Many years ago in social work school personal growth groups were categorized as “preventative.” I agreed when there is a risk of suicide or illness or drug abuse or anything requiring serious intervention that facilitating such a group is preventative in nature. But if a population is not at risk why is personal growth and development called “preventative?” It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.
I also wonder why it’s so difficult for us to take care of ourselves. Why do many of us feel guilty for doing something we enjoy, something that gives us pleasure?
These two issues converge in light of one central life concern: What is our primary goal in life – needs or values?
Needs are filled; values are fulfilled. Furthermore needs are filled for me; values are fulfilled by me.
The overarching goal of all of the various approaches to psychology is to fill a need. In contrast the overarching goal of logotherapy is to discover meaning, and along with that to fulfill values and to be response-able.
If the logotherapeutic goal sounds dissonant to modern ears it is because we are primarily need-focused and we go to therapy in order to fill needs. What we need to understand is that needs are filled within the context of fulfilling values and taking responsibility. In short, becoming a more moral, ethical person will make you a happier person.
Psychology and social work are intervention and prevention-focused. They are in the business of problem- solving, not personal growth and development. I can understand that the domain of social work or psychology is to help where help is sorely needed.
The mistake is in thinking that what people need is only for someone to ease their pain, put a stop to addictions or violence or solve problems. The greatest help is to solve the problem in a way that also makes the person feel life is worth living.
Thus self-growth has value even if there is no “problem” or “need” to speak of. The person may no longer be in danger of sliding back but there is always further he can go towards becoming his optimal self. And even when he is in danger, self-growth is a necessary part of fixing the problem.
Promoting personal development can only be called preventative because the psychological establishment has no other word for it within its medical model and it sees no value in the positive goal of helping a population reach its full potential and stature as human beings.
This leads to the question of therapeutic goals. What is the actual difference between the goal of filling needs and the goal of fulfilling values?
When my primary goal is filling needs:
While engaged in giving to the world I will at best tolerate the temporary self-sacrifice of putting my needs on hold and at worst will give resentfully or not give at all.
While engaged in receiving from the world I will at best take care of myself while feeling guilty about it (because in the back of my mind I’ll be thinking that filling my own stomach can’t be all life is about) and at worst exploit everyone in my path and deplete nature since the world only exists in order to serve me.
When my primary goal is fulfilling values:
While engaged in giving I will contribute in my special unique way and feel that I get back much more in the process of giving to others.
While engaged in receiving I will respect and honor my worth as a person and along with receiving pleasure I will be aware of the giver’s love for me.
When values, meanings and responsibilities are what I’m after, giving and receiving are not at odds. They are simply different kinds of values. Giving provides the opportunity to make a difference in the world to people and things that are important to me. Receiving provides the opportunity to appreciate and be warmed by the love that is coming to me. I am always in relationship to someone or something outside myself.
Why do we have trouble nurturing ourselves and doing what we enjoy? Why does it happen that even when we take time off do we feel guilty for it?
Ironically when needs are the all-important goal we often feel guilty because we think we should be caring about someone else instead.
A friend of ours once told us that a certain cleaning lady they had in the house when he was growing up wanted to give him ice-cream immediately after eating meat, which is prohibited according to Jewish law. She said “God will forgive you.”
This Jewish law is obviously not for everyone. However everyone can relate to the principle of making values into the primary goal. If a certain task or mission is given to you and is yours to do it just doesn’t make sense to say “Oh, it doesn’t really matter whether I do this or not.” The imagined contradiction between being responsive to the world on one hand and taking care of my own needs on the other is a fallacy.
Responsibility means that the one who created you has invested in you, has not given up on you. This awareness instills a genuine sense of self-worth. Needs are not forgotten when values are the goal. A focus on values and responsibility causes you to care for the world and for your self at the same time because there is no contradiction between the value of giving and receiving, and the needs of the world and of your self are both recognized as precious.