Logotherapy is officially recognised as a scientifically-based school of psychotherapy by the American Medical Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
What is Logotherapy?
Logotherapy is Dr Viktor Frankl's school of thought. Frankl is the famous author of Man's Search for Meaning, a book on his triumphant survival of the Nazi concentration and death camps. Logotherapy is both a philosophy of life and a method employed in psychotherapy and counselling.
Logos is Greek for "meaning". Logotherapy literally means "to heal through meaning". Meaning in life is found on a spiritual level of being. Frankl contended that, as human beings, we are essentially spiritual creatures. We seek for meaning in life. Only if we live with a sense of meaning, purpose, and destiny in life, do we feel complete.
Searching for Life’s Purpose
We need to live on a higher plane of being than that of mere existence and the mindless struggle with the complex problems of human existence. If we miss the experience of this higher dimension in life we can become overwhelmed by physical and psychological afflictions.
Difficult or unhappy circumstances then become too much to bear. We can sink into a state of meaninglessness and despair. We need to feel called in life. We need to feel that our lives are meant to be, and that we have a life's vocation, something unique and special to give to the world. We want to feel that our lives make a difference, that we add something of value to the lives of others, and that we are needed.
This is what gives us a deep sense of self-worth – a conviction that we are loved for who we are. With such a conviction, everything changes and takes on new meaning. We have a task (or mission) in life! It is here that logotherapy has the most powerful effect on our lives, since it challenges us with responsibility – a state of active and committed involvement in life.
The Essence of Human Existence
Frankl maintained that responsibleness is the essence of human existence. We have something or someone to live for, a cause to serve, a mission to fulfil. We can rise to any challenge for the sake of something more than ourselves. We can overcome any difficulty, face up to any problem, and bear every distress, hardship and pain.
It is in this regard that logotherapy is the most positive of all therapies, because it addresses the negative and tragic issues of life – not as lamentable afflictions we are all doomed to suffer, but as tasks we are challenged to embrace and overcome in a spiritually mature and victorious way for the sake of some higher purpose in life.
This is how we find ourselves, and become what we have been created to be. It is how we grow in human stature and how we fulfil our unique and commissioned destinies in life. It is how we fulfil our life’s vocation. In becoming what we are meant to be, we enjoy, in ever greater measure, a sense of harmony and inner peace. We are no longer the victims of the self-inflictions of insecurity and helplessness, nor are we overwhelmed by feelings of inferiority and a lack of self-worth. Instead, we live in an inspired and goal-directed way.
Our happiness is no longer fleeting. The joys of life are ours, without anything or anybody capable of spoiling or taking it away from us! By living in this way, we experience life in its fullness. This is what Frankl meant by the unconditional meaningfulness of life. Each and every life can be meaningful if the call to take responsible control of it is answered.
A Complement to Psychotherapy and Counselling
Mental health and emotional well-being, in this more optimal sense of the word, makes logotherapy a most necessary complement to other schools or methods of psychotherapy and counselling. Logotherapy completes the picture! Clinical psychologists, professional counsellors, social workers, trauma and lay counsellors have all reported that clients they have worked with, sometimes for years, underwent a dramatic and profound change after a logotherapeutic approach was employed in therapy and counselling.
Viktor Frankl, the father of logotherapy, contended that The Will-to-Meaning is the deepest and most fundamental motivation of every person. This has proven to be true. There is no greater healing possible than healing through meaning!
Logotherapy, as a philosophy of life or as a life orientation, and as the very art of meaningful living, has far greater ramifications than therapy and counselling. Logotherapy speaks to everyone, in every situation, and at any time. Our world is in need of healing. We need to find meaning and purpose in life, and to be freed from of a state of victimisation. We need to be lifted out of the afflictions and bondages of a savage or sub-human existence, which has become the most urgent need of our times.
Abraham Maslow, the well-known humanistic psychologist, summed it up:
"Without the Transpersonal and the Transcendent, we become apathetic, nihilistic, sick and violent. We need something bigger than we are to be awed by and commit ourselves to." — Abraham Maslow
There is indisputable value in training any person, layman or mental health professional, first in finding greater meaning in their own lives, and by way of example, assisting others to do the same. Our courses in logotherapy offer such training!
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.
According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:
- By creating a work or doing a deed.
- By experiencing something or encountering someone.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
From mentors, sages and by example, our own and others, we learn lessons, gain wisdom and enrich our lives.
Viktor Frankl speaks of three chief groups of values: "Creative Values", "Experiential Values" and "Attitudinal Values". "This sequence" says Frankl, "reflects the three principal ways in which man can find meaning in life." In the case of "Creative Values" he is referring to what one gives to the world in terms of our creations. "Experiential Values" are about what we take from the world by way of encounters and experiences. Lastly, through our "Attitudinal Values" we take a stand to our predicament in case we must face a fate, which we cannot change. (Frankl, 1969, p70)
It is education through experience; it is education through encountering someone, some group or some thing.
This portfolio will identify, source and highlight those individuals and groups who have and are living examples of logo-life and philosophy. By sharing their stories with us they might discover meaning in their lives, while at the same time, share their lessons, wisdom, ideas, thoughts, talents and abilities for the greater good of the community and society. Their "legacy" will inspire others to live likewise.
What is Meant By a Legacy?
An interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us.
- Legacy is fundamental to what it means to be human.
- It is a gift to someone and as such immediately offers the opportunity of self-transcendence, a cornerstone and guidepost to discovering meaning!
- They are about life and living.
- They are about learning from the past.
- They are about living in the present.
- They are about building for the future.
So, if you feel that you have a story to share, if you are living a meaning-filled life or if you know someone who is and does, I would very much like to talk to you. Please contact me, Coral Wilder.
"Our calling in life is inherently given, something we fundamentally experience ourselves to be, that we feel a deep and profound kinship with. It is also something that comes to us that confronts us through our lives. As a deep and rich potential talent, peculiar abilities, gifts, this spectrum of who I most fundamentally am, or sense myself to be, is also what I feel called upon to become. — Teria Shantall, Optimal Living Workshop
Logotherapy comes to life in the group workshops. Logotherapists from various parts of South Africa run workshops on numerous logotherapeutic topics, bringing their knowledge, skills and passion to the process of experiential learning. And, as a result, Frankl's teachings become integrated into one's life and meaning is experienced on a moment-to-moment basis. We evolve in the direction of who we are destined to be.
Frankl implored people not to make a guru out of him, but rather to take his work and grow and develop it and let it touch people's lives in a real way. Our senior students are designing their own logotherapy workshops on different topics. For example, empowering teenagers to live a meaningful life, helping people survive retrenchment, bringing meaning and purpose to one's life in order to promote wellness, and many others. These will be offered to the public when the students graduate.