The Proper Aim of Therapy: Subjective Well-Being, Objective Goodness, or a Meaningful Life?

In Pninit Russo-Netzer, Stefan Schulenberg & Alexander Batthyany (eds.), Clinical Perspectives on Meaning: Positive and Existential Psychotherapy. Springer. pp. 17-35 (2016)
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Therapists and related theorists and practitioners of mental health tend to hold one of two broad views about how to help patients. On the one hand, some maintain that, or at least act as though, the basic point of therapy is to help patients become clear about what they want deep down and to enable them to achieve it by overcoming mental blockages. On the other hand, there are those who contend that the aim of therapy should instead be to psychologically enable patients to live objectively desirable lives, say, ones that involve developing their inherent talents or exhibiting an authentic/strong/integrated self. In this chapter, I argue that neither of these prominent approaches is complete. Contra the former, sometimes what patients want deep down is not something to promote, and, against the latter, it can sometimes be reasonable for patients to want to sacrifice their own objective interests and for therapists to assist them in this regard. I argue that the category of meaningfulness does well at accounting for these counterexamples to the two dominant approaches, while capturing the kernels of truth in them. The proper aim of therapy, I suggest, is to enable patients to live meaningfully.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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