Viktor Frankl on 'Logotherapy'

Auschwitz Hardened Theory

A survivor of the terror and famine of Nazi concentration camps, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna, is the founder and currently leader of the school of Logotherapy, the newest approach to psychotherapy since the work of Freud, Adler and Jung.

Having corresponded with Freud at the age of 16 and having worked with Adler, Frankl felt it necessary to build upon these foundations and add a needed dimension--specifically human--to the bio-socio-psychological perspectives already established. The result was the concept of a "will to meaning" as opposed to the wills to pleasure and power of Freud and Adler. Frankl's claim was that man's ultimate goal is to find meaning in life. By use of Logotherapy, the psychotherapist helps those who are "existentially frustrated" find the meaning in their lives.

"Logotherapy is a supplement to existing psychotherapy and is not a panacea; it must co-exist with other psychotherapies," states Frankl. "It has its concrete indications and is not usable in each and every case."

Although Dr. Frankl's theory was already formulated before he was sent to Auschwitz in 1944, his experiences in the concentration camps provided empirical confirmation for it. He himself, stricken with typhus fever attacks, strove to keep awake and alive by scribbling notes on scraps of paper in an attempt to rewrite the confiscated manuscript of his book. The Doctor and the Soul. "Only after my theory had undergone the acid test of the concentration camp did I feel it legitimate to propound an approach which constituted such a blow into the prevalent nihilism and fatalism. Meaning orientation keeps men alive under the worst circumstances. Only those were apt to survive who had meaning orientation."

Dr. Frankl, who is also President of the Austrian Medical Society for Psychotherapy and head of the Neurological Department of Poliklinik City Hospital in Vienna, is a visiting professor of Psychology at the Summer School. Besides devoting most of his time to his course on the "abnormal Personality" and a seminar entitled "Existence and Values," Dr. Frankl is also giving guest lectures in the new England area.

Logotherapy and the concept of the "will to meaning" is a direct contradiction to the mental health orientation which pleads for tension reduction, according to Frankl. He points out that Logotherapy "reorients the patient toward the meaning he has to fulfill in life, and makes him aware of those values which should be actualized by him, and can only be actualized by him alone." Helping a patient find the meaning in his life is not the equivalent of telling him all the answers.

"I'm against the idea of 'peace of mind' at any cost," Frankl says. "In as much as man's will to meaning (which is emphasized and stimulated by Logotherapy both in theory and in practice) may sometimes arouse inner tension, there is a certain 'restlessness of the heart' which does not cease until man has fulfilled the meaning of his life. Thus, 'peace of mind' is a result or side-effect of having carried out one's task rather than an end in itself. The same is true for self-actualization which must not become an aim and is missed to the extent to which it has been made; man 'actualizes himself' precisely and only to the extent to which he has actualized specific values. Thus, not per ententionem, but per affectum."

Frankl emphasizes that the meaning of life is different from man to man and can only be answered by man himself. Man answers it by his existential commitment and not by verbalizing--i.e., "what is the meaning of my life is of decision rather than cognition." The most important aspect of his according to Frankl is that "no one can be spared the responsibility of responding to this question."

Of the many books that Dr. Frankl has written concerning his theory, only two--The Doctor and the Soul and From Death Camp to Existentialism--have been translated into English