One of the confusions about values in logotherapy is that outside the realm of logotherapy what we mean by “values” is one of two things: a) an objective moral truth equally valid for everyone or b) (the absurd notion of) morality as a private choice.
Values in logotherapy refer to neither of these. Values are the fulfillment of what gives you value as a unique individual. Each time a task is set before you that is yours to do and you do it, your value and preciousness come to light.
You can know that this task is yours to do when something about it deeply resonates for you in the meaning of the moment. However you will not necessarily feel a resonance with the concrete reality you’re presented with but only with the hidden potential for value-fulfillment concealed there.
Thus the goal of therapy is to find that resonance in the context of your reality even when it is deeply concealed there.
In her book Logotherapy Textbook, Elisabeth Lukas writes about listening for a “key word.” If the key word opens the door, the value shines through. The key word touches and reveals a deeper place that the person is responding to noetically, rather than reacting to emotionally.
One example she brings is a young man who enjoys mountain climbing and becomes a paraplegic because of a motorcycle accident. She gets to the core of what mountain climbing means to him. It is a way of pushing the limits and proving himself. This challenge of proving himself is a value that resonates and when applied to his situation today he responds to it with the desire to climb the metaphorical mountains of this physical challenge. Through fulfilling the value “out there” in the world his value is actualized.
In the process of revealing what can become meaningful to you now based on what was meaningful to you then, you metamorphose into a living, breathing value-being.
We can break this process into three steps that can serve as a general guideline:
a) Listen to what enlivens the person. A person’s value is apparent in the enthusiasm, excitement, passion and aliveness that can be sensed when the person talks about this quality.
b) Filter out the value from the external situation where the person was enthusiastic. What is the essence of what enlivens the person? This essence is what we can call the value.
c) Put this value into the context of his external life reality today. It may not be obvious but where and how can this value be expressed in the reality life is presenting him with right now?
In the example above, his enthusiasm about mountain climbing was the clue that there was a value in it for him. The essence of his enthusiasm was the challenge of pushing the limits and proving himself. The way to fulfill this value today was to prove himself in a totally different arena – the physical challenge of disability.