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Five Perspectives on the Meaning of Meaning in the Context of Clinical Practices

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What is meaningful in life? This is a question many individuals ask at least once in their lifetime. Many researchers have also asked this question, and a large body of literature seems to answer in theoretical and academic terms. But what is the meaning of meaning in clinical practice? That is, what is the role of meaning in psychotherapy, recovery, and positive mental health? And how could meaning in life be addressed in practices: What clinical competencies are needed? To answer these and other questions, a broad panel of researchers and practitioners met at the world conference of the International Network for Personal Meaning (INPM) in Toronto in July of 2016. A passionate debate followed, particularly on the question of the meaning of meaning in clinical practice. In this article, five panel members—Mick Cooper, Clara Hill, Robert Neimeyer, Kirk Schneider, and Paul Wong—elaborate their perspective on these two questions. At the end of the article, the moderator, Joel Vos summarizes, their differences and agreements, and suggests a pluralistic, multidimensional perspective on meaning for practitioners. Despite some fundamental differences, the authors report many similar perspectives on the meaning of meaning in clinical practice and on clinical competencies. This debate could be used as an example of how practitioners could also converse with their clients; the process of exploring the question, “What does meaning mean to you here and now, in our therapy room?” could be meaningful in itself.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Roehampton, London, UK 2: Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA 3: Department of Psychology, University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, USA 4: College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies, Saybrook University, Oakland, California, USA, and Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA 5: Department of Psychology, Trent University, Ontario, Canada, Trinity Western University, British Columbia, Canada, and Saybrook University, Oakland, California, USA

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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