“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
— Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
Definition of Logotherapy: Healing through meaning (Greek)
What it is: A concept based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life – a type of traditional psychotherapy that focuses on helping people to become more aware of what makes their life meaningful, so that they can overcome the obstacles affecting their quality of life more easily.
How it was developed: Logotherapy developed by neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, prior to his imprisonment in the concentration camp at Auschwitz at age 37. During his time observing the atrocities of the camps and the ways in which human beings endured, responded, and reacted to grueling treatment, his theory was confirmed: that those who were oriented toward a meaning to be fulfilled were more likely to survive.
Core principles of Logotherapy
- Each person is a unique and irreplaceable human being whose existence is characterized by freedom of choice, personal responsibility, and a human spirit.
- There are three basic concepts:
- Freedom of Will – We are free to choose how we respond to life and are personally responsible for our choices.
- Will to Meaning – We are motivated to find meaning and when this search is thwarted we experience existential frustration and feelings of meaninglessness.
- Meaning of Life – We are called moment-to-moment to answer the demands that life places on us. The focus is not on what we feel we deserve from life, but rather what our responsibility is to give to life. We have the ability and the ultimate necessity to self-transcend in order to improve humanity.
- There are vast resources to the human spirit, which is what distinguishes us from other mammals. We are more than just a mind and body, we all have a (nonreligious) spiritual or “noetic” dimension. The resources available to us include:
- the ability to learn from our mistakes–allowing us to adapt to new circumstances;
- our sense of humor–putting our failings into perspective;
- our conscience–giving us the ability to take a stand for things we believe in or against things we think are wrong;
- the ability to love others–helping us move beyond ourselves; and
- our passion for a cause–allowing us the potential to create change in the world.
- Meaning can be found through:
- Creations (creating a work or doing a deed) – essentially what we put out into the world.
- Experiences (goodness, truth, beauty, nature, culture, being loved) – essentially what we take from the world.
- Attitudes – essentially how we view the world.
- Being human involves exposure to what Frankl called, the tragic triad of life, which is comprised of unavoidable guilt, suffering, and death. In these circumstances, meaning can still be derived from the attitude we take toward the situation.
- Dereflection: Dereflection is used when a person is overly self-absorbed on an issue or attainment of a goal. By redirecting the attention, or dereflecting the attention away from the self, the person can become whole by thinking about others rather than themselves.
- Paradoxical intention: Paradoxical intention involves asking for the thing we fear the most. For people who experience anxiety or phobias, fear can paralyze them. But by using humor and ridicule, they can wish for the thing they fear the most, thus removing the fear from their intention and relieving the anxious symptoms associated with it.
- Socratic dialogue: Socratic dialogue is a technique in which the logotherapist uses the own person's words as a method of self-discovery. By listening intently to what the person says, the therapist can point out specific patterns of words, or word solutions to the client, and let the client see new meaning in them. This process allows a person to realize that the answer lies within and is just waiting to be discovered.
Applications in which Logotherapy is used today: A variety of use cases – anxiety, grief, depression, pain, and addiction.