Welcome to the first JEMI Guest Post, in what will hopefully become a regular feature. First up:
Batya Yaniger, PsyD, Logotherapist
Logotherapy is a healing modality created by Dr. Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of the best-seller Man’s Search for Meaning.
It is based on the assumption that life is intrinsically meaningful, that we want our lives to be meaningful and that we have the ability to make our lives meaningful. From these principles alone we can already sense its affinity with a religious mindset. But it is not only ‘compatible.’ Logotherapy upholds Jewish principles, making it the therapy of choice from a G-d-fearing perspective.
1) Logotherapy acknowledges a personal relationship with G-d
Every person has unique strengths, unique life circumstances and unique commission to match. ‘How is life guiding you?’ the logotherapist asks. ‘What does this situation require of you?’ Logotherapy is universal, and it speaks a universal language. One need not be religious to recognize that problems demand thoughtful responses.
Yet there is a ‘personal’ component. We sense a connection to an ultimate ‘other’ before whom we will someday have to give an account: What did we do with our lives? Consciously or unconsciously we have a ‘personal’ relationship with the one who created, entrusted and commissioned us.
The logotherapist will not mention G-d unless the client is interested in doing so. But religious clients are conscious of the human-Divine relationship and will ask, ‘What does G-d want from me right now? What kind of hint is G-d sending? Where do I stand in my relationship to G-d in this crossroads of my life?’
2) Problems are opportunities
Life is a dialogue, with questions and answers. The task of the client is to look for the meaningful kernels of events, and use them as opportunities to grow. The task of the logotherapist is to sharpen the client’s vision to see from a broader perspective, and to look beneath the surface in order to turn meaning-inspired goals into reality.
It is as if we are given a puzzle to solve. Only it turns out that the goal was not really to solve ‘the problem’ at all. The goal was to become the person you have become as a result of the strengths you have mobilized and the exemplary qualities you realized in the process of answering the question. Problems are opportunities for becoming who you were created to be.
It is easy to hear from this formulation the echo of divine Providence. Everything happens for a reason. I look to my Creator as the source of infinite loving-kindness, who created me with love and for a purpose, and who orchestrates everything for my ultimate good.
It follows that the world is not run chaotically but with order and integrity. The questions that follow are, ‘What am I here for? How can I contribute? What am I meant to learn from this?
3) Logotherapy acknowledges the G-dliness within us.
An amputee was suicidal after losing her leg. Frankl saved her life by challenging her attitude. If a bug loses a leg, it is useless to the bug community. But for human beings, Frankl said, ‘it must be different.’
Furthermore, Logotherapy appeals to the spirit, which is the essence of our humanity. Despite our struggles and limitations, we have freedom of choice. The religious person will tell you that human beings were created in G-d’s image. But has he internalized this belief about himself and everyone he meets? Human worth should always be assumed in the therapeutic encounter. In Logotherapy it is unquestionable.
4) Logotherapy encourages thinking and self-determination
Frankl compares a person to the sailor of a boat. The winds may blow us off-course, but the sailor can decide to sail against the wind. Similarly, Judaism values taking charge of our emotions, honoring them and learning from them but not allowing them to rule us.
We have wisdom. We have the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong and to discern what is valuable and meaningful.
5) The focus is on what matters
Much of western psychology is based on the western view that sees a dichotomy between the material and the spiritual. Problems are not solved, but exacerbated by this split, as empathizing with the person’s negative emotions tends to reinforce the victim mentality of unfairness and helplessness.
If we stay only on the physical and psychological levels, we are missing a vast reservoir of strengths that allow us to rise above and overcome our physical and psychological barriers. If I am depressed, I will see from a depressed perspective. In response to a low grade on a test I might say ‘I will never succeed.’ In response to financial struggles I might say ‘I am powerless. There is nothing I can do to change this.’
Is the goal of therapy to change reality or is it to change the way we relate to reality? Can therapy not perhaps become part of the problem, where the goal becomes 'what I expect of life'?
Logotherapy turns the person's gaze outward and asks "What does life expect of you?" Instead of complaint – responsibility. In place of fate – a commission. ’ It takes the focus of attention away from self-absorption and puts attention onto the things that matter.
6) It creates a solid, whole foundation
Religion and therapy have divergent goals. The goal of religion is to serve G-d; the goal of therapy is to heal. But there is a common foundation that lies beneath both religion and therapy: to be a mensch, an exemplary human being.
If I am interested in knowing what G-d wants from me, I have to learn to pay attention to my environment and I have to understand the implications of what is happening. I have to access what the rabbis call ‘understanding of the heart.’
Divine wisdom refines our character. But we need to refine our character in order to be capable of receiving divine wisdom. Otherwise it will mean nothing to us. It will not penetrate the hard defensive shell that is blocking us from our own inner wisdom.
Just as religion starts with being a mensch, similarly healing starts with being a mensch. We can’t gain confidence until we learn to trust our intuition, and for this we need to learn to access it. We cannot feel good about our interactions until we learn to pay attention to the cues. Logotherapy helps people access their knowing core. It is not as if we will never make mistakes. But through logotherapy we learn to learn from our mistakes, and we learn to make the right choices, by developing our greatest G-d-given assets, the powers of the human spirit.
Batya Yaniger, PsyD is a Clinical Diplomate Logotherapist and licensed social worker in Israel. She is co-trainer of the English language Logotherapy training program at the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy in Israel and teaches Logotherapy at the Cadem Psikoloji center in Istanbul, both under the auspices of the Institute of Logotherapy in the U.S.
Batya presents workshops and provides group and individual supervision to Logotherapy students. Her private practice specializes in helping individuals discover their sense of purpose in life in the face of depression, anxiety and illness. Batya’s extensive background as an educator in Jewish studies provides an additional source of spiritual nourishment to her clients and students.
You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website: http://www.themeaningseeker.com/