What Is Logotherapy?

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What Is Logotherapy?

Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It’s a form of psychotherapy that is focused on the future and on our ability to endure hardship and suffering through a search for purpose.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl developed logotherapy after surviving Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s. His experience and theories are detailed in his book, "Man’s Search for Meaning."

Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a "will to meaning," which is the 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.

Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD

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, to choose one’s own way.

— Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD

This opinion was based on his experiences in the concentration camps and his intent to find meaning through his suffering. In this way, Frankl believed that when we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves.

Techniques

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, logotherapy is aimed at helping you to make better use of your "spiritual" resources to withstand adversity. Three techniques intended to help with this process include dereflection, paradoxical intention, and Socratic dialogue.

Dereflection

Dereflection is aimed at helping you focus away from yourself and toward other people allowing you to become "whole" and to spend less time feeling preoccupied with a problem or worry. 

This technique is meant to combat "hyper-reflection," or extreme focus on an anxiety-provoking situation or object. Hyper-reflection is often common in people with anticipatory anxiety.

Paradoxical Intention

Paradoxical intention is a technique that invites you to wish for the thing that you fear most. This was originally suggested for use in the case of anxiety or phobias, in which humor and ridicule can be used when fear is paralyzing. 

For example, if you have a fear of looking foolish, you might be encouraged to try to look foolish on purpose. Paradoxically, your fear would be removed when you set an intention to behave as foolishly as possible.

Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialogue is a tool used to help you through the process of self-discovery by noticing and interpreting your own words. During Socratic dialogue, your therapist listens closely to the way you describe things and points out your word patterns, helping you to see the meaning in them. This process is believed to help you realize your own answers—often, these are already present within you and are just 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.

What Logotherapy Can Help With

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is evidence that meaning in life correlates with better mental health. This knowledge might be applied in areas such as:

Frankl believed that many illnesses or mental health issues are disguised existential angst and that people struggle with lack of meaning, which he referred to as the "existential vacuum." Logotherapy addresses that lack of meaning directly by helping people uncover that meaning and reduce their feelings of angst.

Benefits of Logotherapy

Logotherapy may improve resilience—or the ability to withstand adversity, stress, and hardship. This may be due to the skills that this form of therapy encourages people to develop, like:

Effectiveness

Having a meaning or purpose in life (or engaging in a search for meaning) appears to be connected to your overall health, happiness, and life satisfaction. It also acts as a positive influence on your resilience. Research supports this connection and shows that some people with mental or physical health conditions may struggle to feel like their lives have meaning.

Logotherapy appears to improve people’s sense of meaning and is effective at:

Things to Consider

While logotherapy isn’t inherently religious, it is focused on spiritual and philosophical concepts, and it is concerned with helping people who feel lost or dissatisfied on a spiritual level. While many find comfort in this approach, it may pose problems if you’re not a spiritual or philosophical person.

Similarly, logotherapy is focused on helping people uncover purpose or meaning. If you already feel that you understand the meaning of your life or your problems aren’t existential in nature, this form of treatment may not be a good fit for you. 

Logotherapy is also not intended to be the sole treatment for some conditions. While logotherapy may offer benefits for someone living with schizophrenia, for example, treatment for their condition may also include medication and additional forms of psychotherapy.

How to Get Started

Logotherapy may be offered as a primary therapeutic approach, or its principles might be combined with another form of therapy or treatment option. Logotherapy can be offered in person or online, and can be administered individually or as group therapy. Your doctor may be able to recommend local treatment options.

During your sessions, your therapist will educate you on core principles of logotherapy, like:

  • You are made up of a body, mind, and spirit, and your spirit is your essence.
  • Your life has meaning no matter your circumstances. 
  • All people have a motivation to find meaning in their lives, and uncovering that meaning allows us to endure pain and suffering.
  • You always have the freedom to find your own meaning, and you can choose your attitude even in situations that you can’t change.
  • For decisions to be meaningful, you must live in ways that match the values of society or your own conscience.
  • All individuals are unique and irreplaceable.

You’ll be expected to act as an active participant in the therapy process (rather than a passive recipient), and you’ll be encouraged to take responsibility in your own search for meaning and purpose in life.

If you’re interested in logotherapy but aren’t sure you want to pursue formal treatment, you can also learn to apply some of the core concepts to your everyday life. Try:

  • Creating something: Creating something such as art gives you a sense of purpose, which can add meaning to your life.
  • Developing relationships: Social support can help you to develop more of a sense of meaning.
  • Finding purpose in pain: If you are going through something negative, try to find a purpose in it. Even if this is a bit of mental trickery, it will help to see you through.
  • Understanding that life is not fair: There is nobody keeping score, and you will not necessarily be dealt a fair hand. However, life can always have meaning, even in the worst of situations.
  • Embracing your freedom to find meaning: Remember that you are always free to make meaning out of your situation; nobody can take that away from you.
  • Focusing on others: Try to focus outside of yourself. This may help you to stop feeling mentally "stuck" on a situation in your own life.
  • Accepting the worst: When you’re prepared to accept the worst, it reduces the power that it has over you.
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Article Sources
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  2. Thir M, Batthyány A. The state of empirical research on logotherapy and existential analysis. In: Batthyány A, ed. Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. New York City; 2016:53-74. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-29424-7_7

  3. Southwick SM, Lowthert BT, Graber AV. Relevance and application of logotherapy to enhance resilience to stress and trauma. In: Batthyány A, ed. Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. New York City; 2016:131-149. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-29424-7_13