Meaning and Choice or The Contribution of Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy to Self Development



This is the second in a series of longer posts that go in depth into one particular contribution to self development. The first one was on the contribution of gestalt psychotherapy to self development.


The central concern of Viktor Frankl was with meaning. And this started early. There is a story that during a school class, when the science teacher said that people were a collection of chemicals and processes that he stood up and said: But what would be the meaning?


If you have heard of Frankl it will be because of his book Man’s Search for Meaning – and probably the first part – the story of his imprisonment in a Nazi death camp (the second part is an explanation of the various terms used in logotherapy).


During his time in the camp Frankl observed that, of those not killed by the Nazi’s, some people survived and others gave up and committed suicide. What’s more it wasn’t necessarily the young and fit who survived – it was those who had something to live for. It was those who had a meaning – and this could make the difference between life and death.



Viktor Frankl practised as both a medical doctor (he made contributions to neurology) and a psychiatrist. He was a very gifted man.


In psychiatry he insisted that meaning was another dimension to the usual ones in psychodynamic psychiatry. That is your thoughts and feelings could be fine but you could still be dissatisfied.


For instance, you may be proceeding successfully to achieve your goals, have satisfying relations with others, express your feelings in satisfying ways – and still not be happy.  Because what you are doing is not meaningful to you. You may discover that you have been living someone else’s agenda or that the ladder you were climbing was against the wrong wall.



Viktor Frankl’s therapy (logotherapy) is directed to dealing with problems caused by lack of meaning. He did not think logotherapy was a general psychotherapy – it was specifically to deal with crises of meaning.


“Logotherapy” comes from the greek word ‘logos’ – which Frankl translated as ‘meaning’ (I’m not sure that he was right about this). So logotherapy is healing meaning or healing through meaning.


The Meaning of My Life

Frankl insisted that meaning was individual. There is no ‘meaning of life’; there is ‘the meaning of my life’. That is we each have some kind of vocation – something that we individually and specifically contritute to the world.


For Frankl the part of us that is concerned with meaning is our spirit. And he believed that spirit remained healthy despite what happened to a person and that spirit (and so conscience) separated people from all the other living creatures.


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