I am revisiting a question that came up in our logotherapy course quite some time ago. Dereflection is the logotherapeutic technique of directing the person’s attention away from the problem and towards something important to the person. This raises the question: By turning the person’s attention away from the problem are we not minimizing the person’s suffering? Where does empathy come into it?
In Proverbs (12: 25) it says, If there is anxiety in a man’s heart (mind) yashchena…The Talmud gives two alternative explanations to the word yashchena. It means either put it out of your mind or it means tell it over to someone else.
This verse is describing the two possibilities for response to a problem. When I am ruminating over and fixating on anxious thoughts and the obsessive thinking about it is itself creating a problem, this is when dereflection is in order. Thinking about the problem is not helpful. Thus what is needed is to focus elsewhere.
A meaning focus does two things. It opens the person’s perspective up to new possibilities. By putting a stop to thinking about what I cannot do in the situation I begin to see what I can do. It also focuses my attention on my values and priorities in life. Something in this situation matters more to me than the problem at hand. Let me put my attention on what is important to me.
Alternatively when I need help in resolving something where I am not obsessively thinking about it but I need the assistance of someone else to help me see it clearly and find a creative solution, then it is a good idea to turn to someone else for help.
It occurred to me that in addition to being a guide for one’s own anxieties this verse encapsulates the need for careful listening on the part of the therapist or friend to discern whether the person is obsessing about it in a way that is not helpful to him or her, or whether the person has a need to talk it out.
If the person is obsessing about it, then allowing the person to go on endlessly will not get him or her anywhere. On the other hand if the person needs help in seeing the issue clearly then discussing it will be useful.
In the first scenario, where the person’s ruminating is not helpful, dereflection can be used. If what’s happening is that the person needs clarity then Socratic dialogue can be useful.
Empathy is used throughout, to be there with the person’s pain but not to let them dig themselves deeper into a hole.