Logotherapy is a term combining the Greek word “logos,” translated as “meaning” together with therapy, which is defined as treatment of a condition, illness, or maladjustment. Logotherapy treats psychological conditions by assisting clients pursue a meaningful life.
Logotherapy was developed by Viktor Frankl. He theorized that our human nature motivates a search for a life purpose. Frankl’s years in the Nazi concentration camps heavily influenced his psychological theories. Frankl believed that many illnesses or mental health struggles were symptoms of an existential angst from lack of meaning. Frankl referred to this common condition as an “existential vacuum.”
Logotherapy addresses that lack of meaning directly by helping people uncover that meaning and reduce their feelings of angst. Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that centers on the developing the natural human ability to endure adversity and suffering by holding a belief of a greater purpose.
The Third School of Psychotherapy
Logotherapy is often referred to as the “third Viennese school of psychotherapy.” At first, logotherapy originated as a response to both Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s emphasis on power within society. Logotherapy is more than just “therapy.” It is a philosophy to recover the spiritually lost. Whereas Freud’s theory is based on a “will to pleasure” and Adler’s school of thought relying on human’s “will to power,” logotherapy is based on the idea that we are driven by a “will to meaning.” Logotherapy works through our inner desire to find purpose and meaning in life to heal the injuries to our psyche.
Three Ways to Discover Meaning in Logotherapy
According to Frankl, there are three primary ways to discover meaning:
- By creating a work or accomplishing some task
- By experiencing something fully or loving somebody
- By the attitude that one adopts toward unavoidable suffering
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”— Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD Logotherapy and Suffering
A basic premise of logotherapy is that suffering is an inevitable part of the human condition. Consequently, Frankl believed that we achieve ultimate freedom through our ability to choose our response to any set of given circumstances, even the most painful ones.
People only find meaning through suffering by identifying the unique roles that only they can fulfill. Our suffering then becomes more than a burden to be endured, but a refining fire that creates distinctive character.
We all suffer. How we respond to the suffering lifts or destroys.
Frankl believed that people can turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment. He viewed discomforting emotions such as guilt as an opportunity to better oneself, making life transitions as a chance to take responsible action. Logotherapy uses three main techniques to accomplish this:
Dereflection is used when a person is overly self-absorbed on a personal issue or attainment of a personal goal. Frankl taught that by redirecting their attention away from the self, the person regains wholeness though thinking about others. Many of our emotional challenges come when we are centered on our own emotional experience. Accordingly, by taking intentional steps to examine issues from the perspective of others, seeing the world through their eyes, changes everything.
The underlying goal is to interrupt the “hyper-reflection” on self that creates anxiety.
Paradoxical intention involves intentionally seeking the thing we fear the most. Logotherapy providers use this technique to assist people experiencing anxieties or phobias that paralyze them with fear. Frankl taught that by wishing for the things they feared the most, those suffering removed the fear and relieved anxious symptoms.
For instance, if I feared looking foolish, I may purposely act in a foolish way.
Socratic dialogue is used as a tool to help clients open up to self-discovery. First, the therapist listens closely to the wording a client uses to describe things. Then the therapist draws attention to prominent word patterns, helping clients find deeper meaning from these words. Logotherapy providers theorize that this process helps clients discover their own answers.
“Therefore, 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.”Frankl, 1997, p. 84
Conditions Treated with Logotherapy
Strong evidence supports logotherapy’s hypothesis that meaning in life correlates with better mental health. Therapist may improve clients mental health through assisting them to develop meaning in many mental health areas such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
Benefits of Possessing Life Meaning
- Allowance of “healthy” stress
- Actively involved with life (rather than an avoidant or overly passive)
- Cognitive reappraisal
- Courage to face fears
- Optimism during tragedy
- Spirituality (which may or may not be religious)
- Values-based lifestyle (2021)
A Few Thoughts From Psychology Fanatic
Viktor Frankl’s horrifying experiences in the Nazi concentration camps provides a wealth of perspective on suffering and meaning. Albeit, the vast majority of human life will never confront such stark realities of human hatred and torture. However, Frankl’s remarkable ability to translate his experiences into a meaningful dialogue on human wellness through adopting meaning is exceptionally relevant to everyone that struggles.
Cuncic, A. (2021). What is Logotherapy? Verywellmind. Published 7-8-2021. Accessed 8-4-2021.
Frankl, V. E. (1997) Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. Basic Books