Academic journal article TCA Journal

Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy: Spirituality and Meaning in the New Millennium

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy: Spirituality and Meaning in the New Millennium

Article excerpt

Logotherapy, an existential holistic approach developed by Viktor E. Frankl, has been called the third Viennese school of psychotherapyfollowing Freudian psychoanalysis and Adlerian individual psychology. This article presents the philosophy, historical development, current application, and future possibilities of Franklian therapy.


Logotherapy has been called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. The first such school was Psychoanalysis, founded by Sigmund Freud, who around the turn of the century, discovered an important human dimension that was a new consideration in the medical world: the human psyche. He proposed that certain physical sicknesses can originate in the psychological dimension, especially in situations in which a person's will to pleasure is repressed into the unconscious.

The second Viennese school of psychotherapy was founded by Alfred Adler, who was a colleague of Freud. Adler agreed with Freud's premise that neuroses and sickness can be caused by psychological repressions, but maintained that such conditions may be caused not only by a repressed will to pleasure, but also by a repressed will to power. Just as Freud hypothesized that every child has sexual attractions and hostilities toward the parents, so Adler hypothesized that all children have power struggles with their parents. A repressed will to power during childhood may result in an inferiority complex which can lead to a low self image or to overcompensation and a power trip. To cure inferiority-caused sickness, Adler developed his own school of psychotherapy, calling it Individual Psychology, because of his emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual.

The above is, of course, an oversimplification of Freud's and Adler's theories, and is intended only to identify one important aspect in the historical developments that led from Freud to Adler to Frankl. Although Adler was at one time a favorite colleague of Freud, Adler ultimately went theoretically beyond his mentor. Likewise, Frankl was a favorite student of Adler, and Frankl, too, went beyond his mentor to the point that he was excluded from Adler's Society for Individual Psychology.

Frankl hypothesized that not only a repressed will to pleasure or power can lead to sickness, but also that a repressed will to meaning can have similar results. In fact, he placed the will to meaning at a higher level than the other causal factors. Pleasure, Frankl said, is not an end in itself but only a by-product of a person's having found meaning. Power, too, said Frankl, is not an end in itself but only a means to an end, namely to find meaning. Meaning, or logos, in Frankl's view is neither a by-product nor a mere means to an end, but is an essence. The human being is basically a meaningseeking animal-and appears to be the only meaning seeking animal.

Frankl's own search for meaning is evident in the events of his life. Because the Victorian ethic still dominated societal thinking and because of the economic depression which occurred, few people in Vienna during the 1930s were deeply concerned philosophically with the ultimate meaning of life. Frankl, however, had been concerned with such questions since his early childhood, and during his teens read philosophical writings which addressed the question of meaning. While still a teenager, he corresponded with Freud, and while studying medicine at the University of Vienna, he was a student of Adler. Frankl started suicide prevention centers for high school children; became active in the youth movement of the Social Democratic party of Vienna; worked in mental hospitals where he tested his concepts with patients and developed methods of logotherapy; spent 3 years in German prison camps where his theory was experientially validated; became the head of the neurological department of the Poliklinik Hospital in Vienna; and wrote and taught extensively.

By about 1960, the structure of logotherapy was complete with respect to its philosophy and practical applications, or at least, it was complete insofar as Frankl was concerned. …

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