Logotherapy: Man’s search for meaning
Viktor Frankl: Developer of Logotherapy
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who was also a Holocaust survivor. After surviving the Death-Camps, Frankl went on to develop Logotherapy, a form of existential analysis, and the subject of his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning. His experiences lead him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, with a continued reason to live.
What is Logotherapy?
We have a body and a psyche, but we are our spirit. The human being is a totality of three dimensions – the biological, the psychological, and the spiritual – and can be fully understood and kept healthy only if ALL three are considered.
In Logotherapy, decades of development and research offer a framework, insight, direction and tools to address the human being as a whole, including the spiritual. By working with the spiritual we discover the freedom to find meaning – our most important spiritual need – not freedom FROM biological, psychological, social or cultural limitations, but freedom TO take a stand in all situations in which we find ourselves, in spite of all limitations.
Loss of meaning causes incredible suffering which can manifest as anxiety, depression, anger, hopelessness and powerlessness.
Logotherapy strives to find meaning in one’s life
Some of the most important principles of logotherapy
- The will to meaning is our main motivation – we need to find meaning in life, in death and in suffering.
- Life has meaning under all circumstances. This unqualified claim is possible because meaning is found not only in what we do (work, hobbies, commitment to a cause) and what we experience (in nature, art, human relationships), but also in the attitudes we take in apparently meaningless, tragic situations that cause unavoidable suffering.
- We have the freedom to find meaning – not freedom FROM biological, psychological, social or cultural limitations, but freedom TO take a stand in all situations in which we find ourselves, in spite of all limitations.
- We always have a choice – at least in our attitudes and the stance we take to whatever is happening in our life.
- We have a body and a psyche, but we are our spirit – The human being is a totality of three dimensions – the biological, the psychological, and the spiritual – and can be fully understood and kept healthy only if ALL three are considered.
- We have the “defiant power of the human spirit” – we are not the helpless victims of our physical limitations, our instinctual drives or our environment. The human spirit is always free to choose.
- The human spirit is our healthy core – it cannot become sick – only blocked by physical or psychological illness. The goal is to gain access to the resources of this spirit in the spiritual unconscious.
- Who we are is determined not only by what we have been but also by what we have the vision of becoming.
- Each person is unique. Meaning is unique for each person. Recognizing our uniqueness, seeking our own unique meanings and seeing situations in which we feel irreplaceable are likely to elicit meaning.
- We can step away from ourselves and look at ourselves from the outside which helps us break life patterns and make changes in the direction of our goals and the fulfillment of meaning.
- We can transcend ourselves – reach beyond ourselves toward people to love or causes to serve.
- Meaning is found step by step, moment by moment, although quantum jumps are also possible.
- The meaning of a particular moment is not always instantly recognizable. It may be necessary to be patient and wait until it manifests, or you have the time to reflect.
- Responsibility means “response-ability” – the ability to respond to meanings of the moment, and make choices – at least in our stance towards the moment. Our responses and choices are guided by outside guidelines (from society) and from the inner resources of our conscience and spirit, which is our “meaning organ”.
- Tension is part of human existence. The goal of mental health is not equilibrium, the adjustment to life as it IS, but a reaching out to life as it COULD BE. This tension between “being” and “meaning” strengthens our spiritual muscles.
- Finding meaning is not a gift but an achievement which may be greatest in situations of unavoidable suffering. No one knows his limits until life offers him the opportunity to test them.
- Growth often comes as the result of imposed and unwanted change. Sometimes change is difficult and we need help.
- Life does not owe us pleasure; it offers us meaning. Mental health does not come to those who demand happiness, but to those who find meaning. Happiness and pleasure are side-effects of having finding meaning.
I find working with these important principles helps me to help my clients in significant ways, as part of the approach to treating depression, anxiety, low self esteem, finding a direction or purpose, making sense of their life experiences, finding motivation and feeling empowered.
Debbie Homewood, Logotherapist.