From Logotherapy Institute blog

Elevate Your Practice: Unlocking the Therapeutic Power of Dereflection

It was a calm autumn day when Elizabeth Lukas stood in front of the circle of patients who wrestled with anxiety and depression.

Their hopes?

To find some peace to take home with them at the end of the support group.

Lukas announced the group rules, which some, and even myself, initially found quite strange.

“In this group,” she said with quiet dignity, “we will focus on our strengths and capacities instead of fighting what is ill and weak.”

“…You may talk about whatever you want, except your unsolved problems and the depressing descriptions of your illness.”

She further went on to encourage them to share only what was good in their lives. She did say she cared about their problems but that some participants might find it hard to discover what was good in their lives if they were focused on the others’ problems.

Now, this may seem strange and maybe even some sort of avoidance tactic—at least it did to me. Many times, the whole purpose of such support groups is to hold spaces for people to share their problems, and be seen in a nonjudgmental way, and from that space, healing can occur. Now, while this process can and is helpful, many times, too much focus on one’s problems actually exaggerates the problems.

This is a universal principle that is not only found in psychotherapy but also in science and nature. Quantum physics has shown that when we observe particles, the very act of paying attention to them actually causes them to expand in size. In nature, we see that the plant we water grows.

Now, while the therapist’s tactic might have seemed strange, the results speak for themselves. Because in the weeks that proceeded, the once solemn and depressed group transformed into a motivated and actively engaged group of citizens.

They started writing diaries to collect all the good they saw in the world. They noticed others outside helping and consequently inspired themselves to help as well. They, in turn, volunteered, and by the end of it, they were all transformed into individuals on fire with purpose.

Now, with results such as these, it would be wise of us to question what happened to create such a shift.

Well, the unique technique the therapist used is called dereflection, a practice found in logotherapy, which is where we can look to find our answers.

Now, deflection is counter to hyperreflection, which is the process of overly indulging in one’s problems. Now the problem with hyperreflection is that when we or our clients are having challenges, and we overly focus on them rather than solving the problem, our over-fixation with them actually causes them to grow.

Deflection, on the other hand, takes the attention from the self, and its small problems and instead focuses the energy on a goal, a task, or something bigger than the self. And that’s where its true power lies, as it taps into the unique human capacity for self-transcendence. Think about it. It’s impossible to be worried about our “problems” if we are focused on helping someone or something else. And even if we do experience challenges, we are willing to bear the burden and face the challenges because we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally know the benefit of looking squarely at our problems and facing them head-on. However, this is not always the wisest strategy and can actually be counterproductive.

This is particularly true when facing psychological distress. While it may be easier for us or our clients to face challenges when we or they are feeling strong and sturdy, but when we feel beaten down by life, those challenges seem like insurmountable walls. And with that, it’s much more likely that we will focus on what’s not working, rather than what is, and consequently,  create unnecessary suffering.

Another way to think about this strategy is this. If you were competing against a sports team, what type of thinking do think would produce better results, the mindset of “Let’s not let the team score any goals on us, and let’s not lose (Problem focus), or a deflection mindset:

Let’s win the game and help our friends in the process.

Now, sure, both might have some benefits, but, I am sure you can see that the second mindset would be a way more effective way to reach your goal. And when people go to therapy, their goal is to feel better, so while it’s important to acknowledge pain, challenges, and hurt, it needs to be done with tact, and sometimes the best approach is simply to put our focus on what we want to create and what’s working, opposed to what’s not working.

And when we do, we tap into the indomitable human spirit, our will to meaning, that part of us that can take on any challenge,  despite the difficulties, and even smile in the face of the adversary. As Nietzsche wisely put it, “A person with a big enough why can bear almost any how.”

Perhaps that’s why this therapeutic method is so effective: it taps into the power of the human spirit, which is unchanged and unscathed.

I can speak personally and say that in my therapeutic practice and life, I have seen the transformative benefits of the powerful practice of deflection.

It truly is a beautiful tool and worthy of us working with.

Now I bring it back to you, your life, or the people you work with.

Is there a problem that’s been troubling you? Have you been overly focused on it? What might happen if you took your attention away from what’s not working and instead started focusing on the task that you are being called to?

Is there someone who could use your help? 

I know there is, so get on out there and give them a hand!

If you do, you may just see the transformative benefits Elizabeth Lukas saw in her group all those years ago.

With meaning,


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