(Presented at the AGM of the 8th Biennial Meaning Conference, Vancouver)
Since this might be the last report from me as your President, I will take this opportunity to share with you honestly both the opportunities and challenges that confront us. We do hope that we will rise to the challenge and move to the next level of development in the years ahead.
Opportunities for the Future
The first encouraging sign is that meaning research is now a very hot topic in psychology as well as in related disciplines. In the last two years, four major books on meaning have been published: The Human Quest for Meaning (2nd Ed.; Wong, 2012); Meaning, Mortality, and Choice (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2012); The Experience of Meaning (Hicks & Routledge, 2013); and Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology (Batthyány & Russo-Netzer, 2014). I am pleased that the editors of all four books were at this year’s Meaning Conference.
In addition, there are hundreds of articles being published related to meaning and purpose in various disciplines, such as palliative care, spiritual care, positive psychology, counselling psychology and psychotherapy, life and death education, social-personality psychology, and existential-humanistic psychology. Personally, I have been asked to review manuscripts in all these areas. Therefore, the time for meaning research has finally arrived. I am glad that INPM is able to perform a unique and important function of organizing Meaning Summits, by bringing together leading experts in meaning research and interventions to dialogue with each other. At this year’s conference, the Meaning Summit was very successful, both in terms of attendance and the number of participating scholars, such as Michael Steger, Crystal Park, Phillip Shaver, Robert Neimeyer, Alexander Batthyány, and Brent Potter.
The latest issue of the International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy (IJEPP), Volume 5, Issue 1, has just been published. We are pleased to be able to dedicate this issue to the memory of Dr. Christopher Peterson, a friend and supporter of INPM. His keynote address at the last Meaning Conference is published here; this is likely his last published journal article. Other contributors include Laura King, Stanley Krippner, Robert Neimeyer, Alan Waterman, Harris Friedman, and Gordon Medlock. The online version of the journal is available at this link: http://existentialpsychology.org/images/journalmasterweb.pdf.
The second encouraging development is that Routledge has expressed interest in taking over our journal (IJEPP) and turning it into a new International Journal on Meaning and Purpose. This will be an interdisciplinary journal as well as an international forum for all kinds of research. Under Routledge, the subscription to the journal will increase considerably, thus generating revenue for INPM. I am currently completing the documentation for the journal and have asked Michael Steger to serve as an Associate Editor first, and then succeed me as Editor-in-Chief.
The third opportunity for INPM is to develop a two-year master’s level training program for counselling and psychotherapy. The Viktor Frankl Institute of Vienna has accredited both myself and INPM to offer a post-graduate program in Logotherapy. However, I envision a broader program in meaning-oriented psychotherapies, which will qualify graduates for registration with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. A number of well-qualified psychologists have already expressed interest in becoming faculty of our program. This will be our focus for the next year, not only because of its potential for generating revenue for INPM, but also because of the prospect of training hundreds of competent meaning-oriented psychotherapists to meet the mental health need.
The fourth avenue of expansion is to improve and expand our grassroots outreach program in the form of Meaningful Living Groups. We have already conducted three cycles of this group and prepared a great deal of material in connection with it (see www.inpm.org). Here is a brief description of the Meaningful Living Meetup Group: http://www.inpm.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Report-on-Meaningful-Living-Group-2013.pdf. It has received some press coverage in CPA’s Psynopsis and Positive Psychology News Daily.
Recently, Dr. Alex Pattakos, a keynote speaker for this year’s conference, has also started a grassroots movement on meaningful living based on his most recent book, The OPA! Way. Dr. Dmitry Leontiev, another speaker at this conference, has been teaching principles of existential therapy to large groups of lay people. In other words, INPM can make a real contribution to community mental health by equipping people with principles of meaningful living. This is an area that has almost unlimited potential for growth because, theoretically, we can have such groups in every city around the world.
Challenges and Transitions
Now I want to report some of the serious challenges we face. At present, we no longer have an active and supportive Board, because the majority of Board Members have been with us since the beginning and over the years have become less and less involved. Therefore, one urgent need is to elect responsible Directors for the Board of INPM.
The second difficulty we face is inadequate funding. Because of the low fees we charge members, our income is not sufficient to support our activities. We have been depending on donations from myself and Sunshine Coast Health Center to subsidize our expenses, especially the cost of organizing Meaning Conferences.
The third challenge is the lack of an organizational identity because of our integrative “big tent” approach. Most learned societies have a clear identity with a loyal following. For example positive psychology associations attract positive psychologists and existential psychology associations attract existential psychologists. INPM is a hybrid between these two groups. In other words, INPM does not have a built-in natural following around a well-established brand. Therefore, we need to establish an attractive brand and loyal following for INPM. One idea, suggested by my wife Dr. Lilian Wong, is to present INPM as the hub for meaning-oriented research and therapies; in other words, INPM is the natural organization to belong to for anyone who is committed to making a career in meaning-oriented research or interventions.
The fourth challenge is declining membership. I was shocked to find out that right now our active membership is only 74 – a real drop from the height of having more than 200 members in good standing. I blame myself for the decline, because we have not been doing the things that actively engage members. For example, in the old days, our monthly newsletter was a useful resource for members. In addition, we had a section that reported recent activities and publications by members, so that we all knew how our members were doing. There is a lot of work ahead of us to engage members around the world in a meaningful way.
Another challenge is to have a smooth succession plan, in spite of the above difficulties. Currently, Brent Potter has accepted my nomination, which was seconded by Daniel Jordan. Dr. Potter has also submitted a statement of his vision for INPM as well as his CV to Geoff Thompson, in accordance with the Call for Nominations published in the INPM newsletter, May 2014 (no other applications have been received so far). I believe that he has the vision and the energy to carry INPM to the next level. (At the AGM, members John Anderson and Gordon Medlock proposed that a Transitional Committee [TC] be formed to address succession planning. I accepted the proposal. As a result, a few members have volunteered to be part of the TC.)
Finally, the government of Canada has issued a new Act for non-profit organizations. We are in the process of revising our constitution and by-laws to conform to this new Act. The revised constitution has to be passed by the membership and submitted to the government no later than October 15, 2014. Therefore, all active members should stay tuned for the online membership meeting to vote on the constitution. (If your membership has expired, you can renew it at http://meaning.ca/Membership.htm.)
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych.