Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy, individual or group, wherein the focus is placed on meanings instead of feelings as a means of understanding and resolving conflicts and emotional difficulties. This form of psychotherapy was introduced by Viktor Frankl (1969). Logotherapy is the third Viennese School of psychotherapy, the predecessors being the Freudian and Adlerian Schools.
Although there is wide misconception that Frankl introduced his theory as a longtime prisoner of the Nazi concentration camps, he had introduced the core concepts of Logotherapy before his imprisonment. But there, in the concentration camps, he was able to put his theory to use. Although his entire family, except his sister, died in the camp, Frankl was not only able to find meaning in his suffering, he was able to help many other prisoners to exercise their will to freedom. When all is taken away from one — due to man-made or natural disasters — Frankl asserts to focus on “the last of human freedoms” — the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. This ultimate freedom is what we can exercise in any given situation, even in the worst conceivable one.
Frankl is well-known as the author of Man’s Search for Meaning (1969), which outlines his pioneering work pertaining to treatment of PTSD, and other existential crises. In Logotherapy or existential analysis, the human will to meaning is the core for most human behavior. In his writing, Frankl (1969, 1978), consistently points out that human beings readily sacrifice safety, security, and sexual needs for things that are meaningful for them. According to Frankl (1978), being human is being always directed and pointing to something or someone other than oneself: to a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter, a cause to serve or a person to love. Only to the extent that one is living out this self-transcendence of human existence is only truly human or does one become one’s true self.
According to Frankl (1978), each life situation is unique and the meaning of each situation must be unique. He asserts that therapists can never define what is or is not meaningful for individuals, meaning is often found in a self-transcendent encounter with the world. Just as people differ in their perceptions of trauma and in the ways that they cope with it, they also differ in the meanings they attribute to the same situation. Frankl points out that meanings and meaning potentials can be clouded, covered, and/or repressed due to a fear of responsibility, and reactive to trauma (1962). Such meaning repressions will ultimately lead to a meaning vacuum or existential vacuum. This vacuum is then filled by the development of some forms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, phobias, and compulsive sexual behavior.
Frankl is the first psychiatrist who has recognized the positive outcomes from traumatic situations. The role of the therapist within Logotherapy is to help the trauma survivor discover a unique personal meaning. Therefore, transforming the trauma pain into meaningful awareness.
Although Frankl (1978) asserted that meaning is available under any condition, even the worst conceivable one, it was very difficult for this author to believe that finding meaning was possible immediately after the devastating earthquake in Armenia. It was enlightening to see how 20% of those interviewed perceived caring for others, helping one another, and receiving help from the world as being very meaningful only six weeks after the earthquake.
The survivors in Armenia talked about a modification of attitude and found meaning through an acceptance of blind fate. They were even convinced that they were stronger, wiser, more resourceful and more experienced for having survived the quake.
In Florida, approximately 30% of those interviewed three months after Hurricane Andrew talked about the positive meanings in their lives. Some of the survivor’s responses were: “I am alive, thank God,” “I was able to help my neighbor. She was all war, her roof had caved in; mine was OK, you know,” “My friend and I stayed at the street corner and guided the traffic; there were no traffic lights functioning,” “Man, it was an experience, I made it through, forget my house and the material stuff, those are here today and gone tomorrow,” “I know now all the petty stuff is not meaningful; there are more important things in life and God made me realize it, kind of slapped me into reality.”
From Kalayjian, A. (1995). Disaster and Mass Trauma: Global Perspectives on Post Disaster Mental Health Management. Long Branch, NJ: Vista Publishing.