The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (Meridian S)

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9780452010345: The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (Meridian S)

From the author of Man's Search for Meaning, one of the most influential works of psychiatric literature since Freud.

"Perhaps the most significant thinker since Freud and Adler," said The American Journal of Psychiatry about Europe's leading existential psychologist, the founder of logotherapy.

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About the Author:

Viktor E. Frankl was the former Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and Distinguished Professor of Logotherapy at the U.S. International University. He was the founder of what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy (after Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology) -- the school of logotherapy.
Born in 1905, Dr. Frankl received the degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Vienna. During World War II he spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps.

Dr. Frankl first published in 1924 in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and has since published twenty-six books, which have been translated into nineteen languages, including Japanese and Chinese. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Duquesne and Southern Methodist Universities. Honorary Degrees have been conferred upon him by Loyola University in Chicago, Edgecliff College, Rockford College and Mount Mary College, as well as by universities in Brazil and Venezuela. He has been a guest lecturer at universities throughout the world and has made fifty-one lecture tours throughout the United States alone. He is President of the Austrian Medical Society of Psychotherapy.He died in Vienna at the age of 92.

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VIKTOR E. FRANKL was professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. For twenty-five years he was head of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic. His “Logotherapy/Existential Analysis” came to be known as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.” He held professorships at Harvard, Stanford, Dallas, and Pittsburgh, and was Distinguished Professor of Logotherapy at the U.S. International University in San Diego, California.

Born in 1905, Frankl received the degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Vienna. During World War II he spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other concentration camps.

Throughout four decades Dr. Frankl made innumerable lecture tours throughout the world. He received honorary degrees from twenty-nine universities in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. He held numerous awards, among them the Oskar Pfister Award of the American Psychiatric Association and an Honorary Membership of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Frankl’s thirty-nine books appeared in forty languages. His book Man’s Search for Meaning has sold millions of copies and has been listed among “the ten most influential books in America” according to a survey conducted by the Book of the Month Club and the Library of Congress.

He died in Vienna in 1997.



Expanded Edition



This book is the outcome of a series of lectures I was invited to give during the 1966 summer session of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The particular task assigned to me at that time was to explain the system that characterizes logotherapy. While it has often been pointed out by various authors that logotherapy, in contrast to the other schools of existential psychiatry, has developed a proper psychotherapeutic technique, it has scarcely been noticed that it also is the last psychotherapy that is conceptualized in a systematic way.1

Dealing with the foundations of the system, the chapters of this book set forth the basic assumptions and tenets underlying logotherapy. They form a chain of links interconnected with one another, in that logotherapy is based on the following three concepts: (1) the freedom of will; (2) the will to meaning; and (3) the meaning of life. (1) The freedom of will involves the issue of determinism versus pan-determinism. (2) The will to meaning is discussed as distinct from the concepts of the will to power and the will to pleasure as they are presented by Adlerian and Freudian psychology, respectively. To be sure, the term, will to power, was coined by Nietzsche rather than Adler, and the term, will to pleasure—standing for Freud’s pleasure principle—is my own and not Freud’s. Moreover, the pleasure principle should be seen in the light of a broader concept, the homeostasis principle.2 While criticizing both concepts, we shall have to elaborate on logotherapy’s motivational theory. (3) The meaning of life relates to the issue of relativism versus subjectivism.

The applications of logotherapy discussed in this book are also threefold. First of all, logotherapy is applicable as a treatment of noogenic neuroses; second, logotherapy is a treatment of psychogenic neuroses, i.e., neuroses in the conventional sense of the word; and third, logotherapy is a treatment of somatogenic neuroses or, for that matter, somatogenic diseases in general. As we see, all the dimensions of a human being are reflected in this sequence of subject matters.

In the introductory chapter of this book, logotherapy is placed in perspective with other schools of psychotherapy, and, specifically, with existentialism in the field of psychotherapy. The last chapter deals with the dialogue between logotherapy and theology.

I have tried in this book to include the latest development of logotherapy with respect to both the formulation of the individual tenets and the material serving as an illustration. However, the attempt to offer a rounded picture of the whole system compels me to include some material which has been used in my previous books.3

What I term the existential vacuum constitutes a challenge to psychiatry today. Ever more patients complain of a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness, which seems to me to derive from two facts. Unlike an animal, man is not told by instincts what he must do. And unlike man in former times, he is no longer told by traditions what he should do. Often he does not even know what he basically wishes to do. Instead, either he wishes to do what other people do (conformism), or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).

I hope that I shall be successful in conveying to the reader my conviction that, despite the crumbling of traditions, life holds a meaning for each and every individual, and even more, it retains this meaning literally to his last breath. And the psychiatrist can show his patient that life never ceases to have a meaning. To be sure, he cannot show his patient what the meaning is, but he may well show him that there is a meaning, and that life retains it: that it remains meaningful, under any conditions. As logotherapy teaches, even the tragic and negative aspects of life, such as unavoidable suffering, can be turned into a human achievement by the attitude which a man adopts toward his predicament. In contrast to most of the existentialist schools of thought, logotherapy is in no way pessimistic; but it is realistic in that it faces the tragic triad of human existence: pain, death, and guilt. Logotherapy may justly be called optimistic, because it shows the patient how to transform despair into triumph.

In an age such as ours, in which traditions are on the wane, psychiatry must see its principal assignment in equipping man with the ability to find meaning. In an age in which the Ten Commandments seem to many people to have lost their unconditional validity, man must learn to listen to the ten thousand commandments implied in the ten thousand situations of which his life consists. In this respect I hope the reader will find that logotherapy speaks to the needs of the hour.


Vienna, Austria


The Situation of Psychotherapy and the Position of Logotherapy

The present situation of psychotherapy is characterized by the rise of existential psychiatry. In fact, one could speak of an inoculation of existentialism in psychiatry as a major contemporary trend. But in speaking of existentialism we must bear in mind that there are as many existentialisms as there are existentialists. Moreover, not only has each existentialist molded his own version of the philosophy, but also each uses the nomenclature differently from the way others use it. For example, such terms as existence and Dasein have meanings deviating from each other in the writings of Jaspers and Heidegger.

Nonetheless, the individual authors in the field of existential psychiatry have something in common—a common denominator. It is the phrase so often used by these authors—and all too often misused by them: “being in the world.” One gets the impression that many of these authors think it is a sufficient credential to be considered a true existentialist if they apply the phrase “being in the world” time and again. I doubt that this is a sufficient ground for calling oneself an existentialist, particularly since, as could easily be demonstrated, in most cases Heidegger’s concept of being in the world is misconceived in the direction of mere subjectivism—as though “the world” in which a human being “is” were nothing but a self-expression of the being himself. I venture to criticize this widespread misconception only because, as it happens, I once had an opportunity to discuss it in personal conversation with Martin Heidegger himself, and found that he agreed with me.

Misunderstandings in the field of existentialism may be understood easily. The terminology is sometimes esoteric, to say the least. About thirty years ago, I had to give a public lecture on psychiatry and existentialism in Vienna. I confronted my audience with two quotations and told them that one was taken from Heidegger’s writings while the other was part of a conversation that I had had with a schizophrenic patient institutionalized in Vienna’s state hospital where I was then on the staff. And then I invited my audience to vote on which one was whose. Believe it or not, an overwhelming majority thought that the passage quoted from Heidegger was the utterance of a schizophrenic patient and vice versa. However, we must not draw rash conclusions from the result of this experiment. By no means does it speak against the greatness of Heidegger—and let us take it for granted that he is as great as many experts believe. Rather it speaks against the capacity of everyday language to express thoughts and feelings hitherto unknown—be they revolutionary ideas created by a great philosopher, or strange feelings experienced by a schizophrenic individual. What unites them is a crisis of expression, as it were, and elsewhere I have shown that something analogous holds for the modern artist (see my book, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, Selected Papers on Logotherapy, Washington Square Press, New York, 1967, the chapter on “Psychotherapy, Art and Religion”).

As to the position of the method I have called logotherapy, which is the subject of this book, most authors agree that it falls under the category of existential psychiatry. In fact, as early as the thirties I coined the word Existenzanalyse as an alternative name for logotherapy, which I had coined in the twenties. Later on, when American authors started publishing in the field of logotherapy they introduced the term “existential analysis” as a translation of Existenzanalyse. Unfortunately, other authors did the same with the word Daseinsanalyse—a term which, in the forties, had been selected by the late Ludwig Binswanger, the great Swiss psychiatrist, to denote his own teachings. Since then existential analysis has become quite an ambiguous word. In order not to add to the confusion which had been aroused by this state of affairs, I decided to refrain more and more from using the term existential analysis in my publications in English. Often I speak of logotherapy even in a context where no therapy in the strict sense of the word is involved. What I call medical ministry, for example, forms an important aspect of the practice of logotherapy but it is indicated precisely in those cases where actual therapy is impossible because the patient is confronted with an incurable disease. Yet, in the widest possible sense, logotherapy is treatment even then—it is treatment of the patient’s attitude toward his unchangeable fate.

Logotherapy has not only been subsumed under the heading of existential psychiatry but has also been acclaimed, within this province, as the only school which has succeeded in developing what one might be justified in calling a technique. However, this is not to say that we logotherapists overrate the importance of techniques. One has long ago come to realize that what matters in therapy is not techniques but rather the human relations between doctor and patient, or the personal and existential encounter.

A purely technological approach to psychotherapy may block its therapeutic effect. Some time ago I was invited to lecture at an American university before a team of psychiatrists who had been assigned the care of the evacuees after a hurricane. I not only accepted this invitation but even selected the title, “Techniques and Dynamics of Survival,” a title that obviously pleased the sponsors of my lecture. But when I started this lecture I frankly told them that as long as we actually interpret our task merely in terms of techniques and dynamics we have missed the point—and we have missed the hearts of those to whom we wish to offer mental first aid. Approaching human beings merely in terms of techniques necessarily implies manipulating them, and approaching them merely in terms of dynamics implies reifying them, making human beings into mere things. And these human beings immediately feel and notice the manipulative quality of our approach and our tendency to reify them. I would say, reification has become the original sin of psychotherapy. But a human being is no thing. This no-thingness, rather than nothingness, is the lesson to learn from existentialism.

When, on the occasion of another lecture tour, I was asked to address the prisoners at San Quentin I was assured, afterward, that in a way it was the first time they really felt understood. What I had done was nothing so extraordinary. I had simply taken them as human beings and not mistaken them for mechanisms to repair. I had interpreted them in the same way they had interpreted themselves all along, that is to say, as free and responsible. I had not offered them a cheap escape from guilt feelings by conceiving of them as victims of biological, psychological, or sociological conditioning processes. Nor had I taken them as helpless pawns on the battleground of id, ego, and superego. I had not provided them with an alibi. Guilt had not been taken away from them. I had not explained it away. I had taken them as peers. They learned that it was a prerogative of man to become guilty—and his responsibility to overcome guilt.

What did I implement when addressing the prisoners at San Quentin if not phenomenology in the truest sense? In fact, phenomenology is an attempt to describe the way in which man understands himself, in which he interprets his own existence, far from preconceived patterns of interpretation and explanation such as are furnished by psychodynamic or socioeconomic hypotheses. In adopting the phenomenological methodology, logotherapy, as Paul Polak1 once put it, tries to couch man’s unbiased self-understanding in scientific terms.

Let me again take up the issue of technique versus encounter. Psychotherapy is more than mere technique in that it is art, and it goes beyond pure science in that it is wisdom. But even wisdom is not the last word. In a concentration camp I once saw the body of a woman who had committed suicide. Among her effects there was a scrap of paper on which she had written the words: “More powerful than fate is the courage that bears it.” Despite this motto she had taken her life. Wisdom is lacking without the human touch.

Recently, I received a telephone call at three in the morning from a lady who told me that she was determined to commit suicide but was curious to know what I would say about it. I replied with all the arguments against this resolution and for survival, and I talked to her for thirty minutes—until she finally gave her word that she would not take her life but rather come to see me in the hospital. But when she visited me there it turned out that not one of all the arguments I offered had impressed her. The only reason she had decided not to commit suicide was the fact that, ra...

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