Viktor Frankl: Existentialist and the Father of Logotherapy

Back Ground and Development

Being a former student of Freud, Viktor Frankl has a psycholanalyical orientation, however, he was influenced by the writing of existential philosophers like Heidegger, Scheler, and Jaspers. Frankl begin to develop his own existential philosophy and therapeutic technique. To avoid confusion with Bingswanger’s existential analysis, Frankl coined the term Logotherapy. According to Frankl, Logotherapy proceeds from the spirtual, while existential analysis proceeds toward the spirtual.

Frankl first book was published in 1946 in the German language and translated into English in 1959, under the title From Death Camp to Existentialism. This book was later revised to include the basic concepts of Logotherapy, and re-distributed in 1962, under the title Man’s Search for Meaning.

Philosophy and Concepts

Frankl believes that even under the extreme physical and psychological stress of the concentration camp man can preserve his spiritual freedom of independence of mind. He can decide what shall become of him mentally and sparitually. It is this sparitual freedom that cannot be taken away. Furthermore, according to Frankl, if there is meaning to life there is also meaning to suffering, since suffering, like death, is an inescapable part of life.

The Nature of the Person

The individual is a unity consisting of three aspects: the body, the mind, and the sparit. The first two are closely related and together form the psychophysicum through the teaching of Freud, Adler, and Jung we have a working understanding of the mind and body, but have neglected the spiritual side of human dimension. Logotherapy focus on this third dimension, the spiritual man. Spirituality is the chief attribute of the individual, and from it derives conscience, love, and aesthetic conscience. The second characteristics of human existence is freedom. Being human, is being able to decide. Man is free to decide what he will be in the next instant. Freedom means freedom on three levels: the instant, the inherited disposition, and the environment. True, human being are influence by all these factors, but they are free to accept or reject and to take a stand toward these conditions.

Man does not simply exist, he decides what his existence will be. Since man can rise above biological, psychological, and sociological conditions, on which predictions are based, they are individually unpredictable. The third factor of individual existence is responsibility. The individual’s freedom is not only freedom from but freedom to something, and this according to Frankl, is the individual’s responsibilities. Logotherapy tries to make the client fully aware of his/her own responsibilities; they must decide for what, to what or to whom, they understand to be responsible.


The primary motivation is the individual is not the will to pleasure or the will to power, but the will to meaning. It is this that most deeply inspires man, that is the most human phenomenon of all, since an animal certainly never worries about the meaning of its existence. Meaning is not invented by human being, but is discovered by them. Man gives meaning to their lives by realizing creative values, by achieving tasks. Human being realize values by their attitudes toward destained, or inescapable suffering.

These are attitudinal values and the possibility for their realization exist until the last moment of life, suffering thus has meaning. The will to meaning is not a driving force in the psychodynamic sense. Values of itself does not drive a man, they do not push him, but rather pull him. They involve choices or decisions, man is not driven to moral behavior; in each instance he decides to behave morally. He does so for the sake of a cause in which he commits himself, or for a person he loves or for the sake of his God.

The Existential Vacum and Existential Frustration

This existential vacum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. For example, the Sunday Neurosis the kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the emptiness of their lives once the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves become manifest. Existential frustrations is the frustration of the will to meaning. This frustration is sometime vicariously compensated for by a will to power or by the will to pleasure. Often existential frustration result in sexual compensation. We can observe that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacum.

Existential frustration is not pathological or pathogenic, not every conflict is necessary neurotic, suffering is not always a pathological phenomenon. The search for meaning may lead to tension rather than equilibrium, but each tension is not pathological it is rather an indispensable prerequisite of mental health.

The Nature of Neuroses and Psychoses

Although existential conflicts may exist without neurosis, every neurosis has an existential aspect. Neurosis are grounded in the four basically didderent dimensions of man’s being the physical, the psychological, the societal, and the existential or spiritual. For example, Noegenic neuroses do not emerge from conflicts between drives and instincts, but rather from conflicts between various values, in other words, from moral conflicts, and spiritual problems.

Frankl believe that the collective neurosis is characteristics of four symptoms: (1) modern man day to day attitude toward life, (2) man’s fatalistic attitude toward life, (3) man’s collective thinking, and the final symptom is fanaticism. Ultimately, all four symptoms can be traced back to man’s fear of responsibility and his escape from freedom.

Source by William L. Smith Ph. D.

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