logotherapy

mans-search-for-meaninglogotherapy, based on the will to meaning, is sometimes called the third vienna school (the other two are freud’s will to pleasure and adler’s will to power). frankl writes that a human’s ‘search for meaning is the primary motivation … and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him [sic] alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.’ (121)

unlike psychoanalysis’ dredging of a person’s past, logotherapy is future-focused in its treatment of suffering. (120) frankl also distinguishes between ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ suffering: ‘not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy…. Suffering may well be a human achievement, especially if the suffering grows out of existential frustration…. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.’ (124-125)

this existential distress necessitates a search for meaning, which produces tension. mental health–what he often calls mental hygiene–requires a certain degree of tension, rather than tensionless equilibrium. he likens this tension to a dipole magnet where one pole represents a meaning and the other pole represents one’s search for that meaning. what a human ‘actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.’ (127) without tension, without existential distress, one can experience the despair of what frankl calls ‘existential vacuum’.

existential vacuum pervades our modern culture because we no longer find meaning in either instinct or tradition. being free to choose cost us instinct. being free of our parents cost us tradition. but for many of us they also cost us meaning, and without instinct or tradition we don’t know how to find it for ourselves. the corollary of freedom, or liberty, is responsibility. without responsibility we experience existential vacuum.

to overcome this existential vacuum, the logotherapist guides the client to find meaning. with a sense of meaning we can better respond to life. after all, each of us is responsible for our choices. ‘Logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.’ (131)

there are three ways of responding: creating hope and meaning, experiencing hope and meaning, or suffering hopelessness and seeming meaninglessness. however, ‘we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness…, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation … we are challenged to change ourselves…. Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning’. (135) Unlike psychoanalysis, which focuses on a person’s past problems, logotherapy looks to a person’s future to help find meaning and alleviate suffering.

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