I have just spent an intensive week at the Internal Compass music festival. One of the things I learned from Henrique Eisenman, a musician from Brazil was ‘You don’t need to play in order for the music to exist.’ Music exists in an inner space and an outer space. For example, you can play a melody repeatedly and feel it reverberating in your head. Alternatively you can hear a melody in your head first and then play it. You have to listen both within and without in order to hear the music.

Hearing meaning is, in a sense, like hearing music. The client must be aware of the inner space within himself as well as the outer space of meaning possibilities in the world. The therapist needs to do even more. The therapist must be aware of his or her own inner space as well as the inner space of the client and the outer space of the client’s world.

So the logotherapist is a little bit like a conductor who hears the music that’s there even when it’s not being played. The question is, how do you conduct therapy with such intangible, inexact concepts like inner space and outer space?

You listen carefully to the client’s words. Words are something concrete that you can follow.

Elisabeth Lukas counseled a woman who had recovered from being an alcoholic. Without any warning or explanation, she had been fired from her job. (Meaning in Suffering, Case No. 3). She had spent a lot of time looking for work, but nobody wanted to hire a former alcoholic. She said that since everyone perceives her as an alcoholic, she might as well be one. In despair, she resorted to drinking again.

What meaning do you hear in her words? You hear ‘Why bother?’ ‘Nothing I do will make a difference anyway.’

The music of her complaint is despair. And the music that exists in the outer sphere is hope. Allowing for the dissonant chords to be expressed gives them a space to be, and creates the opening for resolution. In plain English, turn the complaint into a quest. ‘Why bother?’ is transformed into ‘Indeed, why bother?’ What value or goal can make the effort worthwhile?

For Lukas’ client, a goal worth fighting for was to prove her employer was wrong. It took the woman half a year to find new work, but the goal kept her going. Naturally, there were times when she slipped back and didn’t want to get out of bed. At those times, Lukas said to her ‘All right, you can spend a nice morning in bed and admit to your former employer that he was right and you no longer are capable of working, or you can bring yourself to get up, by your own free choice, and prove that your dismissal was based on a false prognosis.’

Listen for the inner space that is buried beneath the despair. ‘I want my life to matter.’ This is already more than half the way to finding meaning.