Finding Greater Meaning in Life: Can a Therapist or Life Coach Help?

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What does it mean to live a meaningful life? Does it guarantee a happy life free from sadness and worry? Recent research suggests that although the two are certainly related, there are crucial differences between happiness and meaning.

Take, for example, parenting which often leads to a reduction in overall happiness but at the same time strengthens perceptions that life has meaning. Unlike happiness, meaning has more to do with having a sense of purpose in life, understanding one’s circumstances, and taking responsible action in keeping with one’s beliefs and values.

Read Related Article: In Search of a ‘Good Life’: 5 Findings on the Distinction between Meaning and Happiness

    Happiness vs. Meaning . . . . parenting which often leads to a reduction in overall happiness but at the same time strengthens perceptions that life has meaning.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

Depending on the therapist one chooses, finding meaning in life may or may not be an explicit focus of the treatment. Some therapists primarily aim to reduce their clients’ mental health symptoms, like sadness or anxiety. For these therapists, finding meaning in life may be seen as a secondary goal of the treatment, or perhaps even the purview of clergy and religiously-oriented counselors.

So, if your primary goal is to find a more meaningful and purposeful life for yourself, some therapists may better suit your needs than others. In this series, focusing on mental health treatment, we discuss crucial differences between therapists that can help you choose a mental health professional that is the best possible fit for you and your needs.

Of course, therapy is just as much about what you, as the client, bring to the experience. For example, in one study we found that a subset of clients with depression were able to use therapy as a springboard for finding greater meaning in life, even while participating in a treatment that primarily focused on reducing symptoms of depression.

These individuals who used treatment as an opportunity to search for greater meaning and higher purpose in life were also more likely to have greater education and financial security. This association may be understood in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which suggests that people are most likely to be oriented toward meaning and self-actualization once other more basic needs (e.g., food and shelter) have been met. In this study, clients with less education and financial security also benefited from the treatment, but improvements were focused more on the reduction of mental health symptoms.

The central message here is that people seek mental health treatment with a variety of expectations and goals in mind, which are determined by a number of factors, including one’s educational and economic circumstances. Part of finding a good match likely involves seeking out a therapist that shares some basic ideas about what is most important to work on and how to work on it.

To help you better understand your own preferences, in this series we also discuss expectations toward treatment and offer a quiz designed to identify the qualities in a therapist that are most important to you.

Finally, if you’d like to get the benefits of therapy but aren’t willing or able to meet regularly with a therapist, in this series we also review therapy alternatives and then finish the week by exploring the power of the mind to heal itself. 

So, come back each day this week for more on mental health treatment. Do you think therapy can help people find meaning? Has therapy worked for you to find meaning? Please join the conversation in Comments below. We want to hear from you!


 

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Sources:

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 505-516.

Holland, J. M., Chong, G., Currier, J. M., O’hara, R., & Gallagher‐Thompson, D. (2015). Does cognitive‐behavioural therapy promote meaning making? A preliminary test in the context of geriatric depression. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 88, 120-124.

Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 846-895.

 

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