Using Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology as points of departure in the early 1930s, psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1905–1997) developed his own approach, for which he coined the name “logotherapy and existential analysis”. Logotherapy refers to actual therapeutic practice and existential analysis to its philosophical underpinnings—together often referred to as the “Third Vienna School of Psychotherapy”. It is an internationally recognized, meaning-centered school of psychotherapy based on empirical findings and rooted in three philosophical and psychological concepts: freedom of will, will to meaning, and meaning in life.
1. Freedom of Will
Logotherapy considers humans as beings with free will, able to take their stance towards internal and external conditions. Such freedom derives from a spiritual dimension that, along with body and mind, accounts for personhood and dignity. As spiritual beings, humans no longer merely react, but are primarily beings who act and shape their lives. Freedom plays a decisive role in applied psychotherapy because it opens up leeway to patients in the face of somatic or psychic conditions, helping them to regain much of their self-determining capability through techniques developed by Frankl: paraxodical intention, dereflexion, and attitude modulation; these assist patients in differentiating between symptom and person.
2. Will to Meaning
Humans are autonomous persons seeking characteristic ways of expressing themselves and shaping their world. Logotherapy focuses on the search for meaning as a fundamental human motivation. If humans are no longer able to bring the “will to meaning” to bear on their day-to-day lives, abysmal feelings of meaninglessness and worthlessness are likely to arise. Frustration of the need for meaning may lead to aggression, addiction, depression, despair and suicidality; it may also trigger or aggravate psychosomatic illnesses and psychological disorders. Logotherapy helps patients identify, remove or cope with inhibitions and blocks that hamper them in the search for meaning. It sensitizes them and helps them perceive potential meanings. In this context, logotherapy does not offer meaning; rather, it supports patients in translating into reality the potential for meanings they discover for themselves.
3. Meaning in Life
Logotherapy and existential analysis are based on the idea that meaning is an objective reality and not something that lies merely in the eye of the beholder. This is what distinguishes logotherapy from so-called “occupational and recreational therapies”, which are geared mainly to taking the patient's mind off disturbed or disturbing modes of experience. In fact, logotherapy calls upon humans to bring out the best in themselves and the world, as their free will and ability to assume responsibility enable them to identify meaning at any moment, in any situation, and to make such meaning materialize. Meaning is offered by any given moment and, though objective in nature, is specific to each situation and person, and thus subject to constant change. Logotherapy does not offer any general meaning in life; rather, it helps patients to be open and flexible enough to shape their everyday lives in a meaningful way. After all, every situation has different potentials for meaning in store for everyone. But they must be perceived and translated into reality.