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Viktor Frankl Part 1

by Paul G. Durbin Retired Director of Clinical Hypnotherapy, Methodist Hospital, New Orleans, LA

Viktor Frankl was one time Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and later taught at a number of schools in the United States. Frankl's first book in English was Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote while in a Nazi prison during World War II. He spent three years in various Nazi prison camps and experienced incredible suffering and degradation, but through those experiences further developed his theory of Logotherapy. Dr. Frankl's "Logotherapy" has had a profound influence on my life and therapy.

Frankl calls his therapy "Logotherapy". "Logos" is the Greek word for "meaning". Logotherapy focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as man's search for meaning. According to Frankl, the striving to find meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man. In using the term "man", Frankl is referring to the "human race": male and female. Frankl sees man as a whole which includes body, mind, and spirit. All three are interwoven together so that each affects the other. He uses the example of a glass. To look at the glass from one view it looks like a glass; from another direction, a circle; and to see the shadow is to view another shape. The fundamental assumption of logotherapy forms a chain of interconnected links:

(1) freedom of will,
(2) will to meaning,
(3) meaning to life.

Frankl says that there are two classes of people who maintain that man's will is not free: schizophrenic patients and deterministic philosophers, psychologist, theologians, and others who hold a deterministic view of man. Frankl believed that humans determine themselves whether to give in to conditions or stand up to them. People are ultimately self-determining. People have the capacity to rise above conditions and transcend them. Human freedom must be recognized, or else religion is a delusion and education and illusion. Frankl admits that our freedom is freedom within limits. We are not free from conditions, but we always remain free to take a stand toward those conditions. We always retain the freedom to choose our attitude toward them. I integrate this idea of freedom to choose our attitude toward condition in most of my counseling.

Humans are ultimately self-determining. What one becomes within limit of endowment ankto frad environment, he has made for himself. Frankl wrote, "In the concentration camp, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschqitz, and he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."

The will to meaning for Frankl was the basic striving for humans to find fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. It was Frankl's contention that the pleasure principle is self-defeating. The more one aims at a pleasure, the more his aim is missed. The very "pursuit of happiness" is what thwarts it. Pleasure is missed when it is the goal and attained when it is the side effect of attaining a goal. Hypnotherapist calls this the Law of Reversed Effect: "The harder you try...the more difficult it becomes." I am reminded that in the Museum of the State house of Mississippi there is an old rusty breastplate and sword. They are relics of the first expedition of the Spanish to Florida and the lands to the west. They came in search of gold, but found only monotonous stretches of sand, dense forest, poisonous snakes, and insects, wild beast, and hostile people. They were at times discouraged, disheartened, and ready to quit. On other occasions, they were feverish with hope from the report that gold was just around the bend, just over the hill, or just across the river. It seemed the further they went in search of gold, the further from gold they got. Is not this a parable of life?

People seek the gold mine of meaning and happiness. All of us are investing our life in one gold mine or another. The drunkard with his bottle; the dope abuser with his pills, smokes, needles; the students at her desk; the woman with her work; the man at his task are all in quest of the gold mine of happiness. This quest was given a place in our American Declaration Of Independence. Our founding fathers stated that we have certain rights, among them "the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We crave happiness, we demand it as a right, we seek it with all our power, yet many of us are missing all too much of it.

We have been missing happiness because we have been so set, so intense, so concentrated on finding happiness that we were unable to recognize that happiness does not come by search for it, but on account of something else. The pursuit of happiness turns out to be an impossible search. Happiness is the by-product of a meaningful life.

The therapist's role consists in widening and broadening the visual field of the client so that the spectrum of meaning and values become conscious and visible to her. Meaning of life may change, but it never ceases to be. We can discover meaning through creative values, experience values and attitudal values. Meaning can come through what we give to life (creative values), by what we take from the world: listening to music, reading, etc. (experience values), and though the stand we take toward a situation we can no longer change such as the death of a loved one (attitudal values). As long as one remains conscious, he is under obligation to realize values, even if it is only attitudal values. Frankl does not claim to have an answer for the individual's meaning of life. Meaning must be found but it cannot be given. Logotherapy is an optimistic approach to life, for it teaches that there are no tragic or negative aspects which cannot, by the stand one takes to them, be translated into positive accomplishments.

The therapist is faced with the seemingly impossible twofold task of considering the uniqueness of each person, as well as the uniqueness of life situations with which each person has to cope. The choice of an appropriate therapy to be used depends on the individual client and your relationship with the client. The relationship between two persons seems to be the most significant aspect of the therapeutic process, a more important factor than any method or technique.

It is commonly observed that anxiety often produces precisely what the client fears. Frankl called this "anticipatory anxiety." For instance, in cases of insomnia, the client reports that she has been having trouble going to sleep at night. The fear of not going to sleep only adds to difficulty of trying to go to sleep. Many sexual problems (impotency, failure to experience orgasm) are intensified by anticipatory anxiety.

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Posted: 07/06/2009

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