What Logotherapy Has to Offer?

Etymologically, Logotherapy is “meaning therapy” (the Greek term “Logos” also means “meaning”) or a “psychotherapy centered on meaning” (Frankl 1963, 153ff). Finding meaning has always been the main indication of Logotherapy. The search for meaning evokes a person’s freedom and responsibility. According to Frankl, a person is not merely a physical being with psychological drives. He believed a third dimension of the human psyche, which he identified as the spiritual dimension, had to be included to address the uniquely human qualities and capabilities that cannot be subsumed or reduced to physical or psychological processes. These uniquely human qualities bring human beings “into existence”. Through this spiritual dimension, an individual is experientially open to the offerings and needs of life. A central tenet in Frankl’s Logotherapy is the belief that each human being is fundamentally questioned by life. Frankl (1963, 122, 172f) called this view a "Copernican turn" in the attitude to life and a general key for finding meaning: “It is life itself that asks questions of man. (...) it is not up to man to question; rather he should recognize that he is questioned, questioned by life; he has to respond by being responsible; and he can answer to life only by answering for his life.” (Frankl 1973, 62) In addition to this general attitude of openness, Frankl described three categories of values that are necessary in leading to existential meaning (experiential, creative and attitudinal values) and how the loss of value produces an “existential vacuum” (Frankl 1963, 167f); a sign of the frustration of the “will to meaning”. A frustration of the “will to meaning”, our primary motivation according to Frankl, has the potential to produce specific symptoms such as aggression, depression and addiction. Frankl’s contribution to psychological anthropology by developing a unique concept of the human being also has to be considered central to his work. Frankl’s (1967, 1973, 1988) theory illuminated the spiritual aspect of human life, the singular dignity and potential of “personhood”, our existential freedom and responsibility, our moral conscience, and the religious striving for an ultimate meaning.

Frankl also enriched clinical work with his technique of paradoxical intention, the first method in psychotherapy to recognize the therapeutic benefits of and formally implement humor in the treatment of anxiety. Apart from this well-known technique he developed: a therapeutic attitude for the treatment of anxiety and depression, dereflection, and gave broad practical advice and clinical understanding for the treatment of anxieties, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, psychosis, psychosomatic disorders. He also described a specific form of neurosis, noogenic neurosis (Frankl 1963, 160). Many of his clinical descriptions were not connected with Logotherapy, but taken from the vast experience Frankl had as a clinician and psychiatrist. One could easily conclude that with these tools, Logotherapy had enough of a foundation and had been developed sufficiently for application as a general psychotherapy.

It was on this basis, and a trust in the effectiveness of logotherapeutic practice, that we continued in the GLE to work with what Frankl taught and wrote. Frankl always suggested collaboratively applying methods of other psychotherapies with Logotherapy. In other words, seeing Logotherapy as a roof on the house of psychotherapy. He often repeated that psychotherapy was already invented, it simply lacked the spiritual dimension which he intended to include thereby expanding the therapeutic offering. Indeed, Frankl had intended Logotherapy to act as a supplement to the psychotherapies of the 1930’s rather than be a comprehensive theory on its own. Logotherapy was thought of as a corrective for a growing trend towards “psychologism”, by concentrating on individual suffering from the perspective of a loss of meaning.

While adding methods of other psychotherapies to our clinical practices, the common base in our work as logotherapists, however, was the existential analytical anthropology and the logotherapeutic search for lack of meaning. As a consequence, logotherapeutic practice became quite heterogeneous – some applied a more psychodynamic basis but most applied behavioral methods, or took some techniques from Gestalt or from the systemic approach. The broadest consensus was the use of Carl Rogers’ (1951) basic variables for psychotherapy. One person who invested a great deal of time on the therapeutic application of Logotherapy was Elisabeth Lukas. She worked on a specific application of Logotherapy for dealing with life in general (life education), with suffering, and in family dynamics. She combined behavioral methods thoughtfully with Logotherapy and by doing so, developed several new techniques (e.g., the technique of Modulation of attitudes) (Lukas 1980, 96)

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