I think one reason Frankl’s theories and therapeutic approach have so much meaning for so many people is because he actually endured the unimaginable. And Frankl, a psychiatrist, spoke openly about human phenomenon such as art and love. In fact, he felt that art and love were vehicles to transform clinical problems (e.g. art and love help with things like depression, anxiety, trauma etc.). Sadly, we live in an era of increasingly brief, standardized, manualized, de-personalized therapy. Some of that is a function of insurance companies, and some of it is probably a function of our quick-fix desires of our wider society.
Frankl’s transformation of his personal suffering, and using his profound suffering to create a unique therapeutic approach made me think of other leading theorists and clinicians who have created a new form of therapy based on their own personal suffering.
Dr. Marsha Linehan created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 1993). DBT is now considered the therapy of choice for Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT is also being used successfully for other concerns, such as substance addiction.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a very challenging situation characterized by a history of intense, unstable relationships and life choices. Not long ago, Marsha Linehan, the “guru” of DBT had the courage to share that she herself had struggled for years with Borderline Personality Disorder and was hospitalized due to numerous suicide attempts and self-injurious behavior that included cutting herself, head banging, and burning herself (Carey, 2011). Linehan credits her Roman Catholic religious faith, prayer, and personal interest in Buddhism with enabling her to survive and create DBT (Carey, 2011; Robins, 2002).
Dr. Steven Hayes was a widely published, successful professor and researcher. But at the same time Dr. Hayes also suffered debilitating panic attacks that threatened his academic career. Hayes has stated publicly that an interest in Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and other forms of religion and spirituality helped him overcome his Panic Disorder and create Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Cloud, 2006).
ACT was initially designed to primarily address anxiety-related symptoms and disorders. ACT has emerged to be used successfully for a range of diverse problems including chronic pain, substance abuse, obesity, cancer management, schizophrenia, psychosis, and PTSD (Bach & Hayes, 2002; Bach, Hayes, & Gallop, 2012; Gundy, Woidneck, Pratt, Christian, & Twohig, 2011; Walser & Westrup, 2007).
Drs. Frankl, Linehan, and Hayes each endured profound suffering. And each transformed their suffering to create influential therapeutic approaches. Their work demonstrates that out of profound suffering we can find ways to help other people. And sometimes, by helping ourselves, we can help others as well.
Bach, P., & Hayes, S. C. (2002). The use of acceptance and commitment therapy to prevent the rehospitalization of psychotic patients: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(5), 1129-1139. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.70.5.1129
Bach, P., Hayes, S. C., & Gallop, R. (2012). Long-term effects of brief acceptance and commitment therapy for psychosis. Behavior Modification, 36(2), 165-181. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0145445511427193.
Carey, B. (2011, June 23). Expert on mental illness reveals her own fight. [Electronic Version]. The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Cloud, D. (2006, February 13). The third wave of therapy. [Electronic Version]. Time. Retrieved July 29, 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1156613,00.html
Gundy, J. M., Woidneck, M. R., Pratt, K. M., Christian, A. W., & Twohig, M. P. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: State of evidence in the field of health psychology. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work, 8(2), 23-35. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/928984322?accountid=10868
Linehan, M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.
Robins, C. (2002). Zen principles and mindfulness practice in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9, 50-57.
Walser, R. D., & Westrup, D. (2007). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma-related problems: A practitioner’s guide to using mindfulness and acceptance strategies. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.