Is logotherapy a therapy of love?
The answer is “yes and no.” It depends on how you define love. If love is the feeling a child has who is being embraced and treasured for the singular, preciously unique individual he is, whose life has unconditional value then yes, logotherapy is a therapy of love.
Yet in the same breath I will insist that it is more than that. And if we don’t include and incorporate the “more than that” into our definition, we are distorting the meaning of love.
Frankl blessed the presence of a statue of liberty in America. Without basic freedom of choice we could not be who we are. We only have to look at totalitarian states to see what denial of freedom looks like.
At the same time, Frankl said, just as we have the Statue of Liberty on the east coast of the United States there needs to be a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast. People took Frankl’s words seriously and have gotten to work on just such a project.
Imagine the following scenario: Jack walks into the therapy room and says to his therapist: “I have a problem. I’m not responsible. Can you please help me be responsible?”
We laugh at the above scenario because it would never happen. We laugh whenever we can pick up the bit of sense in the nonsense.
I would like to suggest that responsibility and not only love, is a critically important aspect of the logotherapeutic approach to healing. It is part of what makes logotherapy unique.
To understand the importance of responsibility and appreciate why we should even want it, think back to what it was like being a child. You were given more and more responsibility as you grew. If you were given a job to do, especially if people were counting on you and you did it well, you felt very proud of yourself after accomplishing it.
According to Jewish law the age of maturity (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy) is the age when a person acquires da’at (awareness). I always wondered about this. Children are very aware, are they not? But they were talking about a very special kind of awareness, awareness of your responsibility.
Children should not be troubled with responsibility. They need first and foremost to know that they are loved and they need many years of receiving unconditional love, together with gradually being given rules and guidance and discipline until they’re mature enough to know they are the ones who are now capable of giving love.
In other words, to be responsible is to be an adult.
Obviously society tells us to be responsible. Religion teaches responsibility. But therapy? What can possibly be therapeutic about responsibility?
Yet, Frankl insists that responsibility makes life meaningful. He says: “The conviction that one has a task before him has enormous psychotherapeutic and psychogenic value. The more he grasps the task quality of life, the more meaningful will his life appear to him. While the man who is not conscious of his responsibility simply takes life as a given fact, existential analysis teaches people to see life as an assignment.”
The concept of responsibility challenges us partly because it sounds like hearing “Do as you’re told” and reacting with: “Don’t tell me what to do.”
Responsibility is actually something taken, not given. It’s an acting in response to where my contribution is needed. Sure, we always prefer to choose for ourselves rather than be given the task by someone else. But we can also choose to freely choose what the other has told us to do.
In this sense responsibility is one aspect of, and not separate from, love. After being told to take out the trash one can refuse the “demand” or one can lovingly choose to respond out of awareness of what the other wants or needs.
Being responsible means being an adult, which means being autonomous and capable of thinking and making your own decisions. It means understanding that what you do matters, that there’s a consequence to what you do. To be responsible is to rise to your full stature of human being who has:
• awareness of the meaning of what is happening to you
• capacity of thinking and taking a stand towards reality
• able to choose your own way
• able to respond to the challenges through your attitudes or actions
• thereby transcending your unformed, childlike state and become transformed into an adult.
The alternative to responsibility is acting like a child, who might have a lot of fun but is incapable of making autonomous decisions. To lack responsibility is to render yourself a helpless victim of circumstances. To be responsible is to know where you have the ability to choose and then take on those tasks and take a leadership role in changing your little world.
People may not feel responsibility is what they are looking for. They are looking for someone to fix their problem for them.
The logotherapist’s task is to embrace them lovingly, and then to help them perceive how the cards they’ve been dealt by life are inviting them to meaning and to help them be aware of the tasks life is expectantly waiting for them to take on.
It is only in a spirit of love that they will willingly take on the tasks or even be aware that they are not helpless.
Ultimately responsibility is the ability to have an intimate, mature, loving relationship.
Thus, logotherapy is not a therapy of immature love. It’s a therapy of love that incorporates conscience and of freedom that incorporates responsibility.
Now, the Frankl quote in full:
“The conviction that one has a task before him has enormous psychotherapeutic and psychogenic value. We venture to say that nothing is more likely to help a person overcome or endure objective difficulties or subjective troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life. That is all the more so when the task seems to be personally cut to suit, as it were; when it constitutes what may be called a mission. Having such a task makes the person irreplaceable and gives his life the value of uniqueness…The more he grasps the task quality of life, the more meaningful will his life appear to him. While the man who is not conscious of his responsibility simply takes life as a given fact, existential analysis teaches people to see life as an assignment.” (The Doctor and the Soul, pp. 56-58)