Note: I'm publishing this list of references before I've fully worked out how our second session should proceed. The goal is to give us all more time to think our way through how best to proceed. Irvin Yalom's approach is available both as a chapter from his Existential Psychotheropy and as a 70 minute documentary on his life and work. See below for links.
I offered three options for what we could examine and discuss next week. There was a tie vote between “Social Foundations of Self” and “Psychiatry and Meaning”. I opted for Psychiatry and Meaning. That topic is likely to be the most engaging of the week two options, ... and I want our conversations to be engaging as well as educational and entertaining
To begin on a current reality note, I suggest that we all read “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling”. It’s a relatively short piece that was recently published in the New York Times. Many of us are neither depressed nor flourishing, we’re languishing. Flourishing is when “you have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others”. People languish when they have not (yet) developed a sense of direction, a purpose.
Do you sense that the people you know are languishing?
In the face of the pandemic, can we find ways to flourish?
Next up I propose that we dig our teeth into Existential Psychotherapy, and in particular its approach to meaninglessness. Existential Psychotherapy posits that we must all confront and find ways to thrive in the face of the four basic human challenges: Death, Freedom, Isolation and Meaninglessness. There is a large store of relevant books, articles and video material on various and sundry aspects of this form of psychotherapy. I’m directing us to start with Irvin Yalom’s approach to meaninglessness.
Yalom is perhaps today’s most distinguished existential psychotherapist. There’s a gentle two minute video that’s the trailer for the 70 minute documentary (Yalom’s Cure) of Yalom, his wife and his approach to therapy. For those comfortable absorbing yet more video material, there’s also a 40 minute Zoom interview of Irvin Yalom conducted by Toronto’s Molyn Leszcz. - “How Our Life Shapes Our Life’s Work”.
Does this provide a viable approach to life’s ultimate meaninglessness?
Has Yalom found an approach with which you could be comfortable?
Viktor Frankel, the Auschwitz survivor, has multiple books to his credit. He’s not really in the existential psychotherapy camp, in part because he had faith in a higher power. “According to a survey conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man's Search for Meaning belongs to a list of "the ten most influential books in the United States." At the time of the author's death in 1997, the book had sold over 10 million copies and had been translated into 24 languages." - wikipedia
I’ve excerpted Frankel’s approach to psychotherapy, he calls is logotheropy, from the 1992 English edition of Man’s Search For Meaning. For those of you who made it this far down the list, two questions:
Which seems a better personal fit , Frankel’s or Yalom’s explanation?
Are you comfortable with either approach to personal meaning or purpose?
You should feel free to explore the video material on Frankel and on Yalom that can be found on YouTube. YouTube can be a treasure trove of interesting material, but you do need to put up with advertisements and older video that shows its age. Still, it helps to actually see and hear these psychotherapist talk about their work and the meaninglessness challenge.