I picked up Trauma Treatment: Healing the Whole Person: Meaning-Centered Therapy & Trauma Treatment Foundational Phase-Work Manual after seeing it as a reference at an anxiety workshop. I was looking for more perspectives on trauma treatment. What I didn’t know then is that it’s based on Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy. You may know that Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning and that he was a concentration camp prisoner. I deeply respect Frankl’s work and his insights. Not surprisingly, his work focuses on finding meaning.
While I favor a definition of trauma that speaks to its temporarily overwhelming nature, other perspectives of what trauma is are interesting. Trauma Treatment focuses on how it impacts us, saying, “Trauma deconstructs the carefully constructed understanding of life. Trauma disorganizes the prior harmony of our assumptions. Trauma is a loss of pattern.” When explaining trauma to others, I often speak to both the personal impact and the way that trauma reorganizes our perspectives of the world. Our consciousness is, at its core, a prediction engine. (See Mindreading.) We have consciousness to support our ability to predict, because it confers an evolutionary advantage. To predict allows us to prepare and thus survive.
As I’ve implied in the preceding, I think the definition provided by Trauma Treatment is incomplete. It fails to account for how we’re connected to the event in a way that triggers the reevaluation of our beliefs. It also neglects the dimension of personal impact on future possibilities.
Meaning in the Moment
In addition to the ultimate meaning of one’s life, Frankl believed in the meaning of the moment. Our consciousness is constantly scanning our environment and trying to make meaning of our perceptions. We’re constantly trying to find the meaning of the moment – but generally only in a threat management sort of way. Frankl encourages us to look more deeply to try to understand how the meaning of the moment has meaning to our lives.
Here, I recommend caution. While I firmly believe in finding the meaning in the moment, I also recognize that, for traumatized people, they can read too much – or the wrong thing – into circumstances. The woman who was raped walking home from a Christmas party may draw the conclusion that Christmas means rape. She can also draw the conclusion that it was her fault. Neither of these conclusions are the best. (I hesitate to say “wrong.”)
I’d revise this to say that we should be open to discovering meaning in every moment without necessarily insisting that we find it. When we try to force meaning from a moment, we often come up with answers that aren’t the best.
Suffering to Meaning
Core to Frankl’s beliefs is that, while suffering is universal, the resolution of suffering is finding meaning. The idea that suffering is universal is a core Buddhist belief. It’s the expectation that, in life, we’ll have suffering. Frankl claims (in Man’s Search for Meaning) that the resolution of this suffering is meaning.
I disagree with Trauma Treatment’s assertion that people resist finding meaning because they need time to be in the pain. This prejudiced perspective implies that they should just get over it and move on. I prefer to look at it from the perspective that the therapist can see the meaning (or, more precisely, a meaning) more quickly. Their job is to find meaning in events, and thus they’ve become more adept at it. Sometimes, it takes people longer to learn from their circumstances. That doesn’t mean that they need (or deserve) to suffer in pain.
Logotherapy and existential analysis build upon the Transtheoretical Model, often called Stages of Change, to describe a process by which individuals can change and grow. The problem, as with other parts of the book that called an Indian who lived 500 years BC a logotherapist, is that the timelines don’t work. The model was first published in 1994 and Frankl died in 1997 – while enough time to develop an extension to the model, it’s more likely something created by his disciples. This is important, because unlike the original insights regarding the importance of meaning, these changes feel more like an attempt to connect Frankl’s core work to the need for change to make it more relevant.
The book includes a set of what are clearly slides as figures, which contain some diagrams but are mostly walls of text that seek to make an incomprehensible number of acronyms that presumably the reader is expected to remember. Mnemonics and acronyms can be a helpful tool – but not at the volume they’re being used. (See Job Aids and Performance Support, How We Learn, and Efficiency in Learning for more.)
It feels as if the book was an adaptation of a workshop, but the slides themselves weren’t fully translated into prose. For me, the wall of text on most of these slides makes me wonder why the information couldn’t be transformed into book form more readily.
In the end, there are nuggets to get out of Trauma Treatment, but it’s better to skim it than to dedicate time to reading it.