Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna on March 26, 1905. Gabriel Frankl, his father, originally was from Moravia. After many years of hard work and strong effort he built up his career and advanced from government stenographer to the director of the Ministry of Social Service.
He was a man of a strong will and with a confident character. His mother was a complete opposite – devout and tender woman from Prague; her name was Elsa Frankl.Victor Frankl was middle of the three children. His curiosity to everything and a fast learning mind began to give notice at the very young age, and when he was four ears old, he already knew that he wanted to become a physician.
He led a very active social life during high school years, and participated in different organizations as the Young Socialist Workers organization. His interest about people’s behavior and their interactions motivated him to start studying psychology. His senior essay upon finishing high school was a remarkable psychoanalytic work on the philosopher Schopenhauer, which was later published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Following that event Frankl initiated a communication with Sigmund Freud.
As a result, in 1925, a year after finishing high school, he had a personal encounter with Freud.Frankl attended medical university, where he acquired a lot of useful information and some basic knowledge, which helped him to conduct more profound studies and research of his interest. He examined closely Alfred Adler’s theory, and in 1925 he published another scholarly article “Psychotherapy and Weltanschauung” in Adler’s International Journal of Individual Psychology. The following year was marked by the first appearance of the term logotherapy during one his public lectures, and after that he initiated a profound development and improvement of his particular kind of Viennese psychology.
In 1928-29, Frankl organized free counseling centers for teenagers in seven Austrian cities, including Vienna. After that he started working at the Psychiatric University Clinic. Next year he received a doctorate degree in medicine and was promoted to assistant. Neurology became his primary field of practice for the next several years.
Later in 1933, he received a responsibility over treatment of suicidal women at the Psychiatric Hospital, where he had to take care of several thousands of patients each year. In 1937, he began his own practice in the fields of neurology and psychiatry. In 1939 Austria was invaded by Hitler’s troops. The next year Frankl acquired visa to the United States.
However, he was concerned about his old parents and stayed in Austria letting visa expire.In 1940, Frankl became head of the neurological department at Rothschild Hospital, which was the only hospital for Jews in Vienna during Hitler’s invasion. In order to prevent the release of the new policies requiring euthanasia of the mentally unstable patients he was forced to make false diagnoses of a great number of patients. Somewhere around that time he started the work on his great manuscript “The Doctor and the Soul.
In 1942 Victor Frankl married. Later, in September the same year, he and all his family were arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt in Bohemia, where his father died of starvation. In 1944 his mother and brother were killed at Auschwitz. Later in 1945, his wife died at Bergen-Belsen.
The only one from his family to survive was his sister Stella, who immigrated to Australia some time before the arrest. In such a complicated, obviously hopeless situation Frankl still did not lose his hope to be reunited with his family and wife. The manuscript “The Doctor and the Soul” was found and destroyed, but he still had a great desire to complete the work after he was moved to Auschwitz. Later he survived two more camps, which severely worsened his physical condition and he was hit by typhoid fever.
He tried to stay awake, making attempts to reconstruct his manuscript on stolen pieces of paper.In April 1945, the camp where Frankl was held was freed, after which he returned to his hometown Vienna. After his return he received tragic information about the deaths of his family and his wife. At that point he felt very depressed lonely and heart-broken.
Eventually, he took a position of director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic, which he would occupy for 25 year of his life.He gradually reconstructed and published the book “The Doctor and the Soul.” The publication resulted in his teaching appointment at the University of Vienna Medical School. It took only 9 days for him to dictate another book, which was later published under the name “Man’s Search for Meaning.
This well known work was sold in the amount of over nine million copies.Frankl`s life greatly changed after he met Eleonore Schwindt, a young operating room assistant, and fell in love with her. She was two times younger, however she greatly assisted him in providing an opportunity to reestablish himself, receive strength, courage and inspiration. In 1947 they married and had a daughter Gabriele.
In 1948, Frankl wrote a dissertation “The Unconscious God”, which comprised of a deep research and linkage of human psychology to the religion. This work earned him PhD in Philosophy. The same year, he was promoted to the associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna. He conducted a foundation of the Austrian Medical Society for Psychotherapy, of which he became a president.
After his promotion to professor, his popularity greatly increased not only in Vienna borders, but also all around Europe. He was an author of a great number of doctorates, and received a great number of awards, including the Oscar Pfizer Prize by the American Society and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.Frankl did not stop teaching at the University of Vienna until 1990, when he became 85 years old. His friends and members of his family established Viktor Frankl Institute in his honor in 1992.
In 1995 he finished his work on his autobiography. His final work was the book “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning”, which was based on some of his earlier findings and ideas in a company with the main theme of his dissertation. He has written 32 books, which have been translated into 27 languages.Victor Frankl died on September 2, 1997, of heart failure.
Frankl developed the theory of logotherapy and existential analysis in the 1930s, after he explored the works of Adler and Freud, but had a different prospective on the themes discussed in their works.Some of the concepts were accepted by Frankl and used a basis for more profound analysis of the problem. He agreed with Freud’s idea of unconsciousness; however he prefers the will to meaning over the will to pleasure. Existential analysis is determined to return to consciousness the spiritual existence of a person.
Adler’s understandings of some key factors about human psychology are enclosed in the theory of logotherapy, as a result of personal training and individual psychology received from Adler. Adler’s influence can be seen in such terms of logotherapy as meaning, freedom, and responsibility.A major difference between psychoanalysis and logotherapy is that the studies of Adler and Freud put more emphasis on the past, while “Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled in his future” (Frankl 120).Usually, logotherapy and existential analysis are used together as a uniform meaning; however there are some differences between these two theories and processes.
Logotherapy refers to Frankl’s approach to psychotherapy, which is based on analysis of spiritual dimension of a person; it is “a psychotherapy in spiritual terms” (Frankl 10). Existential analysis involves the exploration of the analytical therapeutic process in analyzing patient’s spiritual, existential needs. “In as much as logotherapy makes him aware of the hidden logos of his existence, it is an analytical process.” (Frankl 125).
Logotherapy is obviously based on the humanistic school psychotherapy, because it primarily explores human spirit and “the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning (Frankl 121). Frankl differs from other scientists, who based their studies on the similar approach, like May and Yalom, in terms of unconditional existence of the human life’s meaning. As the primary goal of logotherapy Frankl tried to initiate a client’s search for the meaning and give them reasons and possibility to live a meaningful life, regardless circumstances and obstacles met during the lifetime.The statement, which supports the idea of logotherapy in practice: “This was the lesson I had to learn in three years spent I Auschwitz and Dachau: those most apt to survive the camps were those oriented toward the future, toward a meaning to be fulfilled by them in the future” (Frankl 37).
Frankl was by far the only psychotherapist, whose life and work were closely related and assisted in each other development. His life challenges supported the practical application of the idea of logotherapy and assisted in its composition, while logotherapy helped to overcome the most desperate conditions of the human psychological state.The key factor in applying logotherapy into practice is understanding and realizing the existence of the spiritual dimension in human life, moreover, realizing its priority and initial source. According to Frankl’s dimensional ontology human existence is present in three dimensions: somatic, mental and spiritual, which exist together and form a unity in a human being.
Logotherapy explores spirit as a unique, everlasting, never changing unity, which cannot die or get sick, and which is not able to be destroyed by some minor or even major life problems. It can be blocked by sickness whether physical or mental, although it still remains in its initial state.One part of the human spirit is in the unconscious state. When the spirit is blocked, a person experiences vacuum or neurosis.
Existential analysis is intended destroy the block and brings to consciousness the will to meaning.The defiant power of the human spirit refers to the human ability to search inside and awake the spiritual beginnings of every human which will demonstrate the misery of the negative effects of situations, sickness or the detrimental influence of the past experience. Human spirit can be determined as inner resources, which can come to one’s aid in coping with life stress (Wong, 1993).Frankl differentiates in his studies the concepts of spirit, spirituality, and religion.
He explains the phenomena of spirit as to one of the dimensions of humanity. Spirituality is manifest in a person’s quest for meaning. Religion encompasses the ultimate meaning, super-meaning, as well as God. Frankl recognizes the great importance of religion in a human life and its impact on people’s actions and predeterminations, as well as psychological well-being.
He compares having faith and being involved in religion with deep spirituality.He clearly underlined the importance of religion and its role in the whole concept of logotherapy: “I have come to define religion as an expression, a manifestation, of not only man’s will to meaning, but of man’s longing for ultimate meaning, that is to say a meaning that is so comprehensive that it is no longer comprehensible…But it becomes a matter of believing rather than thinking, of faith rather than intellect. The positing of a super-meaning that evades mere rational grasp is one of the main tenets of logotherapy, after all. And a religious person may identify Supermeaning as something paralleling a Superbeing, and this Superbeing we would call God.
”The name logotherapy originated from the word “logos”, some meanings of which are will of God, meaning, etc. Frankl uses it as meaning, which defines logotherapy as a process that heals through perceiving meaning.Frankl’s study differentiates two levels of meaning: the present meaning, and the ultimate meaning or super-meaning. The psychiatric approach of Frankl was primarily based on a specific (present) meaning.
He believed that it would provide a more essential help than speculating about the meaning of life in general. Ultimate meaning could only be accessed through the supra-human state, a dimension which stays concealed from people. Frankl preferred not to use ultimate meaning in his therapy unless the client was religious, and it was an essential part of his/her conscious life. As a process of healing, every patient had to discover the specific meaning of the present moment, which can be found only by the patient, while therapists can only guide or point the areas where the meaning could be found.
The key factors of logotherapy and existential analysis are freedom of will, will to meaning and the meaning of life.In the process of developing logotherapy Frankl used the terms value and meaning as substitute to one another. However, later there has been clarification between these two concepts. Every person’s experience is unique and individual; therefore the perception and feelings are also unique for every individual.
Consequently the search for meaning is personal and different for every person. On the other hand, most of the people had certain types of experience, which stimulated more or less the same reaction. These standard meanings could be presented as values, and Frankl calls them as “meaning universals.” Values are abstract meanings that satisfy or represent a uniform for experiences of a number of people.
Frankl believed that values could guide people’s search for the meaning. In his works Frankl describe values as universal concepts, from which specific meanings can be drawn. However, these values are hidden inside and could be withdrawn through existential analysis. This approach clarifies Frankl’s belief that “The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected” (Frankl 157).
The objective of logotherapy as a treatment is to stimulate patient’s search of their unique meanings and explore their own areas of freedom. When treating psychogenic or individual neurosis, which can be done using the methods of traditional psychotherapy or medication, logotherapy is used as a complementary agent, which destroys bad circles of neurosis. There are four major logo therapeutic techniques: paradoxical intention, de-reflection, modification of attitudes and appealing techniques.Under paradoxical intention “he patient is encouraged to do, or to wish to happen, the very things he fears (the former applying to the phobic patient, the latter to the obsessive-compulsive)” (Frankl 117).
This technique has been successfully used in the cases with patients, who suffer from phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder.The invention of de-reflection technique was primarily targeted to oppose hyper intention (trying too hard) and hyper-reflection (thinking too hard). Hyper-reflection is over concentrating on the performance of some process and feeling devastated in the case of failure. Hyper-reflection may turn everyday minor problem into catastrophes.
The objective of de-reflection is to help patients overcome their concentration on unnecessary things and move towards creative and experiential values.Modification of attitudes is in case of noogenic neuroses, depression and addiction by promoting the will to meaning.Frankl says that “Logotherapy is neither teaching nor preaching. It is far removed from logical reasoning as it is from moral exhortation” (Frankl 132).
Viktor Frankl played enormous role in the development of psychiatric science. His study of logotherapy comprises practically successful techniques in assessing many of the patient’s problems. Not only it heals people who need help it also provides the initial roots for further development of the person and his/her emotional, moral, and physical well-being. Person’s development through the search of meaning takes human nature to another dimension, or spiritual level, realizing of which removes many problems people face without going further their physical existence.
- Adler, A. (1963). The practice and theory of individual psychology. Paterson, NJ: Littlefield, Adams.
- Baker, Howard. “Frankl, Viktor E. (1905-1997)” Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1997
- Frankl, V. E. (1963). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Pocket Books.
- Blair, Robert G. “Helping Older Adolescents Search for Meaning in Depression.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling. (26): 4. 2004.
- Frankl, V. E. (1967). Psychotherapy and existentialism: Selected papers on logotherapy. New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books
- Frankl, V. E. (1969). The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy. New York and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co.
- Frankl, V. E. (1978). The unheard cry for meaning: Psychotherapy and humanism. New York: Simon & Schuster