Last week there was an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about an experimental group therapy study for terminal cancer patients conducted at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Using meaning-centered therapy, based on the writings of Viktor Frankl, the groups explored things that give meaning to life, such as love, family, work and personal history. The preliminary findings of the study have been “encouraging”, according to the article.
Viktor Frankl believed if a person’s life had meaning, he or she could endure any suffering. I began to think of how meaning-centered therapy could be applied to the treatment of addiction. Recently, I’ve spoken with several clinical directors who are integrating specific forms of positive psychology into their treatment programs. Positive psychology has been around for some time, but is often overlooked in our field.
I remember, years ago, as an intern at one of the premier treatment centers in the country, I was struck by the fact that only negative or traumatic events were listed by clients on their “timeline”. Of course, many of these clients had suffered severe trauma, but did we as clinicians, underplay or ignore some of the good things that might have occurred? Did we even explore it? Do we place too much emphasis on consequences and not enough on finding meaning and purpose in life, especially a sober life?
As one of my friends, a brilliant clinician said the other day, “If my client hated their work when they were using, then they are REALLY going to hate it when they get sober. My job is to help them find meaning and purpose in life. It’s hard to stay in recovery when that’s missing.” I think she has a good point.