By Glyndora Condon MS MFT LPC
Meaning in life seems to provide nurturing according to studies that measured health and life behaviors (Health Psychology Review, Vol. 11, Nov. 4, 2017), and over 90 percent of Americans appear to believe that their lives are meaningful according to several reviews provided by the University of Virginia, and the University of Missouri. What is then a meaningful life?
- People seek to make sense of their life, existence, and world with a continuity and congruency.
- Individuals who tend to believe that their life is meaningful tend to be goal oriented and self motivated.
- People who have a sense of meaning do believe that their lives matter to others around them and that they make a difference.
When counselors are listening to the complaints of their clients, they often find the construct of “meaning of life” is absent. Clients feel hopeless and lost. They often feel that no one cares. Counselors then seek the best possible approach to restore this construct or to build it, should the client not have a history of ever possessing such. According to Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, October 2018; in the article entitled: The Search For Meaning; then several approaches are listed for the readers. 1) Logotherapy: Lists three main sources that aid in enduring values: Active creativity in work and actions or deeds that reflect kindness, appreciation,, courage, goodness, love, truth, and beauty with the intent to help the clients to have an outward focus and service to others of need; and often enlists a passion for a perceived goal or need. As counselors then work with these individuals, they help in brainstorming concrete methods and venues where the client could embrace and implement their envisioned actions to help others.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a blend of PURE (derived from Wong, 2010 work), is another approach while helps clients to not only understand how their own cognitive processes may be driving negative emotions; but also will aid the client to find purpose, meaning, understanding, enjoyment, as they undertake responsible action and evaluate their thoughts and goals.
Meaning-centered Psychotherapy is yet another approach derived from Frankl’s work. This approach was first utilized in helping those with chronic and often fatal illness to change the perception from a meaningless existence to one that embraces meaning, courage, responsibility, and connectedness with others and life with a positive attitude of who they are.
The Existential Therapy approach is yet another vehicle used by some counselors which believes that humans must create their own sense of meaning and therefore encourages them to actively engage in life; this naturally enhancing the connection of meaning to their lives. This approach is often used with those who are chronically ill according to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 83, Nov. 1, 2015.
Still another approach where meaning is central with the approach is known as the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-or ACT which is a work of Steven C Hayes, 1982. Basically its focus is for clients to live full lives with the ability to work through existential issues while choosing harmonious behaviors and thoughts which does not conflict with one’s own values, mindfulness, or acceptance especially through life’s difficulties. This particular approach is often used in treating depression and anxiety. The efficacy of this approach is not conclusively more than other approaches such as CBT according to the Journal of Affective Disorders, Vol. 190, 2016.
Counselors first must help their clients to create a plan that best fits their goals and needs, while aiding them to grow a bigger picture viewpoint that has alternatives and options and that will aid in the cessation the client’s self-centeredness to a more positive and outward focus. Often then counselors will encourage stories that tap into power. It is crucial that the counselor respects individual differences and helps the client to also be more diverse in their acceptance of differences while not imposing meaning but, are allowing meaning to materialize naturally. Clinicians must be aware that sometimes the client will tend to place them on a pedestal which will need to be averted. Clinicians need to also help the client to not place another person on a pedestal since all humans are fallible and will disappoint them.
Other tools for enhancing the construct of meaning is when the clinician aids the client to distance themselves from a negative event, allow them to access their authentic selves and the past may also aid them to find meaning. Also, using counterfactual thinking so as to imagine different pathways instead of the norm-use of the “what ifs” that tend to drift into the negatives. In addition, organizational and ordering strategies may also help our clients to find meaning.
Meaning of life is a powerful when dealing with most every issue. When one has meaning of life, then one is not helpless or hopeless as they experience trials.