About Logotherapy

Logotherapy is based on the works of Viktor Frankl, a famous existentialist philosopher, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of the best-seller: Man's Search for Meaning, which records his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. Although Frankl initially was a personal student of Freud, he formed his own theory of human behaviour called logotherapy and had formulated many of his ideas before being imprisoned. Logotherapy is described as a meaning-centred psychotherapy. The word 'logos' is a Greek word which also denotes 'meaning'. The word 'therapy' originates from the Greek word 'therapia' which literally means 'service'. Thus, logotherapy is a therapy through which one can be helped to find meaning – the meaning of one's own life as many people feel that their lives are void of any meaning.

Logotherapy has become known as the 'Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy' after that of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler and is a theory Frankl used not only in his professional life, but also in his private life. Frankl maintained that Logotherapy focuses on the future; "The prisoner who had lost faith in the future -- his future -- was doomed." – Viktor Frankl

Logotherapy is based on an explicit philosophy of man and of human life (Footnote 1).The concept of man as developed in The Doctor and the Soul is multi-dimensional. This means that man lives in a tri-dimensional world. This tri-dimensional world includes:

  1. a world of things (physical); the physical-biological (somantic) level;
  2. a world of anxieties and hopes, perceptions and memories, of introspection and emotions (psychic); the mental-intellectual (psychic) level; and
  3. a world of searching, discovering and actualising unique meanings for one's life (noëtic); the socio-spiritual (noëtic) level.

Basic tenets

Logotherapy is founded upon the belief that the strongest motivation in human nature is the search for meaning in one's life. Frankl asserted that three facts are fundamental to human experience. These are: freedom of will; the will to meaning; and the meaning of life. Man lives in a world which like himself is unique. It is a world filled with other beings to encounter and meanings to fulfill. Freedom of will is proposed in contrast to philosophies of determinism; the will to meaning is emphasised in contrast to motivational theories based on homeostasis and meaning in life is affirmed in contrast to systems of reductionism.

Frankl spelt out the basic tenets of logotherapy as follows:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones,
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life,
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

Finding Meaning

According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed,
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone, and
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Frankl contended that the human heart will remain restless until it has found and realized meaning. Meaning is always found outside of ourselves. If we have nothing and no-one to live for, nothing meaningful to give to the world, if we have no greater cause than our own interests to serve, we are overcome with a sense of futility and our lives remain empty.

The existential aspect of Frankl's psychotherapy maintains that man always has the ability to choose; no matter the biological, or environmental forces. An important aspect of this therapy is known as the tragic triad, consisting of pain, guilt, and death. Frankl's Case for a Tragic Optimism uses this philosophy to demonstrate that optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential, which at its best always allows for:

  • Turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment,
  • Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better,
  • Deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

Meaning can be found in three principle ways, namely:

  1. Creative values or what one gives to the world in terms of one's own positive contributions and creations. They are more or less the active processes of life: working, producing, creating an artistic work, giving help to others, writing a great novel or taking care of a family.
  2. Experiential values or what one takes from the world in terms of one's encounters and experience. Experiential values are realised when a person becomes sensitive and receptive to the truth and beauty. This requires an openness to the world as man engages in dialogue with the world of people and things.
  3. Attitudinal values or the attitude one takes to a specific predicament or unchangeable fate or the stand one takes towards an unchangeable aspect of one's existence.

As human beings, we have freedom of will. We are not the helpless victims of bad circumstances. We can transcend these circumstances and change them. We have the capacity of thought which enables us to think things through and decide whether something is meaningful or senseless, right or wrong, constructive or destructive. We also have a conscience which provides a consciousness of right and wrong and allows us to take responsible action. Human freedom, therefore, is the freedom of responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is something arbitrary, senseless and either leaves us directionless, or can lead to irresponsible, lawless, immoral, violent or self-destructive ways of living.

All of life can be meaningful; it can be realized in every situation and is nowhere more powerfully manifested than in the way we overcome difficulties and hardships, face suffering, or bear witness to the faith we have in good triumphing over evil, however long it takes and however much is asked of us in the process. Our triumph is that we are living our lives as they are meant to be lived, every day and in every way.

  • Footnote 1: The word 'man', used by Frankl and existential theorists to denote the human being, both male and female, will be used in describing Frankl's view of human existence
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Meaningful quotes

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."
Viktor Frankl

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