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Conferencia: Atención Pastoral Durante las Transiciones de la Vida: Reconciliarse Con el Pasado. Prof. Dra Elisabeth Lukas. 

Versión breve traducida al español por Miguel Angel Molla, Logoterapeuta, con permiso de los autores y traductores.

RESUMEN

La presentación de la Prof. Dra. Elisabeth Lukas en la Universidad Católica Privada de Linz, organizada por la Prof. Dra. Klara-Antonia Csiszar, abordó temas relacionados con la búsqueda de una vida significativa incluso en situaciones difíciles e inalterables.

La Dr. Lukas destacó la importancia de adoptar un concepto positivo del tiempo, donde el futuro se percibe como una fuente de oportunidades y posibilidades.

Al explicar su teoría, la Dra. Lukas enfatizó que cada decisión que tomamos actualiza un potencial entre muchos y contribuye a dar forma a nuestra realidad. Señaló que incluso en situaciones pasadas difíciles, como mencionó Frankl, todavía hay oportunidades para actualizar el significado y encontrar sentido en la vida.

Utilizando ejemplos clínicos, el Dr. Lukas ilustró cómo esta teoría se aplica en la pastoral, especialmente en el proceso de reconciliación con el pasado. Comparó este proceso con la contemplación de una cadena montañosa, donde se consideran los aspectos positivos y negativos de la vida, se aceptan y perdonan los momentos difíciles, y finalmente se reflexiona sobre las posibilidades de significado que aún quedan por explorar.

Su enfoque en encontrar significado y sentido en todas las etapas de la vida resonó profundamente y proporcionó una perspectiva inspiradora para aquellos que buscan orientación en tiempos difíciles.

Hace años, la Dra. Lukas trabajó en investigar y validar su tesis doctoral que es de una principal importancia en Logoterapia y Análisis Existencial (LTEA) y es fascinante. Así creó el instrumento para validar la Logoterapia el Logo-test, fue respaldada por su experiencia personal y su formación bajo la tutela de Viktor Frankl, lo que le otorgó autoridad y relevancia como experta internacional. Ella ha enseñado en más de cincuenta universidades de todo el mundo.  (Logo-test publicado por ella en un Capítulo del libro La Voluntad de Sentido, Frankl V. Herder p254)

La idea de que el sentido y el significado en la vida están intrínsecamente vinculados con la felicidad y la capacidad de enfrentar el sufrimiento es un tema fundamental en la psicología existencial.

Explorar cómo la percepción de significado puede influir en la satisfacción con la vida, la capacidad para enfrentar obstáculos y la resiliencia frente a las dificultades es crucial para comprender la salud mental desde una perspectiva más holística. La noción de que el sentido proporciona una especie de “amortiguador” emocional que permite a las personas atravesar los desafíos con mayor fortaleza es una idea poderosa.

Es interesante destacar cómo su investigación no solo se centra en la felicidad y la satisfacción, sino también en la capacidad de sufrir y enfrentar las dificultades. Esta perspectiva ampliada sobre la salud mental y el bienestar humano es invaluable para el campo de la psicología.

Fuente:

Conferencia: Atención Pastoral Durante las Transiciones de la Vida: Reconciliarse Con el Pasado. Prof. Dra. Elisabeth Lukas

Conferencia dictada en Universidad Católica Privada, Linz, Austria

Organizado por: Prof. Dra. Klara-Antonia Csiszar

Resumen: Viktoria Puchner (KU-Linz)

Transcrito y traducido del alemán original al inglés por:

Dra. Maria Marshall, OTTAWA INSTITUTE OF LOGOTHERAPY https://logotherapy.ca/

Pastoral Care during Life Transitions: Reconciling with the Past

Traducción al español por Miguel Angel Molla Madueño
Psicólogo clínico, MA -Logoterapeuta acreditado.

Texto completo de la traducción en inglés publicado por la Dra. María Marshall.

PASTORAL CARE DURING LIFE TRANSITIONS: RECONCILING WITH THE PAST

Presented by: Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Lukas

Location: Catholic Private University, Linz, Austria

Organized by: Prof. Dr. Klara-Antonia Csiszar

Abstract: Viktoria Puchner (KU-Linz)

Transcribed and translated from the original German into English by: Prof. Dr. Maria Marshall, February 28, 2024

[Posted with permission from Prof. Dr. Klara-Antonia Csiszar and Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Lukas]

Abstract: Prof. Dr. Lukas’ presentation was held on January 18, 2024, at the Catholic Private University of Linz, organized by Prof. Dr. Klara-Antonia Csiszar. After referring to the findings of her dissertation research, which validated that that a meaningful life is associated with a successful life, Dr. Lukas raised the question how one can accompany people who are facing unalterable, difficult situations where the past is often seen as unalterable and evaluated as negative. With a positive time-concept, she clarified that time flows from the future into the present and to the past. She illustrated those opportunities in the future open many possibilities. With each decision, one decides for and actualizes a potential, among many, and brings it into reality. Reality always remains true and stays in the past. It makes up the identity of a person. Paraphrasing Frankl, she stated that, “In the past everything is actualized.”  The realm of values spans over the possibilities and realities. Actualizing poor possibilities lads to a poor reality, and vice versa, actualizing worthwhile possibilities leads to a worthwhile reality. Through several clinical examples, Dr. Lukas illustrates how one uses this theory in pastoral care, where one needs to reconcile with the past. In this process, as if observing a mountain-range, one first considers the “peaks” and the “positives.” These can be contemplated and pointed out. Next, one considers the “valleys” which can be grieved, accepted, and forgiven. Finally, the question arises: “What is yet left to be done?”  Meaning possibilities can be plentiful, whether one is a young person, elderly, terminally ill, or dying.

Dr. Lukas provided several illustrations from her practice and personal experience which reaches back to the time when she was a student of Viktor Frankl. Her presentation was highly insightful and relevant for this audience.

Prof. Dr. Csiszar: Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen. Greetings and welcome to everyone. My students have been asking me to not only talk about logotherapy but to invite Dr. Lukas, the foremost proponent of logotherapy. Today, we have the honor of welcoming her here and I greet her in name of the Catholic Private University of Linz.

Dr. Lukas was born in Vienna. As a student she developed an interest in Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (LTEA). She studied with Dr. Frankl.  Today, she is still active in this area and has taught at more than fifty universities worldwide. She developed a curriculum for LTEA as we know it today which you can study if you are interested in LTEA, since it is highly relevant for counselors and pastoral workers to have familiarity with it. Having said this, Dr. Lukas, we are all ears and hearts, and ready to listen to you.

Prof Dr. Lukas: It is my pleasure and honor to be with you here. I want to make a few comments about Logotherapy that apply to the theme of this presentation. As a young psychology student, in 1968, I decided to write my PhD dissertation to validate the main thesis of LTEA. The main thesis is that that a person who sees meaning will be, on the one hand, felicitous, and on the other hand, capable of suffering. On the one hand, happy, satisfied with life, dedicated to a task or a cause, and less bothered by obstacles and difficulties when they arise. On the other hand, who see meaning will have an increased ability to suffer, to tolerate frustration, to jump over difficulties, and to be courageous in the face of life’s demands. Both of these: satisfaction, and steadfastness–but not because of self-esteem and confidence, but because of the feeling of value in life–and the capacity to handle suffering, are the signs of good mental health. The opposite applies as well: one can be doing little and sink into an existential frustration seeing his or her existence as meaningless, in which case there is less vitality, and one loses the capacity to handle difficulties, which makes one prone to a mental crisis. This is the grand thesis that wanted to validate, and to this end, I interviewed 1000 people: “Do you see meaning in life, and if “yes,” what are the meaningful elements that you would name?” The answers were organized into a protocol from which the contents that pointed to areas of meaning were derived. From these results, I developed a test, the Logotest, with the aim to measure how much meaning one can see in life. If one has a lot of contents, meaning contents, one feels one has possibilities for many meaningful endeavors. However, if one has diminished interest in these contents, one has less possibility for actualizing meaning capacities.

With 340 people tested, I correlated the results with a projective test which flagged up signs and the likelihood of mental illness, such as anxiety, addictions, psychopathy, etc. In this way, I obtained two data sets: high or low meaning orientation and high and low mental stability. In 1970, I processed these results at the U of Vienna was processed and established a correlation. The findings were interesting. Correlation was significant up to 99 percent likelihood that meaning in life influences mental stability. Higher scores on the Logotest were associated with more mental stability and vice versa. My supervisor was very impressed.

Since then, I have worked as a psychotherapist for over 30 years. I had a private clinic where we worked as a team and saw about 300 people each year. At the end of year, we contacted all of our patients and asked for their feedback. Year after year, our success rate was about 70, or 73 percent. In most cases, success rates are around 50 percent and sometimes 60 percent. We established that there was a higher success rate when there was constructive readiness and cooperation with our patients, and we found that without this cooperation and readiness, effects would not be so high. So, we concluded that a lot depends on the willingness to cooperate and the rapport, the therapeutic alliance that one can build with patients.

So, I do not wish that you think that logotherapy is an “exotic” therapy, because it is a very efficient method based on a valid and solid anthropological model. We cannot heal everyone, and there are some boundaries. On this note, we need to be mindful of our own boundaries and our own finiteness and transitoriness.

Psychotherapy pays a lot of attention and assigns a great role to past childhood experiences, but I teel you, honestly, for ten years you can have a patient lying on a sofa complaining about their childhood, and you cannot give them a new childhood. When it was bad, it was bad. When it was sad, it was sad. The past cannot be changed. The facts you cannot change. If you can recover from a poor childhood, or after poor experiences, is another question. And then there is the awareness of death. The awareness that we are all going to die. Ladies and gentlemen, none of us are excepted from death. So, the question that Frankl posed was: How can you help people to deal with finality and transitoriness? How can you help them face the past, in view of finality and transitoriness? My aim is to present a few thoughts that I hope may be helpful.

Let’s begin with Frankl’s model of the passing of time. This model was presented at several international universities where Frankl taught. If I asked people, which way does time flows, many would say that it passes into the future. This is not so. Time passes, from the future into the present and into the past. In this illustration [drawing on the board], we have future, present, and past. The future is all what is still possible. All begins with a possibility. It is as if a cocoon opens. Or when a seed is planted. What was planted will grow. The tree was a possibility. If there had not been a possibility for it to grow, it could not have become a reality. Everything starts with a possibility.

This afternoon was a piece of possibility for you. You had different possibilities. It was a piece of the future for you, for you had different options available: you could either come here, or many other things you could have done; go to a pool, ski, or talk to a friend, or to stay at home and read a book. I also had many different possibilities and out of this pool, we have chosen the same one, you and I, for you and I chose the possibility of being here. Now we are in the present reality, and out of all these possibilities of the future, we put this possibility into the past through the present. We actualized this choice of being here, we chose it, and we “dragged” [placed it by pulling through] it into the past. In the next minutes it will be already a reality that we were all here and by the evening, it will be already a piece of the past. Reality remains a piece of life that we lived. I may die tomorrow, but this remains; that today, I was here. The reality was that I was here and now belongs to my past. Death does not take it away.

What happens with the other possibilities? They remain in the realm of possibilities in the future for a while. In two weeks, in one week, God willing. Young people have a lot of possibilities.

But if one died tonight, there would be no more possibilities left in the future. Not to go skiing, or to go to a pool, or to talk to a friend. Some possibilities remain for a while in the future, and they can still be actualized, at a later point. However, they are in a “risky zone.” They are in a “risky zone” because they may be possible to still actualize. Only what we already actualized stays forever. It becomes eternalized – as Frankl said. What we did not choose, is at risk of disappearing, and will disappear, or we may forfeit them, if they do not get actualized. This loss is a loss forever. What we choose and actualize remains forever and what we fail to actualize remains not actualized forever.

Therefore, Frankl spoke of this feeling, a horror of vacuum, the dreaded feeling of the responsibility to choose and to actualize the right choice. We always stand at a door, and we “drag” the possibilities through, and we choose one and this one that we change from possibility is saved into eternity. The rest are in a risky zone area and may be lost. Frankl said that in the past, everything was safely stored, and cannot be taken away. It is protected, yes; but it is also true that what we didn’t actualize is in the risky area and can be lost.

This is the area of possibilities in the future. We have many choices. Philosophically, these possibilities are not yet “being” they are just “becoming.” But when they are actualized, they become reality. Currently, they are only in a state of “prelude of being,” and that is the precondition of being. Either something becomes reality, and eternal, or it becomes nothing, forever.

Consider a couple who have the possibility of having a child in the future. When they do not choose this possibility, it is lost forever. The choice becomes nothing, and no child will ever come to life from this couple.  Alternatively, if they decide to have a child, a who child comes into life, is a possibility. Unless they make a different possibility, such as through an abortion, the child never goes back into nothingness. There can be a possibility that the couple had a child and this child died. Death can not detract from the reality. Time passes only one way, and that is, into the past. We cannot go back and change reality. Just like one cannot change reality if a tree is struck down by lightning. There was a tree there, until it was struck by lightning and burned.

This is another aspect that I want to illustrate: A child who was beaten, is in the past. One cannot go back to the past, but in the future, there are still possibilities. You can blame the child, or ignore the child, but you cannot take back the facts. Or, when a child trusted you, and you earned their trust, this fact cannot be taken away, even if you or the child forget about it. Even if no one knows about it, it was still there.  So, you see, reality has a timeless ethos. Philosophically, the future is the area of what could be, and what should be. In a timeless ethos, when what was in the future becomes the past, when a nice possibility becomes reality, it will be a nice past. But if a not nice possibility was actualized, it remains a not nice act in the past.

Thus, we can see the reality of a person as if it was transparent:  Here is a cornfield (nice possibilities) and here we have some weeds (not nice possibilities). And there is a door, and this is the filter that decides what goes into the granary. The person is the gatekeeper. The possibilities are transitory, but what we actualize, or we do not actualize, remains a reality.

Death cannot rob us from the “grains.” Death can only destroy the future and its possibilities, but it cannot destroy what was already safely stored in the “granaries” of the past. Death has limits. It cannot affect the past. This is a wonderful thought, because death cannot alter what one already managed to accomplish.

What happens in death? Death closes the door, but it closes the door behind us. “What we are, we become at the moment of our death,” said Frankl. What we have lived is what we are, and our identity. Also, Frankl stated that the way each person lived belongs to their identity: “Each person is their own heaven, or hell,” which refers to what they have done and the way they chose to live.

Here, if you wish, you could make a bridge to a thought in Christianity: “[Jesus said], I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Life as a whole becomes reality, and it is an eternal reality.

Thus, what we actualize counts. I want to illustrate this concept with a personal example. I was blessed with forty-four years of happy marriage. My husband and I never had a real fight, we solved all our problems together. In my life, death can’t rob me, not even an hour, or a minute, from these forty-four years, it can’t detract from its quality– if it was happy, or sad–or of its quantity. A treasure stays in my life. Losing my partner (as I have) is an immense suffering. It is a suffering that is so great that it feels inexpressible. But next to grief, is the gift of the forty- four years we had together and thankfulness for this gift. This thankfulness for what I lived balances out the great suffering of my husband’s death. I am, as if accompanied by two voices. The one whispers: “Your loss is great.” The other one says: “You had something wonderful.” This saves me from doubt and gives me confidence that the forty-four years are saved.

Another story related to the cornfield which I want to share with you is also a personal example. Since the 1980s, I have written books. I always dedicated them to someone dear or close to me. In the 90s I dedicated them to my parents-in-law. They took me into their family, and I wanted to make them happy. We did not see them too often and as I became busy producing one book after the other, I have all forgotten about the one that I dedicated especially to them. I thought nothing of it, I kept procrastinating and procrastinating, until one day, they passed away. Their death robbed me of this possibility forever. Therefore, I tell you, every possibility is “between the teeth” of death. Only you can actualize it and put in into past so that it remains eternal. So if there is a nice possibility, such as to do something for someone, or to heal the world, it is not a good idea to procrastinate, because death can rob us of it.

We have to establish one more fact: Life is not full of only nice possibilities. There are accidents, misfortunes, unhappiness, failures, and limitations. When Frankl was in California, he had a presentation scheduled, but was called to a talk at San Quentin prison. Many of the inmates were there because they committed a murder. On of them was going to be executed the following day.  This man was Mr. Mitchell, and when he heard that Frankl was in town, he wanted to talk to him. Frankl cancelled everything on his schedule to meet Mr. Mitchel. He could not save him from death, but he said to him: “Mr. Mitchell, I do not want to presume, but I suppose, and I hope that if anyone who has lived in the shadow of the gas chambers for two years, I have the ability to understand your situation. And I want to share with you that while I was in the shadow of the gas chambers, I never doubted that I could do something meaningful even in the last a few minutes of my life. This is the same for you. Mr. Mitchell. During this night, you can still rise to a higher level of consciousness and think of what a good way for you could be, and despite many failures, you can still grow, and glow over the men and the conditions and die as a much better man then the way you lived. Use this night to rise above yourself.” Later it was said that Mr. Mitchell had his last confession and that he was peaceful and serene before his death.

A not as dramatic illustration comes from my practice. I was talking to an older man who did not have too much time to live. He knew that after this death, his family will have financial losses that they would have to pay for years. He wanted to talk to me. I asked him what kind of profession he had, just to get to know him a bit better. He was a musician and talked about the concerts he had and the instruments that he played. From my knowledge of music, I reflected and said to him that all music pieces have some dissonant notes but all composers of classical music or any kind of music, always try at the end to have a great ending where all the melody comes together and there is a resounding finale. This is one of the tricks of composing music, to bring the piece to grand finale.  So, when he agreed, I continued, “Show your best side to your wife and to your family and be forgiving and thankful for what she has done for you, and to the kids, you can say to them, do it better that your old father, and that is how you can bring everything to a great finale.” And he said, “Yes, that is what I want, a bit of a better future.”

I want to show you how we can accompany people in extreme situations and what strategies we have in doing so. In limit-situations, it is like this: we rely on a positive concept of the flow of time. People have a substantial past, or a piece of the past, the present, and a future that is still there. So, they still have some time before them. We counsel or accompany–against the direction of the flow of time. Time always flows from the future into the past. How do we do this? By helping people reconcile with their past so that they can handle the future more meaningfully. When they can reconcile with their past, they can imagine the present. They can have hope for the future. Thus, when we counsel them, first, there is the view back to the past.

We look back into the past to establish what is there. Most important about the view back is to notice the “peaks to see what was happy, and valuable, and to bring this to awareness and consciousness, because how we humans are created, we always remember negatives more than positives. So, we encourage people to pay attention to it. With a simple example: when you are on a hike you admire the flowers that grow in the valley, but if you have blisters on your toe while on that hike, you ignore the flowers and tend the wound right away. This is why it is important to point to the peaks and to what were the peak experiences of life. Frankl used a great metaphor from mountain climbing: When you describe mountain ranges, you always talk about the heights, the tallest peak; no one talks about the smaller hills or the valleys. It’s the tallest peak that makes the mountain so special. Like the Himalayas: they have taller and smaller peaks, yet, what is most interesting is the tallest peak. There is one other metaphor from Frankl, this one from the Dolomites. In the Dolomites, when the sun sets, its rays still illuminate the highest peaks in hues of beautiful orange, pink, and red. In the valleys, the sun is already gone, but the peaks have this wonderful glow. As one descends in the valley, one may look back one last time to see the peaks and to, using the metaphor, show to people:” You see, it is what you achieved, these were nice experiences, gifts, or blessings.” Those are the peaks, and whoever looks for those will find them.

I once spoke with young man, who was maybe 18, or 19, maybe even twenty years old. His life story was so desolate that it was striking. He was taken away from his mother because she became incapable of parenting him, and went from foster home to foster home, while his father was in prison. No one wanted him. He did not complete school, and his life was one catastrophe after another. His current foster father brought him to my clinic to talk with him because he had bleak prospects. As I was listening to him, there was nothing in his words but sadness. I was not ready to give up and looked to find at least one peak. There must be something, still something that was good. Finally, I asked him, “Tell me, have you ever had something that you really liked?” – I did not ask if there was someone who ever liked him, or accepted him, but if there was ever something that he possessed and that he liked. “The dog of my aunt.” –“The dog of the aunt!”–There was one piece of hope. He was not allowed to have dogs while in foster care. The dog he used to like died a long time ago. His aunt also passed on. So, I went with this young man to a dog shelter. Since he was spending time with the dogs, I was hoping he would find one there and make a connection. He did find a dog that was also tossed out. He took care of this dog and went for walks with him. The time passed, he stayed at the shelter, and managed to complete a course in dog grooming. The dog that he adopted was given to him as a gift, and eventually, he managed to build a modest but decent life.  –One must look and believe.  There is much more to people than what their circumstances may make it look like, and what one comes into the world with.

In looking back, the main question is: “Is there something in the present that I can do about the past?” If I made a mistake, and was mean to someone, can I still reconcile with them or be on good terms? –The task is to look in the present and to notice the possibilities.

Frankl wrote about the example of a dying woman, Ms. Linek. They discussed the peak experiences that she experienced. She was a maid for a rich family in Prague and yes, some of the experiences she had were very beautiful. The lady concluded her reminiscence with the words that “all this will end.”  To which Frankl remarked that it is so, but it is also true that all these experiences remain in the past. Frankl pointed out that there were difficult times as well which she went through, but she suffered them with courage. To which Ms. Linek replied that she saw her suffering as “punishment from God.” Frankl then questioned her if it can be that the times that were difficult were like a test?  “And you managed well. So, look, you have nice experiences, and difficulties which you handled with courage, and if this was a test, I can only congratulate you for your actions were like a monument.” “My life was a monument,” repeated Ms. Linek. “My life was monument, so the Professor said,” Ms. Linek repeated, even in her last hours of life.

As we mentioned, the negatives are more readily noticed than the positives. When we function well, we take for granted that we are well. But, unless I am mistaken, I believe that we all, in some way, get too little praise, and too much critique for what we have managed to accomplish. When we are counseling someone, we can be placeholder for that attention and recognition that is lacking, as long as it is due. For what people really brought into life made a difference. So, when Frankl looked at the past, he congratulated Ms. Linek.

Another example was a nurse, who was very kind to her patients. Frankl was the Director of the Policlinic where this nurse used to work prior to her diagnosis of cancer. She expressed to Frankl that since her illness, she was feeling useless. “I am not useful to the patients,” she said. “What,” replied Frankl, “with that statement you are making an injustice to all the bedridden patients here, don’t you think?” Then he continued, “You can be an example that no one is useless because you can still set a good example to show that, as long as one is alive, one can be a blessing for other people.” The nurse then understood that she could perhaps do something even more for her patients than before, because a good example can be more important than making the beds. She was as useful as ever, even though her job had changed.

So, we do look back, and from there we look to the future at what is still left to do. In the present, when one finds a useful task, that can be a source of strength for the organism to endure until that task is finished. Of course, life can’t be prolonged beyond what is reasonable, but with an effort dedicated to completing a task, sometimes, there is remarkable strength to endure. Frankl gives the example that Goethe was very ill when he wrote Faust, but he wanted to finish it because he knew that no one could finish this task. A week after he completed his work, he died. Many times, when people see an important task, they receive the gift of time to finish that task.

All this is not easy, because, on the one hand, one is encouraged to says “yes” to a task, but on the other hand, the task cannot be defined by the therapist. One can only help to find what, in the name of logos, is waiting for this person, yet. In this, there is singularity and uniqueness: No one in the world can replace this person in the completion of their singular task.

There is an example which shocked me: I had an institute near Munich. We also lived there, and my husband, Gerhard, sent me patients from time to time, when he thought that I could help them. Once, he sent me a “top” manager. This man said to me that medically, he was “finished with his treatment:” he had a tumor that was inoperable with metastasis. He had little time to live. An engineer by profession, he positive thinking and stated that he is “done with” trusting “charlatans.” He was here to explore some psychological tools that I could give him to help himself and to get better. The meeting went very poorly because he kept insisting that he was here to learn about psychological tools to recover, while I tried to help him to say goodbye to life, which he did not want to hear about.  I asked what the most important peaks in his life were, and he kept enumerating all the great achievements of his company and the potential that it still had.  He had many, many ideas about what the company could still achieve, the consequences, and ended his part by telling me that he wants to recover so that he can keep leading it. He did not want to hear a word about his impending death. He worked so hard; I asked him if he had any other interests. “Yes,” he said, “I was on the high seas, and been to places where young sailors cannot go, and I thought that maybe I should like to write about how one maneuvers in difficult situations, for the younger generations.” I thought that was a good idea, and I encouraged him by saying, “I like that, and when you have time, certainly, write about that.” To which he replied, “Of course, I will write about it when I get healthy.” At the end, I asked him, since we talked so much about his work, and sailing, if he had any time for his family.  “No,” he said, “this was valley.” He had two sons, one was already an adult, the other was 15. They went for a holiday in Greece, then to New York. In Greece they wanted to buy a piece of art, but it was not for sale. So, he said to his younger son, “You can make this yourself at home,” but “nothing came of it.”  I said to him, “Look, since you are not active in the company, you can still have time to talk to your son.” Upon which he replied: “I am not yet dead, I will still have time to work, and I will be well.” Then he stood up, looked me in the eye and stated, “I see that you cannot help me. I was wasting my time. I did not find here what I was looking for.” With that, he left, and closed the door behind him.

This can happen in psychotherapy.  But I thought that something was not adding up exactly. The story has a positive ending, though. The family doctor phoned me and told me that this man passed away. “He probably had a difficult death,” I guessed. But I was wrong. “We all thought it was rather remarkable,” said the family doctor, “As if he had changed toward the end.  He had and finished a book, he played a musical instrument with his younger son, and at the end, had said his goodbyes, and peacefully fell asleep, surrounded by his family.” –Can you imagine how happy I was when I heard this from the doctor. He was not happy with me, but thanks to his own efforts, he managed to at the end, bring the last shacks of corn into the “granary.”

Psychotherapy is an artwork like no other. Much of our work is routine, repetitions, but sometimes there are special moments of contact, healing moments, that have to do with blessings and wonders. This last task, a different attitude, does not always have to do with work or action.  Sometimes, the change of attitude can mean a more peaceful attitude, which is hard work to achieve.

Frankl wrote about the example of a doctor colleague who sought his help. After a long marriage, his wife passed away. He could not accept this fact. “I can’t do it. Can you help me?” he said. Frankl acknowledged that the marriage of his colleague was indeed a very good one.  “For a bad partner, one does not grieve. But a good marriage, yes, one grieves the end of a good marriage.” He did not deny the blessing of this marriage. Then, Frankl continued to reflect: “The one who dies first, has it better, but the other who is left behind has the pain and they must live in a way, alone. They carry the burden by themselves. Can you see it this,” he turned to his colleague, “if it was good marriage, what would have happened”—and this is logotherapy’s technique of alternating perspectives—”if your wife outlived you, how she would have suffered. See, she was spared from this pain, but at the cost that now you carry it.” “Love is that I suffer, instead of her,” concluded the doctor, and with this motive of love, he could say “Yes, I agree. I can accept the fact that I lost her.”  Any better, it could not have happened.

Psychotherapy needs to be improvised from hour to hour, and from person to person. We can always draw back to the anthropological foundations and then we can continue with the argument.

Sometimes, when I was teaching In the United States, the students brought a real patient and they wanted to know how to apply logotherapy in that case.  “Now what, show us how?” I was not happy about these scenarios because of the large audience that is definitely not the same as in a private office, but I could not refuse either. So, on one occasion, they asked me to see a lady who was terminally ill, and she had tubes of oxygen all around, and my task was to demonstrate a logotherapeutic dialogue. We talked about her past; she had a great family. She was a farmer, and she had many children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and they were all diligent, hardworking, and fine people. They had a big farm and she told me all about that. I asked her, “Say, any of your family have any injuries, any illnesses, or anything that makes you concerned?” “None,” she said, “it is only me who is ill, and soon, I will die.”  So, I improvised, and prompted: “Say, if fate gave you a choice that out of all your family who would be the next one affected by a disease, who would you have chosen; your daughter, a nephew, a niece, or who?” Upon which the lady looked at me in disbelief and replied,” Oh, no, no, no. Only me, only me.” “Do I understand that right,” I repeated, “if you had a choice, you would have chosen what life gave?” She confirmed again, “Yes, me and not the others.” And in that minute, the students started to applaud, and the lady, propping herself up taller, said her “yes” to fate.

As we said, one must improvise from hour to hour, and rely on logotherapeutic principles.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a metaphor: Like a mountain range, life is like a roll of film.  I will explain this in a nutshell: Like those old camera rolls, it becomes finished at the time of our death.  Independent of its length, it can have different qualities. In the film, there are these different snapshots that show our life lived. There are some great scenes, and there are some moments of weakness, or mistakes. The hope is that in the end, only the good will count, and nothing else but the good.

One of my students remarked that “God in his greatness surely knows how to handle the minuses,” and can surely mercifully deal with the negatives. Therefore, we need to worry about the negatives, but trust we can still fill the remaining snapshots with positives. The minus are the dark scenes, but the pluses are the “yeses” when we are co-creators. Only we can add the positives, no one else can do it for us. –And if we take the “positives” in this metaphor as “light” …and we add light to the remaining scenes, then the light scenes are literally eternal life, which death can not extinguish.

Prof. Dr. Csiszar: Logotherapy offers several methods that help to reflect on our own lives as well as to help others. This is the reason why pastoral theology cannot be taught without logotherapy.  Thank you for being here, Dr. Lukas, and thank you for your examples which show what a wonderful thing it is to be able to accompany people–even when that can be difficult or disappointing–because we can never know when, at the end, there is a light that shines through.

Thank you very much for your excellent presentation!