Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the future and our ability to endure hardship and suffering by finding purpose.
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl developed logotherapy after surviving Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s. His experience and theories are detailed in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Frankl believed that human beings are motivated by something calledthe “will to meaning,” which is the desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable circumstances and that the motivation to live comes from the search for that meaning.
Who was Viktor Frankl?
Viktor E. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna.
The Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist was born on March 26, 1905 and is best known for his psychological memoir Man’s Search for Meaning (2006) and for being the father of logotherapy.
He published 40 books that have been translated into 50 languages, in which he demonstrates that love, freedom, meaning and responsibility transcend race, culture, religion and continents.
His most famous memoir begins by describing a personal experience in the horrific Auschwitz concentration camps. The three years he spent in the concentration camps became more than a story of survival. Frankl embodies the modern definition of resilience.
He reflects on the search for meaning, the transcendental power of love, the search for humor, and the discovery of courage in the face of hardship. In the worst circumstances imaginable, Frankl held fast to the belief that the most important freedom is the individual’s ability to choose his or her attitude.
The Basis of Logotherapy
Logotherapy is often referred to as the“third Viennese school of psychotherapy” and originated in the 1930s as a response to Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s emphasis on power within society. It is more than just “therapy”. It is a philosophy for the spiritually lost and an education for the confused. It offers support in the face of suffering and healing for the sick
It examines the physical, psychological and spiritual (noological) aspects of a human being, and can be seen through the expression of an individual’s functioning. It is often considered a humanistic-existential school of thought, but can also be used in conjunction with contemporary therapies.
Unlike Freud’s“will to pleasure” and Adler’s“will to power,” logotherapy is based on the idea that we are driven by a “will to meaning” or an inner desire to find purpose and meaning in life.
As human beings, we often respond to situations in the first two dimensions of functioning (physical/psychological) with conditioned and automatic reactions. Examples of these reactions are negative self-talk, irrational actions, outbursts, and negative emotions.
Animals also respond in the first two dimensions. It is the third dimension of functioning that separates humans from other species. This is the unique beauty of logotherapy.
While humans can survive just like animals by living in the first two dimensions (meeting physical needs and thinking), logotherapy offers a deeper connection to the soul and an opportunity to explore what makes us uniquely human.
The spiritual dimension is that of meaning. The basic principles of logotherapy are that:
- Human life has meaning
- Human beings yearn to experience their own meaning in life
- Human beings have the potential to experience meaning in any circumstance
The will to meaning and the will to freedom
Frankl considered logotherapy as a way to improve existing therapies by emphasizing the “dimension of meaning” or spiritual dimension of the human being. Three philosophical and psychological concepts make up Frankl’s logotherapy: freedom of will, the will to meaning and the meaning of life.
Freedom of will affirms that the human being is free to decide and can take a position in the face of internal and external conditions. Freedom in this context is defined as a space to shape one’s own life within the limits of specific possibilities. It provides the client with a space of autonomy in the face of somatic or psychological illness. In essence, we are free to choose our responses regardless of our circumstances.
The will to meaning affirms that human beings are free to achieve goals and purposes in life. Frustration, aggression, addiction, depression and suicide arise when individuals are unable to realize their “will to meaning.” As humans, our primary motive is to seek meaning or purpose in our lives. We are able to overcome pleasure and endure pain for a meaningful cause.
Meaning in life is based on the idea that meaning is an objective reality and not merely an illusion or personal perception. Human beings have both the freedom and the responsibility to bring out the best in themselves by realizing the meaning of the moment in every situation.
can we find meaning in all circumstances, even in inevitable suffering? We can discover meaning in life through creative clues, experiential values and attitudinal values.
what techniques are used?
Frankl believed that it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment. He saw guilt as an opportunity to change for the better and life’s transitions as an opportunity to take responsible action.
Thus, logotherapy aims to help you make better use of your“spiritual” resources to endure adversity. Three techniques designed to assist in this process are dereflection, paradoxical intention and Socratic dialogue.
Dereflection is intended to help you focus on others and get away from yourself, allowing you to be “whole” and spend less time worrying about a problem or concern.
This technique is designed to combat“hyperreflection,” or extreme concentration on a situation or object that causes anxiety. Hyperreflection is often common in people with anticipatory anxiety.
Paradoxical intention is a technique that invites you to desire what you fear most. It was originally suggested for use with anxiety or phobias, where humor and ridicule can be used when the fear is paralyzing.
For example, if you are afraid of looking foolish, you might encourage yourself to try to look foolish on purpose. Paradoxically, your fear would disappear when you set out to behave as foolishly as possible.
Socratic dialogue is a tool used to help you in the process of self-discovery by noticing and interpreting your own words. During Socratic dialogue, the therapist listens carefully to the way you describe things and points out your word patterns, helping you to see the meaning behind them. This process is believed to help you become aware of your own answers, which are often already present within you and are just waiting to be discovered.
In what disorders is logotherapy helpful?
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is evidence that meaning in life correlates with better mental health. This knowledge could be applied in areas such as:2
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
Frankl believed that many illnesses or mental health problems are covert existential distress and that people struggle with meaninglessness, which he referred to as the “existential void.” Logotherapy directly addresses that meaninglessness by helping people discover that meaning and reduce their feelings of distress.
Although logotherapy is not inherently religious, it focuses on spiritual and philosophical concepts, and is concerned with helping people who feel lost or unfulfilled on a spiritual level. While many find comfort in this approach, it can pose problems if you are not a spiritual or philosophical person.
Similarly, logotherapy focuses on helping people discover purpose or meaning. If you think you already understand the meaning of your life or your problems are not existential in nature, this form of treatment may not be a good option for you.
Logotherapy is also not intended to be the sole treatment for some illnesses. Although logotherapy may be beneficial for a person with schizophrenia, for example, the treatment of their illness may also include medication and other forms of psychotherapy.
What are its benefits?
Speech therapy can improve resilience, that is, the ability to withstand adversity, stress and hardship. This may be due to the skills that this form of therapy encourages people to develop, such as:
- Allowing “healthy” stress
- An active approach to life (as opposed to an avoidant or overly passive one)
- Cognitive reappraisal, or reinterpretation of the meaning of an event
- Courage to face fears
- Optimism even in the face of tragedy
- Spirituality (which may or may not be religious)
- Lifestyle based on values
What is worked on in a logotherapy session?
During your sessions, your therapist will instruct you in the basic principles of logotherapy, such as:
- You are made up of a body, a mind and a spirit, and your spirit is your essence.
- Your life has meaning regardless of your circumstances.
- All people have a motivation to find meaning in their lives, and discovering that meaning allows us to endure pain and suffering.
- You always have the freedom to find your own meaning, and you can choose your attitude even in situations you cannot change.
- For decisions to make sense, you must live in a way that conforms to the values of society or your own conscience.
- All individuals are unique and irreplaceable.
You will be expected to act as an active participant in the therapeutic process (rather than a passive recipient), and you will be encouraged to take responsibility for your own search for meaning and purpose in life.
How to apply the principles of logotherapy in your life
If you are interested in logotherapy but are not sure you want to pursue formal treatment, you can also learn how to apply some of the basic concepts to your daily life. Give it a try:
- Create something: Creating something, such as art, gives you a sense of purpose, which can add meaning to your life.
- Develop relationships: Social support can help you develop a greater sense of meaning in life.
- Find purpose in pain: If you are going through something negative, try to find purpose in it. Even if it’s a little mental trick, it will help you get through it.
- Understand that life isn’t fair: There’s no one to keep score, and you won’t necessarily be dealt a fair hand. However, life can always make sense, even in the worst situations.
- Embrace your freedom to find meaning: Remember that you are always free to find meaning in your situation; no one can take that away from you.
- Focus on others: Try to focus outside of yourself. This can help you stop feeling mentally “stuck” in a situation in your own life.
- Accept the worst: When you are prepared to accept the worst, the power it has over you is reduced.