I had the good fortune recently to be interviewed by Guy Macpherson of the West Coast Trauma Project. Guy is such a great interviewer, establishing a nice rhythm and having a nice narrative style. He encourages his interviewees to tell their story. I’d like to focus on two of the questions Guy asked; one, asking for quotes which not only have influenced my life, but served to guide how I approach therapy and the other, to mention two “go-to-books” that I would recommend to the listeners.
What was interesting for me to see was Viktor Frankl appeared in both my choices. The first is his quote:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The second is Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
I suppose he has made quite an impact on me. Well, it doesn’t stop there. On a recent quiet Saturday afternoon, too hot to do anything, I went to my bookshelf and randomly pulled out a book. I happened to pull out (you guessed it) a Viktor Frankl book, The Doctor and the Soul. I had started to read it a while back and for some reason put it aside until now. Leafing through it, I came across the following and realized that this represents the corner stone of life and the energy in which I work.
“Thus, man is by no means merely a product of heredity and environment. There is a third element: decision. Man ultimately decides for himself! And, in the end, education must be education toward the ability to decide”
Even by today’s standards this is a revolutionary statement. What I am reading here is that; yes, we can be genetically predisposed and yes, we are influenced by our environment, but who we are is based on our decision of who we choose to be.
Someone’s maternal grandmother and paternal uncle were both clinically depressed and so that person is genetically predisposed to being depressed. His environment is impoverished, he was fired and since he moved, he has not made any new friends. That’s pretty depressing. According to Frankl, this person decides who he is. But how can he be anything else than depressed? By being aware that he has the last word; the freedom to choose, the ability to decide. Not everything is in our control; genes, what neighborhood we grew up in, moves, relationships, but how we respond to all of these factors is in our control.
One of the challenges of addiction is that the addict blames everyone and everything else for his troubles. Getting the addict to take responsibility for his choices is the first step towards recovery.
When someone’s life events or circumstances has restricted their choices, even then, the choice of how to respond to what is happening is still in the individual’s control; it’s his decision.
When I work with someone in therapy, I create an environment in which I present the individual with choices. Sometimes, the individual chooses to be silent, to not do anything externally manifested; this is still a choice. I respect that choice and the individual is always empowered by their ability to choose; to decide.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Photo credit: Elizabeth Lies.