Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Stretching not shrinking

Logotherapy offers useful distinction

Last night I was leafing through Donald Watson’s Dictionary of Mind and Body when my eye was caught by the entry for LOGOTHERAPY. Inter alia I read that Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy is a form of existential psychotherapy holding mental and even physical health depends largely upon having a sense of purpose or meaning, the word ‘logotherapy’ signifying ‘therapy for meaning’. In this context, the most basic human motivating force is seen as being the ‘will to meaning’, frustration of which may lead to neurosis. The process of logotherapy focuses upon discovering one’s life purpose and going beyond the present self (pp. 236-7).

Frankl created the term HEIGHT PSYCHOLOGY, in counter the widely current concept of ‘depth psychology’ which ignors the importance of meaning. Conventional psychotherapists are often called by the English slang term ‘shrink’, whereas in height psychology the psychotherapist might be better thought of as a ‘stretch’! Frankl wrote:

Logotherapy expands not only the concept of man, by including his aspirations, but also the visional field of the patient as to potentialities to feed and nurture his will to meaning. By the same token, logotherapy immunises the patient against the dehumanizing, mechanistic concept of man on which many a shrink is sold – in a word, it makes the patient ‘shrink-resistant’. (Frankl, 1975, as quoted by Watson, 2003, p.179)

Does any of this ring a distant bell?

What has any of this to do with me and Conductive Education?

I could find out much more about Frankl, logotherapy and height psychology on the Internet but it’s nice to use old technologies too and find that they still work the oracle. I could go diving off into a stack of similar reference books accumulated over the years but the above suffices for my present purposes.

Being British I have lived most of my life (much of it spent nominally as ‘a psychologist’) wholly unaware of the word logotherapy or what it represents, with the name Frankl just one of those distant echoes from some country or other of which I was happy to enquire no further. Many who read this posting will have passed their lives in a similar state of bliss.

For me this changed last autumn with the appointment of Franz Schaffhauser to the post of Rector of the Pető Institute in Budapest. There was no public announcement of this appointment in any language but Hungarian (nor has there been since). Typically therefore one was left relying upon pletyka, a most unsatisfactory way of communication but one that we have all had to learn to live with in the world of Conductive Education. The interesting pletyka* around Franz Schaffhauser was that he is a speech therapist by profession. Typical pletyka, total twaddle once removed from hard reality in its telling. The hard reality in this instance is that Franz Schaffhauser is a logotherapist – not a logopaed (English equivalent: ‘speech therapist’ or ‘speech pathologist’, according to which branch of English you favour).

He is a practising psychotherapist in the tradition of Viktor Frankl: he is a ‘stretch’ (I don’t know whether you can pull that linguistic trick in Hungarian!). He is also a practising academic who has retained his chair at ELTE, the Eötvös Loránd Academic University) in Budapest, along with his place on the Professzura the governing board for the Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogy there.

Franz Schaffhauser must have had a hectic six months. I don’t envy him. When he gets round to making his own analysis of the practice at the institution that he now directs, as in time he surely must, it will be interesting to see the viewpoint from which he does so – rather different, I suspect, from that of many who have gone before. And when, as he may also do in time, he gets round to injecting his own ideas into training and practice, things may start to become really interesting.

Notes and references

Earlier postings on Franz Schaffhauser and his appointment:

‘Conductive Education: a patent misunderstanding?’ (9 October 2008)

‘Tel Aviv encounters’ (29 December 2007):

Frankl, V. E. (1975) The Unconscious God. NY: Simon & Schuster / London: Hodder & Stoughton

Watson, D. (2003) A dictionary of Mind and Body: therapies, techniques and ideas in alternative medicine, the healing arts and psychology. London: André Deutsch

Coming soon to this blog

I have not forgotten my pledge from a couple of weeks ago, to try and explain the situation around Conductive Education in Germany. I have been drafting something but Germany is a Great Power in the little world of Conductive Education and I don’t wantsolely to describe what is happening there, I want also to be helpful and make a practical suggestion. Before I do I will be circulating a draft of my posting for comment from some conductors who know Germany well. This will take time. By way of a taster, a trailer, a tease, I shall offer a frequently quoted passage from Plato that serves as epigraph (p. vii) for Donald Watson’s book.

The cure of a part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul, and if the head and body are to be healthy you must begin by curing the mind, for this is the greatest error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians first separate the soul from the body.

The German for soul is Seele.


* Pletyka: acommon Hungarian word, meaning something like ‘gossip’, rumour’, ‘ dirt’

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