For the visual among you, the following is a transcription of my interview of September 14 on the Arutz 7 Judean Eve show. After the transcription I have added selections from my personal notes that due to the flow of conversation were omitted.
E: I’m here with my last interview of today. Batya Yaniger who practices logotherapy. Thank you for joining me today Batya.
B: Thank you. Good to be here.
E: Tell us a little bit about yourself, what is logotherapy, how you got into it Something very interesting. There was a film on Viktor Frankl that was aired in our community a few days ago.
So what is this? What is logotherapy?
B: The film we showed is a film Viktor Frankl’s grandson Alex Vesely recently made about the life of his grandfather, called Viktor and I.
E: Who was Viktor Frankl?
B: Logotherapy which is a therapy and philosophy but more than that it’s the art of living. The word logos has a few connotation but the connotation Frankl attributed to it was “meaning” so it became “healing through meaning.” Viktor Frankl created this approach.
Dr. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and neurologist who lived in Vienna before and after WWII . He was the director of a big hospital in Vienna before WWII. But he was in the holocaust like many Jews.
E: He lived there before and after. So he survived the holocaust.
B: That’s right. He knew Freud and Adler and he belonged to their circle until he parted ways and he started what became known as the third Viennese school of psychotherapy.
E: Vienna seems to have been a bastion for psychologists and for psychotherapy. Interesting.
B: Yes, it’s very interesting. One of the interesting stories about his life is that he wrote a book called the Doctor and the Soul before the holocaust but after his experiences in the holocaust he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning and that’s the more well known book.
But when he was in the holocaust they took the manuscript of his first book away from him. As they did with everyone they made him strip of all his clothing, including the coat where he had sewn the manuscript to hide it inside the lining hoping to save it and now they took it from him and he lost his precious manuscript, his life’s work.
At that point he felt very down and discouraged. They gave him a different coat taken from someone who was sent to the crematorium. He looks inside and sees a page from the Siddur that says Shema Yisrael. And he realized that he has to live what he’s teaching and not just write about it.
But I want to answer that question a little bit more at length. Logotherapy is not about modifying thoughts or behaviours but really changing one’s whole attitude towards life.
People look at the world today and they complain a lot. People walk around – they might not be clinically depressed but they’re very unhappy. Other people try to put on a happy face but they’re not happy inside and might be walk around and try to put on a happy face but they might be oblivious to what’s going on. And there are people who are genuinely happy and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with their circumstances.
E: Do you think it’s built in? Some people have a tendency to be happy people?
B: Yes, some people are that way naturally. But for people who are not that way naturally logotherapy helps them a lot.
You look at the world and it’s easy to think there’s no meaning in life because you see the chaos that’s going on and you can’t really prove that life is meaningful. And so Viktor Frankl asserted that even if things look chaotic right now and the meaning is beyond our comprehension, we need to know that there is always a meaning even if we don’t always know what it is. That’s the important point. There’s this trust there that he had and that he wanted to teach other people. Life is not arbitrary. What happens is not accidental. There’s always a meaning
E: Does he ascribe this as a connection to God? For many people that is the meaning of life. Or is it in a nonreligious way.
B: That’s true. He wrote a book called the Unconscious God meaning we have an unconscious relationship to God even if we’re not conscious of it.
E: So it’s a given
B: Yes, but you don’t even have to talk about God because he wants his theory to be applicable to anyone no matter what they believe.
The second principle, freedom of will, meaning that we are not determined by our circumstances or our instincts. We’re free to make meaningful choices.
An example of a meaningful choice is before I came here today you asked me if I could come a little bit late because you were running late and you didn’t want to waste my time. That’s a meaningful choice. It means you look around and estimate what’s going on and you think about what would be the meaningful response to the situation. That’s what makes those kind of people different. That’s the secret.
You have this positive, hopeful attitude towards life because you’re looking for something to do with your situation. You’re not just sitting there. A problem is not a bit of dust you want to shake off your clothing. It’s life engaging you in a dialogue. You can draw an equal sign to make an equation and say:
The problem is an invitation to meaning and life is your personal trainer.
As soon as you see things this way everything changes.
There was one concentration camp inmate who said to Dr. Frankl: “There is nothing more I can expect from life.” And Frankl said to him “Wait a minute. Don’t ask what you expect from life; ask what life expects from you!” You are being addressed by life. You have a calling, a unique mission and life is expectantly waiting for you to fill your space in it.
E: To have that kind of conversation in a concentration camp…..
B: Yes it’s amazing.
To hear life as a series of test questions – not the kind of test that’s meant to trip you up…
E: Like challenges…
B: Right. A test that’s challenging you to show how much you know and what you’re capable of! As I said like a personal trainer.
E: To reach your potential.
B: Yes. So the therapist doesn’t have any answers. The therapist is directing the person to hear the questions that life itself is asking you: Is this what you want? Do you agree with what’s going on here? What’s your gut feeling? Can you help in a way no one else can right now? What seems most appropriate for this situation? What will best further your goals? What are you longing for deep down? In other words life only becomes meaningful when you relate to it in a meaningful way.
E: So a logotherapist you go to isn’t going to say it’s because of your childhood or whatever. The logotherapist won’t give you answers but give you tools to find out on your own where you want to get to.
B: Not only that but your childhood is also speaking to you and giving you unique tools with which to become who you can be.
E: Very interesting. One of the things that really stands out is a lot of this came from his experiences in the holocaust and Judaism. Would you call this Jewish psychology or is it bigger than that?
B: That’s a very good question. It’s both. I would say in a way it’s the applied psychology of Judaism but it’s also bigger than that. When people talk about Jewish psychology today they take an already existing psychology, implant Jewish ideas into it and viola! You have Jewish psychology. But sometimes the approach, the fundamental principles and beliefs of it go against Judaism. No matter what you do, you’re always going to treat a person according to the way you look at him. Logotherapy looks at a person a certain way and looks at the world in a certain way that matches the way Judaism looks at people and looks at the world. So it really influences the way the person is treated in therapy.
E: Does that mean logotherapy is only good for Jewish people?
B: No, Not at all. The way I would put it is that it’s clearly universal and it’s used for all kinds of people all over the world. But it supports a Jewish mindset particularly because it’s so universal. This is because Judaism itself teaches universal principles about what a human being is all about.
E: And how to relate to other human beings, not just to God.
B: And that’s why it’s Jewish at the same time that it’s universal.
E: For many of us the underpinnings of what we would call western civilization is Jewish values.
B: Exactly. A lot of non Jews recognize this as well. The Jewish view that a human being is created in God’s image. – Doesn’t that make every human being’s life unconditionally meaningful? The Jewish view of a person as holistic (looking at all the aspects together including the spiritual), the basic goodness in a person, responsibility, conscience, the belief that life is a task, welcoming challenges for their growth-inducing opportunities. All these things are Jewish concepts and they’re logotherapeutic concepts as well.
E: How about that balance we’re always struggling with? On the one hand we’re not all that important. The world does not revolve around you. On the other hand any good you do has an effect. You do a kindness to someone and then they do a kindness to someone else and so forth. And the opposite – You do something not good and that can translate into a whole chain of not good things.
B: That’s very true. So you learn to access your spiritual dimension and learn to increase your ability to be a human being in the full sense. We don’t appreciate everything we can learn from the holocaust. Frankl saw humanity at its worst and at its best. When Freud said take everything away from people and they’ll sink to the lowest common denominator of survival at any cost that simply wasn’t true. In the holocaust Frankl witnessed the truth of his theory. Yes, there were people who turned into animals but there were people who rose to give away their last piece of bread. So you could see that if even one person could be this way, everyone is capable of that.
E: I would imagine the difficulty in seeing what he saw, and it’s lucky he survived for many reasons, is that the people he saw behaving in that way didn’t survive to say how they were able to overcome that basic animal instinct. Because many of those things would have led to their own demise. He’s a witness for the people who aren’t here to tell that story.
B: Yes, one of the disturbing lines in Man’s Search for Meaning is “The best of us did not survive.” That’s what you’re saying really. On the other hand he did survive and he also had that courage and defiant power and humanity that he didn’t let go of.
E: And the brilliance to transfer that on
B: And even the people who didn’t survive, nothing can be taken away from a person and that’s preserved in our memory.
E: If you know about it.
B: We have a responsibility to learn about those people and to learn from them.
E: Internalize the values that they had
B: So I would say Logotherapy is a Jewish psychology because it’s a very human psychology.
E: So you yourself practice?
B: Yes. I have a private practice in Israel. We also have a training course.
E: Is it one to one or group setting?
B: It can be done with individuals, in a group setting or couples, and it can be used for people with various types of problems and issues of all kinds. Frankl worked with people before the holocaust who were suicidal and helped them find a reason to live. It helps all kinds of people.
E: So you would say it’s unique as a therapeutic approach?
B: Yes. Some of what’s unique about it I touched on before. The way you look at a person and the way you look at the world. First, you have these three things that come together: The uniqueness of the person, the uniqueness of the situation and the response it requires, the challenge that it is.
Frankl brings the example of asking: What’s the best move in a game of chess? There is no best move. It all depends on where all the pieces are right now.
The therapist will ask the person questions that will elicit the person’s strengths and resources and reveal those values that are important to the person and also values potentially in the situation where if you do such and such you’ll fulfill an important value.
E: Or in marital therapy.
B: You learn to appreciate what’s important to the other person
E: Find out what is important to the person. Sometimes people don’t even know that.
B: Someone says they want something and you don’t know why it’s important to them.
Logotherapy promotes a healthy relationship with life. This is a subtle difference between logotherapy and other approaches. It seems they’re always helping people fight against the world. It’s not said explicitly but I get the sense the therapy is assuming a kind of “me against the world” attitude and you’re helping them fight against the unfairness of the world.
Logotherapy says no, you are connected. Let’s see how you’re more connected to the world than you realize. Then oh, you can actually make it serve you.
How can I get that attitude that life can serve me and I can feel a connection and positive relationship and a hopeful attitude?
By realizing there’s a dialogue going on.
And then I accept what’s not in my control and I realize what is, and I realize here’s my place where I can do something. And then I’m able to see the strengths inside of me on the one hand and my challenges and what I might perceive as a challenge and difficulty is actually helping me bring out my strengths. And we learn to align ourselves with the message that’s in the situation without being distracted by the noise surrounding it.
E: Are there schools in Israel and the States? Is it a specialty in psychology?
B: There is the VFI in the US where they give certificates in logotherapy. The first certificate you don’t need to be a mental health professional. The Diplomate certificate requires a master’s degree. If you have a clinical degree you get a clinical certificate and if you don’t have a clinical degree you get an educational certificate.
Right now logotherapy is fairly new in Israel. It’s being used a lot in those places where Frankl was more, like Germany and Austria and South America. We’re trying to bring it to Israel. One of Frankl’s students, Dr. Teria Shantall started the program in the University of South Africa as part of their ongoing adult education courses and she brought it here to Israel. We trained nine people who finished that. There’s also a course in Haifa in Hebrew at Gordon College. We’re looking to take it other places. Midreshet Emunah is now offering it in Hebrew and perhaps even in English. There’s an ongoing correspondence course that people can start whenever they want to.
People can read the blog at meaningtherapy.wordpress.com and my address is Batya.firstname.lastname@example.org People are invited to write to me and get more information
The concepts of logotherapy are deceptively simple. When I see people who are growing from this, again and again coming up with new insight, it’s so inspiring and the atmosphere is so exciting listening together with the person to hear what they’re call is.
E: And you’re making a difference. I see on your face how rewarding you find what you’re doing, and how it fits in so well with your Jewish life and the meaning you’ve put into your own life. So thank you so much Batya Yaniger and I hope to have you back at some future point.
B: Thank you.
[Now here are some selections from my notes…]
The third principle, will to meaning says that we very much want our lives to have some kind of purpose and meaning. We want to have something to live for, a reason to wake up in the morning…
In a word, logotherapy is a positive, hopeful attitude towards life. Frankl said that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose one’s attitude, to choose one’s own way. As one survivor had said to the Nazi guard: “You can take everything from me but you can’t get to my spirit…”
In other words life only becomes meaningful when you relate to it as meaningful, when you consider the meaning of events in his life and respond in a way that makes the most sense, when you question yourself, laugh at yourself if need be and make meaningful choices…
Logotherapy is about connecting the dots between who I am now and who life is inviting me to become, between my strengths and my challenges that are designed to bring out my strengths.
You gain courage to overcome obstacles and see potential in the situation and in yourself that you didn’t see before. Like the two blessings in our daily prayers – “who has given me all I need” and “who prepares the steps of a person.” These two blessings are an expression of my unique gifts and my unique responsibility.
There is no such thing as pure techniques, divorced from any world view. The way that we view a human being will necessarily influence the way we relate to that person.
For example, we can recall the school situation where the test scores of two classes were mistakenly mixed up. The teacher, assuming she was teaching gifted children, treated them as such, and her class of (up until then) below average students produced incredibly high scores.
Frankl uses the metaphor of the small airplane. The concept of crabbing means the pilot aims a little bit above his real target. If he aims for his true target the wind will cause him to fall short. If he aims a bit above it, he will arrive at his intended destination. – Take him as he can be