Meaning in life and crisis experience

The Relationship Between Graduate Student’s Meaning in Life and Their Crisis Experiences

As the previous speaker had mentioned (and what came to be a repeating theme throughout the conference), researcher and PhD candidate Lorraine Dinkel observed that logotherapy is overlooked in the counseling field. They can impact a lot of people with meaning if they would understand it more. They see a lot of suffering but they don’t label it as suffering. Thus there is a particular thrust to research in the field of logotherapy, which is to bring the world’s attention to its effectiveness.

She chose this area of research because awareness and research of disasters and crisis experiences are increasing in the field of counselors and she wanted to explore graduate counselor students’ crisis experiences.

Based on Frankl’s emphasis on meaning in life she explored spirituality with students and used logotherapy as her theoretical foundation.

She sent a questionnaire to graduate and post-graduate counseling students from the entire spectrum of different types of counseling and received 633 participants for the study.

She focused on each student individually, asking: What was an unavoidable and greatest distress for you?

She also created definitions for her study. Disaster is something that happens to a lot of people. Although many people can undergo disaster, each individual will experience it differently. Thus when people talk about trauma they are referring to what might have resulted from the disaster.

However she wanted to look from the standpoint of the crisis itself.

• The total number of crisis experiences on average per participant was five. It was interesting that even young students reported this many crisis experiences. (Perhaps this contributed to their entering the counseling field…)

• The overall crisis experience was measured along a continuum from moderate to strong intensity.

• Participants filled out a PIL (Purpose in Life) test to find out about their sense of meaning on a spectrum from a clear to very clear sense of meaning.

The findings showed no relationship between the PIL scores of the students and their experience of crisis, no relationship between their PIL scores and number of crisis experiences and no relationship between the PIL scores and intensity of their crisis experiences.

The only significant correlation found was between their PIL scores and their sense of meaning in life.

In conclusion the number of crisis experiences or their intensity are not the main contributing factor to how people deal with crisis. It is how one relates to what happens that makes a difference. Having or not having a sense of meaning in life determines how you will ride the storms of life.

In addition to the evidence of the positive effect of having a sense of meaning the study showed a difference between natural disasters and human induced crisis. Participants who experienced naturally caused crisis scored higher on the PIL than participants who experienced human induced or both categories of crisis experiences. Human induced crisis brings a higher impact of crisis. There is distrust and betrayal.

Thus we need to pay attention to what kind of crisis it is. While other studies of crisis research today are taking away the “act of God” category for a crisis situation, a spiritual category of some kind should be included.

Age was another factor that was looked at. Participants older than 40 scored in the definite range of the PIL and had stronger intensity ratings than their younger counterparts. A question raised by the study is: What is standing in the way of finding meaning for the 40 and younger group? We might attribute this to the general times that people grew up in. On the other hand I wondered whether maturity was a factor as well. Especially if we are talking about counseling students I would expect that they are the kind of people who are always seeking to grow spiritually.

Further research could be done to seek to understand how these experiences impact counseling students. This would also be beneficial in educational settings.

Students with a better understanding of their own experiences would be better equipped to help others in crisis situations.

More research can be done regarding meaning in life and age differences, as discussed above. If we can find out what is blocking people’s ability to discover meaning we can consider ways to help them jump those hurdles.

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