I've come to value the crucial role language plays in the healing process.
Part of my background has been in track two diplomacy – facilitating backchannel dialogue between formal and informal ‘players’. I have met all sorts of people all over the world, with all sorts of ideologies, where words, and what they mean to the speaker, matter!
Finding shared values and purpose necessarily involves taking time to get behind the words used to understand what they represent to all involved – and communicating my ‘content’ in their ‘linguistic structure.’ This builds trust, breaks down barriers, and can often reduce unnecessary friction as we move toward solutions.
But how does this apply to my work with those suffering from Trauma/PTSD and effective Logotherpy in the real world? Welcome to the stage, ‘General Semantics (GS).’
In this short blog, I want to give an overview of how I use GS to inform my practice.
General Semantics: Decoding the Language of Trauma
Alfred Korzybski's philosophy of General Semantics suggests that individuals perceive and interpret their reality in unique ways, often reflected in their use of language1.
Listening to keywords, phrases, the use of metaphor, and more besides helps me understand the client's subjective coding of what they objectively experienced. The bottom line is that I can tune into them according to their understanding. I like to think of it as their special internal code. Their language gives it away.
Understanding these distinct linguistic patterns allows me to craft interventions that are deeply personal, empowering, and effective for the client.
More on this another time, perhaps…
Dissociation Techniques as Dereflection
Dissociation techniques provide clients with the ability to psychologically distance themselves from their traumatic experiences, thus creating a buffer that can help manage immediate emotional responses. Interestingly, dissociation techniques bear resemblance to the concept of 'dereflection' within logotherapy.
Dereflection, a technique developed by Viktor Frankl, encourages individuals to shift their focus away from their problems or symptoms, and instead, concentrate on other meaningful aspects of life2. I would posit that like dereflection, dissociation techniques allow clients to shift their attention away from distressing memories to a safer psychological space.
By framing dissociation in terms of dereflection and coupling this with the client's unique language, the therapy can become more relatable and effective – this has been the case for me.
At a basic level, if a client often describes their trauma in terms of a 'storm,' I might guide them to visualise moving away from this 'storm' and towards a 'calm harbour,' thereby creating a safe psychological space.
Conclusion: The Language of Healing and Empowerment
Language is a powerful therapeutic tool, and when understood through the lens of General Semantics, it allows us to create interventions that resonate with the client's experiences, thereby enhancing their sense of empowerment.
By linking dissociation techniques with the concept of dereflection, we can provide a framework that not only helps clients manage their PTSD symptoms but also directs their focus toward meaning-making and personal growth.
Korzybski, A. (1933). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics. Institute of General Semantics. ↩
Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man's Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster. ↩