2015 Logotherapy Congress in Israel
During Spring Break 2015, Drs. Bill Evans and Nick Langridge represented James Madison University at the first Viktor Frankl Logotherapy Congress in Israel. Dr. Evans presented research on “Altruism, Service Learning, Purpose in Life, and Positive Global Change.” Dr. Langridge presented on “Finding Meaning in Life and Work: Is this the primary ROI of the Collegiate Experience?” This conference was attended by many Logotherapists from Israel, but also by academics and practitioners from many other countries: Austria, Brazil, Italy, Russia, South Africa, and the United States, to name a few. Dr. Evans felt that even with so many cultures, ethnicities and countries represented, the conference felt more like a large family reunion! Logotherapy, a unique form of existential psychotherapy, was created by Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian medical doctor and Holocaust survivor. Honoring his life and legacy was the primary theme of the conference. Dr. Frankl often wrote of three primary avenues for discovering meaning in life: “loves loved; deeds done; and suffering with courage and dignity” (Frankl, 1984, p.151). These three avenues of finding meaning in life also became main themes for the conference: meaningful relationships, meaningful work, and meaningful suffering.
Some of the main highlights for Dr. Evans during the conference were: (1) meeting with his friend and colleague, Dr. Alex Batthyany, from the University of Vienna, Austria, and hearing him speak about “Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology.” (2) Traveling to Nazareth for a brief tour and then having lunch with some JMU Alumni. (3) During the final day of the conference, the widow of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who perished in the fatal reentry of the Columbia Space Shuttle in 2003, spoke about the impact the loss of her husband had on her and her four children. Mrs. Rona Ramon also lost her oldest son, a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, to an aircraft crash in 2009. She spoke so poignantly of how the writings of Dr. Frankl helped her suffer with courage and dignity following those tragic events. After these events, she and her family began the Ramon Foundation to support the dreams of young Israeli students. Her story was inspirational to everyone. Dr. Alex Batthyany Mrs. Rona Ramon JMU Alumni in Nazareth, Israel
Dr. Evans felt that his biggest take away from the conference was the demonstration of what Frankl called “the defiant human spirit,” that strength and resilience that human beings can find even during and after experiencing great suffering, as Dr. Frankl did as a survivor of four Nazi concentration camps over a period of three and a half years. Frankl believed that human beings can find meaning even in the worst of circumstances, including a death camp like Auschwitz, which he endured. Dr. Evans observed this defiant spirit in Mrs. Ramon, mentioned above, and also in a young man, age 28, with whom he talked at the conference. The young man had lost his mother just a year ago and is currently facing a terminal diagnosis with his father. He found much strength and courage from reading Viktor Frankl’s well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, an autobiography of his experiences in the Nazi camps. This young man told Dr. Evans that he learned from losing his mother that such a tragedy can happen to anyone, and that he has chosen to allow his grief to empower him to reach out to others and offer them some hope that they, too, can endure such pain and suffering. In 2000, our own US Library of Congress listed Frankl’s book as one of the top ten most influential books in American history, which tells us that Viktor Frankl, who endured much hardship in his life, has become an inspirational figure for many.