Getting into treatment and reevaluating your relationship with drugs and alcohol can cause you to question a lot of things. Past relationships, the goals that you’ve held dear, and even the relationship that you have with yourself can all be impacted by sobriety. For some people in recovery, that leads to an essential question: What is the meaning of my life?
At Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia, therapy and recovery focus on encouraging clients to understand what makes a meaningful life. This is known as Meaning Centered Therapy, or MCT.
“Meaning therapy focuses on how the person makes sense of themselves, the world around them, and how they fit into that world,” says Geoff Thompson, program director at Sunshine Coast Health Centre. “The first stage of therapy is to understand how the client makes sense of things. The next stage is to help the person construct a new way of making sense of things, but this time in a way that resonates with the person’s reality and authentic values.”
MCT is based on the work of psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl and psychologist Paul Wong.
“MCT is based on the assumption that the fundamental motivation in human beings is to pursue a personally meaningful life,” Thompson explains. While Frankl and Wong argue that the search for a meaningful life is the primary motivation for more people, other psychologists argue it’s one of a few primary motivations.
MCT allows the person in therapy to determine what is meaningful for them, rather than prescribing pre-set expectations.
“MCT is a humane and ethical form of treatment because therapists do not tell clients what to do, think, feel, or say,” Thompson says. “MCT promotes client autonomy.”
Meaning Versus Happiness
A common misconception is that a meaningful life is one that is happy.
“People willingly give up a ‘happy’ life for a meaningful life: soldiers, firefighters, Olympic athletes, a mother running into traffic to save her toddler, a senior confronting a bear who was after his little dog,” Thomson explains.
So, if not happiness, what is a meaningful life? That’s an entirely personal question. Each individual must decide for him or herself what a meaningful life is.
“Precisely what makes a meaningful life is subject to debate,” Thompson says. “Perhaps the meaning of life is life itself—to live in such a way as to feel alive and vital. So it isn’t an intellectual thing. Frankl said that meaning exists already; it is the responsibility of the person to ‘discover’ this meaning.”
In other cases, people can construct a meaningful life for themselves.
Treatment Based On Creating Meaning
Most people who come into treatment or therapy are searching for something, Thompson said.
“We know from research that a person seeking therapy does not live a personally meaningful life,” Thompson says. “Clients we see at SCHC have poor self-awareness, superficial relationships, and look to the external world for what they should do. Based on this, we would say that their lives lack personal meaning.”
On the other hand, people who have a meaningful life are content. They don’t need to use drugs or alcohol, or seek treatment.
Although clients who come to SCHC might not have meaning yet, Thompson and his team are confident that they will be able to find it. They trust that, with light guidance, their clients will be able to develop their own meaning and find the personal motivation that will help them stay away from drugs and alcohol.
“MCT therapists believe a client is capable of making healthy decisions for themselves,” he says. “Many therapists in the addiction field appear to believe that addicted clients live such chaotic lives and are so cognitively impaired that they cannot make decisions for themselves. Many of these therapists believe they need to step in and control the client, and tell the client that they cannot trust their own thinking.”
By helping clients connect with their authentic selves, the team at SCHC encourages them to explore what will bring meaning into their lives. By knowing themselves, accepting the realities of life in recovery, and choosing goals that align with their beliefs, people who go through treatment at SCHC come out better equipped to maintain their sobriety.
Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.
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