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finding meaning in suffering

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This post relates to yesterday’s item on recovery from traumatic experiences.


Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) developed his theory and therapy from first-hand experiences in Nazi concentration camps where his wife, parents, and other relatives perished. Watching who did and did not survive, he concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.


He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning. It is this last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other meanings are never far off. Comparing himself with the two other great Viennese psychiatrists, he suggested that Freud essentially saw a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power. 


Logotherapy builds on a will to meaning.In traditional psychology, Frankl suggests, we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension. Instead, or in addition, we should pay attention to where tension is necessary for health, at least when it comes to meaning. People desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! The aim of logotherapy is to balance the physiological with the spiritual as a significant step towards effective treatment. 

For a fuller description, click here. See also editorial and readers’ comments on Frankl’s pivotal book Man’s search for meaning.

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