Viktor Frankl's philosophy and practical techniques of therapy were forged in a concentration camp and yet remain highly spiritual. His work never took off greatly in Britain but there is much of value within it.
INTRODUCTION TO VIKTOR
VIKTOR E. , MD,
A professor of
both psychiatry and philosophy at the University of Vienna, Austria,
Dr. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy. His logotherapy
looks at our lives in a different way than most other psychotherapeutic theories. It looks to the healthy spiritual core of man for resources of healing, instead of analyzing pathology ad infinitum.
the term logotherapy:
therapy through finding meaning (logos= meaning).
[The Greek term logos will be familiar
to students of theology. It is usually translated as the "Word" or "Will" of God in religious circles. In a broader sense, it can be viewed as "that which gives reason for being." Frankl prefers the simple translation of logos as "meaning."]
assumptions of logotherapy:
1. Life has meaning under all circumstances.
2. People have a will to meaning.
3. People have freedom under all circumstances to activate the will to meaning and to
Dimensional ontology image of man
The human being is an entity consisting of:
1. Body (soma)
2. Mind (psyche)
3. Spirit (noetic core)
This is an image of man, where the scientific and the philosophic views are combined. Frankl was a clinician as well as a philosopher! Although we can
experience sickness in the body and the psyche, the human spirit, our noetic core,
remains healthy; however, access to that healthy core can be blocked.
Attributes of the noetic dimension:
1. Responsibility (not from, but responsibility to)
2. Authenticity and creativity
6. Will to meaning
9. Ideals and ideas, etc....
How can we find meaning in life?
Frankl points to three ways the "meaning
1. Creativity (giving something to the world through self-expression: using our talents in
various ways; i.e., the work we do, the gifts we give to life).
2. Experiencing (receiving from the world: through nature, culture, relationships, interactions
with others and with our environment).
3. Change of attitude (even if we can't change a situation or circumstance, we can still choose our
attitude toward a condition; this is often a self-transcending way of finding
meaning, especially in unavoidable suffering).
The two levels of meaning in life
Viktor Frankl talks of
two different meanings:
1. Ultimate meaning: A meaning we can never reach but just glimpse at the horizon... It can be God, but also science as the search for truth, nature, and evolution for those who do not
believe in God.
2. Meaning of the moment: We have all the time to answer the questions life asks us and, therefore, it is important to understand the meaning of each moment by fulfilling the demands life
places on us.
The demand quality of life
Logotherapy teaches that it is not we who can ask life, "WHY, WHY, WHY...?" Rather, it is
Life, who is the questioner. We have to respond to Life's questions! We answer to
Life by listening for discernment of the meaning of the moment; then, by making
responsible decisions within our available area of freedom. Our choices will be
based on our values and guidance received from the voice of our conscience.
The lack of meaning in life results in an existential vacuum
When life has no meaning, it becomes empty. We live in what Frankl calls an "existential
vacuum." It is a state of inertia, boredom, and apathy experienced by many. If this state
persists, it progresses into existential frustration, and eventually becomes a
"noogenic neurosis." We try to fill the existential vacuum with drugs,
with food, over-work, sports, etc., yet remain unfulfilled.
This state is
what the DSM-IV refers to as "somatization disorder". In about 20% of these cases,
the maintaining cause of somatization disorder lies in the noetic level, not in
the psycho-physical. Noogenic neurosis can be the result of protracted existential vacuum or a conflict of values that result in conflicts in conscience.
The tragic triad
Since life is
dynamic, we are faced all the time with elements of the tragic triad:
the best way to find a meaning -- especially in a situation we cannot
change -- is to
change our attitude! A new meaning will often dawn by doing so.
people to find meaning
We are spirit.
Our healthy core
lies in the noetic dimension, therefore, the medicine chest of logotherapy is
to be found in the noetic dimension. There, the "defiant power of the human
spirit" has to be activated and brought to bear on current life situations to bring about
the desired change that is healing or life-giving.
awareness that we are spirit, we recognize that what we have can be
taken from us,
but who we are, never!
We are unique.
There are always
situations where we experience our uniqueness: in relationships, in
etc.... Maybe the painting we made is not a masterpiece, but it is ours!
It is through
transcending our previous limitations, striving toward a worthwhile
encountering other human beings that we find meaning and fulfillment in our
We can change
When faced with
unavoidable suffering, we can often find meaning in the situation by looking at it
in a different way; i.e., by courageously bearing what cannot be changed.
The tools of
The main tool is
the Socratic dialogue where the therapist and the client together try to find a
meaning in life. Meaning cannot be given, it must be discovered.
1. The first
thing is to make the client realize that he is NOT A VICTIM of circumstances!
He might have symptoms, but he IS NOT his symptoms.
2. Try to help
client find a meaning within his "meaning triangle."
3. Make client
independent of the therapist by helping him find his guidance within.
Viktor Frankl's philosophy of life. As such, it can be used in
every profession and
walk of life. Today it is being used by educators, counselors, ministers,
business managers, etc. We can all use it in our daily life, when dealing
with our family,
friends or colleagues!
our life (where we stand today) is a consequence of our choices made
in the past, our
future will consequently be shaped by the choices we make today!
Every day we
have many possibilities from which to choose within our area of freedom. We must
choose the most responsible option; make the best choice, not only for ourselves,
but also the people around us then happiness and meaning fulfillment
October 2, 2002