I recently re-read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and it prompted me to share his vision for what logotherapy is, and how it can help one to not just endure life’s struggles and challenges on a daily basis, but how to effectively navigate life’s hardships with vigor, alacrity and grace.
Viktor Frankl is the founder of logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy that he developed after surviving Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s. After his experience in the camps, he developed a theory that it is through a search for meaning and purpose in life that individuals can endure hardship and suffering. Today, logotherapy is recognized as one of the scientifically-based schools of psychotherapy by the American Medical Society, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association.
Viktor Frankl was born March 26, 1905 and died September 2, 1997, in Vienna, Austria. He was influenced during his early life by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, and earned a medical degree from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1930. By the time of his death, his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, had been published in 24 languages.
Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a “will to meaning,” which equates to a desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances, and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning. Taking it a step further, Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
This opinion was based on his experiences of suffering, and his attitude of finding meaning through the suffering. In this way, Frankl believed that when we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves. This is a very powerful message.
“Logos” is the Greek word for meaning, and logotherapy involves helping a patient find personal meaning in life. Frankl provided a brief overview of the theory in Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl believed in three core properties on which his theory and therapy were based:
Each person has a healthy core.
One’s primary focus is to enlighten others to their own internal resources and provide them tools to use their inner core.
Life offers purpose and meaning but does not promise fulfillment or happiness.
Going a step further, logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:
By creating a work or doing a deed.
By experiencing something or encountering someone.
By the attitude that we take toward unavoidable suffering.
An example that is often given to explain the basic tenets of logotherapy is the story of Frankl meeting with an elderly general practitioner who was struggling to overcome depression after the loss of his wife. Frankl helped the elderly man to see that his purpose had been to spare his wife the pain of losing him first.