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Meaning-Centered Therapy

July 19, 2009
by Lynn Sucher
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Meaning-Centered Therapy

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.



have you got any other info/resources on Meaning-Centered Therapy?

Therapy based on Frankl's work HAS been around for decades, and it is called Existential Psychotherapy. There are many resources available under this name.

I remember reading Mans Search for Meaning many years ago as a fresh, green therapist and being touched to my core. As therapists though were are trained to find the triggers for uncomfortable feelings which trigger the need for avoidance. Yes, some treatment centers stop there and think that the 12-step or other support groups will fill in the rest. Finding meaning as well as joy, security and serenity, in life has been the driving force behind my style since the late 80s. I suggest Ms. Sucher follow her instincts, stay the course with meaning centering therapy and she will become the "brilliant clinician" as time goes on. Meaning centering supervision is where the focus needs to be in many agencies. Too often, in my experience, management takes on the punishment, keep them in line model rather than encouragement. An agency that makes a therapist account for their time instead of the progress of the client is on the wrong track.

Thanks for the good info,
Roberta from

Lots of people who are not addicted do not know what a meaning of their life is. For example students often look for a dissertation to buy because they are not sure their major will be their future career and what they spent years for. Psychologists always are trying to show patients addicted or not a value of their lives but for me it's like walking on thin ice.

Lynn Sucher

Lynn Sucher, MC,...

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