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L is for Logotherapy

“Man is originally characterized by his "search for meaning" rather than his "search for himself." The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.” Viktor E. Frankl

What is logotherapy?

“To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds, he will continue to grow spite of all the indignities.” Viktor Frankl

Logotherapy, is a psychological theory developed by Viktor Frankl. It is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It is a meaning-centred approach which promotes freedom of choice and personal responsibility by focusing on the future and on our ability to endure hardship and suffering through a search for purpose.

Who is Viktor Frankl?

Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997) was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor. During WW2, Vicktor Frankl (no 119,104) spent three years in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. He lost his father, mother and wife yet didn’t lose his sense of purpose, responsibility or hope. His book: ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ is based on Nietzsche’s words,

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”

All humans are exposed to what Frankl called, the tragic triad of life; unavoidable guilt, suffering, and death. He taught that meaning can still be derived from the attitude we take toward any situation.

Frankl treated many patients over the course of his life and developed several tools, including incorporating humour, to allow distance from a problem or situation. Paradoxical Intention: whereby a patient gives excessive attention or hyper-intention to trying to bring about the thing they most fear happening Following this up with self-distancing and humorous exaggeration, it is impossible to be anxious and intentional at the same time.

What is meaning?

In German, Viktor Frankl’s native language, the word for ‘meaning’ is ‘sinn,’ translated as ‘sense’ in English. When asked to define ‘meaning’, Frankl would answer, “What is meant.” meaning what we realize to be the right choice for us to make in any particular situation. We can think of our conscience therefore as ‘an organ’ that acts as a compass to guide our choices.

Our personal values and priorities play a key role in determining the right choice in each situation. Life is not pre-ordained; we have the freedom to choose how we respond as well as the responsibility for the choices we make. We always retain the power to decide whether and how to respond to the demands of any situation.

The meaning of life changes but it never ceases to be. According to logotherapy we can discover this meaning of life in three different ways. In the tangible every day choices that we make, we can turn meaning from potential into a reality through:

Creativity – i.e. what we give/offer the world: through our deeds, creating a work, or other action-oriented activity.

Our Experiences – i.e. what we take from the world. Through experiencing all the world has to offer e.g. as beauty, goodness, truth, nature, culture or the uniqueness of another human being, being loved etc

Our attitudes – i.e. how we view the world and in the attitude or stand we take towards our circumstances, particularly when we are confronted with unavoidable suffering such as guilt, pain, or death.

“Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the hopeless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph” Viktor Frankl

What is the basis for logotherapy?

“Each human being is unique both in his essence (‘Sosein’) and his existence (‘Dasein’) and thus is neither expendable nor replaceable. In other words, he is a particular individual with his unique personal characteristics who experiences a unique historical context in a world that has special opportunities and obligations reserved for him alone.” Viktor Frankl

Logotherapy acknowledges that each person is a unique and irreplaceable human being whose existence is characterized by freedom of choice, personal responsibility, and a human spirit. As such, who we are as individuals and what we do matters to the world as each and every one of us has a unique and irreplaceable role to play in the fabric of life. We are called to responsibly answer to life’s demands, thereby making our lives meaningful.

What are the three core principles of logotherapy?

Freedom of Will – We are free to choose how we respond to life and are personally responsible for our choices.

Will to Meaning – We are motivated to find meaning and when this search is thwarted we experience existential frustration and feelings of meaninglessness.

Meaning of Life – We are called moment-to-moment to answer the demands that life places on us. The focus is not on what we feel we deserve from life, but rather what our responsibility is to give to life. We have the ability and the ultimate necessity to self-transcend in order to improve humanity.

“For only to the extent that man has fulfilled the concrete meaning of his personal existence will he also have fulfilled himself.” Viktor Frankl

Why search for meaning?

“Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.” Viktor Frankl

“The conviction that one has a task before him has enormous psychotherapeutic and psycho-hygienic value. We venture to say that nothing is more likely to help a person overcome or endure objective difficulties or subjective troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life. That is all the more so when the task seems to be personally cut to suit, as it were; when it constitutes what may be called a mission. Having such a task makes the person irreplaceable and gives his life the value of uniqueness.” Viktor Frankl

A criticism of logotherapy

Rollo May, who is considered to be the founder of the existential movement considered logotherapy authoritarian, in that it suggests that there are clear solutions to all problems and he argued that Viktor Frankl provided people who utilize this therapy with meaning if they were unable to find their own. Frankl was aware of May’s criticism and refuted the idea that logotherapy takes responsibility away from the individual; maintaining instead that logotherapy actually educates the person in therapy about his or her own responsibility.

“As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.” Viktor E. Frankl

So how can we discover meaning?

Through self-awareness and self-discovery

Who am I? What sort of person do I want to become? Looking at the whole person ‘Being’ instead of ‘doing’

Through our choices

We can change a situation or we can learn to change our attitude/perspective

Through our unique strengths

We can explore our creativity, our personal qualities and offer our unique gifts when interacting with others. We can draw strength from nature, the arts and new experiences

Through responsibility

We can reflect on our freedoms, choices and resulting consequences with regard to self and others and consider the effect of ‘fate’

Through self-transcendence

We can reflect on our growth and change in attitudinal values when we take a stand toward a situation or a circumstance of meaning to us that is bigger than us or by creating a ‘legacy of life’ project

“Logotherapy claims that what are transitory and passing are the possibilities, the chances to realize values, the opportunities to create, to experience, and to suffer meaningfully. Once the possibilities have been realized they no longer are passing, they have passed and are part of the past—which means that they have been conserved; nothing can change them, nothing can make them undone. They remain for eternity.”  Viktor E. Frankl

I am aware that this blog post has barely scratched the surface of logotherapy and fully intend to return to it after further research and reading

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