- Logotherapy was founded by Viktor Frankl based on his experiences at the Nazi concentration camps.
- This therapy is based on three principles, namely, freedom of will, will to meaning, and meaning in life.
- The techniques used in logotherapy include dereflection, Socratic dialogue, and paradoxical intention.
- Logotherapy has been found effective in treating many disorders and increasing overall life satisfaction.
Various scholars have given rise to several theories in the field of psychology – from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis to Watson’s behaviourism. However, the less spoken about but equally revolutionary theory is one of existential analysis or logotherapy.
Viktor Emil Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist, developed logotherapy in the 1940s. His suffering and experiences in the Nazi concentration camps inspired him to develop logotherapy.
Logotherapy is a school of psychotherapy developed by Viktor Frankl. It is based on the belief that human beings are motivated by the search for meaning in life.
Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach developed by Viktor E Frankl based on the ideology that even in times of distress, people are driven by an urge to seek meaning or purpose in life, which he called a “will to meaning.”
The term logotherapy is a combination of “logos”, a Greek word that refers to “meaning,” and therapy, which is the treatment of a condition.
This empirically based psychotherapy is also known as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. It came about as the result of Frankl’s torturous times at the Nazi concentration camps.
He realised that a sense of meaning allowed the survivors to endure the horrors and come out the other side. For Frankl, his intense urge to rewrite his work, which was snatched from him, enabled him to make it out alive.
Upon his return, he restarted his career as a psychiatrist and neurologist. His notable work, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” published in 1946, provides insights into his life at the concentration camps. It also outlines the fundamentals of the theory and therapy.
Core Components of Logotherapy
Viktor Frankl highlighted three core components, around which the theory and therapy was built. The three components were as follows:
- Every individual has a healthy core.
- The primary aim is to help people understand and recognize their internal resources and use them.
- Life provides people with purpose, but it does not guarantee a feeling of fulfilment or happiness.
Principles of Logotherapy
Frankl penned down the foundations of the psychotherapeutic approach in his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Initially developed in response to Freudian psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology, logotherapy is based on the following concepts.
1. Freedom of Will
Logotherapy is based on the principle that people have the freedom and ability to shape their psychological (internal), physiological and social (external) environments.
The freedom of will encompasses the spiritual dimension of human beings. That is, it is above and beyond the physical and psychological realms. This concept enables people to foster a sense of autonomy and control even during times of distress.
2. Will to Meaning
Apart from having freedom, people are free to achieve their purpose. When people cannot seek and create such meaning, they are filled with a sense of emptiness, which leads to psychological disorders.
Logotherapy helps people to recognize and eliminate factors that come in the way of their pursuit of meaning. It allows people to perceive opportunities to create meaning but does not offer a specific purpose altogether. It guides and does not offer a solution as in the case of most schools of psychotherapy.
3. Meaning in Life
According to logotherapy, meaning is not just an illusion that gets invoked in an individual. Instead, it is an objective truth. Therefore, logotherapy allows individuals to be their best and make the best of each situation by recognizing and realising its meaning. Here, meaning potentials are dynamic despite being objective as each situation is different from the other.
Therefore, logotherapy helps individuals realise the flexibility in shaping their lives every day in a meaningful way.
How Does One Find Meaning?
Now that we have understood the essence of logotherapy lies in finding purpose, how does one do it? Viktor Frankl described three ways of finding meaning within the context of logotherapy. These include:
- Create or accomplish something;
- Experience something or love someone fully; and
- Have an adaptive attitude toward inescapable adversity
Frankl viewed suffering and life transitions as opportunities to change oneself for the better and make informed decisions. Therefore, when a therapist utilises logotherapy, they typically make use of three techniques.
When a person spends too much time worrying about a problem, the therapist uses dereflection to help the patient redirect his focus from himself to those around him. Doing so allows the patient to stop being preoccupied with their worries.
This technique is usually used to combat hyper-reflection predominantly seen in people with anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety could be described as an extended period of worry regarding unpredictable and threatening things that could happen in the future. Dereflection is also used in cases of sexual and sleep disorders.
2. Socratic Dialogue
Socratic dialogue is a conversational technique that allows people to identify counterproductive beliefs and generate a fresh and healthier attitude to lead a more fulfilling life.
Simply put, Socratic dialogue is used to help people discover answers that they already possess but of which they are not yet aware. The therapist actively listens to the patient’s descriptions of their problems. They then help the patient recognize patterns in their speech and understand their meaning.
3. Paradoxical Intention
This technique is primarily used for people with compulsive disorders, anxiety, and phobias. The underlying idea is to disrupt the dangerous cycle of fear and symptom intensification by wishing for the anxiety-provoking phenomenon. When fear is debilitating, such an intentional act will help alleviate the anxiety.
For example, let us suppose a person fears failure. By intentionally taking up something novel, he will be setting himself up for failure. This process makes use of ridicule and humour to overcome anxiety.
Having gotten a brief understanding of each technique, it is important to strengthen this with examples as done below.
Let us start with an example that depicts the essence of logotherapy, which is to find meaning.
Imagine a person diagnosed with a terminal illness or confined to a concentration camp. Although they may feel hopeless, logotherapy states that they can still discover meaning.
Frankl also spoke of tragic optimism, which states that even in tragic times, people are capable of optimistic thinking.
The next few examples will cover the techniques outlined by Frank and discussed above.
Let us imagine a person on a plane starts experiencing anxiety of being thousands of feet above the ground. Using Socratic dialogue, you can help this individual focus on the more positive aspects of their journey.
For instance, you can ask them the reason for their holiday, the places they are visiting, and the like. Such dereflection can help engage and ground the person, and activate a state of flow.
Another example stems from Frankl’s life itself. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he recalls how clinging on to the image of his wife during such sufferable periods helped him see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Socratic dialogue or questioning can be used when the therapist wishes to facilitate one of many things. These include self-discovery, choice, uniqueness, responsibility, self-transcendence, or clarification of needs and values.
For instance, suppose a pregnant woman experiences feelings of anxiety that surround nursing. This may be due to an unpleasant experience with her first-born.
In such a case, a simple question like, “What makes you think this time would be the same as last time?” can lead to a paradigm shift. By allowing them to question their own perspective can be liberating.
An example of this technique can come from someone with a fear of public speaking. This fear usually stems from a fear of saying or doing something embarrassing. In such a case, the therapist will encourage the client to behave as silly as possible.
Doing this can allow the client to realise they are not doing anything embarrassing like they had imagined. Alternatively, with the help of the therapist, the client can learn how to respond if someone laughs at them.
Typically, most people’s anxiety around public speaking is due to a lack of certainty or predictability of the situation. Therefore, expecting the worst can help foster a sense of control or surety, thereby reducing their anxiety.
Empirical Research on Logotherapy
There is a lot of data that supports the effectiveness of logotherapy. In this section, we will cover its overall efficacy along with how it aids in the treatment of specific disorders.
Thir and Batthyany, in their systematic assessment published in 2016, outlined the effectiveness of logotherapy. They suggested that logotherapy has been found effective concerning the following:
- Logotherapy decreases occupational burnout
- Reduces empty nest syndrome
- Improves marital satisfaction
- Effective for early adolescents with cancer and children with anxiety and depression
- Seeking and creating meaning is related to resilience
- People with mental health issues tend to have a lower purpose in life
- Search for and presence of meaning in life is correlated with life satisfaction and happiness
Additionally, in his study in 1994, Reker found that people with a sense of purpose in life have greater life satisfaction and better physical and psychological well-being.
Logotherapy for Stress Disorders
Considering that logotherapy came to be in the context of suffering, it is no surprise that it is used for treating traumatic experiences. Whether it is acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), logotherapy is beneficial.
In essence, logotherapy empowers people, reduces their symptoms, enabling them to be more proactive.
Many people with war-related PTSD show improvement when administered logotherapy techniques that reinforce a sense of meaning. Specifically, they experience a reduction in symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
The effectiveness of logotherapy for stress disorders comes from research that has mostly been conducted through qualitative methods and case studies.
Logotherapy for Substance Use
Spiritual characteristics of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are similar to the foundations of logotherapy. In specific, the fundamental discovery of personal meaning forms the bedrock of both the interventions in question.
Frankl spoke of a “mass neurotic triad.” He believed that a person undergoes aggression, depression, and addiction when they experience an existential vacuum. This vacuum can result in antisocial behaviours, stress, and addiction.
Therefore, when treating people with addiction problems using logotherapy, it is important to target the existential vacuum. Specifically, the therapist guides the client into realising the freedom to choose, will to find meaning, and leading a life with purpose.
A study published in 2008 found that logotherapy was effective in decreasing cravings. It also reduced participation in drinking. Additionally, it improved life’s meaning and overall mental health of wives of people struggling with alcoholism.
Logotherapy for Depression
Again, at the centre of depression, is the existential vacuum. This vacuum leads to a loss of motivation and willingness to immerse oneself in life. They lack the energy to carry out responsibilities and pleasurable activities alike.
Therefore, feelings of purposelessness can lead to and be the outcome of existential depression.
Logotherapy can help with depression by emphasising the importance of living life meaningfully. By creating and achieving small goals embedded in personal values, one can witness improvement. Doing so can reduce symptoms while also preventing chances of relapse.
Logotherapy for Burnout
Logotherapy is not only effective in treatment of diagnosable physical and mental conditions. It is also useful for those experiencing burnout syndrome or on the verge of the same.
Physical and mental fatigue and a lack of motivation characterise burnout predominantly. Burnout is pervasive and affects spheres of life outside of one’s professional life.
A study in 2019 found that burnout is not merely the result of unmanageable workload. Another cause involves exerting oneself to achieve superficial goals like power, rather than ones that bring about a sense of meaning and fulfilment.
Therefore, using techniques borrowed from logotherapy can help with burnout. The therapist can facilitate the discovery of meaning. They can also aid in the engagement of purposeful activities that move beyond the fulfilment of basic requirements.
All in all, this therapeutic intervention can lead to transcendence by enabling people to move beyond what they think they need to do. Instead, logotherapy paves the way for self-discovery allowing people to be themselves for who they are.
Lessons from Logotherapy
Logotherapy has many lessons to teach for those willing to learn. Here are a few key teachings, particularly from the bible of logotherapy, Man’s Search for Meaning.
1. The Strength of Willpower
Frankl, despite his conditions, pushed for a new life. He drew on his immensely strong willpower to make a better life for himself. This willingness gave him courage and determination.
Doing so, his happiness increased. Additionally, so did his interpersonal relations, not only with fellow inmates but with Nazi soldiers as well.
2. The Resilience of Our Mind
The mind is highly resilient that it can endure anything. In turn, our body too can get through any stressful situation. Frankl went through incredible physical and emotional turmoil.
Emotionally, he was deprived of his family and unaware of their existence. He also had to give up on his career. Physically, he was evicted, tortured, and lived in deplorable conditions.
Through all of this, Frankl willed his mind to focus on pleasurable things, no matter how little. His ability to shape his mind to discover meaning in hopeless situations enabled his survival.
3. Mind and Soul Connection
The mind is not only connected to our body but also to a third dimension – our soul or the essence of human beings. The mind is the controllable aspect. Once a person develops a deep understanding of themselves, they can resist external influences.
Benefits of Logotherapy
Viktor Frankl was of the idea that existential crisis underlies most psychological problems.
Specifically, he believed that when people cannot make meaning in life, they experience an intense emptiness, which he termed “existential vacuum.” This existential vacuum, in turn, causes people to engage in various maladaptive thoughts and behaviours.
Logotherapy is, therefore, used in the treatment of various psychological issues, including:
- Substance use disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In everyday life, people can apply the principles that govern logotherapy by doing the following.
- Create something, such as art, to foster a sense of meaning.
- Even in times of struggle and distress, look for a purpose. For instance, if a loved one is suffering, recognize your role in providing support.
- Remember Frankl’s words—”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, to choose one’s own way.” That is, understand that you always have the freedom to find and make meaning out of your situation.
- Intentionally think about the worst, so it no longer holds power over you.
- Acknowledge that life is not fair and never will be. However, with that said, it can always have meaning.
- Form supportive connections and love them fully. Doing so will allow you to discover meaning whenever you spend time with them.
Despite its efficacy, logotherapy has its fair share of criticisms. Therefore, it should typically be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as medication or other psychotherapeutic approaches, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
1. Not for Everyone
Moreover, it may not be helpful for people who are not experiencing existential crises. In other words, if a person feels that they understand life’s meaning, this form of psychotherapy will not be suitable.
Similarly, it may not be best suited for individuals who do not believe in philosophical or spiritual concepts.
Although logotherapy is not religious in itself, there is a considerable focus on philosophical phenomena.
Logotherapy has been criticised for being based on Frankl’s standpoint as it was inspired by his suffering and religious background. Some researchers contend that logotherapy is more a way of life than a scientific psychotherapeutic approach.
Frankl maintained that every human has a spiritual unconscious that is independent of their religiosity. Therefore, he looked at logotherapy as a means of helping people perceive meaning in life – and if this is true of meaning in itself, then it can be extended to an “Ultimate Meaning.”
Rollo May, deemed the founder of the existential movement in the United States, criticised logotherapy for being authoritarian in that it suggests that there are straightforward solutions to every problem. He stated that Frankl provided people with these solutions if they could not do so themselves, thereby undermining people’s personal responsibility.
Upon becoming aware of this criticism, Frankl replied to May by highlighting the areas of freedom and responsibility a person has to search and find meaning. He further stated that he combines logotherapy with medication whenever necessary.
Considering the popularity logotherapy gained, it is no surprise that there are several books surrounding this topic. Here, we will cover autobiographies, biographies, and even informative reads that delve into logotherapy.
On that note, Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy (VFIL) offers various courses for those interested in furthering their knowledge.
Authored by Viktor Frankl
Following is a brief account of some of the popular books written by Frankl himself.
1. Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl authored this classic book, which is the perfect place to start for those interested in logotherapy.
In this book, he speaks of what drives human beings. He maintains that at the heart of human drive is a pursuit to find meaning and not pleasure, as Freud postulated. Further, this book gives a glimpse into the life of Frankl.
2. The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy
This book probes deeper into the techniques used by Viktor Frankl to treat the “existential vacuum” discussed earlier. Further, he details these in the context of other significant therapeutic interventions.
3. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning and Recollections: An Autobiography
A few months before his demise, he produced this book, which examines the unconscious human quest for inspiration. Additionally, Frankl brings to light how life may offer tremendous meaning at every step.
4. The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy
Published in 1986, this book details the principles that govern existential analysis and how existential vacuum leads to neurosis. Frankl highlights the key role a therapist plays in guiding an individual to discover meaning in life.
5. Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything
Viktor Frankl published this book in 1946 wherein he urges us to look at every crisis as one of opportunity. It depicts the adage, “Live as if you were living for the second time.”
During his horrific time at the concentration camp, Frankl drew strength from his fellow inmates. He realised it is always possible to “say yes to life.”
6. The Unheard Cry for Meaning
This book is a compilation of select essays that put humanism in the centre stage of psychotherapy. Frankl demonstrates how modern psychology and psychoanalysis has dehumanised people.
Therefore, by diving into human beings’ extraordinary characteristics, he celebrates every person’s unique potential. He does so eloquently by preserving the teachings of Freud and the behavioural school of thought.
Authored by Others
Some writers have captured Viktor Frankl’s life while others have summarised his work. Following is a list of a few excellent reads on the same.
1. Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living
Authored by Anna S. Redsand, this book recounts Frankl’s life. A well-researched biography, this book depicts Frankl’s struggling times at the concentration camp. Most importantly, it also beautifully highlights his success in building a life worth living.
2. Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy: Meaning-Centred Counselling
Dr Ann Graber published this book in an attempt to showcase the effectiveness of logotherapy. Through this book, Dr Graber has shown how logotherapy is scientifically backed while being theologically grounded.
3. Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work
Penned by Alex Pattakos, this is a compelling read. It demonstrates the freedom of choice – that we do not have to be a prisoner of our thoughts. In this book, you will find seven fundamental principles that can be applied to daily life, professional and personal.
Concluding Thoughts from ThePleasantMind
Logotherapy is of high relevance in psychology and counselling in current times. It was borne out of Viktor Frankl’s intense suffering at the Auschwitz concentration camp. At the centre of this therapeutic intervention, are three principles.
In essence, logotherapy urges people to find or restore a sense of meaning and purposefulness. No matter how adverse one’s situation is, discovering meaning in life can boost one’s overall well-being.
Ananya Ramesh is a mental health professional with a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She has a profound interest in producing and refining content, specifically ones related to mental health and psychology. What began as casually penning down her musings back in school has grown into a successful freelance venture. Outside of work, Ananya is constantly looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle and minimize her carbon footprint. She also enjoys reading fiction and autobiographies, cooking, exercising, and sketching portraits.