Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More On "Problems"

Victor Frankl writes extensively on the difference between psychological and existential problems. He recounts a story of a man who comes into his office who has seen a number of psychotherapists. He originally went into psychotherapy because he was feeling unfulfilled at work. The psychotherapists had convinced the man that he was actually dealing with father issues he'd never acknowledged before. He came to Frankl saying that his life was now miserable, and everywhere he looked he was seeing his fathers and fretting over some unresolved issues there. After one hour of talking with the man Frankl simply told him, 'I think you hate your job. Quit it and find a new one.' The man did this and found a job he liked better. He was happy and no longer needed therapy.

Frankl was big on working with people who had existential rather than psychological problems, as the man did in his story. An existential problem is, broadly speaking, a problem stemming from a frustrated sense of meaning. A person with an existential problem is not at the mercy of that problem. A frustrated sense of meaning has a solution, of some kind, most of the time, and it is a solution you can actualize. But an existential problem is not to be treated as a moral problem. It is not simply a matter of correcting some moral outlook, or encouraging a person to do the right thing. Existential problems are not EASILY solved, most of the time. They take work and struggle and will. Yet existential problems are under the person's control to some degree. The point being that you can hold people responsible for their existential problems. They are under that person's control. But they are not under the same kind of control moral problems are. Simply telling the person to correct course is not enough.

What is ultimately required to help a person in an existential crisis is WISDOM and INSPIRATION. This is what Frankl did in the case mentioned above: he shared wisdom and inspired his would-be patient. Frankl was a very wise man. This is much harder help to give, and not something all of us have the ability to give, than say help on a moral issue. The primary thing must do to help someone with a moral problem is to encourage them to do what they already know is right, and to reiterate what is expected of them. Holding them responsible is one's first responsibility. Not so with existential problems, which require some deeper and richer, than many of us have to give. But sometimes this isn't enough, if the existential crisis accompanies a psychological or spiritual problem. Alcoholism is a moral, existential, and psychological problem, and so requires engagement on a number of levels. Nor is it fair to simply hold the alcoholic responsible for BEING an alcoholic, though one can hold the alcoholic responsible for not seeking help.

So, its tricky. You have to know first and foremost what kind of problem you are dealing with. And that goes back to my last post. Which was about discernment.

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