Many young adults are unaware of their need for meaningful living. These youth carry a feeling of deep emptiness and they undergo a period known as existential vacuum (Frankl, 1984). It is characterized by a kind of directionless boredom. This state underlies depression, aggression and addiction, suicide, anxiety, and delinquent behavior. Alienated from family, peers or society, adolescents often find that search for meaning becomes impossible.
Meaning refers to “making sense, coherence, or order out one’s existence and to have a purpose in life or a goal worth living and striving” (Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987). Young people find meaning in the efforts to form cherished relationships, create stable identities for themselves, and to be generative and genuine (Erikson, 1963). Adolescents can also achieve meaning by in the setting of goals and in anticipation of possibilities (Reker, et al., 1987).
A number of trials and tribulations that adolescents usually experience are similar to the existential concepts of increase in freedom, exercising choice, dealing with responsibility, awareness of their isolation and a quest for meaning. Also, there is a search for meaning which may result in increased anxiety and a sense of personal emptiness (Damon, Menon & Bronk, 2003). The compelling need for “will to meaning” is parallel to the sequence of developmental that a person experiences as he/she moves from selfish emphasis on pleasure (childhood), to interest in power (through young adulthood), and on to complete and healthy maturity, whereby the real origin of happiness are perceived to be meaning and value (Kruger, 2002).
A counselor channels the client’s suffering into productive paths rather than alleviate the suffering. The counselor attempts to point out to the client how faulty behaviors and attitudes that they have are related to the suffering of the client (Fernando, 2007). Each time clients lament their life circumstances, the therapist inquires how they created the situation. Having the correct approach towards suffering and life is indicative of one’s reflection on life experiences and of the fact that the person has made sense out of the challenges, dilemmas, and paradoxes that life has brought them. Logotherapy (or existential analysis) tries to create a sense of realization in the client regarding the fact that every crisis makes way for an opportunity to transform oneself and develop a mature outlook.
(This column has research contributed by Sreepriya Menon)