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Making sense of the future : an explorative approach to identify personal meaning in future narratives within a clinical population

Knüwer, J. (2015) Making sense of the future : an explorative approach to identify personal meaning in future narratives within a clinical population.

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Abstract:Background: In the past two decades there has been a considerable increase of attention towards the concept of personal meaning as a possible facilitator for mental health and well-being. Research indicates that a lack of personal meaning in life is related to several psychological complaints, while the obtainment of personal meaning can help people to cope with stressful life events and promote personal growth. It is therefore thought that helping people to create personal meaning has great promises for psychological therapy approaches. Still, there are some limitations in the methodological considerations of how to approach the concept of meaning in a therapeutic context. Though there are models that could potentially be used for the identification of sources and functions of meaning, there is a lack of indications of how to transfer these models into therapy. As it is assumed, that meaning is created on the base of a narrative structure, the prospective method ‘letters from the future’ provides an interesting new medium for narrative research that potentially allows insights into the different aspects of personal meaning that are particularly important for the writer and can possibly be applied in clinical practice. Objective: The objective of this explorative research was to investigate how and to what extend personal meaning can be identified on the basis of the narrative prospective medium ‘letter from the future’. Methods: This study is based on a qualitative thematic analysis, in which the differentiation of meaning domains by Dittmann-Kohli &Westerhof (2000) and the ‘4 needs for meaning’ model by Baumeister (1991) were used as identification models on the content of the 43 prospective letters of a group of psychiatric patients. The implementation of the two models was conducted by using the included distinctive indications as orientation for the coding of the content of the prospective letters. By applying this approach it was possible to identify the different ‘domains of meaning’ and ‘needs for meaning’ that were present in the 43 ‘letters from the future’. Results: The general implementation of the two used identification models was successful as both models provided a multitude of findings in close to all of the examined letters from the future. With respect to the differentiation of meaning domains, five of the six domains of the original model occurred frequently in the majority of the examined letters. The domains of ‘Social cohesion’ and ‘Activities and will for accomplishment’ were with findings in 41, respectively 37 of the 43 prospective letters the most apparent domains of meaning; the domain of ‘Existential meaning’ was only identified in two letters. Regarding the division of the ‘4 Needs for meaning’, the model allowed the identification of all four included ‘Needs’ in about 20 to 30 letters. The allocation of codes was thereby often highly interpretive; the occurrences of the four categories were further strongly linked to the temporal orientation of the individual letters. Conclusion: The general findings of this research indicate that the ‘letter from the future’ approach is a feasible tool for the identification of personal meaning in a clinical setting, that provides useful insights into the different facets of meaning that are important to the individual writers. Though more existential sources of meaning could not be identified in the prospective letters, it is assumed that the differentiation of meaning domains has some potential of becoming an integral element in the identification of personal meaning in future narratives. Due to several shortcomings in its applicability, the division of the ‘4 Needs for meaning’ is rather unsuited to be implemented on the content of the prospective letters.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:77 psychology
Programme:Psychology MSc (66604)
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