"The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life…. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair."
From The Moviegoer by, Walker Percy
Logotherapy, is a type of psychotherapy that was first developed by Viktor Frankl in 1938. The therapy asks therapists to be aware of their client's spiritual self, as well as the baser instincts first identified by Freud and reinterpreted by Adler. Logotherapy also holds onto existentialism as one of its core tenets, yet at the same time also embraces religion (Logotherapy).
Logotherapy is usually called the "third school of Viennese psychotherapy." To get a better understanding of logotherapy it would be beneficial to compare it against the first school. The first school was Freud's psychoanalysis, which relied on the identification of inherited (usually sexual) mechanisms that had been socially altered. Freud's theory held that all neuroses could be linked back to the warring parts of the self he called the id, ego, and superego.
Frankl in all of his writing is thankful for what Freud had done. He had insight on the human condition, but Freud's lessons were simply not suitable for his time period. He researched and taught during the late nineteenth century, which was known for its prudishness. Freud found himself with new ideas, but by their vary nature was unable to express them in an open way.
Ironically for Freud, he had to make his ideas too objective (in Frankl's opinion) for use in practical therapeutic situations, where spirituality was an issue; and as a result his theory came to make "the human person into an object," by analyzing spiritual concerns rather than dealing with them directly. It was this dehumanizing of the patient that drove Frankl to rework the psychoanalytic model. In Frankl's mind, what good was having your inner sexual being settled, when there was still a crisis of meaning in your heart (Unconscious God 22 & Unheard Cry for Meaning 20)?
Finally, as discussed below, Frankl felt that man's search for meaning was a primary response, not a rationalization as Freud and others would claim. To Frankl the search for meaning held a deep significance. If meaning was just a reaction he felt it would be terrible: "I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my 'defense mechanisms,' nor would I be willing to die merely for the sake of my 'reaction formations' (Man's Search 104)."
What is Logotherapy?
The "logo" in logotherapy means "meaning" in Greek. Frankl chose logo because it was his feeling that man's search for meaning in his life was his sole purpose (Man's Search 104).
Logotherapy is a person-centered therapy that focuses on the future, and is truly a modern therapeutic model for a modern audience (Man's Search 104). Today many people do not need to worry about the basics of life such as food or shelter. In fact more people are successful at their chosen vocation than ever before, yet there is still a hidden despair (Cry for Meaning 21). How can this happen?1 It seems that it is all centered on identity.
Modern individuals do not need to rely on their base instincts very often. In the wake of this new reality man does not know how to supplement this inherited motivation that he is now suppressing. One supplement that man found was the family. Rigid social constructs provided a comfortable place for man to exist. However as time has gone by the family has not remained as rigid or permanent as it was in past. This double blow to self-identity has left man in what Frankl calls an "existential vacuum"(Psycho&Ex 19).
How do many people today get into this "existential vacuum" in the first place? Alfred Adler, another psychoanalyst, helped to define the source of many modern neuroses. Adler felt that most of patients suffered from a sense of worthlessness. In response to this feeling, instead of trying to fashion internal coping mechanisms, his patients acted out or got depressed (Psycho&Ex 122).
Viktor Frankl appreciated Adler's efforts at painting a psychological picture of modern man, however, Frankl departed from Adler's idea in an important way. Frankl felt that his patients were not really depressed or anxiety prone because of a feeling of worthlessness, but rather, because they felt life had let them down. As Frankl himself put it: In this context, the problem has more to do with life in general than a specific feeling that a patient had.
One of the key ideas behind Logotherapy is the idea of existential choice. This idea states that no matter what the situation is, fundamentally, everyone has control over themselves, and has a choice to make. Some people may have better choices (cosmetically) than others; however, the choice is there just the same.
The idea of existential choice works well with depressed patients. Giving them existential choice allows them to take ownership of their own situation, while at the same time allowing them to find support though their existential search.
The never-ending search or battle for survival
The most important part of logotherapy, once a patient understands existential choice, is the understanding of how each of us has an existential burden. Frankl writes that while previously psychoanalism dealt mainly with showing patients the depth of themselves psychically, logotherapy adds a dimension of "height" that covers spiritual matters. In a logotheraputic session, the client is directed in their search for deeper meaning. While it is the responsibility of the therapist not to over-burden the client, it is still the client's job to process these feelings and find meaning in them where they can (Psych &ex 21).
As individuals we are all placed into different situations that make up our identity. We each are born into different ethnic, monetary and social situations, which help define our personalities. However, logotherapy rejects all of these conditions. It asks that we each become aware of ourselves and begin a search for identity.
This awareness of the importance of the search is often the subject of great thoughts and literature. Walker Percy however was more explicit than any other author. All of his books are about people coming to grips with their hidden "malaise". The inner-dialog of the main character (which is also at the tope of this node) in his novel The Moviegoer would show that he would be apt to succeed with logotherapy:
The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair (Percy 13).
While he is optimistic Viktor Frankl
, cautions that existential choice
and reflection is not a panacea
for humanity. In fact he claims that there is a tension
that is needed. A healthy person has both stress
. The ideal state is somewhere in between the two states. When a patient goes too far over to one side, Frankl
wrote, the noodynamic
Patients who move too far either way develop noogenic neuroses. Noogenic neuroses are neuroses that come from the lack of meaning. These neuroses are called noogenic because they come from the noetic realm, rather than, the psychic one. As a result, neuroses can be identified as stemming from lack of meaning rather than a psychological impulse or breakdown. In the end, a patient with a noogenic diagnosis could find help in logotherapy rather than another psychological theory (Psych &ex 43).
One of the key ideas in Frankl's therapy is that the world is always changing and every individual has the opportunity to change with it, or remain the same. Frankl argues that though out our lives we are always on our journey of meaning and each of the different developmental stages a different kind of meaning is needed.
For example, a child finds meaning in his family and place in the world. His family might introduce God into his vocabulary of meaning. However, as time goes by, he knows that there is more information out there and looks to his parents for guidance in reconciling the different forces at work.
The same child as a teenager now knows much more about the world than his former self. The teenager looks outside the family for meaning, while at the same time still trying to find out who he is as a person.
The next step for the teenager who is now in his twenties in the search for meaning is trying to reconcile the individual identity he developed as a teenager, with the feelings he is having about starting his own family. In contrast to his teenager self, he looks back to his family of origin for assistance in settling into his new position as husband or father.
The next step for the child, now at middle age, is to come to grips with his first thoughts of his own mortality. He looks to his wife and family for support, as the new meaning in his search has for the first time pointed towards death. This feeling is also compounded by the death of his parents or other family members. In his previous life from his teenage years until middle age mortality was not an issue, but now he needs to make death, or at least thinking about it, part of his meaning or identity.
The final step for the person who is was at middle age, but is now at the end of his life is to reflect on what he did and did not do. In addition, he will look towards religion more if he was not very faithful in his earlier years.
It is this great search for meaning through out life that logotherapy is primarily concerned with. If a person can successfully find meaning in each of these stages than they are functioning well. Those who stall at a point would be good candidates for logotheraputic therapy.
Logotherapy in Practice
Logotherapy is generally utilized in practice with another form of therapy such as cognitive therapy. A therapist using logotherapy should be careful not to push too hard or not enough when discussing spiritual matters; as with other therapy the least restrictive means necessary is the path to take. As Frankl himself put it in Man's Search for Meaning:
"Logotherapy is neither teaching or preaching. The logotherapist's role consists of widening and broadening the visual field of the patient so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him (115).
There are specific ways a therapist can try to push a client towards finding meaning in their life. The first is by creating something or doing something else for others. By taking an active role in life, by being a creator, or by having a relationship with someone else meaning can be found in doing something greater than (or at least not exclusive to) yourself.
The second way meaning can be found is through love. In this case a therapist can try to reinvigorate or direct a client to past relationships that were important to them. In addition the therapist could suggest trying to develop new relationships. It should be noted that Frankl makes clear that in order to have meaning in these relationships there needs to be love. The love he describes is not the type of unconditional love that is represented in Rogerian, Person-Centered therapy. It is intimate love (though not always physical) that therapists should avoid in order to remain objective.
The third and final way to find meaning relies heavily on existential choice, as it is to face suffering head-on and experience it. A therapist could use this approach with two types of client. The first is a person who is facing death and knows it. In that case, logotherapy would help the client navigate the psychological stages of death mapped by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The second type of client that could find meaning through suffering is the survivor who had a family member die. In this case, logotherapy would be beneficial because it takes into consideration the confusing spiritual dimension that is left in the wake of having a loved one die (Man's Search 115-19). Frankl thinks that death is a wonderful opportunity to find meaning.
Death concerns life as well, for at any time each of the moments of which life consists is dying, and the moment will never recur. And yet is not this transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives (Man's Search 150-51)?
While Frankl does not wish for his patients loved ones to die, evidently he finds that death is a good way to get the spirit into a state of "transitoriness". Once in this state, the patient can see his small part in a larger context.
Another application of suffering to find meaning could be with patients who have been abused, or have gone though some type of trauma. The use of existential choice can be reassuring to those who have seen or participated in trauma, just as Frankl himself used existential choice to get thorough his World War II concentration camp ordeal and to take ownership of his memories afterward. The difficulty with using existential choice as a tool in this scenario is you want the client to take ownership of the event and make a choice, but at the same time you do not want to open old wounds.
In addition, in Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl breaks down finding meaning in suffering into three parts. The first part are the patients that suffer, but yet still have a spirit that wants to fight. Frankl calls this, "the defiant power of the human spirit." In these cases, a therapist can give the patient a push and watch the patient take control over his own situation.
The second type of meaning via suffering is guilt. When a person abuses their relationship with others, or commits a crime, the feelings of guilt are very important. Frankl shares the experiences a prison inmate who wants to feel guilty but the system will not allow him to experience it. The convict explained to Frankl that in the system, "The criminal never has a chance to explain himself. He is offered a variety of excuses to choose from. Society is blamed and in many instances the blame is put on the victim (Man's Search 149)." The problem that the inmate describes is a terrible thing. For man to move forward spiritually he needs to allow himself to discuss what he has done in the past. In this specific case the system does not care why the inmate did what he did, only if he did it or not. This blocking of discussion in turn prevents the individual to go on his search for meaning.
The next thing to take into consideration is the therapeutic relationship. In logotherapy having a good trustful dynamic between the client and the therapist is essential. Therefore, logotherapy is not something a therapist should employee early in the counseling relationship. This criteria stems from the nature of the therapy itself. It is easier to discuss things in a cognitive behavioral therapy session, but for logotherapy, this is more difficult because religious/spiritual feelings are usually guarded jealously.
Finally looking broadly at Viktor Frankl, it is easy to see how profoundly he changed psychoanalytic therapy. Before he introduced logotherapy, people were thought of as psychological machines to be tinkered with, with the therapist as mechanic. His rejection of this paradigm caused a wealth of new ideas about the (ideal) nature of man.
Logotherapy struggles to understand the complete person, spiritually as well as psychologically. This allowed therapists to treat spiritual issues rather than just to treat them as another layer of the person to be broken down and analyzed. While logotherapy is not as "objective" as Freud's psychoanalytic process, it is still a very good tool for a therapist to utilize in treatment.
Finally, it is the gray area that logotherapy resides inside of that makes it fascinating. Therapists should use logotherapy as a different epistemological lens in which to see their patients. This study of the spiritual in therapy makes therapy what it should be: A human centered treatment, which allows patients to grow in every way possible.
"At an American University, 60 students who had attempted suicide were screened afterward, and 85 percent said the reason had been that 'life seemed meaningless.' Most important, however, 93 percent of these students suffering from the apparent meaninglessness of life 'were actively engaged socially, were performing well academically, and were on good terms with their family groups (Unheard Cry for Meaning 20).'"
"Logotherapy". The Viktor Frankl Institut
Frankl, Viktor E. Man's Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1984.
Frankl, Viktor E. Psychotherapy and Existentialism. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1968.
Frankl, Viktor E. The Unconscious God. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1975.
Frankl, Viktor E. Unheard Cry for Meaning. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1978.
Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. Vintage International: New York, 1961.