Viktor Frankl

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) is a famous neurologist, psychotherapists and philosopher. He is most credited for the development of logotherapy, a field of psychotherapy which focuses on the meaning of life. Frankl's classic book Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (1963), in which describes his experience at the concentration camps, has been translated in 38 languages. It is often used by psychotherapists for patients who appear to have lost their will to live and see no meaning in their lives. It is the foundation of logotherapy, that granted Frankl the title of founder of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, the first two being those of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Alfred Adler (1870-1937).

Frankl was born on March 26, 1905 in Vienna (then in Austria-Hungary) in a Jewish family most of which he afterwards lost in the death camps during the World War II (1939-1945). As he grew up in Vienna, the center of psychoanalysis, he became influenced by the ideas of psychology in his teens. It was then that he started his correspondence with Freud, who directed Frankl's paper on the origin of the mimic movements of affirmation and negation to the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. The paper was published in 1924, with this publication succeeded by another in the International Journal of Individual Psychology a year later, this time directed by Adler.

It was in the his teen years that Frankl became interested in the philosophical problem of the meaning of life and it was during that time that he gave a lecture on the subject at the adult education school as a part of a philosophical workshop led by Edgar Zilsel. Frankl had already developed two of the basic notions underlying logotherapy - the notion of "suprameaning," a meaning in which people should have faith in despite the fact that they do not comprehend it and the notion of people being responsible for their existence. Another important idea that Frankl adopted was the idea of Fools Tell the Truth, the title of a book Frankl had planned to write. As he himself puts it in his Recollections: "two times two make four, even if a paranoid patient says it." The idea that all that is sick is not necessarily wrong is a key idea for logotherapy.

Frankl was awarded his M.D. in neurology and psychiatry in 1930 and started to work under Otto Potzl in the University Psychiatric Clinic, before working for two years with Josef Gerstmann. Afterwards he worked for four years at the mental hospital Am Steinhof, where he was in charge of the pavilion for suicidal women. After Hitler's troops marched into Austria in 1938, Frankl accepted a position as the chief of neurology at Rothschild Hospital. There he met Mathilde Grosser and married her in 1941. Both were sent to the Theresienstadt camp near Prague in January 1942. Later on, the couple were deported to the Auschwitz camp in Poland.

Frankl lost his wife, his parents and a brother at the concentration camps. He spent a total of three years in four camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering III and Türkheim. It was during his stay at the camps that he observed the struggle for meaning among prisoners. In his Recollections, Frankl speaks of two basic human capacities, those of self-transcendence and self-distancing, as being verified and validated in the death camps.

After the end of the World War II, Frankl returned to Vienna and in 1945, he dictated Man's Search for Meaning. Originally, the author intended to remain anonymous, in order to allow himself to write more freely but his friends persuaded him to take responsibility for his work. It was in 1947 that Frankl's wife Mathilde (Tilly) died and he married Eleonore Schwindt. The same year he obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Vienna. He became a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and spent 25 years as the head of the neurology department at the Vienna Policlinic Hospital.

Frankl wrote 39 books during his lifetime, obtained 29 honorary doctor degrees and won numerous awards, including the American Psychiatric Association ‘s prestigious Oskar Pfister Prize. He was a visiting professor at Harvard and at universities in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Dallas. The U.S. International University in California established a special chair for logotherapy to honor Frankl's contribution to the field of psychotherapy. Frankl died on September 2, 1997, of heart failure.

Viktor Frankl: Selected full-text books and articles

Handbook of Motivational Counseling: Concepts, Approaches, and Assessment By W. Miles Cox; Eric Klinger Wiley, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 18 "Viktor E. Frankl's Existential Analysis and Logotherapy"
Becoming Bamboo: Western and Eastern Explorations of the Meaning of Life By Robert E. Carter McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy"
Viktor Frankl, the Champion of Humanness By Lowen, Jeannette Free Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter 2000
Reflecting of a Personal Visit with Dr. Viktor Frankl and His Wife Elly By Fischler, Michael L Education, Vol. 120, No. 2, Winter 1999
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