Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a "will to meaning," which equates to a desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning. Taking it a step further, Frankl wrote:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.
This opinion was based on his experiences of suffering and his attitude of finding meaning through suffering. In this way, Frankl believed that when we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves.
"Logos" is the Greek word for meaning, and logotherapy involves helping a patient find personal meaning in life. Frankl provided a brief overview of the theory in Man's Search for Meaning.
Frankl believed in three core properties on which his theory and therapy were based:
Each person has a healthy core.
One's primary focus is to enlighten others to their own internal resources and provide the tools to use their inner core.
Life offers purpose and meaning but does not promise fulfillment or happiness.
Going a step further, logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:
By creating a work or doing a deed.
By experiencing something or encountering someone.
By the attitude that we take toward unavoidable suffering.
An example that is often given to explain the basic tenets of logotherapy is the story of Frankl meeting with an elderly general practitioner who was struggling to overcome depression after the loss of his wife. Frankl helped the elderly man to see that his purpose had been to spare his wife the pain of losing him first.
Logotherapy consists of six basic assumptions that overlap with the fundamental constructs and ways of seeking meaning listed above:
1. Body, Mind, and Spirit
The human being is an entity that consists of a body (soma), mind (psyche), and spirit (noos). Frankl argued that we have a body and mind, but the spirit is what we are, or our essence. Note that Frankl's theory was not based on religion or theology, but often had parallels to these.
2. Life Has Meaning in All Circumstances
Frankl believed that life has meaning in all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. This means that even when situations seem objectively terrible, there is a higher level of order that involves meaning.
3. Humans Have a Will to Meaning
Logotherapy proposes that humans have a will to meaning, which means that meaning is our primary motivation for living and acting and allows us to endure pain and suffering. This is viewed as differing from the will to achieve power and pleasure.
4. Freedom to Find Meaning
Frankl argues that in all circumstances, individuals have the freedom to access that will to find meaning. This is based on his experiences of pain and suffering and choosing his attitude in a situation that he could not change.
5. Meaning of the Moment
The fifth assumption argues that for decisions to be meaningful, individuals must respond to the demands of daily life in ways that match the values of society or their own conscience.
6. Individuals Are Unique
Frankl believed that every individual is unique and irreplaceable.
Logotherapy in Practice
Frankl believed that it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment. He viewed guilt as an opportunity to change oneself for the better, and life transitions as the chance to take responsible action.
In this way, this psychotherapy was aimed at helping people to make better use of their "spiritual" resources to withstand adversity. In his books, he often used his own personal experiences to explain concepts to the reader.
Three techniques used in logotherapy include dereflection, paradoxical intention, and Socratic dialogue.
Dereflection: Dereflection is aimed at helping someone focus away from themselves and toward other people so that they can become whole and spend less time being self-absorbed about a problem or how to reach a goal.
Paradoxical intention: Paradoxical intention is a technique that has the person wish for the thing that is feared most. This was suggested for use in the case of anxiety or phobias, in which humor and ridicule can be used when fear is paralyzing. For example, a person with a fear of looking foolish might be encouraged to try to look foolish on purpose. Paradoxically, the fear would be removed when the intention involved the thing that was feared most.
Socratic dialogue: Socratic dialogue would be used in logotherapy as a tool to help a patient through the process of self-discovery through his or her own words. In this way, the therapist would point out patterns of words and help the client to see the meaning in them. This process is believed to help the client realize an answer that is waiting to be discovered.
It's easy to see how some of the techniques of logotherapy overlap with newer forms of treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In this way, logotherapy may be a complementary approach for these behavior and thought-based treatments.