Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. It is considered the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology. Logotherapy is based on an Existential Analysis focusing on the will to meaning as opposed to Adler’s Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud’s will to pleasure. Rather than power or pleasure, logotherapy is founded upon the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans. A short introduction to this system is given in Frankl’s most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he outlines how his theories helped him to survive his Holocaust experience and how that experience further developed and reinforced his theories.
The notion of Logotherapy was created with the Greek word logos (“meaning”). Frankl’s concept is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life. The following list of tenets represents basic principles of logotherapy:
- 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.
The human spirit is referred to in several of the assumptions of logotherapy, but the use of the term spirit is not “spiritual” or “religious”. In Frankl’s view, the spirit is the will of the human being. The emphasis, therefore, is on the search for meaning, which is not necessarily the search for God or any other supernatural being. Frankl also noted the barriers to humanity’s quest for meaning in life. He warns against “…affluence, hedonism, and materialism…” in the search for meaning.
Purpose in life and, meaning in life, constructs appeared in Frankl’s logotherapy writings with relation to existential vacuum and will to meaning, as well as, others who have theorized about and defined positive psychological functioning. Frankl observed that when person’s search for meaning is blocked, it might be psychologically damaging. Positive life purpose and meaning was associated with strong religious beliefs, membership in groups, dedication to a cause, life values, and clear goals. Adult development and maturity theories include the purpose in life concept. Maturity emphasizes a clear comprehension of life’s purpose, directedness, and intentionality, which, contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful.
According to Frankl, “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:
(1) By creating a work or doing a deed
(2) By experiencing something or encountering someone
(3) By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “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”. On the meaning of suffering, Frankl gives the following example:
“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.
Frankl emphasized that realizing the value of suffering is meaningful only when the first two creative possibilities are not available (for example, in a concentration camp) and only when such suffering is inevitable – he was not proposing that people suffer unnecessarily.
Frankl described the metaclinical implications of logotherapy in his book The Will of Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. He believed that there is no psychotherapy apart from the theory of man. As an existential psychologist, he inherently disagreed with the “machine model” or “rat model”, as it undermines the human quality of humans. As a neurologist and psychiatrist, Frankl developed a unique view of determinism to coexist with the three basic pillars of logotherapy (the freedom of will). Though Frankl admitted that man can never be free from every condition, such as, biological, sociological, or psychological determinants, based on his experience in the Holocaust, he believed that man is “capable of resisting and braving even the worst conditions”. In doing such, man can detach from situations, himself, choose an attitude about himself, determine his own determinants, thus shaping his own character and becoming responsible for himself.
Dr. Kalayjian was fortunate to study with Dr. Frankl in 1989. She asked Dr. Frankl how to help the survivors of the Ottoman Turkish Genocide cope with their anger regarding the ongoing Turkish governmental denial of the Genocide. Dr. Frankl said in his Viennese accent, “You have to help them forgive.” Dr. Kalayjian found this comment very interesting, and very true, but she then inquired, “Who and how to forgive in the presence of ongoing denial?” to which Frankl said, “How long you plan to wait?”
After the course with Dr. Frankl, Dr. Kalayjian learned the process of forgiveness, which has not much to do with the perpetrator, but more to do with the survivor. Forgiveness is for the one who has experienced the pain and sorrow, the hurt and the denial. Dr. Frankl said that forgiveness is an inner process, necessary for our own healing, and detaching from the so called ‘enemy,’ and creating a peaceful inner harmony, therefore shifting the present reality.
"People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built."