Sins against the human spirit

Sins against the human spirit

What sets Logotherapy apart as a coaching approach is its recognition of our spirituality. Victor Frankl the author of Logotherapy, portrayed the human being as three dimensional consisting of somatic, psychic and spiritual (noetic) domains. These three dimensions penetrate each other completely and are interrelated. The somatic plane is simple to understand. It contains all our biological-physiological body functions. The psyche is seen as containing our emotional states, moods, sensations, drives, instincts, desires and passions. What makes us different from animals is our spiritual or noetic domain. This is the sphere in which resides our power to take a stand despite circumstances, our independent will, artistic interests, humour, creativity, religious and ethical sensitivities, understanding of values and ability to experience love. The spiritual domain is distinct from the psyche and the most powerful place from which to navigate through life. According to Logotherapy we take our direction from our spiritual core, and towards it. We can only fully understand our humanness when we consider the spirit. This essence that makes us human must not get entangled in the web of psychic and physical drama. From the spiritual domain we receive a calling to what is right in any given moment.

The role of the logotherapist (or coach) is to help a client uncover that spiritual voice by untangling the obstructions they put up for ourselves. Logotherapy do not disregard the psycho-social and physical dimensions, in fact it encourages us to orientate ourselves towards those domains from the vantage point of the spirit and correct a psychic dysfunction or somatic suffering. Someone who struggles with what others are thinking, is listening to the ego and matters of thoughts and emotions. Someone who is struggling with what is meaningful, is listening to a calling from the spiritual. As a forward looking approach, Logotherapy’s central premise is built on the meaning of life, the recognition of meaning as our greatest quest, and our spiritual freedom to choose. Frankl’s psychiatric credo held that the human being is always capable of making a choice.

Logotherapy recognises that every individual is unique with a unique capacity to respond to life. When coaching someone, one never knows when this awakening to meaning may happen. The coach facilitates this realisation through the astute use of the correct tools and techniques. We know not when that hour will come. One meaningful moment can retrospectively fill a whole life with meaning. Frankl was fond of saying that the major question we should ask is not “What do I want from life?” but “What is life asking of me now?” To which each us has a unique response. It is the task of the logotherapist to help clients realise the magnitude of that life task. Are we actively wanting, or passively waiting on meaning? The demand quality of life takes no prisoners. The bigger questions in life present themselves deliberately and persistently. And the style of a Logotherapy session can be equally provocative. Frankl describes the difference between psychoanalysis and Logotherapy as follows: In psychoanalysis, the client lies on a couch and speaks of things that are difficult to talk about. In Logotherapy, the client sits upright in a chair to sometimes have to hear things that are difficult to hear. Although most coaches follow a non-directive approach to coaching, provocative and confrontational questions need to be considered.

We cannot live according to our spiritual wisdom without some form of inner tension. A spiritual tension that calls us to something greater, propelling us forward. To creatively forge forward is what makes us human and to deny ourselves meaningful growth is to impose an unconscious, self-imposed state of stagnation. And when we ignore the voices of the spirit we stagnate and run the risk of slipping into depression, aggression and addiction. These three manifestations are the alarm bells of the spirit calling us back into life. This tension can originate in any of our 3 principal human domains – the somatic, the psychic or the spiritual. In the biological realm this tension can manifests itself as pain reminding us of trouble ahead. And in the psycho-spiritual realm this pain manifests itself as mental suffering or stress which is intended to guard us from apathy, from psychic rigor mortis as Frankl calls it. In the spiritual domain this tension manifests as a restlessness of the heart. When coaching with Logotherapy, one needs to recognise this tension and the anchor points from which the client can pivot into a new direction.

Essentially the quality of our participation in life is dependent on our level of spiritual awareness. The extent to which we appreciate the context within which we live will determine the extent to which we experience meaning and fulfilment. To be aware (mindful) is to be open to our responsibilities despite our circumstances. We are never free from obligations but we are always free to choose how we will engage. We get born into a sociological environment with a biological reality yet we are constantly challenged to take a stand and presented with choices of how to behave. By applying the techniques of self-distancing or de-reflection (explained in a previous article), the client will enable to recognise the call from life and become aware of his existential realities.

Sometimes clients do not see their choices and get confused between destiny and freedom. Destiny can be defined as those events that will necessarily happen of which we have no control. But our unique human ability to reason, decide and take responsibility enable us to take action which may stand diametrically opposite matters of fate. If we consider our psychological fate in particular, our spiritual attitude has free reign to adopt any attitude it chooses. We do not have to submit blindly to our psychological (or biological) fate. Fate do not determine our destiny. We have the freedom to defy and shape a future despite the realities of fate. Frankl refers to destiny and freedom in the following manner: “Freedom of the will is opposed to destiny. For what we call destiny is that which is essentially exempt from human freedom, that which lies neither within the scope of man’s power nor his responsibility.” Although the past becomes part of our destiny and what has passed is intrinsically fate, the past do not necessarily determine the future. We are free to decide how we want to walk into our future. We have freedom despite our instincts, our inherited dispositions and our environment. To be fully human means that we will always experience a slight twitch of tension and a calling to respond in a way befitting our spiritual conscience. Our biological and sociological fate is like clay which can be formed by the spiritual power of freedom of will, choice of free action, and defiant attitude to do the right thing. The task of the coach is to help the client see the difference between fate and freedom and call forward the defiant will to spiritual growth.

To fully understand the therapeutic power of Logotherapy, one must appreciate a concept called “noo-psychic antagonism”. This is the vantage point from which a coaching conversation should really be considered. Meaningful life happens at the intersection of the three domains and on authority of our spiritual calling. Our psychic and noetic (spiritual) domains do not stand side by side, but rather in a relationship which sometimes oppose. The voices of expediency are confronted by the voices of reason. This is an antagonistic power-play that has the ability to bring us to greater insights and a deeper appreciation of what is meaningful.

Elizabeth Lucas one of the foremost practitioners and students of Frankl’s Logotherapy coins an interesting concept. She refers to the sins against the human spirit and identifies four cardinal transgressions against our humanness, four distorted images. When coaching one should look out for these four “sinful isms”:

Pan-determinism. The tension between fate and freedom, and the temptation to succumb to the notion that all has already been decided. We may never be free from certain realities and obligations. But we are always free to decide how we are going to respond. Between action and reaction is a small space and in that space exist the potential to discover meaning.

Second is Psychologism. To regard a human as a cacophony of thoughts, emotions and feeling fails to recognise the power of the spirit. This view reduces a person to a susceptible psychic apparatus. The defiant power of the human spirit must not be ignored. In the psyche we may be susceptible but in the noetic we are intact, powerful, able to stand tall.

Third is reductionism. By failing to appreciate our quest for meaning, we reduce the human to a bundle of emotional and physical drives and instincts. Although we want to experience pleasure, we are ultimately orientated towards meaning with the aim of making a difference.

Collectivism is the last of the sins against our humanness. Whoever ignore the uniqueness of each individual and the singularity of the moment in which they find themselves, reduces the human to a character typical of the collective within which they stand. We are greater than the sum of our parts. We have the ability to defy our psychological, biological and sociological conditions and do what is right. We have an autonomy and the freedom to act according to the wisdom of the heart.

Sins against the human spirit
Dimension of the Psyche Dimension of the Spirit Inappropriate attribution
Acceptance of Fate Expression of Freedom Pan-determinism
Susceptibility to Psychic conditions Intactness of our defiant Spirit Psychologism
Pleasure/power orientation Meaning-orientation Reductionism
Assign character traits of the collective Recognise the unique personality that stands before you Collectivism

Sometimes clients lose sight of their inner knowing and spin around at the behest of feelings and emotions. As coaches we need to regard a client as what they are capable of becoming. The task of the Logotherapist (or coach) is to reconnect a client to the wisdom of their heart and orientate them towards whatever is meaningful and beautiful in their lives. Frankl suggests “it is the task of the therapist to bring the client only so far so that the client can discern his own worldview and concept of life. So that he finds a new noetic way back to life out of his own responsibility”.

A lesson by Socrates – techniques of Logotherapy

In this article we are going to expand on some of the tools and techniques that could be used in a coaching session. As an existential analysis that brings to awareness the Clients’ spiritual realities Logotherapy is future focussed emphasising the meaning in our life that is yet to be fulfilled. Our most powerful motivating force is the pursuit of meaning (more fundamental than the will to pleasure of power). We are hardwired to express, do more, create things and shake the world. We are strongly motivated to live with purpose and get frustrated when our quest for meaning is hampered.

Logotherapy recognise human existence in three domains of body, psyche and spirit. We see the client in totality, as a complete human being recognising all three dimensions and the tension that exists within those. Frankl speaks of a healthy noö-dynamism or spiritual tension. A conscious field between what one has already achieved and what ought to be done. Of what one has already accomplish and the new tasks that awaits, what one is and what one ought to become. We don’t thrive in tensionless states and flourish when we are striving for something worthy of our attention. In any Logotherapy session, the spiritual domain presents the strongest capacity for change. It is in the spiritual domain that we have the power to stand up for what we believe in. Not to be confused will-power, our spiritual power presents us with the capability to defy the odds. Referred to in Logotherapy as our freedom of will, the defiant power of the human spirit knows no boundaries. As Nietzsche said, “if you have a strong enough why, you will overcome any how”.

There are five primary techniques used in a Logotherapy intervention – the Socratic dialogue, Self-distancing, De-reflection, Attitude modulation and Paradoxical intention. Any of these techniques are likely to be more effective when the facilitator appeals to the clients’ spiritual integrity. In this article we are going to pick one technique, the workhorse of Logotherapy – the Socratic dialogue. In a Socratic dialogue the coach facilitates the clients’ discovery of meaning by calling on his spiritual knowing through provocative and challenging questioning.

Socrates (470 – 399 BC) claimed to be ignorant and typically started a dialogue using what is now called Socratic irony – by pretending to be ignorant and wait for some kind of explanation. Socrates would then listen to the explanation and deliberately cause confusion. Because he claimed to not know anything, he therefore didn’t have to teach anything. “I do know that I do not know”. He didn’t have (nor applied) positive knowledge in his dialogues but rather used negativity paradoxically. Socrates introduced the concept of irony and used this expensively in his dialogues. The most ironic question of all was probably posed during his sentencing when he suggested that he should be given a free meal and pay for the work he was doing.

Another of his concepts is “aporia” or being at a loss not able to answer and then to ask for a specific definition of something. His dialogues often didn’t end with any specific conclusion. Socrates would call into question what he sees in front of him happy for the dialogue to end without results. This he thought makes the listener self-active and reflective.

A good Socratic dialogue moves from the local to the universal and back. It moves between personal experience and universal truth with the emphasis on how something was directly experienced. Socrates tried to uncover true essence of the topic creating clarity between an idea and the real experience. He was constantly looking for contradictions and encouraged the individual to test the truth. A coach using the Socratic dialogue plays the role of a midwife whereby the client comes to the truth by themselves. By using leading questions, a client may come to a self-realisation.

Socrates proclaimed we each have an inner voice, a divine will (daemon) deep within. Like the oracle of Delphi, we each have an inner knowing. Frankl called this our pre-reflective ontological self-understanding – our wisdom of the heart. The Socratic dialogue is used in line with the core principles of Logotherapy recognising that deep inside the spiritual core of every human being resides a sense of knowing who we potentially can become and the motivation to discover what we are born to do.

Socrates suggested one should never pour information into a student, but rather extract from him what he already knows. Frankl believed it is the task of the logotherapist not to tell clients what the meaning in their lives are but rather to elicit the wisdom that is hidden within the spiritual domain. Extracting something that is unique to the client presupposes that we stay as close to the clients’ spiritual core as possible. We recognise success when the client experiences a meaning-moment which can range from a surge of positive energy, in body posture, a verbal expression, a reflective moment or an outright comment that they are experiencing a new insight into a situation at hand. The sensitivity with which this must be done is similar than the work of an archaeologist brushing away sand to reveal archaeological treasures that were already there. This is a reminder that meaning is not something that can ever be created or prescribed to the client. The client is helped to discover (or re-discover) his inner values.

Frankl felt that the spiritual core can never become sick but can become buried, disconnected from the psyche. That is why we need to not only work on the conscious level but also with the subconscious intuitive knowledge of the client – self-knowledge as well as knowledge about life.

Clients come to us when they are in crisis. The nature of the crisis in Logotherapy is understood as a crisis of meaning and the clients’ intuitive spiritual self-knowledge to grasp meaning. Logos (meaning) is greater than logic. In other words, we cannot always logically reason out for ourselves why something has happened. Meaning always happens in the dance between self and life. Between what is, and what ought to be according to the moral guidance of what is right.

Like the other logotherapeutic techniques a Socratic dialogue requires a lot of improvisation and intuition. There are many ways to probe a clients’ unconscious and hidden knowledge about personal meanings. Consider the following:

  • Recall of past meaningful experiences
    • Dream interpretations that focus on unconscious hopes and wishes rather than on repressed traumas
    • Guided and unguided fantasies to reveal what the client considers meaningful
    • Meaningful experiences of people the client considers to be role models
    • Recall of peak experiences showing that life does have meaning

The Socratic dialogue uses five guideposts to probe the areas in which meaning is most likely to be found:

  • Self-discovery: The more you find out about the real you behind all the masks you put on for self protection the more meaning you will discover.
    • Choice: The more choices you see in your situation, the more meaning will become available.
    • Uniqueness: You are most likely to find meaning in situations where you are not easily replaced by someone else.
    • Responsibility: Your life will be meaningful if you learn to take responsibility where you have freedom of choice and if you learn to not feel responsible where you face an unalterable fate.
    • Self-transcendence: Meaning comes to you when you reach beyond your egocentricity toward others.

To uncover meaning moments from the past the coach could ask some broad questions such as:

  • What works or projects have you done, or what goals have you achieved by using your talents and skills which you are proud of? Maybe some of these touched others in a meaningful way. Tell me about times like these.
    • What great and meaningful experiences have you had in your past – like little gifts have you received from life – through your relationships with loved ones, your culture, from nature or maybe even your religion? Think back and tell me about them.
    • What hardships have you withstood in the past – where did you take a stand which left you feeling stronger and better than before? Moments which were a test to your courage and perseverance? Tell me about times you were victorious in the face of adversity.

Depending on the particular situation a coach may want to de-demonise a life-crises by using imagery.

  • When discussing death: The Grim Reaper makes us two promises. I will come to you all, and I will come in my own time. How does this impact on your life? How does it impact on your relationships with your loved ones? Death closes doors. Are there any closed doors in your life? Death takes away. Look around and see what you are left with after he has taken it away. What do you see?
    • In case of guilt: If guilt had a voice, what would it say to you now? You have made a mistake and the seeds of guilt were planted in the past. How may it bear positive fruit in the present and in the future?
    • In case of pain and suffering: They say that diamonds are forged under pressure, gold is extracted through the intense heat of a furnace. Might anything good come out of this situation you are in? What hidden treasures could be uncovered by this experience?
    • Dealing with great setbacks and bitter disappointments: You say this problem is like a mountain in front of you – but is it not so that the most beautiful meandering rivers flow around mountains. Unstoppable. How will you not be stopped?

Socratic questions in a Logotherapy session work towards logos (meaning) and do not rely on logic. Through provocative questioning, seemingly walking with a white stick, the coach prods around in the discovery of meaning. Pointing towards the intuitive wisdom of the heart this technique can bring the client to self-realization and a new understanding of the potentialities and responsibilities that exist. After any Logotherapy session the client should leave with hope and responsibility. The building blocks of a new outcome are the belief that it is possible and the resolve to take action.