They all had their own reasons for coming. Some mental health professionals wanted to incorporate a new approach into their practice. Some struggled with depression and anxiety but were afraid that going to therapy was antithetical to Torah ideas. Many just wanted to broaden their horizons.
They were from different backgrounds, diverse communities, all gathered together on May 15, in Park Slope to attend the inaugural Torah psychology conference on Victor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning.
Nine speakers spoke to the crowd of more than 250 people, each one tackling a different angle, but together creating an overview of the work and life of Victor Frankl and how it applies to our life today.
Videos of all the speakers can be found at TorahCafe.com
His Life and Theories
Who was Victor Frankl? And why do his theories matter?
He was a rising star in Vienna, city of psychoanalysts and their couches, in the inner circle of Sigmund Freud and then Alfred Adler. When he disagreed with their central ideas that man’s drive is for pleasure or power, he was unceremoniously removed. Frankl had a different idea for what drove man–the search for meaning. He tested his theories in the crucible of the concentration camp, writing his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning. There he wrote about his experiences as the basis of his theory logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (meaning).
Dr. Rabbi Reuven Bulka, a personal student of Dr. Frankl and author of numerous books on him, shared details of his long personal relationship with Frankl. The theory of logotherapy is about finding meaning on three levels, he explained. They are creative values, experimental values and meaning while facing inescapable suffering. Frankl infused all his theories with deep religious meaning and he personally put on tefillin every day, and read the psalms each night. Logotherapy as an authentic Jewish therapy allows discussion of the meaning of G-d in the practice of psychology, created a therapeutic bridge between man and G-d.
Frankl and the Rebbe
Frankl’s theories attracted the attention of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who began to communicate with him. Rabbi Simon Jacobson shared those details and a letter the Rebbe wrote in June of 1969. I particularly took interest in the writing of Dr. Frankl in this matter. To my surprise, however, his approach has apparently not been appropriately disseminated and appreciated. Then he shared the remarkable story of the Rebbe sending a messenger to convey an important message to Frankl in Vienna over fifty years ago. “Don’t give up,” he said. “You will prevail.”
Dr. Frankl took great comfort in those words–he’d been on the verge of abandoning his life work, as his ideas and lectures went unnoticed or shunned. With renewed energy, he applied himself to his work. His book “Man’s Search for Meaning” was translated into English and became an instant bestseller, considered one of the top ten influential books by the Library of Congress. He won national acclaim and lectured on five continents. Universities around the world gave him honorary doctorates and he won numerous awards for his work.
Faith Based Healing
Logotherapy is an alternative to those who have concerns about therapy based on Freud’s theories. He believed religion to be a psychological projection of the father figure and espoused the need to remove religious inhibitions against physical gratification.
Logotherapy has no such conflict, a modality that encourages faith as a basis of therapeutic healing. Dr. David Rosmarin, on faculty at Harvard Medical School, presented clinical research on the application of faith based interventions to treat anxiety disorders. He showed how scientifically tapping into a person’s faith to treat anxiety had significantly higher success rates than other psychodynamic approaches to anxiety.
Interestingly, of the most commonly used and successful intervention in the world is the 12 step program, which has as its very basis, the concept of submitting our will and reaching out to a higher power for guidance and healing.
Rabbi Laibl Wolf a noted expert on psychology and mysticism explained that Chassidus offers ample instruction on how to practise Jewish mindfulness in everyday life. He conducted a meditation on the morning prayer “Mode Ani” asking everyone to consider not merely “flipping” through prayers, but connecting their prayers “vertically” and connecting to Hashem.
Bringing G-d Back in the Room
Daniel Schonbuch, LMFT, and conference organizer, took this a step further, discussing the importance of inviting G-d and spirituality back into the practice of psychotherapy. “My goal for this conference was for people to realize that logotherapy is a mainstream therapy and can be sought out by people seeking help from anxiety and depression. I’ve incorporated logotherapy into my practice for years, and shared the importance of addressing a person’s psychological and spiritual needs as part of modern psychological practice. We bring G-d back into the room, so to speak.”
He also put out a call for papers for next year’s conference for people to present on how they incorporated faith and spirituality in their practice of psychology.
Many who expressed interest in further training were glad to learn that Cynthia Wimberly, a professor in the Viktor Frankl Institute in Texas, traveled to the conference with the objective of working with the logotherapy institute to create a training program within the next six months.
One conference attendee wrote a long thank you note, concluding. Thank you for finally giving Viktor Frankl the attention he so deserves and we so need.
Someone came up to Daniel Schonbuch at the conference close. “I was suffering from terrible depression ten years ago and felt totally helpless,” he said. “Turning to the writing of Dr. Frankl changed my life.”
His ideas are as relevant as they were more than 70 years ago, with the power to change lives.
To view all conference speakers videos and for more information about Torah Psychology visit: TorahCafe.com