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What is Logotherapy?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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Logotherapy is a form of existentialist analysis created by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in the mid 1930s. It centers around the belief that the search for meaning is the single driving force in a person's life, and assumes that each individual person has the resources available to cope with any situation that arises. Logotherapy is assisting the person in finding these resources hidden within themselves. The word logotherapy comes from the Greek word logos, which literally means “meaning.”

Logotherapy is the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. The first school is Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis, and the second school is Alfred Adler's Individual Psychology. Frankl was a student of these schools prior to creating logotherapy, and published articles in Freud's and Adler's journals.

Nineteen principles of logotherapy exist, and they all encourage personal growth and understanding. The three basic points are “life has meaning under all circumstances,” “we have freedom to find meaning,” and “the will to meaning is our main motivation.” The other 16 principles expand on these primary statements.

The first point implies that no matter what the circumstances, there is meaning hidden somewhere. This applies to everything, including attitudes, art, nature, relationships, hobbies and commitments. Seemingly meaningless situations are yet another chance to find hidden meaning to grow upon. Each person is unique, and the attitudes and stances taken towards different scenarios are something that can be learned from.

The freedom to find meaning means that no matter what happens, we have the power to deduce what is happening, why it is happening and why we exhibit certain reactions to the situation. This does not insinuate actual freedom from physical or psychological limitations, but the freedom to understand. People with neuroses and other ailments are born with the tools to find these meanings, but are having trouble finding the resources to do it within themselves.

The third basic point is based upon the major questions in life. “Why are we here?” “Is there a God?” and similar questions that plague individuals are the driving force in life. The search for the answer to these questions is what motivates us to keep living, not the search for pleasure or material goods. Logotherapy warns that hedonism and materialism are paths toward an empty life, while discovering the meaning behind life is the path towards a fulfilling existence.

Viktor Frankl personally tested logotherapy when he was taken to a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. He discovered that those surviving were focusing on the future and the meaning of life beyond the concentration camps. Many believe that Frankl's triumph over the unimaginable psychological torments attest to the worth of logotherapy. Frankl said, “Logotherapy focuses on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled in the future.” By diagnosing his own existence and the meaning of the circumstances he was in, he was able to prevent the trauma from overwhelming him, and kept him from giving up hope.

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