Research Director and Professor
Counselling Psychology Department
Trinity Western University, BC, Canada
Dr. Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) of Vienna developed logotherapy
and existential analysis in the 1930s, because of his dissatisfaction
with both Freud and Adler. Logotherapy is also known as the “Third
Viennese School of Psychotherapy”.
Dr. Frankl accepts Sigmund Freud’s concept of unconsciousness,
but considers the will to meaning as more fundamental than the
will to pleasure. Existential analysis is designed to bring to
consciousness the “hidden” meaning or spiritual dimension of the
Frankl received training in individual psychology from Adler.
Some of the basic concepts of logotherapy, such as meaning, freedom,
and responsibility, bear the imprint of Adler (1958, 1963, 1964).
A major difference between logotherapy and psychoanalysis is
that both Freud and Adler focus on the past, while “Logotherapy
focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings
to be fulfilled in his future” (Frankl, 1984, p.120).
Although logotherapy and existential analysis tend to be used
interchangeably or together as a single label, it may be helpful
to recognize the following difference between these two terms:
Logotherapy refers to Dr. Frankl’s spiritually-oriented approach
to psychotherapy. Logotherapy is in fact “a psychotherapy in spiritual
terms” (Frankl, 1986, p.10).
Existential analysis, on the other hand, refers to the analytical
therapeutic process involved in addressing the patient’s spiritual,
existential needs. “Inasmuch as logotherapy makes him aware of
the hidden logos of his existence, it is an analytical process”
(Frankl, 1984, p.125).
Logotherapy is a distinct branch of humanistic/existential school
psychotherapy, because of its focus on the human spirit and “the
meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such
a meaning (Frankl 1984, p.121). What sets Frankl apart from Rollo
May and Irvin Yalom (2000) is his unconditional affirmation of
life’s meaning. The main objective of logotherapy was to facilitate
clients’ quest for meaning and empower them to live meaningfully,
responsibly, regardless of their life circumstances.
Logotherapy was put to a severe test in a very personal way between
1942 and 1945, when Dr. Frankl was committed to Nazi concentration
camps.His experience and observation supported the main thesis
“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, 1985b, p.37).
His experience in Nazi camps was recorded in Man’s Search for
Meaning (Frankl, 1963, 1984). His personal triumph over unimaginable
trauma has been the most compelling testimony to logotherapy.
There are no other psychotherapists whose life and work are as
inseperable as Dr. Frankl’s. He is Logotherapy, and vice versa.
The spiritual dimension
It is not possible to practise logotherapy without understanding
the human spirit or the spiritual dimension of human existence.
According to Frankl’s dimensional ontology (Frankl, 1986), human
beings exist in three dimensions -- somatic, mental and spiritual.
Spirituality is the uniquely human dimension. However, these different
dimensions must be understood in their totality, because a person
is a unity in complexity.
The defiant power of the human spirit
One of the prepositions of logotherapy is that the human spirit
is our healthy core. The human spirit may be blocked by biological
or psychological sickness, but it will remain intact. The human
spirit does not get sick, even when the psychobiological organism
Part of the human spirit is the unconscious (Frank, 1969, 1986).
When it is blocked or repressed, one experiences existential vacuum
or neurosis. Existential analysis seeks to remove the block and
brings to consciousness the will to meaning.
According to Fabry (1994), the noetic dimension or the human
spirit, is the “medicine chest” (p.18) of logotherapy; it contains
love, the will to meaning, purpose, creativity, conscience, the
capacity for choice, responsibility, sense of humor, etc.
The defiant power of the human spirit (Frankl, 1965) refers to
the human capacity to tap into the spiritual part of the self
and rise about the negative effects of situations, illness or
the past. This author proposes that it may be more helpful for
scientific and therapeutic purposes to conceptualize the human
spirit as inner resources, which can come to one’s aid in coping
with life stress (Wong, 1993)
Logotherapy and religion
In his writings (1967, 1969, 1985a, 1986) Dr. Frankl differentiates
between spirit, spirituality, and religion. Spirit refers 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 clearly recognizes the importance
of religion, but is reluctant to be considered religious. He equates
authentic religion with deep spirituality (1985a)
In an interview with Matthew Scully (1995) when he was already
90, he seemed to be more explicit about the important role of
religion and faith in 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 meaning of meaning
The Greek word Logos represents the word, the will of God, the
controlling principles of the universe, or meaning. Dr. Frankl
translates logos as meaning (Fabry, 1994, p.16). Therefore, logotherapy
means healing and health through meaning. But what is meaning?
Specific vs. ultimate meaning
According to Frankl (1967, 1984, 1986) there are two levels of
meaning: (a) the present meaning, or meaning of the moment, and
(b) the ultimate meaning or super-meaning. Dr. Frankl believes
that it is more productive to address specific meaning of the
moment, of the situation, rather than talking about meaning of
life in general, because ultimate meanings exist in the supra-human
dimension, which is “hidden” from us. He cautions against addressing
ultimate meanings in therapy, unless the client is openly religious
Each individual must discover the specific meanings of the moment.
Only the individual knows the right meaning specific to the moment.
The therapist can also facilitate the quest and guide the client
to those areas in which meanings can be found (Fabry, 1994; Frankl,
Meaning vs. value
In his earlier writings (Frankl, 1963, 1967), Dr. Frank often
used meaning and value interchangeable. Fabry (1994) has clarified
the difference between meaning and value:
We create unique relationships and accept unique tasks, face
unique sufferings, experience unique guilt feelings and die a
unique death. The search for meaning is highly personal and distinct.
But millions of people have gone through situations that were
similar enough so they could react in a similar way. They found
what was meaningful in standard situations. They found universal
meanings, which is the way Frankl defines values: “meaning universals”
Therefore, values are abstract meanings based on the meaning
experiences of many, many individuals. Frankl (1967, 1986) believes
that these values can guide our search for meaning and simplify
decision-making. For example, life can be made meaningful if we
realize three categories of values -- experiential, creative and
Traditional values are the examples of the accumulation of meaning
experiences of many individuals over a long period of time. However,
these values are threatened by modernization. “Even if all universal
values disappeared, life would remain meaningful, since the unique
meanings remain untouched by the loss of traditions” (Frankl,
Implicit in all his writings, Frankl gives the impression that
values, like Kant’s categorical imperatives, are somehow universal,
from which specific meanings flow. Thus, every experience of meaning
involves the realization of some values. But these values may
lie latent and need to be awakened or cultivated through existential
analysis. This kind of reasoning may explain why Frankl (1963)
insists that “The meaning of our existence is not invented by
ourselves, but rather detected” (p157).
The logotherapeutic credo consists of freedom of will; will to
meaning and the meaning of life (Frankl 1967, 1986). These are
cornerstones of logotherapy and existential analysis.
Freedom of will
Frankl (1978) realizes that “Human freedom is finite freedom.
Man is not free from conditions. But he is free to take a stand
in regard to them. The conditions do not completely condition
him” (p.47). Although our existence is influenced by instincts,
inherited disposition and environment, an area of freedom is always
available to us. “Everything can be taken from a man, but…the
last of the human freedoms -- to choose one’s attitude in any
a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (Frankl,
1963, p.104). Therefore, we always have the freedom to take a
stand towards the restrictive conditions and transcend our fate.
Freedom of will is possible because of the human capacity for
self-distancing or self-detachment: “By virtue of this capacity
man is capable of detaching himself not only from a situation,
but also from himself. He is capable of choosing his attitude
toward himself” (Frankl, 1969, p.17).
Responsibility and responsibleness
With freedom comes responsibility. Fabry (1994) once said responsibility
without freedom is tyranny, and freedom without responsibility
leads to anarchy, which can lead to “boredom, anxiety, and neurosis”
(p.121). Frankl (1984, 1986) points out that we are responsible
not only to something but also to Someone, not only to the task,
but also to the Taskmaster.
Frankl differentiates between responsibility and responsibleness.
The former comes from possessing the freedom of will. The later
refers to exercising our freedom to make the right decisions in
meeting the demands of each situation. “Existential analysis aims
at nothing more and nothing less than leading men to consciousness
of their responsibility” (Frankl, 1986, p.275).
Will to meaning
The will to meaning is “the basic striving of man to find and
meaning and purpose” (Frankl, 1969, p.35). The will to meaning
is possible because of the human capacity to transcend one’s immediate
circumstances. “Being human is being always directed, and pointing
to, something or someone other than oneself: to a meaning to fulfil
or another human being to encounter, a cause to serve or a person
to love” (Frankl, 1978, p.35)
Self-transcendence often makes use of the power of imagination
and optimism. Self-transcendence is essential for finding happiness,
which is not the end, but the by-product of trying to forget oneself.
“Only to the extent to which man fulfils a meaning out there in
the world, does he fulfil himself” (Frank, 1978, p.38).
Meaning of life Every
meaning is unique to each person, and each one has to discover
the meaning of each particular situation for him or herself. The
therapist can only challenge and guide the patient to potential
areas of meaning: creative, experiential, and attitudinal values.
“According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life
in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed;
(2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3)
by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering” (Frankl,
Attitudinal values are especially important in situations of
unavoidable suffering. Frankl (1969) claims: “This is why life
never ceases to hold meaning, for even a person who is deprived
of both creative and experiential values is still challenged by
a meaning to fulfil, that is, by the meaning inherent in the right,
in an upright way of suffering” (p.70).
Existential frustration and noogenic neurosis
Existential frustration is a universal human experience, because
the will to meaning can be blocked by external circumstances and
internal hindrances. Existential frustration leads to noogenic
neurosis or existential vacuum. “Noogenic neuroses have their
origin not in the psychological but rather in the ‘noological’
(from the Greek noos meaning mind) dimension of human existence”
(Frankl, 1984, p.123). Therefore, logotherapy is uniquely appropriate
in dealing with existential neuroses.
Existential vacuum refers to general sense of meaninglessness
or emptiness, as evidenced by a state of boredom. It is a widespread
phenomenon of the twentieth century, as a result of industrialization,
the loss of traditional values and dehumanization of individuals.
People may experience existential vacuum without developing existential
neurosis. Many feel that life has no purpose, no challenge, no
obligation and they try to fill their existential vacuum with
materials things, pleasure, sex, or power, busy work, but they
are misguided (Frankl, 1984). “The feeling of meaninglessness
not only underlies the mass neurotic triad of today, i.e., depression-addiction-aggression,
but also may eventuate in what we logotherapists call a ‘noogenic
neurosis’” (Frankl, 1986, p.298).
Suffering and tragic triad
Suffering is not a necessary condition for meaning, but it tends
to trigger the quest for meaning. Frankl (1963, 1984, 1986) has
observed that people are willing to endure any suffering, if they
are convinced that this suffering has meaning. However, suffering
without meaning leads to despair.
Logotherapists do not ask for the reason for suffering, but guide
their clients towards the realization of concrete meanings, and
choose the right attitudes. Often, logotherapists appeal to their
clients to stake a heroic stands towards suffering, by suggesting
that unavoidable suffering gives them the opportunity to bear
witness to the human potential and dignity.
Search for meaning is more likely to be occasioned by three negative
facets of human existence: pain, guilt and death. Pain refers
to human suffering, guilt to the awareness of our fallibility
and death to our awareness of the transtoriness of life (Frankl,
1967, 1984). These negative experiences make us more aware of
our needs for meaning and spiritual aspiration. Neuroses are more
likely to originate from our attempt to obscure the reality of
pain, guilt and death as existential facts (Frankl, 1967, 1984).
Logotherapy provides an answer to the tragic triad through attitudinal
values and tragic optimism:
Logotherapeutic techniques and applications
Noogenic neurosis is regarded as the collective neurosis of contemporary
Western society (Frankl, 1986, Guttmann, 1996). The goal of logotherapy
is to enable patients to discover their unique meanings and consider
their own areas of freedom. In cases of psychogenic or individual
neurosis, which may be treated by traditional psychotherapy or
medication, logotherapy serves as a supplement and helps break
the vicious circles of neurosis.
According to Lukas (1984) the four main logotherapeutic techniques
are: paradoxical intention, de-reflection, modification of attitudes
and appealing techniques.
Paradoxical intention is defined as follows: “The 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, 1978, p.117).
This technique builds upon the human capacity for self-detachment
to break the vicious cycle, which traps people in psychogenic
neuroses, such as phobia, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
Self-attachment enables to patient to adopt a new attitude, to
stand back or laugh at the situation or self. In applying paradoxical
intention, the therapist tries “to mobilize and utilize exclusive
human capacity for humor” (Frankl, 1978, p121)
For the phobic patient, he has a “fearful expectation” that a
particular symptom might occur, and his fear creates “anticipatory
anxiety, which in turn brings about what the patient fears to
happen. Thus “fear of fear” creates a “vicious cycles” (Frankl
1978, 1986). The most common reaction to “fear of fear” is “flight
from fear”, and the phobic pattern is maintained by excessive
avoidance. This vicious cycle is broken, when “the pathogenic
fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish” (Frankl, 1969, p.103).
As a result, the patient no longer avoids situations that create
With phobic patient, paradoxical intention typically begins with
self-detachment (often after invitation and persuasion). The second
step is to ask the patient to develop a new attitude of not fearing
but welcoming the symptoms. This typically results in a reduction
of symptom, which allows therapist to work towards enhancing meaningful
In the case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the patient fights
against the obsessions or compulsions. However, the more he fights
against these symptoms, the stronger they become. Again, a vicious
cycle is created. To break this vicious cycle, the patient with
a compulsive hand washing because of fear of infection, would
be told to tell himself “I can’t get enough bacteria, I want to
become as dirty as possible.”
Paradox intention has been used with increasing frequency with
good results especially in treating clients who suffer from phobias
and obsessive-compulsive disorder (Guttmann, 1996).
Frankl (1986) developed de-reflection to counteract hyperintention
(trying too hard) and hyper-reflection (thinking too hard). Examples
of hyperintention include trying very hard to fall asleep, excessively
pursuing pleasure, happiness, or power. Addiction is a form of
Hyper-reflection involves excessively monitoring one’s performance,
and becoming very anxious about failure. Hyper-reflection may
turn everyday minor problem into catastrophes, and small obstacles
into insurmountable hurdles.
This technique is built upon the human capacity for self-distancing
and self-transcendence. Clients are asked to redirect their attention
away from their problems to more positive aspects of their lives.
For example, instead of worrying about not being able to fall
asleep, the client is asked to use the time to read a book or
Typically, the first step is to help clients to put some distance
between themselves and their symptoms. Then, they are invited
to use their defiant power of the human spirit to transcend their
present conditions and move towards positive activities. This
will result in a reduction of the symptom.
Fabry (1994) points that by immersing ourselves in work or by
choosing the right attitude, we can transcend not only external
conditions but also ourselves. The goal of de-reflection is to
help clients transcend themselves and move towards creative and
Modification of attitudes
It is used for noogenic neuroses, depression and addiction by
promoting the will to meaning. It can also be used in coping with
suffering related to circumstances, fate or illness. Generally,
the emphasis is on reframing attitudes from negative to positive.
For example, the client may be asked: “Is there anything positive
about the situation?” or “What freedom is still available to you
in this situation?”
The appealing technique
The above three logotherapeutic techniques are more likely to
be effective, when the therapist appeals to the client’s defiant
power of the human spirit. The therapist makes use of the power
of suggestion and directly appeals to the client to change for
the better, regardless of the client’s current circumstances,
and physical/ emotional condition. The therapist expresses trust
in the client’s dignity, freedom, responsibility, meaning-orientation,
and potential for positive change.
Frankl (1984) claims that “Logotherapy is neither teaching nor
preaching. It is far removed from logical reasoning as it is from
moral exhortation” (p.132). However, appealing often involves
exhortation on the value of taking a heroic stand against suffering.
For example, a nurse suffered from an inoperable tumor, and experienced
despair because of her incapacity to work. Dr. Frankl tried to
appeal to her sense of pride and moral obligation to her patients:
“I tried to explain to her that to work eight or ten hours per
day is no great thing -- many people can do that But to be as
eager to work as, and so incapable of work, and yet not despair
-- that would be as achievement few could attain. And then I asked
her: “Are you not being unfair to all those sick people to whom
you have dedicated you life; are you not being unfair to act now
as if the life of an invalid were without meaning? If you behave
as if the meaning of our life consisted in being able to work
so many hours a day, you rake away from all sick people the right
to live and the justification for their existence” (Frankl, 1986,
The Socratic dialogue
In Socratic dialogue, the therapist facilitates the client’s
discovery of meaning, freedom and responsibility by challenging
and questioning. The dialogue may begin with a struggle between
client and therapist, but should never become negative.
According to Welter (1987): “Socratic questions need to be asked
that stretch the thinking of the client. This requires careful
listening to find the circumference of the client’s thought.”(p.69).
Another consideration is that counsellors need to know the moment
when silence is more curative. Often silence occurs when the clients
reflect on the deeper meanings of words from the counsellors.
It is designed to help the client family discover the meaning
opportunities within the family through social skills training,
Socratic questioning and existential reflection (Lantz, 1992,
1996). Meaning-centred family therapy helps the family focus on
meaningful goals rather than the obstacles; consequently, family
members learn to overcome the obstacles in order to pursue meaningful
goals (Lukas, 1991).
The therapist-client relationship in logotherapy
Frankl (1986) tends to emphasize partnership between therapist
and client in the quest for meaning. According to Lantz (1986),
logotherapeutic practice is based on the following assumptions:
(a) commitment to authentic communication by the therapist, (b)
the therapists’ communication of essential humanness, and c) the
therapist’s ultimate concern being similar to that to the clients.
In the past 15 years, Dr. Frankl’s classic logotherapy has been
elaborated and extended by Alfried Längle and the International
Association of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (Gesellschaft
fur Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse). This Viennese society (GLE-Wien)
is parallel to the Viktor-Frankl-Institut – Scientific Society
for Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft
für Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse), also in Vienna.
According to Längle (1999, 2000), existential analysis is now
a full-fledged psychotherapeutic method, of which Dr. Frankl’s
logotherapy is considered its subsidiary branch. Dr. Längle has
applied existential analysis to cases of psychosocial, psychosomatic
and psychogenic disturbances.
Dr. Längle recognizes four fundamental preconditions for meaningful
existence: (a) Accept the situation, (b) Find some positive value
in the situation, (c) Respond according to one’s own conscience,
(d) Recognize the specific demands of the situation.
He also postulates four types of fundamental human motivations:
(1) The question of existence: I am, but can I become a “whole”
person? Do I have the necessary space, support and protection?
(2) The question of life: I am alive, but do I enjoy it? Do I
find it fulfilling? Do I experience a sense of abundance, love,
and realization of values?
(3) The question of the person: I am myself, but am I free to
be myself? Do I experience validation, respect and recognition
of my own worth?
(4) The question of existential meaning: I am here, but for what
purpose, for what good?
Dr. Längle has developed additional methods, such as the biographical
method of using phenomenological analysis to overcome unresolved
past issues and the project analysis to elucidate areas that have
proved to be a hindrance to one’s life.
Joseph B. Fabry (1994) was largely responsible for introducing
logotherapy to North America. He has influenced the development
of integrative meaning-centred counselling and therapy (MCCT)
(Wong, 1997, 1998 a,b,c , 1999 a, b). MCCT integrates cognitive-behavioural
and narrative processes; it is a scientifically based, full-fledged
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