Viktor Frankl 1905–
(Full name Viktor Emil Frankl) Austrian nonfiction writer and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Frankl's life and career.
A world-renowned psychiatrist, Frankl is the originator of logotherapy, a system of psychological treatment he unexpectedly tested and found validation for while imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Often called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy—Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler's individual psychology being the first two—logotherapy incorporates Frankl's belief that man possesses an innate "will to meaning" and that the search for significance in one's life is a psychologically beneficial process. Frankl introduced logotherapy in Ein Psychology erlebt das Konzentrationslager (1946), which was translated into English as both From Death-Camp to Existentialism and Man's Search for Meaning. His subsequent writings continue to elaborate on various aspects of this theory. Frankl has written: "As logotherapy teaches, even the tragic and negative aspects of life, such as unavoidable suffering, can be turned into a human achievement by the attitude which man adopts toward his predicament."
Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Frankl studied medicine at the University of Vienna, graduating as a medical doctor in 1930. Attracted to the psychoanalytic work of Freud and Adler, Frankl began the study of psychoanalysis under Adler and became director of the department of neurology at the University of Vienna. In 1942 Frankl and his family—who were Jewish—were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where his wife and parents were killed; Frankl himself spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other camps. Following the war, he wrote about his death-camp experiences and about his logotherapeutic system in Man's Search for Meaning. In 1947 he remarried and returned to the University of Vienna as a professor of neurology and psychiatry, where he continued to teach and write about logotherapy. Frankl also lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe between the 1950s and the 1980s. He has received numerous awards and honors, including the Austrian State Prize for Public Education, the Austrian Cross of Honor, and several honorary degrees, including an L.L.D. degree from Loyola University in Chicago.
The largely autobiographical Man's Search for Meaning, which introduces the psychotherapeutic theory of logotherapy, incorporates Frankl's observations about the way human beings coped with life in concentration camps during World War II. In Ärztliche Seelsorge (1947; The Doctor and the Soul), Die Existenzanalyse und die Probleme der Zeit (1947), and Theorie und Therapie der Neurosen (1956), Frankl continues to expound his logotherapeutic theory by focusing on the spiritual dimension of the human psyche, the use of exhortation to challenge people to face their problems, and the importance of "willing" a meaning to life. Das Menschenbild der Seelenheilkunde (1959), in particular, focuses on spiritual aspects of the human psyche as contributing factors in any effective system of psychotherapy. Der umbewusste Gott (1966; The Unconscious God), Psychotherapy and Existentialism (1967), and The Will to Meaning (1969) continue to explore the philosophically existential characteristics of logotherapy, especially the search for meaning and its compatibility with religion and theology.
Critical reaction to Frankl's works has been very favorable among American psychologists, existential philosophers, and Christian theologians. Although most critics praise the existential characteristics and spiritual aspects of Frankl's logotherapeutic theory, others criticize as essentialist and reductive his insistence on the "will to meaning"—like Freud's "will to pleasure" and Adler's "will to power"—as the underlying motivational force governing all human behavior. Some critics reject logotherapy as inadequate and charge that Frankl is unable to deal with people who have found life to be meaningless. Nevertheless, as Dan P. McAdams observed upon the 1992 reprinting of Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl's writings continue to underscore the idea that "'man's search for meaning' can sustain human life even under the most harrowing and depraved conditions."
Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager [From Death-Camp to Existentialism: A Psychiatrist's Path to a New Therapy; revised and enlarged edition published as Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy] (nonfiction) 1946
Ärztliche Seelsorge [The Doctor and the Soul: An Introduction to Logotherapy] (nonfiction) 1947
Die Existenzanalyse und die Zeit (nonfiction) 1947
Logos und Existenz: Drei Vorträge (nonfiction) 1951
Theorie und Therapie der Neurosen: Einführung in Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse (nonfiction) 1956
Das Menschenbild der Seelenheilkunde: Drei Vorlesungen zur Kritik des dynamischen Psychologismus (nonfiction) 1959
Die Psychotherapie in der Praxis: Eine kasuistische Einführung für Ärzte (nonfiction) 1961
Der umbewusste Gott: Psychotherapie und Religion [The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology] (essay) 1966
∗Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (essays and lectures) 1967
The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications to Logotherapy (essay) 1969
Meaninglessness: Today's Dilemma (essay) 1971
Anthropologische Grundlagen der Psychotherapie (collected works) 1975; also published as Der leidende Mensch: Anthropologische Grundlagen der Psychotherapie, 1984
The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism...
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SOURCE: "A Note on the Concentration Camps," in Chicago Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn, 1959, pp. 113-14.
[Bettelheim was an Austrian-born American psychologist, psychoanalyst, and educator whose works include A Good Enough Parent: A Book on Child Rearing (1987). In the following review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, he examines the relationship between Frankl's concentration camp experiences and the development of logotherapy.]
This small book [From Death-Camp to Existentialism] consists of two parts, quite unequal in size. In the first 90 pages the author presents personal reactions to his experiences in German concentration camps. This is followed by barely 14 pages of sketchy comment on the particular type of existential psychoanalysis he practices, which he calls logotherapy. Both subjects—the concentration camp and existential psychoanalysis—have been dealt with much more adequately by other authors. The merit of this volume lies in the important connection he establishes between these two seemingly disconnected phenomena. Existentialism, in line with the author's profession (he is professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna), is discussed mainly in terms of its influence on psychotherapy.
That the impact of the concentration camp can, as the author puts it, "strike out" the prisoner's "whole former life" is the experience that...
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SOURCE: A review of Das Menschenbild der Seelenheilkunde, in The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Vol. V, No. 2, pp. 158-59.
[Ledermann, a German-born medical doctor who specializes in homeopathic medicine, is the author of Existential Neurosis (1972). In the following excerpt from a favorable review of Das Menschenbild der Seelenheilkunde, he examines Frankl's assertion that modern psychologism must recognize a spiritual dimension in human life.]
"A Criticism of Dynamic Psychologism" is the sub-title of this book [Das Menschenbild der Seelenheilkunde]. "—ism" stands for a weltanschauung. Psychology is a science and uses certain concepts which result from a certain theory. All science is tentative, as one theory is replaced by another in the course of time. "—isms" are dogmatic. When they are introduced into the realm of science they lead to hypostatization, i.e. a scientific concept is made into an all-embracing entity. In the case of psychologism man becomes the result of his instinctual or social or archetypal forces. These are conceived as driving forces. As a result his spiritual nature is ignored. Frankl called it a spiritual dimension. Values disappeared as true and independent realities, the meaning of life is lost. The result is spiritual frustration, which Frankl has recognized as the outstanding modern form of neurosis.
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SOURCE: A review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, in Thought, Vol. XXXV, No. 138, Autumn, 1960, pp. 454-56.
[In the following review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, Hassenger focuses on Frankl's assertion that logotherapy is a necessary supplement to current psychoanalysis.]
Dr. Frankl, of the Medical Faculty, University of Vienna, has penned a work which might well be required reading for anyone who would understand the metaphysical malady of our time. This brief yet gripping account of the author's three years in concentration camps [From Death-Camp to Existentialism] serves as a background against which he outlines the basic concepts of the "third Viennese school of psychotherapy," founded to contribute toward the completion of psycho-therapy's picture of man. He terms his approach "logotherapy."
It is Dr. Frankl's contention that each age is characterized by a particular frustration, which is the primary social factor in the etiology of neuroses. Today "existential frustration" plays the chief role, "existential" meaning, in this context, "anything pertaining to man's quest for a meaning to his existence." Contemporary man is crippled by a sense of the meaninglessness of life, leaving an "existential vacuum" within him. This is manifested primarily by the phenomenon of boredom, which in our day sends more people to the psychiatrist than Freud's...
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SOURCE: A review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, in Jewish Social Studies, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, April, 1961, pp. 120-21.
[In the following positive review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, Savitz focuses on Frankl's concentration camp experiences and discusses the psychological factors that enabled some people to survive such horrors.]
This small book [From Death-Camp to Existentialism] brings to focus many shocking scenes of human tragedy and at the same time it reveals a number of keen psychological observations worthy of serious contemplation. In these pages we hear the authentic, restrained voice of a victim of a Nazi concentration camp—a man-made hell. The author is professor of neurology and psychiatry on the medical faculty of the University of Vienna. His voice and language are restrained—often too restrained, for he attempts the difficult task of giving an unbiased picture. Dr. Frankl himself is the victim. He is the subject and the object of many observations, and how can one psychologically obtain complete detachment under such circumstances? Furthermore, in describing horrors without the heat of emotion, the author deprives himself of sufficient light to see and evaluate them clearly. Nor does he attempt to narrate these bestial brutalities and the inhumanities of man to man, but rather he attempts to reveal the inner self, the subjective experience of a...
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SOURCE: "Viktor Frankl and the Will to Meaning," in The Christian Century, Vol. LXXIX, No. 23, June 6, 1962, pp. 722, 724.
[Rowland is an American reporter, editor, and author of Hurt and Healing (1969). In the following essay, he examines Frankl's notion of the "will to meaning" as an essential supplementary element in modern depth psychology.]
Two elderly psychiatrists sat together at the round dining table opposite a young psychiatrist and a Methodist chaplain in his middle years. Between the two pairs sat two newsmen, Murray Ilson of the New York Times and myself. The subject was the meaning of human life, and the place of this question in psychiatry.
"The question has no place in psychiatry," one of the older psychiatrists said flatly. "It is a philosophical question." He nodded toward the head table in the ballroom, indicating the man who was to speak: Viktor E. Frankl of Vienna. Dr. Frankl has pioneered the psychiatric approach known as logotherapy, which stresses man's "will to meaning"; as a prisoner in a Nazi death camp during World War II he was able to test his existential psychiatry existentially. On this occasion he was about to address the annual meeting of the Academy of Religion and Mental Health.
"What Frankl says is very inspiring," the older psychiatrist continued. "It reminds me somewhat of an address that Paul Tillich gave at one of...
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SOURCE: "The Will to Meaning," in The Christian Century, Vol. LXXXI, No. 17, April 22, 1964, pp. 515-17.
[In the following essay, Frankl explains the "will to meaning," focusing on self-actualization, personal responsibility, and the role of values in life.]
Central to my psychiatric approach known as logotherapy is the principle of the will to meaning. I counterpose it both to the pleasure principle, which is so pervasive in psychoanalytic motivational theories, and the will to power, the concept which plays such a decisive role in Adlerian psychology. The will to pleasure is a self-defeating principle inasmuch as the more a person really sets out to strive for pleasure the less likely he is to gain it. For pleasure is a by-product or side effect of the fulfillment of our strivings, and it is contravened to the extent that it is made a goal. The more a person directly aims at pleasure, the more he misses it. In my opinion this mechanism underlies most cases of sexual neurosis. Accordingly, a logotherapeutic technique based on this theory of the self-thwarting character of pleasure intention yields remarkable short-term results. Even the psychodynamically oriented therapists on my staff have come to acknowledge the value of logotherapy, and one such staff member has used this technique exclusively in treating sexually neurotic patients.
In the final analysis both the will to pleasure...
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SOURCE: "Comments on Dr. Frankl's Paper," in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall, 1966, pp. 107-12.
[Maslow is an American psychologist, educator, and author of Dominance, Self-Esteem, Self-Actualization: Germinal Papers of A. H. Maslow (1973). In the following excerpt, he concurs with Frankl's theories on the "will to meaning," self-actualization, and the role of values and pleasure in life.]
I agree entirely with Frankl that man's primary concern (I would rather say "highest concern") is his will to meaning. But this may be ultimately not very different from phrasings by Buhler [Charlotte Buhler, Values in Psychotherapy] (1962), for instance, or Goldstein, or Rogers or others, who may use, instead of "meaning," such words as "values" or "purposes" or "ends" or "a philosophy of life" or "mystical fusion." As things stand now, different theorists use these and similar words in an overlapping or synonymous way. It would obviously help if they could be defined somewhat more carefully (not too carefully, however, until more data come in).
Another general consequence of this "levels" conception of knowledge and of science is that an all-inclusive, overarching generalization, however true, is very difficult to "work with" or to improve in clarity, usefulness, exactness, or in richness of detail. Thus, I certainly agreed with Goldstein, Rogers, and...
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SOURCE: "A Conversation with Viktor Frankl of Vienna," in Psychology Today, Vol. 1, No. 9, February, 1968, pp. 57-63.
[In the following interview, Frankl discusses his concentration camp experiences and his views on existentialism and modern psychotherapy.]
[Hall]: You were already a psychiatrist in Vienna when Hitler marched into Austria. How did that affect you immediately?
[Frankl]: After Hitler came, I stayed in Vienna. My sister immigrated to Australia and my brother tried to get shelter in Italy. He was captured by the SS and taken with his wife to Auschwitz. I had been assigned to run the Neurological Department of the Jewish Hospital, so I was not only allowed to stay in Vienna myself, but even could keep my old parents with me. My father at that time was a bit more than eighty years old.
Was there any opportunity for you to leave the country?
I tried to get an immigration visa to the United States. Finally, I did. I was free to leave, to develop my theory and to promulgate it. My parents were so happy. They said, "Now Viktor will finally leave here." But at the last minute I hesitated to use the visa for which I had waited so long. I knew that a few weeks after I left the country, my old parents would be brought to a concentration camp. I didn't know what to do.
And they wanted you to leave even though your...
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SOURCE: "Meaning in Life," in Time, Vol. 91, No. 5, February 2, 1968, pp. 38, 40.
[In the following essay, the critic discusses logotherapy, emphasizing Frankl's existential approach to psychoanalysis.]
Vienna has a habit of giving birth to schools of psychiatry and then putting them up for adoption in other countries. An exception is the latest Viennese system of mind healing called logotherapy, which has won quick acceptance in its native land and is gaining adherents in the U.S. and behind the Iron Curtain.
Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, 62, founder of logotherapy, is a lecturer at the University of Vienna, as was Freud. But Frankl has dismissed Freud's idea that human beings are driven mainly by sexual energy, no matter how broadly defined. Similarly, he rejects Adler's emphasis on power drives and Jung's turning back to vague, ancestral archetypes. He has only contempt for the reductionist, or "nothing-but" schools, which define man as nothing but a biochemical machine or nothing but the product of his conditioning or nothing but an economic animal. What is left? Only, says Frankl, the most fundamental of all human strivings: the search for the meaning of life, or at least for a meaning in life.
Since this search is at the intellectual rather than the instinctual level, Dr. Frankl makes great play with words beginning with noö-, from the Greek noös (mind), as in...
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SOURCE: "Logotherapeutical Sermon," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3514, July 3, 1969, p. 723.
[In the following unfavorable review of The Doctor and the Soul, the critic faults Frankl's notion of existentialism and charges that he neglects the contributions of Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts in the development of his logotherapeutic approach.]
The Doctor and the Soul purports to provide an account of a new kind of psychotherapy which is "to transcend the limits of all previous psychotherapy". It is Dr. Frankl's belief that psychotherapy has, to date, paid too little attention to "the spiritual reality of man". This defect he proposes to remedy by the employment of what he calls "logotherapy". From his account, logotherapy, appears to be the employment of an exhortative technique of treatment, in which the patient is argued with, cajoled, and finally instructed to adopt the quasi-religious beliefs professed by Dr. Frankl. He alleges that Adler's individual psychology goes deeper than Freud's psychoanalysis: a curious idea, since the chief weakness of Adler's approach is his neglect of the unconscious. He also asserts that the goal of psychoanalysis is to bring about a compromise between the demands of the unconscious and the requirements of reality. Without giving any indication that he understands the chief therapeutic tools of psychoanalysis—the interpretation of defences...
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SOURCE: "From Shrink to Stretch," in The New York Times, November 26, 1975, p. 27.
[Broyard was an American critic, essayist, memoirist, stort story writer, and educator whose works include Aroused by Books (1974) and Kafka Was the Rage (1993). In the following mixed review of The Unconscious God, he focuses on Frankl's call for the "rehumanization" of psychotherapy.]
While our behavior goes from bad to worse, our psychological image keeps getting better. At the turn of the century, when Western man was still a relatively orderly creature, Freud saw him as a hotbed of lust and aggression. Now, Viktor Frankl suggests that man's primary motive is the search for meaning in his life. Within man, says the author, "there is a repressed angel."
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, Viktor Frankl has contributed "perhaps the most significant thinking since Freud and Adler." An earlier book, Man's Search for Meaning, sold 1.5 million copies and is often quoted by contemporary writers. Dr. Frankl has founded what amounts to a school of psychotherapy, which he calls logotherapy, embracing the various meanings of logos, including word, Divine word, reason and rational principle.
The Unconscious God was published in German in 1947: this is its first translation into English. Since then, the author writes, he has accumulated new...
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SOURCE: "The Frankl Meaning," in Human Behavior: The News Magazine of the Social Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 7, July, 1977, pp. 56, 58-62.
[Cohen is an American journalist, freelance writer, filmmaker, and founder of Psychology News. In the following essay, he discusses Frankl's attempt to connect his understanding of the spiritual dimension of humanity with psychotherapy and, in particular, the logotherapeutic approach.]
The titles of Viktor Frankl's books—Man's Search for Meaning, The Doctor and the Soul, The Will to Meaning—made me expect a gloomy man who could be the hero of one of Bergman's bleaker films. Frankl lives in the heart of Vienna's medical district. The streets are narrow, quiet and a little dark. I pushed open the big heavy door of the block of flats where Frankl lives and found myself in a long, shabby hallway. My footsteps clanged on the stone floor. Certainly, it was going to be a somber interview.
But Frankl is far from a gloomy man. He bubbles with energy and good humor. He was delighted to see me, he said, and led me into a large light room that is his office. As I switched on my cassette, he smiled and said he would switch his on. He liked to have his own record of an interview and added, without a trace of embarrassment, that two American universities had asked him to record every interview he gives for their archives. He obviously enjoys recording...
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SOURCE: A review of The Unconscious God, in Zygon, Vol. 14, No. 1, March, 1979, pp. 94-5.
[Moore is an American television producer, author of The Green Berets (1965), and several screenplays, including The French Connection (1971). In the following review of The Unconscious God, he praises the book's systematic organization but questions Frankl's presentation of the notions of religiosity and spirituality in an existential context.]
This little monograph [The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology] is a reissue in English of a book first published by Viktor E. Frankl in 1947. Frankl is of course the Viennese psychiatrist who received a good deal of interest from the American theological community during the sixties. Characterizing Freudian analysis as interested in the "will to pleasure" and Adlerian analysis as concerned with the "will to power," Frankl views his logotherapy, the third Viennese school of analysis, as focused instead on the "will to meaning." Critical analysts of Frankl and logotherapy for the most part do not share Frankl's appraisal of himself as a depth psychologist ranking with Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl G. Jung in stature. Indeed a close examination of his criticisms of the work of these men does not lead one to the conclusion that Frankl has been able to arrive at a very sophisticated grasp of the schools which he so much wants to...
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SOURCE: "The Philosophy of Death in Viktor E. Frankl," in Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall, 1982, pp. 197-209.
[In the following essay, Kovacs examines Frankl's notion that death is a natural and integral part of living and that it contributes an understanding of the existential meaning of life.]
Human attitudes towards the insurmountable factuality of personal death are not simply a syndrome of behavioral mechanisms for coping with a situation of stress, but, more significantly, they express philosophical and ideological understandings of the nature of death from the perspective of human living. Existential phenomenology examines the phenomenon of death precisely in accordance with the methodological significance of the relationship between attitudes and ideas or insights. The philosophies of death of Nietzsche, Jaspers, Scheler, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Marcel, and Buber (as well as those of other thinkers) show the existential confrontation with the phenomenon of death according to its attitudinal as well as conceptual dimensions. The concern with the meaning of death is an essential element of the existential-phenomenological approach to the question of death. The philosophy of death in the logotherapy of Viktor E. Frankl shows not only the attitudinal dimensions of existential ideas about death, but also examines the philosophical foundations of the logotherapeutic...
(The entire section is 5537 words.)
SOURCE: "The Best of Us Did Not Return," in Contemporary Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 2, February, 1994, pp. 130-31.
[McAdams is an American psychologist, educator, and author of The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self (1993). In the following review of Man's Search for Meaning, originally titled From Death-Camp to Existentialism, he focuses on the meaning Frankl's concentration camp experiences may have for a new generation of readers.]
In 1945, shortly after his release from a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor E. Frankl spent nine intensive days writing Ein Psycholog Erlebt das Konzentrationslager, a psychological account of his three years in Auschwitz, Dachau, and other Nazi prison camps. The original German version bears no name on the cover because Frankl was initially committed to publishing an anonymous account that would never earn its author literary fame. Expanded to include a short overview of "logotherapy," the English version of Frankl's book first appeared as From Death-Camp to Existentialism and finally under its well-known title, Man's Search for Meaning. Shortly after its first English printing in 1959, Carl Rogers called the book one of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last 50 years. The Los Angeles Times said, "If you read but one book this year, Dr. Frankl's book should be the one." The...
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Garfield, Charles A. "A Psychometric and Clinical Investigation of Frankl's Concept of Existential Vacuum and of Anomia." Psychiatry 36 (November 1973): 391-408.
Investigative study exploring "the identification and characteristics of the personal psychological state known as existential vacuum" and "the identification of the personal psychological state known as anomia."
Leslie, Robert C. Jesus and Logotherapy: The Ministry of Jesus as Interpreted through the Psychotherapy of Viktor Frankl. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1965, 143 p.
Argues that "logotherapy offers a philosophy of life and a method of counseling which is more consistent with a basically Christian view of life than any other existing system in the current therapeutic world."
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