What is Logotherapy?

Logotherapy is both a philosophy for living and a method employed in psychotherapy and counselling. Logotherapy is Dr. Viktor Frankl's school of thought. Frankl is the famous author of Man's Search for Meaning, a book on his triumphant survival of the Nazi concentration and death camps.

Healing Through Meaning

"Logos" is derived from the Greek word for "meaning", and Logotherapy translates literally as "to heal through meaning".

Clinical psychologists, professional counsellors, social workers, and trauma and lay counsellors have all reported that clients that they have worked with, sometimes for years, underwent a dramatic and profound change after a logotherapeutic approach was used in therapy and counselling. The different methods and techniques employed in Logotherapy powerfully evoke a client's dormant, overlooked and perhaps even smothered will-to-meaning in life.

As human beings we have been given the freedom of thought, choice and action to seek, find and realise meaning in our lives. There is more to life than meets the eye. If we miss experiencing this higher dimension in life, we can be overwhelmed by all sorts of emotional problems which result in feelings of despair, depression, cynicism and fatalism. We can fall mentally ill. Life can seem senseless, and happiness all too fleeting. To counteract a sense of futility in light of the tragedies that befall us, and in the face of the world's violence, lawlessness, corruption, oppression and flagrant disrespect for human life and dignity, we need a radical change in terms of attitude and action. We need to feel we can take a stand for the good, and with our right attitude and actions make a difference in the world. We need to realise that our lives are meant to add value to the lives of others. We must embrace the fact—and deeply believe—that we are needed, and that our lives have a purpose. With these kinds of convictions, everything changes face and takes on new meaning.

Logotherapy has the most powerful effect on our lives because it challenges us with responsibility—a state of active and committed involvement with our worlds.

Logotherapy is, in effect, attitude modulation. Through its provocative methods and techniques, clients are helped to see things differently and to have a radical change of attitude to life. Instilled in them is the conviction that they can live a life of purpose, direction, significance and impact. They have a task or mission in life!

Become what you are meant to be.

Searching for Life's Purpose

Our calling in life is inherently given, something we fundamentally experience ourselves to be, that we feel a deep and profound kinship with. It is also something that comes to us that confronts us through our lives. As a deep and rich potential talent, peculiar abilities, gifts, this spectrum of who I most fundamentally am, or sense myself to be, is also what I feel called upon to become. — Teria Shantall

Meaning in life is found on a spiritual level of being. As human beings, we are essentially spiritual creatures. We seek meaning in life, and feel complete only when we live with a sense of purpose and destiny.

We need to live on a higher plane of being than that of mere existence and the mindless struggle with the complex problems of human existence. If we miss the experience of this higher dimension in life we can become overwhelmed by physical and psychological afflictions.

Difficult or unhappy circumstances then become too much to bear. We can sink into a state of meaninglessness and despair. We need to feel called in life. We need to feel that our lives are meant to be, and that we have a life's vocation, something unique and special to give to the world. We want to feel that our lives make a difference, that we add something of value to the lives of others, and that we are needed.

This is what gives us a deep sense of self-worth—a conviction that we are loved for who we are. With such a conviction, everything changes and takes on new meaning. We have a task (or mission) in life! It is here that Logotherapy has the most powerful effect on our lives, since it challenges us with responsibility—a state of active and committed involvement in life.

Meaning is our Strongest Motivation

Viktor Frankl asserted that three facts are fundamental to human experience—freedom of will, the will-to-meaning, and the meaning of life. Man lives in a world, which like himself, is unique. It is a world filled with other beings to encounter and meanings to fulfill.

Freedom of will is proposed in contrast to philosophies of determinism; the will-to-meaning is emphasised in contrast to motivational theories based on homeostasis; and meaning in life is affirmed in contrast to systems of reductionism.

The Basic Principles of Logotherapy

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

The Essence of Human Existence

Frankl maintained that responsibleness is the essence of human existence. We have something or someone to live for, a cause to serve, a mission to fulfil. We can rise to any challenge for the sake of something more than ourselves. We can overcome any difficulty, face up to any problem, and bear every distress, hardship and pain.

It is in this regard that Logotherapy is the most positive of all therapies, because it addresses the negative and tragic issues of life—not as lamentable afflictions we are all doomed to suffer, but as tasks we are challenged to embrace and overcome in a spiritually mature and victorious way for the sake of some higher purpose in life.

This is how we find ourselves, and become what we have been created to be. It is how we grow in human stature and how we fulfil our unique and commissioned destinies in life. It is how we fulfil our life’s vocation. In becoming what we are meant to be, we enjoy, in ever greater measure, a sense of harmony and inner peace. We are no longer the victims of the self-inflictions of insecurity and helplessness, nor are we overwhelmed by feelings of inferiority and a lack of self-worth. Instead, we live in an inspired and goal-directed way.

Our happiness is no longer fleeting. The joys of life are ours, without anything or anybody capable of spoiling or taking it away from us! By living in this way, we experience life in its fullness. This is what Frankl meant by the unconditional meaningfulness of life. Each and every life can be meaningful if the call to take responsible control of it is answered.

A Complement to Psychotherapy and Counselling

Logotherapy is officially recognised as a school of psychotherapy by the American Medical Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.

Mental health and emotional well-being, in this more optimal sense of the word, makes Logotherapy a most necessary complement to other schools or methods of psychotherapy and counselling. Logotherapy completes the picture! Clinical psychologists, professional counsellors, social workers, and trauma and lay counsellors have all reported that clients they have worked with, sometimes for years, underwent a dramatic and profound change after a logotherapeutic approach was employed in therapy and counselling.

The Will-to-Meaning

Viktor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy, contended that the will-to-meaning is the deepest and most fundamental motivation of every person. This has proven to be TRUE. There is no greater healing possible than healing through meaning!

Logotherapy, as a philosophy of life or as a life orientation, and as the very art of meaningful living, has far greater ramifications than therapy and counselling. Logotherapy speaks to everyone, in every situation, and at any time. Our world is in need of healing. We need to find meaning and purpose in life, and to be freed from of a state of victimisation. We need to be lifted out of the afflictions and bondages of a savage or sub-human existence. This has become the most urgent need of our times.

Abraham Maslow, the well-known humanistic psychologist, summed it up:

Without the Transpersonal and the Transcendent, we become apathetic, nihilistic, sick and violent. We need something bigger than we are to be awed by and commit ourselves to.

There is indisputable value in training any person, layman or mental health professional, first in finding greater meaning in their own lives, and by way of example, assisting others to do the same. Our courses in Logotherapy offer such training!

Meaning is Discovered Outside of Ourselves

If we have nothing and no-one to live for, nothing meaningful to give to the world, if we have no greater cause than our own interests to serve, we are overcome with a sense of futility and our lives remain empty.

Meaning Can be Discovered in Three Ways

  • Creative values or what one gives to the world in terms of one's own positive contributions and creations. They are more or less the active processes of life: working, producing, creating an artistic work, giving help to others, writing a great novel or taking care of a family.
  • Experiential values or what one takes from the world in terms of one's encounters and experience. Experiential values are realised when a person becomes sensitive and receptive to the truth and beauty. This requires an openness to the world as man engages in dialogue with the world of people and things.
  • Attitudinal values or the attitude one takes to a specific predicament or unchangeable fate or the stand one takes towards an unchangeable aspect of one's existence.

As human beings, we have freedom of will. We are not the helpless victims of bad circumstances. We can transcend these circumstances and change them. We have the capacity of thought which enables us to think things through and decide whether something is meaningful or senseless, right or wrong, constructive or destructive. We also have a conscience which provides a consciousness of right and wrong and allows us to take responsible action. Human freedom, therefore, is the freedom of responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is something arbitrary, senseless and either leaves us directionless, or can lead to irresponsible, lawless, immoral, violent or self-destructive ways of living.

All of life can be meaningful. It can be realised in every situation and is nowhere more powerfully manifested than in the way we overcome difficulties and hardships, face suffering, or bear witness to the faith we have in good triumphing over evil, however long it takes and however much is asked of us in the process. Our triumph is that we are living our lives as they are meant to be lived, every day and in every way.

Applying Logotherapy

Frankl implored people not to make a guru out of him, but rather to take his work and grow and develop it and let it touch people's lives in a real way. Logotherapy is used in many practical ways, including empowering teenagers to live a meaningful life, helping people survive retrenchment, and bringing meaning and purpose to one's own life in order to promote wellness.

Modern Times

We live in tense times earmarked by threat and insecurity. The lack of freedom and personal choice in so many totalitarian regimes with their extremes of fanaticism and oppression on the one hand, and on the other hand, a free-for-all lack of responsibility and sound value systems in much of the free world and in South Africa today, have created an all-pervading sense of emptiness or meaninglessness in our world.

This void, or existential vacuum, leads to a frantic search for power which finds expression in the violence, terrorism, crime and lawlessness we witness in much of our world. A lack of purpose in life also gives rise to a senseless lust after pleasure resulting in addictions, sexual immorality and materialistic greed. The despair of finding any enduring meaning in life leads to mental illness, depression and suicide. The need to find meaning and purpose in life has therefore become the most urgent need of our times.

Frankl contended that as human beings we have a basic need to find meaning in our lives and that this will-to-meaning is a central component in spiritual fulfillment, emotional well-being and mental health. A survivor of four Nazi concentration camps, Frankl gave credence to the primary premise of Logotherapy—that we are meant to be victors over our own lives, rather than helpless victims of whatever each of us is uniquely exposed to.

Logotherapy teaches that we have been given the freedom and ability, and therefore the responsibility, to overcome evil with good. We are here to take a victorious stand against every negative thing in life, whether it be in ourselves (with wrong inclinations and negative emotions that we act upon to the detriment of ourselves and hurt of others and that we are challenged to correct and change), or outside ourselves (with difficult, hurtful or tragic situations that we are challenged to deal with in a mature and morally exemplary way). As we do so, we become what we have been created to be or are meant to be, each in our own irreplaceable and ordained places in life. Fulfilling our destinies in this way, we experience the highest and most optimal state of mental health. Knowing how to attain and experience meaning in life, we become powerful instruments of healing and sources of inspiration, encouragement and blessing to others. This call to responsibility is a call made to everyone.