Existential therapy/ Logotherapy: Frankl

Logotherapy is a term derived from “logos,” a Greek word meaning “meaning,” and “therapy,” which is defined as treatment for a health condition, disease, or maladjustment. This theory was developed by Viktor Frankl on the basis of the belief that human nature is driven by the search for meaning in life; logotherapy is a method of seeking that meaning. His theories were greatly influenced by his experiences in concentration camps during the Nazi era.

He argued that even in miserable circumstances, life can still have meaning and that the intrinsic motivation for living comes from being able to find that meaning. Furthermore, Frankl argued that everything can be taken from a person except one i.e., the final human right on how to respond to any given situation. It was based on his experience of suffering and his understanding that meaning could be found in suffering. Thus, Frankl believed that we must change ourselves when we cannot change what is happening around us.


In 1905, Victor Frankl was born in Vienna. Based on the framework of existential therapy, he studied as a psychiatrist and neurologist. Frankl spent approximately three years in various Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, a period that greatly influenced both his work and the development of logotherapy. In his observations, Frankl found that those who found meaning in the experience, such as a task they needed to accomplish, often survived. For Frankl personally, rewriting a manuscript that had been confiscated at Auschwitz was a motivating force. Frankl resumed working as a neurologist and psychiatrist immediately following the liberation of the concentration camps. Man’s Search for Meaning, published in 1946, chronicled his experiences in the concentration camps and explained the basic tenets of logotherapy.  

Three main component of his theory and therapy:

  1. Every individual has a healthy core.
  2. It is one’s primary responsibility to enlighten others to their own internal resources and to give them the tools to use their inner core.
  3. Although life offers purpose and meaning, it does not promise satisfaction or happiness.

Methods of Finding Meaning:

Going a step further, logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:

  • Creating something or doing something.
  • Experience something or connect with someone.
  • By the attitude, we adopt when facing unavoidable suffering.

A central belief of Frankl’s was that suffering is a natural part of life, and man’s greatest freedom lies in his ability to respond to any given set of circumstances, even the hardest ones. People can also find meaning by identifying the unique roles they are born to play. In one instance, when a man consulted Frankl after losing his wife, Frankl asked him to consider what might have happened if he had died first and his wife had been forced to mourn his death. Seeing that his suffering prevented his wife from experiencing the suffering he himself endured helped the man overcome his depression and served as a curative factor.  

Basic assumptions:

  1. Humans are made up of a body, a mind, and a spirit.
  2. There is meaning to life in every circumstance.
  3. Humans are driven by their will to find meaning.
  4. Frankl contends that individuals are free to access their human will at any time and under any circumstance.
  5. To make decisions that are meaningful, individuals must align their decisions with the moral values of society or their own conscience.
  6. Every individual is unique and irreplaceable.
victor frankl

Logotherapy in Practice

Frankl believed that it was possible to turn struggle into fulfillment and accomplishment. He considered guilt as an possibility to alter oneself for the better, and life transitions as the chance to take accountable action. In this way, this psychotherapy was aimed at assisting people to make better use of their “spiritual” assets to withstand adversity. In his books, he frequently used his very own personal experiences to provide an explanation for principles to the reader. Three methods used in logotherapy encompass dereflection, paradoxical intention, and Socratic dialogue. It can be seen how some of the techniques of logotherapy overlap with newer forms of treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In this way, logotherapy may be a complementary approach for behavior and thought-based treatments.

  1. Dereflection: If a character is overly absorbed in trouble or attainment of a goal, dereflection is an approach that is used to divert their interest away from the self and closer to something that is vital to them. By taking a break and focusing on something else humans experience comfort from the stress that they have put themselves under. Dereflection is aimed at assisting anyone center of attention away from themselves and towards other humans so that they can emerge as a whole and spend much less time being self-absorbed about a problem or how to attain a goal. Dereflection, based on “self-transcendence”, attempts to redirect unhealthy amounts of attention on a problem from the problem to a more meaningful object of attention. Most oftenly used with maladaptive neuroses such as sexual disorders, though.
  2. Paradoxical intention: Paradoxical intention is a method that is used to disrupt the cycle of anticipatory anxiousness which refers to the experience of being concerned about turning into anxiety. It includes asking for the aspect we worry about the most. During this process, humans tackle the source of their anxiety and confront what they fear the most. Some of the logotherapy’s strategies contain exposing clients to their fears with the purpose of desensitizing them which can be used in parallel with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Paradoxical intention is a method that has the patient’s desire for the thing that is feared most. This was recommended for use in the case of anxiety or phobias, in which humor and ridicule can be used when fear is paralyzing. For example, an individual with a fear of looking silly may be motivated to attempt to appear silly on purpose. Paradoxically, the fear would be eliminated when the intention involved the component that was feared most.
  3. Socratic dialogue: The third approach that is instrumental in logotherapy is Socratic dialogue. This method includes the therapists paying close attention to their client’s words to assist the individual to derive meaning from their experiences. The logotherapist makes use of the personal person’s words as a technique of self-discovery. This is an empowering approach that allows clients to find out the sources that they have inside themselves which can be used to overcome their problems. Socratic dialogue would be used in logotherapy as a tool to assist a patient via the technique of self-discovery through his or her personal words. By listening carefully to what the individual says, the therapist can point out particular patterns of words, or word solutions to the client, and let the client see new meaning in them. This method allows a individual to recognize that the answer lies inside and is simply waiting to be discovered.

Conditions Treated with Logotherapy

Logotherapy is based on a belief that many illnesses or mental health problems are certainly due to existential angst. Through his work, Frankl discovered that humans struggled with feelings of meaninglessness, a situation which he referred to as the existential vacuum. Logotherapy can be used to deal with a broad range of problems that are existential in nature. More specifically, logotherapy has been found tremendous in the treatment of substance abuse, posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.
This indicates the variety of contexts logotherapy can apply to. Logotherapy can be used by itself to deal with a mental health disorder, as most early psychotherapies have been used. It can additionally be used in a positive psychology context to assist human beings with no discernible mental health disorders live a life with meaning, and in turn greater levels of well-being. Logotherapy can also be used in a team or family therapy setting to help people deal with a range of stressors.
Logotherapy has recently been used to help aid students, whether it’s in the context of giving elementary school students a sense of meaning and reducing their levels of depression (Kang et al., 2013), or in the context of giving first-year University students logotherapy-based help (Mason & Nel, 2011). Logotherapy has also been used to improve the quality of life of youngsters with terminal cancer (Kang et al., 2009). Logotherapy has in addition been recommended as a treatment for trauma (Lantz, 1996).


  • Some felt he used his time in the Nazi camps as a way to promote his brand of psychotherapy, and others felt his assist came solely from spiritual leaders in the United States (indeed, he did recruit ministers and pastoral psychologists to work with him).
  • In 1961, his thoughts had been challenged by psychologist Rollo May, recognised as the founder of the existential movement in the United States, who argued that logotherapy was equal to authoritarianism, with the therapist dictating options to the patient. In this way, it was felt that the therapist diminished the patient’s accountability in discovering options to problems. It is not clear, however, whether this was a vital problem of logotherapy, or a failing of Frankl as a therapist himself, as he was once stated to be arrogant in his manner of talking to patients.

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