What Is Logotherapy?

Updated October 7, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team
  • Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy is a form of humanistic psychology and positive psychology in which a therapist helps clients find personal meaning. Viktor Frankl believed that humans are motivated by the need to find meaning in their lives and that people who are suffering often live in an existential vacuum. Frankl viewed the “will” to find meaning as strong enough to overcome even life’s most serious challenges. To him, human freedoms are all about self-discovery and your purpose in life. This article will explore logotherapy in-depth and how it can help you.

    Curious About How Your Experiences Reveal Your Life's Meaning?

    Viktor Frankl

    Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who studied medicine and psychiatry at a Vienna medical school. He primarily focused on helping patients find meaning in their lives through responsible action and on a spiritual level. This is the core concept of logotherapy, which is his primary contribution of psychotherapy to the realm of psychology. Viktor Frankl believed that much of human suffering comes from an existential vacuum, where people do not have meaning, purpose, or direction in their lives. This leads to apathy, boredom, emptiness, and depression.

    His belief that meaning was the primary motivational force for human beings was a radical notion for psychologists of that age. As a result, he was shunned by some of the top psychologists of that time, including Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud.

    Though Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and philosophy would eventually take off, it would not be without great hardship first. Frankl had nearly finished his work on logotherapy when he was arrested by Nazi forces and imprisoned in a concentration camp. However, during this time, he observed the behavior of both the soldiers and fellow prisoners around him. Those who survived their time in the Nazi concentration camps tended to have some form of meaning in their lives. They aimed to live for something even in such a dark hour. Many who did not survive the hardship did not have this meaning in their lives. In newer forms of psychology, logotherapy overlaps with what we now know as therapy for trauma and the viewed guilt that comes with it. What Frankl did not know is that he was leading the way to research on treatment for trauma disorders, which turn suffering into healing from the many traumas people struggle with worldwide.

    Following the liberation of the last Nazi concentration camps by American forces, Frankl wrote Man's Search for Meaning. This book centered around the discoveries he made during his time in the concentration camp. One of Frankl's most quoted assertions is that those that have a "why" can survive almost any "how." Frankl’s theories and concepts continue to live on through the bestselling status of this book as well as through the work of the Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna.

    Core Tenets Of Logotherapy And Existential Analysis

    Logotherapy is a form of positive psychology and therapy that focuses on helping people find meaning in life. The basic tenets of logotherapy are:

    • Human life has meaning even in the most difficult of circumstances and when experiencing unavoidable suffering.
    • Our primary motivation for living is the search for meaning.
    • Humans have the freedom to search for meaning in what we do or experience and in the stance that we take when enduring hardship.
    • It is possible to change oneself and take a complementary approach to healing based on life circumstances and your own responsibility in your future.
    • One can choose one’s attitude when dealing with life’s struggles. 

    The core focus of logotherapy is on the future and one’s ability to endure hardship and suffering by having a sense of meaning or purpose. 

    The means by which a person is to do this is existential analysis. Thought-based treatments like existential analysis aims to help people set out and find experiences that give them the freedom to find meaning and emotional freedom. Though existential analysis can be applied to any form of therapy, it is most commonly associated with logotherapy.

    Unlike other forms of therapy, logotherapy has a spiritual dimension that is appealing to many. In fact, it is often a popular choice in ecumenical pastoral psychology. Many spiritual and religious people believe that God has a purpose for them, and logotherapy can help those people find this purpose. In other forms of this therapy, people believe in a spirit essence or the impact of the universe on themselves, their relationships, and their ability to withstand adversity. Although this hyper-reflection and keeping score might seem like mental trickery to some, an active participant in this type of therapy may find it extremely helpful.

    The Three Psychological Concepts Of Logotherapy

    According to the Viktor Frankl Institute, Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and existential analysis are based on three psychological concepts: freedom of will, will to meaning, and meaning in life.

    Freedom of will is the concept that all humans are free to decide or take a stance during internal and external conditions. This gives a person autonomy in their life, whether they are experiencing a somatic or psychological illness or a great external hardship. However, for these decisions to be meaningful, they must be in accordance with the values of society or the person’s own conscience.

    Will to meaning asserts that humans are free to achieve their goals and purposes. Many conditions, such as depression and aggression, arise when people do not realize that they have this freedom.

    Meaning in life states that meaning is an objective reality rather than an illusion. Humans have the freedom and responsibility to bring out their best selves and find meaning in every moment of every situation.

    However, keep in mind that logotherapy and existential analysis do not promise that life will always be easy and happy. Rather, they help clients find meaning, purpose, and direction regardless of what is going on in everyday life.

    Techniques Of Logotherapy

    There are three techniques used in logotherapy to achieve these purposes: paradoxical intention, dereflection, and Socratic dialogue.

    Paradoxical intention: Paradoxical intention is the act of wishing for the thing you fear the most. This makes you confront the fear and ultimately conquer it. For example, if you have a fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others, you could purposely embarrass yourself so that you have the experience and reduce the fear of it happening again. Often our anxiety or worries are worse than the actual thing, so sometimes it helps to pursue the thing we fear. Intentionally pursuing this fear to conquer it is paradoxical, which is why the concept is called paradoxical intention.

    Dereflection: Dereflection is the act of focusing on others rather than ourselves. This puts the focus on helping others instead of on our own anxieties and hardships.

    Socratic dialogue: Socratic dialogue (inspired by the writing of Socrates) is a tool used to help you notice and interpret your thoughts and words. This is most commonly utilized in therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. During therapy, the therapist will listen to a client’s words and way of phrasing to help the client find meaning in them as well as find the answers they seek to their existential questions. However, you can also use Socratic dialogue on yourself by being mindful of your own words and thoughts.

    Benefits Of Logotherapy

    The primary benefit of logotherapy is greater inner happiness, better mental health, and improved psychological well-being. People who find meaning in life, tend to be more optimistic and have greater life satisfaction. Many people who once suffered from depression or apathy find new energy and greater tolerance to endure pain and suffering. These benefits can be found in numerous applications as discussed further on.

    Applications Of Logotherapy

    Logotherapy has helped numerous people from early adolescents to the elderly work through their challenges and emotional pain. It has been primarily beneficial to those experiencing major life transitions, mental illness, terminal illness, and grief. Despite the hardships, people who utilize logotherapy often find purpose and life satisfaction no matter what they are going through.

    Living With Mental Illness

    Finding meaning in life correlates with better mental health and well being. Viktor Frankl believed that much suffering and mental illness was due to the presence of an existential vacuum. He argued that those who find meaning often exhibit a reduction in their symptoms and psychiatric illnesses. Later on, various studies and empirical research would provide data that backed up this claim.

    Moreover, since the therapeutic techniques of logotherapy bring about well-being and optimism, this may encourage people with mental health conditions to take care of themselves better and be more compassionate with themselves. It may also bring them greater purpose which makes them less likely to dwell on their pain. Furthermore, participating in group logotherapy can give a person further meaning in having emotional and social support while living with mental illness.

    However, logotherapy is not a cure for mental health issues. It is simply a form of therapy to help with coping with the symptoms and is not the same as receiving professional medical advice from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Some of the mental disorders that logotherapy has helped with include:

    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Phobias
    • Post traumatic stress disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Compulsive disorders
    • Substance use
    • Suicidal ideation**

    **If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.

    Living With A Terminal Illness

    Logotherapy is often applied to people experiencing a terminal illness, such as cancer patients. Frankl’s theory states that all life has meaning, even if someone is confronted with a terminal condition or unavoidable hardship. Logotherapy helps cancer patients and others experiencing terminal illness find their own meaning in their lives and experience purpose and direction, even as they cope with the illness. This brings the patients greater life satisfaction, despite what they are going through.

    As mentioned before, receiving logotherapy is not the same as getting professional medical advice to treat your condition. Logotherapy can provide meaning but does not promise to cure or treat any medical condition.

    Coping With Grief

    Many people lose their meaning and direction while grieving the loss of a loved one. This is understandable as losing someone dear to you can shake your world and shatter your foundation. This can leave you not only grieving and depressed but also confused and directionless.

    However, Viktor Frankl believed without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. Though death is scary and can cause great sadness, it can also bring about new meaning and purpose. Logotherapy helps people find meaning in the death of their loved ones as well as the grief they are experiencing. It can also help them find new meaning and purpose as they learn to rebuild their lives without their loved ones.

    Coping With Other Hardships

    Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy ideas as well as his book (Man’s Search For Meaning) were primarily influenced by the unimaginable suffering endured in Nazi concentration camps. Frankl observed that those surviving Nazi concentration camps had meaning, purpose, or hope while those who perished often did not. Logotherapy helps people find ultimate meaning in their life which gives them the resilience and determination to keep going even in the worst hardships imaginable.

    Is Logotherapy Authoritarian?

    This is a common question brought up when people analyze the concepts around logotherapy. Famous psychologist Rollo May also asked this question and asserted that logotherapy presented a solution that was plain and undermined the complexity of human life and experiences.

    However, Frankl argued that logotherapy in clinical practice helped people search for meaning but was often combined with other treatments, such as medication, to help address bigger concerns, such as mental illness. This form of therapy was not meant to be dismissive to human hardship or undermine all the challenges that people go through. Instead, it is meant to give direction and inspiration to people who felt lost and purposeless.

    Finding Life's Meaning With Logotherapy

    While logotherapy is all about finding meaning in life, there are several ways one can go about this process. Not every method is helpful to every individual, and logotherapy makes room for the treatment of unique individuals.

    Working And Participating In Activities

    Working and participating in activities is one way to find meaning. When people immerse themselves in their careers, businesses, families, worship, and other activities, they can find great value. How often have we heard someone say that doing something they love for a living gives them a “sense of purpose?”

    When people have jobs, careers, or activities they care about, it gives them something to look forward to and plan their lives around, and it contributes to their growth as an individual. Doing something consistently can be an enlightening experience. It allows people to learn more about themselves and connect with like-minded individuals.

    Meaningful Experiences

    The idea that certain experiences in life can contribute to finding meaning is a dominant theme in many cultures. Each person is unique because we all have different experiences and come from different origins. It's fair to say that the experiences we have shaped who we are as individuals. This does not mean that people are helpless creatures who are solely at the mercy of circumstance, but our experiences influence who we become.

    Logotherapy is based on the belief that these various experiences help us find meaning in life. There have been countless cases in which people have reported feeling inspired as a result of something they experienced or witnessed. This is a testament to the impact that experiences have on the human psyche. Our experiences allow us to find meaning in life because they teach us about ourselves, others, and the world in which we live.

    Meaning in Adversity

    According to logotherapy, the attitudes that people develop in the face of adversity are another way to find meaning in life.

    When faced with adversity, people can either rise above it or crumble. A person who chooses to rise from adversity generally regards the experience as something to learn from, even if it was painful or trying. People with this outlook often see adversity as a growth opportunity. A person who adopts this outlook is likely to learn about life and themselves through adversity.

    Not everyone rises above adversity. Some people collapse when faced with challenges, struggles, or tough times in life. The variables that may determine whether someone rises or falls during tough times are innumerable. In logotherapy, adversity is looked to as an opportunity, and the therapist assists the client in reexamining adversity to find the meaning in it and the opportunity for growth.

    Common Assumptions Of Logotherapy

    As a form of treatment, logotherapy is rooted in a series of assumptions about life and the nature of human beings. These assumptions follow.

    Wholeness Of Psyche - Logotherapy is firmly rooted in the assumption that each person has a psyche, meaning the totality of their mind.

    Everything Has Meaning - Another assumption of logotherapy is that meaning exists in all circumstances. No matter how good or bad an experience is, there is always something to be learned from it. Logotherapy maintains that finding the meaning in all experiences, both good and bad, can help people grow and discover a sense of purpose in their lives.

    Will To Meaning- One of logotherapy's main assumptions is that humans are motivated by the “will to meaning,” and every person can discover their unique purpose in life. This idea connects to the three ways in which the treatment focuses on helping people learn about themselves and the world around them.

    Everyone Is Unique - The idea that each human being is unique is another core assumption of logotherapy. Each human being has their own experiences, thoughts, and ideas that contribute to who they are.

    Curious About How Your Experiences Reveal Your Life's Meaning?

    Final Thoughts

    Logotherapy focuses on both the drive and ability of human beings to create meaning in their lives. Logotherapy has been used to help people who struggle with mental disorders including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In many cases, logotherapy is blended with other forms of treatment to maximize its effectiveness.

    If you would like to learn more about therapy or are interested in working with a therapist, then you're in luck. Here at BetterHelp, we have an amazing team of world-class professionals. We recognize that life throws challenges at everyone, but nobody deserves to feel as though they are alone.

    You can get started with BetterHelp any time from any place simply by clicking here. If you would like to learn more about logotherapy in general, you can check out the Viktor Frankl Institute or Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning.

    In Support of Logotherapy

    Frankl believed that a sense of meaninglessness was associated with the “neurotic triad” of aggression, depression, and addiction. In support of his theory, research studies have found logotherapy useful with drug and alcohol problems, depression, anxiety, psychoses, and the despair associated with incurable illnesses. Logotherapy is also used in areas including rehabilitation, work with developmental disabilities, and family and relationship counseling. Finally, specific logotherapy protocols have been developed for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Therapists often use logotherapy in combination with other modalities.

    Online Therapy

    As discussed above, working with a licensed therapist to find meaning in your life can help with many issues and mental disorders. But psychological symptoms can sometimes make it challenging to attend in-person sessions. This is where online therapy comes in. There’s no need to sit in traffic or take time out of your busy workday to drive to your appointment; you can speak with your licensed therapist from wherever you have an internet connection.BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped clients find greater meaning in their lives when experiencing adversity. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar problems.

    “Cindy has gotten to the heart of my issues and the here and now. Only my first week with her but I do feel she will be able to help me through the adversity I'm going through”

    Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

    Is logotherapy still used today?

    What is an example of logotherapy?

    What are Frankl's three general ways to discover meaning?

    Why is logotherapy used?

    How do you apply logotherapy in life?

    What does Frankl say about suffering?

    What are the basic principles of logotherapy?

    What is Viktor Frankl's meaning of life?

    What are the three pillars of Frankl's theory of logotherapy *?

    What does Frankl say about love?

    Wondering If Logotherapy Is Right For You?

    Logotherapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. Keeping this in mind can ensure that you will get the most out of online logotherapy, regardless of what your specific goals are. If you’re still wondering if logotherapy is right for you, and how much logo therapy costs, please contact us at contact@betterhelp.com. BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in individual therapy, reach out today to get started. For more information about BetterHelp as a company, please find us on:

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