Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 1

I finished reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning on the bus yesterday. The second section of the book is an essay entitled “Logotherapy in a Nutshell” wherein Frankl expands on his therapeutic technique. “Logotherapy,” writes Frankl, “is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.” (104) Logos can be translated from the Greek as meaning and as such can be explained as a therapeutic technique in which the patient illuminates and confronts their existence and its meaning. It is also a future focused therapy; logotherapy seeks out and cultivates “the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future.” (104) The patient is brought face to face with their ‘existential vacuum’ after which they must grapple with and reconfigure the meaning of their life. Recognizing the meaning of their life, or particular situations, can essentially break up their depression, anxiety, or other neuroses that are often simply reinforced by other therapeutic techniques through “vicious circle formations and feedback mechanisms.” (104)

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor.

Some key points of logotherapy.

  • Logotherapy sees the “will to meaning” as the greatest motivating characteristic of human life (in contrast the Freudian will to pleasure or Adlerian will to power). (104) The will to meaning is the “primary motivation” of one’s existence. (105)
  • Existential frustration is another way of saying that humans are often exasperated by their lack of meaningful existence. Frankl defines existential as “the specifically human mode of being,” “the meaning of existence,” and “the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence,” (i.e. the will to meaning). (106)
  • A sense of a meaningless existence is not a mental disorder but an existential distress (could we perhaps call it an existential disorder?). (107)
  • Logotherapy’s main purpose is to assist the patient in undergoing their individual process of finding meaning for their life. Logotherapy sees the will to meaning as the basic human concern. (107)
  • Meaning makes life possible in all of its glories and depths of suffering. Frankl quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to lie for can bear almost any how.” (108)
  • Frankl ardently argues against the assumption that one needs to find balance, or equilibrium, a tensionless state, in order to find fulfillment. “Mental hygiene,” as he calls it, often begins with this assumption borrowed from the biological concept of homeostasis. In fact, what humans really need in order to be healthy is not a lack of tension, but a presence of tension. Humans need “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” The aim at creating balance defers the responsibility of the individual to do the hard work of living. (110)
  • This concept of tension is called noö-dynamics: “the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole is represented by a man who has to fulfill it.” (110)
  • Frankl moves on to talk about the existential vacuum which I discuss in this previous post.
  • Meaning is transitory; it changes with the hours of the day and experiences of life: “What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” (113)
  • A totalizing, universal, unchanging, and abstract meaning of life is a myth. Meaning is unique to the individual and also to the individual’s daily life. (113)
  • The human is subject to a question proposed by life itself: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” (113-114)
  • Logotherapy stresses individual responsibility for life. The responsibility of the individual for their own life is accentuated by the finiteness and finality of life. You only get to do this life once. (114)
  • The logotherapist will never let a patient attempt to transfer the responsibility of transformation onto someone else (including the logotherapist himself). (114)
  • “Logotherapy is neither teaching nor preaching.” Instead, the logotherapist enables the patient to see life from new and different perspectives. The logotherapist assists the patient in “widening and broadening” his or her “visual field…so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to [them].” (114)
  • Logotherapy assumes that meaning is not discovered “within man or his own psyche, as though it were a a closed system” but in the world. This is called “the self-transcendence of human existence.” (115)
  • Self-transcendence means that to be a fully human being is to be oriented towards something or someone other than one’s self, “be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.” (115)
  • “The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.” (115)
  • How is meaning discovered outside of the self? There are three different possibilities: “by creating a work or doing a deed;” “by experiencing something or encountering someone;” “by an attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.” (115)
  • On the way of encountering the Other, Frankl writes that “Love is the only way to  grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” (116)
  • On the way of suffering, Frankl proposes that even in the most hopeless experiences of life, one can still find meaning. Human beings have the potentiality to transform and transfigure situations that are seemingly meaningless, such as the Holocaust, into opportunities for new life and new meaning. Suffering is the site of natality. (116)
  • But it is important to realize that “in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning.” If suffering can be averted or ended then that one must work to change the situation. Otherwise, to think that suffering is a requirement for meaning is simply to be a masochist. (117)

2 thoughts on “Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 1

  1. Pingback: Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 2 | Until I have passed by.

  2. Pingback: Richard Katzev & Ryan Schutt on our greatest modern therapist Viktor Frankl | Curtis Narimatsu

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