Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finding Meaning: Logotherapy

I  often fantasize that I am a time traveler, jettisoning my temporal reality and making the pilgrimage back in time. While I am intrigued by the potentialities of the future, the pleas of the past call me toward an about-faced trek.

Without stating the obvious destination, there is a long list of intelligencia I would seek:  Jung and Freud, of course. Sagan, Wiesel, Weil, Aquinus, Twain, Jefferson, Hugo, Siddhārtha, Lewis, Kollwitz, Camus, King, Jr., Descartes, Socrates, Gandhi, Bojaxhiu, and well, it's obvious to me that I've spent too much time in my imagination with this concept.  I digress. This post isn't really about time-traveling. It's about the one other person in my journey-to-the-past illusion- Viktor Frankl.

For those of you who do not know Frankl, you should. Born in Austria, Frankl (1905-1997) authored one of my favorite books Man's Search for Meaning. He was a neurologist and psychotherapist who, between 1942 and 1945, survived Auschwitz and three other concentration camps, where more than three million died. Included in those who died were his parents and his beloved wife. While imprisoned, he spent time working with others who were suicidal, hopeless, and anguished. 

That which is to give light must endure burning.

Viktor Frankl

After being freed in 1945, Frankl fathered a new psychotherapeutic concept: Logotherapy. Logos ( λόγος) is Greek for words, language, speech,  and meaning, and therapy is from the Greek therapeuein (Θεραπεύω) which means to heal or treat.  Elie Wiesel understood Frankl's concept when he said, "Whosoever survives the test must tell his story. That is his duty." The psychotherapist does not coercively cure, treat, or heal. Rather, healing comes from the sufferer's ability and willingness to, eventually, find words with which to speak of their tragedy and the successive meaning to understand and make sense of it. The sufferer does so as the therapist listens, fully present and in absentia furor sanandi (without a rush to cure).

He acknowledged that logotherapy takes time and great pains. The sufferer's story must evolve in such a way that meaning is discovered.  But Frankl, himself a sufferer of horrors I will never know, believed in the potential of human beings. He believed in the power of love to heal. He believed, and practiced, communion with the Other- in a sense, the I-Thou relationship of which Martin Buber speaks.  If another person creates a sacred space within which a sufferer can experience acceptance, patience, willingness of the Other to coenter the darkness by their side, and radical loving care (Chapman, 2007), then the sufferer has a much better chance of finding meaning.

It's not a simple task for us mere mortals: to make meaning out of indescribable suffering. Yet, without meaning, there can be no healing. Beyond finding meaning, there is so much more gained than what is lost in the fire. And while we always remember that which was lost in the flames of despair, it is only when we reach the summit beyond our former view of the world that we are able to truly transcend our loss.  

So, I would travel back in time and listen to Frankl. I'd sit with him over a cup of dandelion tea and ask him his story. I'd enter the darkness with him, stand with him, and watch as his own meaning, and transcension, unfolded. I would journey by his side as he painfully emerged from the ashes into the beautiful man he was, and watch in reverant awe as he brought light to the world.


Amy said...

I love that quote, and have been playing it over in my mind. Thank you for your thoughts and introduction to Dr. Viktor Frankl. I plan to add him to my reading list.


Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

You will be moved by Frankl's words, I am certain. Thank you Amy for visiting!

Kara Chipoletti Jones of GriefAndCreativity dot com said...

Witness. Witness. Witness.

I ask that Reiki healing energy flow through me so I can be a vessel of witnessing.

This is where the Fire dropped me.
I used to think my Reiki Master worked with me to heal me and to teach me to heal others. Then, she broke thru finally. It is not about the cure, but rather standing sacred and solid as a witness. To find my own meaning, to regain my own light, so that I can be a vessel to witness. So that maybe people have a place to find their own meaning, to regain their own light.

I know I am certainly grateful for the sacred place my Reiki Master and others gave me. You, Dr. Jo, are one of those who gave me sacred ground. And those you led me to: John, Peter, Vanessa, Dr. GG.


Thank you!

Jaliya said...

Hi, Joanne ... I came upon your blog during one of my online wanderings ... and found your post on Viktor Frankl. I first read his work in 1983, thanks to a dear friend. What a powerful soul he was to have not only survived what he did, but to give so much beauty to the world after the hell he lived through. He's a true inspiration to me -- one of my heroes.

This is one of my longtime favourite quotations of his:

"I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. "

Karin said...

I can really relate to this. I have really needed to tell our story over and over again. I have not thought of it as a duty, but I can see how that is true. It seems a duty to oneself and a duty to those who follow.

Cirilo Toro Vargas said...

The uniqueness of Dr. Frankl, within the process of finding meaning, is his posture towards a positive attitude in every life's details. While keeping away negative thoughts, he suggest that the person doesn't lose faith in himself/herself.

In a recent book I devoted one chapter to positive attitudes and brought out the figure of Dr. Frankl and his logotherapy. We should not get tired of letting people the usefulness for themselves and others of keeping a good attitude in whatever tasks we undertake in our daily lives.

Thank you for your thoughts on Frankl and logotherapy. Greetins from Puerto Rico.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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