the process of doing, that is in the process of learning what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to.
As one student described it: Rogers fundamental belief in a person’s goodness avoided the need to deal with the issue of how to get there. What activates that good core? It’s not just about peeling away the onion because entropy will take over. There is a need to take conscious steps of meaningful choices. We have to choose between the blessing and the curse. Without existential guilt and the decision to choose life, there is no achievement.
The atmosphere of therapy today is filled with selfishness and scoffs at discipline. Why can’t I just have whatever I want? Why must I resist evil?
No one ever comes for therapy looking for how to be responsible. Yet you find yourself only when you give yourself, when you respond to life’s invitations.
The purpose of logotherapy is not to restore equilibrium. It is focused instead on human greatness. The greatest respect we can give a person is to challenge them.
If we didn’t have the tension between what is and what ought to be this would destroy mental health. The client feels empowered by his choices. This is not self-assured empowerment but the empowerment of commitment to values that matter. This is truly liberating.
Judaism, and logotherapy, sees life as a task. The answers are not inside of you. The answers are found in the process of responding to the opportunities God gives you.
The search begins at the point of saying “I am not a victim; I’ve been entrusted with greatness”
The search for answers to life’s questions begins by saying “I am not a victim of circumstances or a victim of my own inner forces”
As soon as you make the choice of saying “I’m not a victim” you are on the path. As you begin to take the opportunities God is giving you, then you begin to grow. It’s something you have to do and you won’t lift a finger to do anything as long as you are complaining that it’s all the fault of your parents, your upbringing, your nature or whatever.
You begin to trust that you’ve been entrusted. God has entrusted us with responsibility, to say “yes” to what is good and also to take a stand and say “no” to what is wrong. The therapist is not the “authority” but the therapist confronts the person to face his own values and to take responsibility for his behavior by saying “Look at what you’re doing. Look at what your behavior is causing. Is this what you want?”
I used to explain the difference of logotherapy as being meaning-centered as opposed to person-centered. I would revise that statement to say that logotherapy is “personal-greatness” – centered.
For the logotherapist it’s about developing the ability not to listen to the neediness. (“Fix this and make it better for me.”) Dwelling brings great disappointment. Focusing on the problem only makes you frustrated and makes you look at life in terms of what it’s not giving you.
When you stop thinking you are a victim you don’t have to stop acknowledging your needs. It just means you stop kvetching and start doing something about it. This is what logotherapy means by basic trust in being.
Instead, get to the source of why you are having this problem. Is there an issue you might be running away from or struggling with?
Underneath it all is there a legitimate need you are not responding to? You need to affirm the need and not dwell on the problem.
What is the deep inner striving all about? How is this fundamental to who you are? How can you come into your space? How can this need be met?
As one student put it: For something to hold meaning there needs to be deep inner joy and connection. Something may seem to be meaningful but is it really for you? When something is yours to do you feel: This gives me life. This gives me joy. This is life-giving.
Suffering can’t ever make sense to you. Its meaning comes through the greatness it evokes in you.
“I set before you life and death.” – Something is “set before you.” Commitment wells up in you; you do the tasks that need to be done; you earn your space in the world. It is the achievement won through contradicting wrong and being obedient to what is right.
Suffering evokes a real desire for what should be. You now know what you were looking for all along. Your lack of self-worth and people’s abusive treatment of you were wrong. The very process of going through that has awakened your desire to step forth. Did you allow yourself to be a victim? Are you allowing it now? This was meant for you to overcome!
You have to confront yourself. How did you allow yourself to be a victim? What is at stake? You also need to confront the other. This is what has separated us; let’s deal with it.
It’s a question of reconnecting to the basic trust in being. What do you have to draw upon in the situation? How can this be meaningful?
It’s not by a fight or flight response but by realizing life is unconditionally meaningful and overcoming the negative feelings by one’s attitude.
The logotherapeutic stance on the part of the therapist is to express confidence in the person’s ability to come out. You don’t dictate and you don’t appease. You don’t agree with the person’s feeling of helplessness. You say “I don’t believe you are helpless.” You give the person a sense of power and comfort and support not because they have all the power but because they draw power from the meaning of knowing what was wrong, believing they don’t have to stand for it and so forth.
Life doesn’t stop being meaningful when you suffer. You get to even higher awarenesses because you are asking “Why?” What has this suffering shown? What has it brought out of you? These things are indestructible. Things like dignity and courage take away the resentment of “Why me?” You become aware of the specialness of what you’ve become through this.
The situation is testing you, calling you forth, making you believe in all that God has given you. It’s possible to get to a place of feeling you have not been abandoned and that you can trust life.
What students said about being a logotherapist…
You can’t fake logotherapy. You have to have it internalized for yourself to do it.
You’re not looking for what’s wrong; you’re looking for what’s right that went wrong! Problems are challenges that have also been put there for a purpose – to overcome it. In other approaches it’s still always between you and me. In logotherapy it’s between us and meaning. That dependency on the meaning that is out there is my security. – I don’t have to fret about not knowing the answers. It’s more exciting to be in the real search and discover in their suffering and pain a mission, and then it begins to be so liberating as moment by moment you find meaning and the mission gets clarified and even the suffering serves you.
There is a contiguity between events and what I’m learning and what I just saw…Something is brought to our attention that’s worthwhile. We have the ability to recognize that. (We have conscience) This ability is peculiar to human beings that speaks to higher reality. They find meaning in life and meaning in what is happening in that particular moment, which makes them become more aware of meaning generally in life.
We gain consciousness of a great One we’re participating with. We’re invited into a partnership with the One who gave us life.
Other therapies overlook this in me. We want to get clarity on what we’re looking for and they overlook who I am and what I’m looking for. They drag me down. This wonderful journey is dulled. I become fixated on self as something caught and entangled in things around me. I want to enjoy my life and see it as perfectly worthwhile. For that I need to see from a perspective above. Even the smallest inkling of meaning realization is the divine spark you can light up in the heart of the whosoever.