Андрей Максимов

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Эта статья Андрея Максимова опубликована в авторитетном британском журнале  "Прикладная психология и психотерапия"

 

 

 

Logotherapy and Psychophilosophy: comparing meaning.

A psychophilosopher’s notes on the margins of A. Längle’s «Life Full of Meaning»

 

Andrey M. Maximov

Academic, Russian Academy of Television, psychology consultant. Этот адрес электронной почты защищён от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

The article presents a comparative analysis of logotherapy and psychophilosophy, demonstrating the commonalities and differences between the two systems, including the difference in viewing people and their lives. Why does logotherapy suggest that one fight circumstance, whereas psychophilosophy aims at building reality? Examples of people who were able to build their reality. Desire as the main driving force in a person’s life, and its difference from a whim. How do people change if they find the strength to fulfill their desires? Responsibility in logotherapy and psychophilosophy: similarities and differences. Conscience and desires. Freedom in logotherapy and psychophilosophy: similarities and differences. Do people want to self-analyze? What is meaning? How can finding meaning help a person?

Keywords: logotherapy, psychophilosophy, desire, meaning, will, man, human, life, death.





Cognition comes through comparison... Moreover, something new is best understood when compared to the old and the already familiar.

“Psychophilosophy is a system of certain viewpoints, principles, and practices aimed at helping a person build a harmonious relationship with the world and with themselves” [2, p. 23].

This system is new. It is described in detail in my three books: “Psychophilosophy”, “Psychophilosophy 2.0” and “Practical Psychophilosophy.” The purpose of this work is not to explore topics such as the emergence of psychophilosophy, or the fields of its use, etc.

I’d like to talk to about the essence and meaning of this system.

I feel that the best way to do so is to compare psychophilosophy and logotherapy.

Logotherapy was created by a great 20th-century psychologist Victor Frankl and is a well-known system that has worked successfully for some decades.

Just like psychophilosophy, logotherapy is a part of existential psychology, and their approaches are in many ways similar. However, there are some important differences, the understanding of which will help us better understand the new system.

Why did I decide to use the conclusions presented by Alfried Längle in his book “Life Full of Meaning” for this comparison?

Alfried Längle, both a medical doctor and a doctor of philosophy, is the president of the International Society for Existential Analysis and Logotherapy. He is currently the foremost authority in logotherapy and presents a summarized description of this system in his book.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that this book presents the fullest possible description of the development of logotherapy over the last few decades.

The fact that Längle writes about logotherapy today, taking into consideration the latest discoveries in psychology, is no less important.

Psychologists believe that there are two versions of logotherapy – Frankl’s and Längle’s. To determine if this is indeed correct, it is necessary to make a detailed comparison between the views of the two scientists, which is clearly not the purpose of this work.

However, it is obvious that both professional and amateur psychologists today are discussing the essence of logotherapy based on Längle’s books. Moreover, that is another reason for comparing psychophilosophy to his works.

The difference between these systems can already be seen in their very names. Let’s explore them.

Logo – therapy: therapy through meaning. So, it is a system aimed at helping sick people.

Psycho-philosophy: psychology and philosophy. Unlike a logotherapist, a psychophilosopher deals not with the sick but with the confused. Psychophilosophy does not heal, it, as Eric Berne said, re-orientates a person, gives him new reference points, and sets his mind right.

The existential side of both systems, of course, brings them closer. It could even be argued that the approaches used by a logotherapist and a psychophilosopher are similar – it is the search for meaning, the search for motivation.

However, the attitude presented by the two systems are distinctly different. These differences are noticeable right away when one looks at the most fundamental questions: what is a man, what is the meaning of life.

Logotherapy is based on the idea that “to be born human is to be the one that life directs its questions to” [1, p.80].

Psychophilosophy says that “man is the one who molds and destroys life” [2, p. 25].

To hear life’s questions means not to close oneself off from life. It is certainly important. However, is it enough?

When someone comes in for a psychophilosophical consultation because they are having problems building a harmonious life, that person is typically someone who responds quite passively to life’s calls. Even when he does hear the questions life poses to him, he does not know how to answer them.

A psychophilosopher’s goal is to help a person understand that it is necessary to not only hear the questions, but to search for the answers. A man is responsible for his life, in other words – he builds his life.

So, from the point of view of psychophilosophy, living means building your reality.

Logotherapy has a different approach: “living means answering – answering what each moment demands.” [1 p.80].

Psychophilosophy, therefore, presents a more active position. If logotherapy calls for accepting reality, psychophilosophy calls for building it.

Psychophilosophy is based on the idea that “reality is the world that a person builds for himself and for which he is responsible.” [2, p.23]

So, during a consultation, the main goal of a psychophilosopher is to help a person understand that he builds his world, and is, therefore, responsible for it. One of the fundamental concepts of building one’s world is the person’s desire, and we’ll discuss this a bit later on.

Längle writes: “People tell themselves that they want to be happy, and for many years attempt to be happy regardless of circumstances... However, one cannot receive an “order” for happiness” [1. pp.94-95]

So, in logotherapy, circumstances dictate a person’s sense of self. A man is a slave to circumstances, and his goal is to learn how to accept them.

In psychophilosophy, a man creates his circumstances himself. Nothing will stop a person from building a harmonious life if he wants to build it.

Let’s look at the example of one of the most famous motivational speakers of today – Nick Vujicic, a man born without limbs. He did not accept the reality in which he seemingly was meant to live. He built his life, gave himself an “order for happiness”, for harmony – for a life where circumstances themselves fought a seemingly unharmonious life. (I’ll note that in a world where Nick Vujicic exists, any mention of unfortunate circumstances seems rather ludicrous.)

Another famous example. When Russia was suffering from a cholera epidemic, Pushkin made up the Boldino Autumn. He not only found an answer to the question - “How to stay safe at the time of cholera?”, however, molded his creative reality.

Moreover, finally, didn’t Victor Frankl, the creator of logotherapy, also create his reality? A Jew who was in a Nazi concentration camp, who had effectively turned his time there into studying human behavior in extreme situations?

There’s no need to discuss at length how important psychological attitude is in life – I hope that that is an obvious fact. If a person programs his attitude to “happiness” - it is rather hard to lead him astray. He attempts to build a happy, harmonious reality.

However, this road is full of dangers, troubles, misfortunes and even grief, such as illnesses or the death of loved ones. What can one do about that?

Let’s see how psychophilosophy and logotherapy approaches death. Logotherapy says that “death is so horrible because of the feeling that life is not yet complete, that it does not fully belong to us.” [1, p. 118]

Let’s agree that to discuss death, we need to discuss faith. It is obvious that an atheist and a faithful person see death differently.

Psychophilosophy says that one of the fundamental qualities of a believer is humility, the understanding that anything God does is for the better. Note that in many religions, including Greek Orthodoxy, it is customary to wear festive vestments to funeral prayer services.

For a believer, death is not the end, it is the beginning of something new. It is no accident that in Christianity, a saint’s day is celebrated on the day of his or her death, the day they went into their next life – not on the day of their birth.

So, for a believer, death is not horrifying, but natural.

If a believer is afraid of his death or of that of his loved ones, it’s not because his life has not been fully completed – if God has taken someone, it is because their life’s tasks have indeed been finished – but because people tend to be afraid of the unknown, tend to miss those that have moved on.

Of course, life may have certain force majeure circumstances that will slow down our road to harmony.

However, first of all, any force majeure is only temporary.

Moreover, secondly, psychophilosophy suggests that in any such circumstance, the favorite question of the Russian people - “Why do I deserve this?” should be replaced by “For what reason did this happen?”

Discovering the meaning of any negative event, even if it does not turn it into a positive one, allows one to find positive meaning and move further down the road to harmony.

Moreover, in this, psychophilosophy and logotherapy are quite similar.

So what is our reference point when we build our reality?

Psychophilosophy answers this question decisively – desire.

“Desire is the main force behind the life of any person. It is the motivation that brings new meaning and significance to life” [2, p.20]

Desire is one of the major categories discussed in psychophilosophy. The first and foremost task during any psychophilosophic consultation is to help the person recognize his desire, to figure out why it is not being implemented actively and what can be done to help him actualize it.

Logotherapy’s approach is completely different.

“A full life is not about fulfilling your desires...If life is about your desires and wishes coming true, it is dependent on circumstance and, in that way, is restricted.” [1, p. 33]

In essence, the idea that man is a slave to circumstance is repeated. Moreover, of course, if reality is something that is given to us, it is difficult to “force” it make our wishes come true.

This can be true when one talks about whims, as opposed to desires. Psychophilosophy distinguishes between these two terms. Moreover, when a person comes in for a consultation, it is very important to try and explain to him what the difference between whims and desires is. A whim cannot be the driving force behind one’s life, whereas a desire can and should.

A whim can otherwise be phrased as “It’d be nice if....”. Of course, this “it’d be nice” is largely dependent on circumstance.

It’d be nice to make more money... It’d be nice to fall in love...It’d be nice to be famous...All of these can make one’s life better, but their absence does not make one’s life worse.

A true desire that moves a person forward in life can be characterized in two ways.

First. If I do not fulfill this desire, I will remain unfulfilled, unrealized. My life task will remain incomplete. I, the real me, will not exist.

People in their thirties often come to consult me when they feel they cannot find the strength to drastically change their life, to stop doing something they do not enjoy and start doing something they do.

A woman came to see me, let’s call her Anna. She worked in an office and dreamt of being an artist. She wanted to draw but was afraid that she would not be able to make any money as an artist. Her situation was exacerbated by the fact that she was working at her father’s company and couldn’t figure out how to explain her need to fulfill her dream to him.

All the circumstances were against her. However, Anna understood that without fulfilling her desire, her life would have no meaning.

We figured out how to talk to her father. He did, in fact, take to his daughter’s idea quite well, since he saw how miserable she was in an office job. Anna quit her job, sold her expensive car, and began drawing.

I saw how this person had changed when, despite the inertia of her life, she was able to fulfill her desire. Anna did go through a difficult period in her life, but she was able to become a designer, and her financial problems were soon over.

Psychophilosophy is based on the idea that a true desire, unlike a whim, gives a person strength and enables him to change his circumstance.

The second most important characteristic of desire is that a person knows the first step towards its realization.

Anna knew that she had to talk to her father, sell her car, to find out where and how she would be able to sell her paintings, and to figure out where and how she would be able to work as a designer.

If a person simply has a whim, he does not know the first step in getting what he wants. If the first step or steps are known – it is more likely than not, that the person is experiencing a desire, and not a whim.

Längle notes: “That which can be changed, should be changed. If nothing can be changed, I can change myself.” [1, p.111]

Right and wise words. Psychophilosophy takes the same stance on the matter.

However, here’s a question – how does one determine what can be changed and what cannot?

For a psychophilosopher, the answer is obvious – desire. He strives to help a person hear themselves: does the person want to change, or is it easier to accept what he already has? In this case, a well-known postulate works – if we want to change something, we look for ways to change it, and if we do not – we look for reasons why change is impossible.

Is change always possible?

I could not be black or white on the matter. However, my experience of over a decade of psychological consulting has convinced me that people are more often scared of their desires, scared to change anything, and prefer to live an inert and familiar life, rather than – they are not able to make those changes.

“Responsibility, - writes Längle, - is work in the name of its value.” [1, p.106]

I’ll underline how important the word “work” is here. A true desire is a job. A whim is a dream. A true desire requires action. A whim is content with fantasy.

However, desires can also be different, all sorts of ideas can appear in one’s head. History gives us plenty of examples of tyrants who lived exactly how they wanted.

To delve into this issue, we must discuss the idea of conscience. The man has a conscience that allows him to measure his desires against those of other people.

Does that mean that there are no people without conscience in this world, that those who go ahead without any consideration for others do not exist?

Of course, it does not.

However, is it right to assume that since there are people in the world who lack conscience, the man should ignore his desires and shouldn’t follow them?

Of course not.

Desire is the main force behind a person’s life, and he should succumb to it during any action. Whether to have a conscience or not when he does so – that is everyone’s personal choice.

The idea of “freedom” in psychophilosophy is also seen through the prism of desire.

“A man’s freedom is the ability to make a choice according to his desire.” [2.p.23]

Moreover, this does not contradict how freedom is seen in logotherapy.

“Freedom is felt like a blessing only if the freed knows what he wants. To be free without knowing what that freedom should be used for leads to an intolerable feeling of emptiness that soon becomes torturous...” [1, p.39]

“The freed knows what he wants,” - that is, he has a desire!

Whether a psychologist follows the principles of logotherapy or psychophilosophy in his sessions, the first and foremost task is the same: to understand if a person is making life choices based on his desires or someone else’s. Moreover, if the person is following someone else’s desires, to figure out why that is happening and how to come back to following one’s own.

“I’ve never met a man who denied having the possibility of choice in his life,” [1, p.18], says Längle.

Unfortunately, I cannot agree with the esteemed writer here. The majority of people who come to consult me are convinced that circumstances (more often than not, negative circumstances) dictate a specific (again, more often than not – a negative one) life. Moreover, they are powerless against these circumstances.

We often say that one of the most serious psychological problems that people are faced with today is low self-esteem. What does that mean in the context of our discussion?

It means that the person is convinced – he is so weak that he cannot fight circumstances. He must succumb to them.

Logotherapy takes the view that “man does not want to be left in the darkness of ignorance. He must know and feel the reasons for being here, why he should be doing something. He wants to participate in forming his life” [1, p.21].

I am jealous of my colleague that deals with people who want to participate in forming their lives, who always know that they have a choice.

A different kind of people come to consult me. They do not know how to self-analyze, nor do they want to know. They are used to succumbing to circumstances. They do not feel that they own their lives in any way. They are completely un-free because they are not only not living according to their desires, but they do not even know what their desires are.

Moreover, so, the fundamental task in psychophilosophy is to turn a person’s cognitive energy from outer circumstances to their inner essence.

How can this be accomplished? Psychophilosophy and logotherapy agree – by finding meaning. By helping a person raise – as Victor Frankl so succinctly put it - “the will to meaning.”

However, the concepts of meaning in logotherapy and psychophilosophy are drastically different.

Here is how meaning is seen in logotherapy: “In the most general way, a person’s life becomes meaningful when he is fully present in all of its moments – with all of his skills and inclinations, feelings and will, when they creatively interact with circumstances, accepting the latter for what they are. Meaning – is a form of interacting with life, when we are very close to it when we participate in it to the fullest extent of ourselves.” [1, p.24].

Let’s imagine any negative situation. For instance, a man is taken hostage by terrorists. Is he participating in the situation? Obviously. Will this situation have meaning for him? Doubtful.

Another example. Love wholly consumes a person; it is the essence and meaning of life for someone in love. It is followed by family life, in which an enormous amount of people find enormous meaning. However, can we say that family life always wholly consumes people?

Thus, being wholly involved in something, in my opinion, is not a criterion for the meaning of life.

So what is?

Psychophilosophy says that “meaning is the positive essence of any human action, of any event.” [2, p.24]

Moreover, when someone comes to consult me, my goal is to find that meaning, that positive something, even in things that the person sees as wholly negative.

Here, again, we are helped by desire, the realization of which fills a person’s life with meaning.

Drawing this discussion to a close, I feel that it is important to say the following. I do not want it to seem that what I’ve done is present a critical analysis of Alfried Längle’s “The Meaning of Life”. That was not my goal here.

I am grateful to him for writing this work, a work that inspires one to think and argue.

I will note again, that psychophilosophy is not contesting any psychological systems, including logotherapy, at the very least because it is aimed at psychologically healthy, and not ill, people.

It is a system that aims to help a healthy person establish a working relationship with life and with themselves.

Moreover, if comparing psychophilosophy with the well-known and time-tested logotherapy helps the reader understand the new system better, I will consider my goal achieved.

Reference:

1. Längle, A. Life Full of Meaning. Logotherapy as a Means of Providing Help in Life. - M.: Genesis, 2014 (in Russian).

2. Maximov, A. Practical Psychophilosophy. - St.P.: Piter, 2015.

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