This paper will discuss Viktor Frankl and his philosophy of logotherapy. Frankl was an Austrian psychologist as well as an existential philosopher who believed you could become stronger in the face of difficult circumstances (Funder, 2015, p.431). Frankl’s philosophy behind logotherapy is if man doesn’t have will to find pleasure or have power to find meaning in his/her life, it can result in physical and mental illness (Barnes, 2000, para 5). Essentially, we all have the power and the will to find meaning in our life, in order to live a happy and productive life.
Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna. He was raised in a Jewish family of civil servants.
Similar to Freud, Frankl attended Sperlgymnasium, a German school, where he graduated with an interest in psychology (Hataala, 2010, p.5).
Frankl was initially a follower of Freud and would communicate with him during his studies of medicine at the University of Vienna. Frankl was also a student of Adler. (Hataala, 2010, p.5). It was in later years that Frankl conflicted with Freud’s theories. After graduating, Frankl started suicide prevention centers for high school children; and became involved in the
“youth movement of the Social Democratic party of Vienna” (Hataala, 2010, p.5). It was while working at a mental hospital that Frankl tested his ideas with patients and developed methods of logotherapy (Hataala, 2010, p.5).
At the age of 37, the Jewish Frankl, was taken along with his wife and his parents to a concentration camp. This occurred a few years after the Nazi Germany invasion. The camp, called” Theresienstadt (Terezín)” (Hataala, 2010, p.5). was described as a “model ghetto” camp (Hataala, 2010, p.5). Theresienstadt was supposed to be a place for those of privilege. Instead, it was over crowded, with starving and malnourished individuals (Hatala, p.5).
Frankl was later transferred to another camp where he stayed until the end of World War II (Hatala, p.5) Overall, Frankl spent 3 years in German prison camps where his theory came into fruition. After release from the camps, Frankl led the neurological department of the “Poliklinik Hospital” (Barnes, 2000, para 6) in Vienna, where he also wrote and taught (Barnes, 2000, para 6).
It was during the horrendous experiences of being in the camps; Frankl developed some of the many theories including his views of culture and society (Hatala, 2010, p.5). These views soon became known as logotherapy.
According to Barnes (2000, para 1-2) there are three schools of psychotherapy. Freud’s psychoanalysis would be the first school of psychotherapy. Alfred Adler, developed individual psychology and was the founded the second Viennese school of psychotherapy (Barnes 2000, para 1-2), and Frankl’s logotherapy is the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” (Barnes 2000, para 1-2).
Historical Development of the Theory
Frankl coined the term logotherapy to describe his philosophy and methods (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p.343). Logotherapy is a Greek work (logo meaning healing) and therapy, equaling healing therapy. (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p.340). The intent of logotherapy is to understand man as a whole. This includes his ambitions, success, failure and his constant search for meaning. (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p343).
Logotherapy falls under existential or humanistic psychology. (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p343). Viktor Frankl was a major figure in developing existential therapy. His theory and practice of psychotherapy were formed on the concepts of “freedom, responsibility, values and meanings” (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p343). Because individuals believed their problems were not being resolved by psychoanalysis (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p. 342-343), existential psychology became popular in Europe as it attempted to address the problems of “isolation, alienation and meaninglessness”. (Ponsaran, A. G. 2007, p. 340),
Frankl’s goal for logotherapy was solving, what he felt was a crisis, to find meaning by achieving “man’s highest possible values” (Pytell, 2011, p.325). Frankl continued to reaffirm the solution to life’s meaning is you can find meaning in life despite the challenges.
Key Concepts of the Theory
As noted above, Frankl chose the term logotherapy—based on the Greek word “logos” as “meaning”, because his belief expresses the ability of humans to comprehend meaning (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.447). Frankl perceived logotherapy as an addition to other therapies with the goal of improving methods as opposed to replacing them. (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.448).
The basics behind logotherapy express that our life has meaning, and as human beings we want to experience own sense of personal life meaning, and we should be able to so regardless of the circumstances. (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.449).
Logotherapy has been shown to be useful with depression, anxiety, and psychoses, drug and alcohol problems, as well as anger and frustration associated with terminal illnesses. (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.448). The role of a logotherapist is to treat clients as fellow human beings, noting their uniqueness. (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.450). The logotherapist helps bring about peoples’ awareness of their life meaning, teaching goal development, ways of living responsibly, and making choices consistent with personal life meaning. (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.451).
Helping a person achieve meaning and purpose is done so through logoanalysis. Logoanalysis consists of mental and written exercises to help individuals set a life direction and reachable goals based on their personal life meaning (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.452). Other logotherapeutic techniques include “paradoxical intention and dereflection” (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.452).
Logoanalysis is beneficial when a person lacks a sense of personal life meaning. This lack of meaning could include feelings of boredom or apathy with the potential to develop into deviant behavior, as well as physiological and psychological addictions (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.452).
Paradoxical intention is a process by which the patient is encouraged to do, or wish to happen, the exact things he fears (Frankl, 1975, p.227). For example, if an individual were terrified about getting on an airplane and flying, techniques would be used to help the person get over this fear, get on the plane, and fly!
Dereflection can be defined as a person being so concerned how their perceived and how they may do performance wise, that whatever they may expect to do well at has the opposite effect (Frankl, 1975, p.234-235). Through logoanalysis, the individual is taught to take the focus off themselves and instead focus on the exact task. Frankl uses the example of impotence, but it can be applied to almost anything (Frankl, 1975, p.234-235).
For logotherapy to be used successfully clinicians must not only study logotherapy and work to apply it clinically, they must learn to live logotherapy as well (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.458).
How the Theory is Used Today
People who are unable to give their lives meaning experience an “existential vacuum” (Vignansky, 2008, p.350) that can mold itself in a sense of boredom, apathy, and lack of purpose (Vignansky, 2008, p.350).
According to Frankl-, having a meaning to life is man’s motivating force. An individual can experience suffering or difficulty, but if his life has meaning and achievable goals, he will be able to overcome the suffering and difficulty, and deal with them effectively. (Vignansky, 2008, p.350)
Examples of the importance of hope and meaning (what Frankl instills) in rehabilitation and preventing recidivism are evident in the rehabilitation of prisoners and drug addicts given the existentialist approach. (Vignansky et al, 2018, p.399).
In research conducted at a trauma unit in England, for people suffering from orthopedic injuries, hope was found to be a major element in the healing process. (Vignansky et al, 2018, p.337).
Empowerment and having meaning to one’s life allows a person to choose to change, and to build his “self” and his “existential being” in a significant and positive way. (Vignansky et al, 2018, p.355).
In the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” the author, Viktor Frankl stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.”(Frankl, 1946/2004, p.135). How often when we experience challenges or suffering, do we lose hope and question why we’ve been put on Earth? Frankl’s message and theory behind logotherapy is the difficulties we experience in life, even the most trying and negative, can be changed into something positive, as long as we are open to having the right attitude. (Frankl, 1967, p.141). When we give meaning, hope and purpose to our life, the expectation is positive outcomes will occur. We all experience tragedy and suffering.
This continues to be relevant today due to events such as terrorism, natural disasters, the opioid epidemic and disease. People have lost lives, family members, their homes, or their life savings because of some catastrophic event. More and more people have stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. “Suicide, for example is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States as of 2013” (Graves et al, 2018 p.760). Having the coping skills and attitude can guide and motivate a person through these difficulties. Believing we have a meaning and purpose in life can result in a happier and healthier life.
Logotherapy’s purpose is to understand humans as a whole. What that entails is his/her ambitions, success, failure and ongoing inner search for meaning. Situations in which we may find ourselves is important and critical to maintaining a healthy state of mind (Ponsaran, 2007, p.340). According to Das (1998, para.2), evidence shows if a person has and can attribute meaning in his/her life, overall it plays a role in their physical health, mental health and long life. Some people experience their whole lives as full of meaning, while others see theirs as wasted and pointless. Frankl based his theory on three assumptions. The first assumption is “freedom of will” (Das, 1998, para.10-13). This means a person can take a position or action without ordered to do so, no matter the conditions. The second assumption is “will to meaning” (Das, 1998, para.10-13). This assumption can be explained in that no matter what occurs in our life, we have to find as much meaning and value. The third and final assumption is “meaning of life” (Das, 1998, para.10-13). Like the other two assumptions, if we accept what we cannot change and find value or a sense from our experiences, we will be able to find meaning for our own life (Das, 1998, para.10-13). If we all can find true purpose and meaning, then no one should have to view their life as wasted or pointless.
Validity and Accuracy
How do you measure meaning or purpose? According to the article by Schulenberg (2003, p.307), there are numerous case studies supporting logotherapy. Examples of such measures are tests such as Purpose-in-Life test and Questionnaire, Seeking of Noetic Goals test, the Meaning in Suffering test and the Life Attitude Profile-Revised test. These measures were studied to varying degrees, and some have proven to be dependable concerning reliability and validity (Schulenberg, 2003, p.310).
In one study of individuals with spinal cord injuries, evidence showed having purpose in life was important to adjusting to life after a severe injury. The study suggested using logotherapy with the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries might help them to do just that (Schulenberg, 2003, p.314).
Logotherapy uses different techniques. There is empirical evidence that one technique, known as “paradoxical intention” (Schulenberg, 2003, p.312) which means to confront your fears, may be beneficial with such problems as sleep issues, certain phobias and anxiety (Schulenberg, 2003, p.312).
Still another study supporting the validity and accuracy of the position statement is the topic of the article “Despair Will Hold You Prisoner, Hope Will Set You Free: Hope and Meaning among Released Prisoners” by Vignansky et al, (2018). This article reflects on a qualitative study conducted in Israel on ten prisoners released from incarceration. The study interviewed prisoners to discern if they were able to find hope and life meaning while imprisoned. If the prisoners could achieve a sense of hope and meaning, they would be able to establish future goals, experience hope for a better future, and be successful in bringing about a change that would reduce the possibility of recidivism (Vignansky, p.341).
The results of the study found the participants who chose to take part in something positive and productive “(such as work, school, classes, or therapy groups) provided an opportunity for change” (Vignansky, p.346). School, work, group therapy are the variables helping to contribute to changes in attitude as stated in the second hypothesis. Additionally, having family support was also a positive influence (Vignansky, p.348). These results are compatible with other studies that found that a better or happier future is attainable when there is hope, desire and expectation. (Vignansky, 2018, p.351).
What makes this research valid is it followed the protocol of qualitative interviewing, it followed the APA code of ethics and it compared the results to past studies. It also shows validity in that future and similar studies can be conducted. Possible weaknesses that potentially could poke holes in the validity of the study are the possibilities of human error during the transcription as well as possible bias.
To summarize, a number of logotherapy tools have been used over the years to quantify and study the meaning construct. There is sufficient evidence supporting the techniques used and how far studies of logotherapy have come (Schulenberg et al, 2008, p.455).
While a prisoner in the concentration camps, Frankl observed that individuals’ can
choose the ways in which they behave within the world based on their “cultural rituals “(Hatala, 2010, p.6). Frankl also reminded us, no matter what culture we live and subscribe too, we all have suffering, grief or anguish at some time or multiple times and each of us has a choice to not only accept who we are but a choice of what and how much we contribute to the world.(Hatala, 2010, p.6).
For every person, what makes his/her life meaningful would not be the same as the next person. For this reason, “meanings are shared by people living in a given society or even across cultures and in different historical times.” (Das, 1998, para.11). Frankl labeled these meanings as “values, which take shape in a situation a society has to face” (Das, 1998, para.11).
The culture in which one grows up certainly plays a role on how we define ourselves. In Asian societies for example, family relationship is extremely important. (Das, 1998, para 23). In contrast is the Western societies. Family is still important, however, more emphasis is for the person to determine his/her own destiny. This could be achieved by having independence and the ability to make choices and decisions by his/her self. According to Das (1998, para 23),in America, “self” can be described as possessing good values, a positive self-worth, knowing who we are and what we want as well as having meaning to his/her life. Sadly, this has led to striving for perfection. To achieve this so-called perfection we engage in an abundance of money spending and trend following for the latest diet and look. Failure to fit in potentially leads to “depression, compulsive behaviors, substance abuse, and eating disorders” (Das, 1998, para.24).
Individuals who were more likely to report that they had “found a really significant meaning for leading my life offered a place where philosophy, psychology and the teachings of many religious traditions come together”. (Funder p.431). The main goal of logotherapy is to be a good person and have a sense of meaning and purpose regardless of the situations in their lives and regardless of the culture they practice (Das, 1998, para.44).
Alternative Theoretic Positions
Viktor Frankl’s message and theory behind logotherapy is the difficulties we experience in life, even the most trying and negative, can be changed into something positive, as long as we are open to having the right attitude. (Frankl, 1967, p.141). When we give meaning, hope and purpose to our life, the expectation is positive outcomes will occur.
Current alternative theoretical positions include psychoanalysis, which delves into a person’s past. Psychoanalysis has been developed over the years and is still practiced today, attempting to understand the meaning of the inner world in which all individuals live and how it helps form our behavior and personality (Mclaughlin,1978, p. 72) One key concept of psychoanalysis is referred to as the “talking cure” (Funder, 2016, p.352). The talking cure is the idea that if the patient talks to the therapist about what is bothering him/her, and then the issues will diminish and be resolved. Meaning, if the past can be addressed and the causes of these past issues are brought to the forefront, (by talking) behavior tends to change for the better.