Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy: Theory And Techniques

This form of psychological intervention developed out of existentialist philosophy.

Logotherapy was developed by Viktor Frankl, one of the main representatives of existential analysis. In these interventions, which are aimed at achieving vital meaning, existentialist philosophy had a great influence.

In this article we will describe the principles and basic techniques of logotherapy, as well as the types of neuroses that exist according to Viktor Frankl. Among them the most important is noogenic neurosis, which was the focus of interest of this author.

Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who was born into a Jewish family. In 1944 he, his wife, his parents, and his brother were sent to concentration camps; when the war ended Frankl was the only one still alive.

Frankl developed his psychological theory and therapy from his experiences as a prisoner, although he had begun to create them before. In 1959 he published his key book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, where he described his model: logotherapy.

Logotherapy is part of existential analysis, a type of therapy with a marked philosophical character that focuses on the search for vital meaning in the face of existential emptiness, which causes psychological, emotional and physical symptoms. The influence of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Husserl is notable in Frankl’s work.

According to Frankl, people can always give meaning to our lives, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves; this search for meaning constitutes the main motivation of life. In addition, we always have a certain degree of freedom, since we can at least decide what attitude we adopt in the face of adversity.

Theory of the human being: suffering and meaning

Frankl considered that human experience has three dimensions: the somatic or physical, the mental and the spiritual. According to this author, the origin of psychological alterations is the lack of strength of the spiritual dimension, as well as of meaning in life.

He described three types of values ​​that lead to meaning and, therefore, happiness: values ​​of creation, related to work and contribution to society, those of experience (interaction with people and experience of sensations) and those of attitude , which have to do with overcoming suffering.

For Frankl, the cause of mental disorders is the meaning we give to suffering, and not the discomfort itself. This basic approach was opposed to the reductionism of behaviorism of the time and anticipated the cognitivist approaches.

Types of neurosis according to Frankl

Frankl described various types of neuroses depending on the causes that provoke them. Among them, the noogenic neurosis stands out, a focus of interest in logotherapy.

1. Noogenic

Logotherapy is specific for noogenic neurosis, which arises as a consequence of existential emptiness, of the non-satisfaction of the human spiritual dimension. When a person fails to give meaning to their suffering, they feel hopelessness and a sense of loss of vital meaning; Frankl calls this situation noogenic neurosis.

2. Collective

Neuroses of this type affect a large number of people who share the same culture and / or were born at a certain time. He defined four attitudes as collective neuroses: fatalism (believing that everything has external causes), fanaticism (idealizing one’s own beliefs and not tolerating the rest), lack of attention to the future, and conformity or “collectivist thinking.”

3. Sunday

Many people try to make sense of their lives through work and the hectic pace of the week. When the weekend, holidays or retirement arrive and you have free time, feelings of apathy, boredom and existential emptiness appear ; In Frankl’s theory this is known as Sunday neurosis and is considered a type of depression.

4. Unemployment

The unemployment neurosis is similar to that of Sunday, but it lasts longer. When a person does not have an occupation or job, they tend to experience a state of apathy and feelings of worthlessness due to lack of vital goals.

5. Psychogenic, reactive, somatogenic and psychosomatic

This classification refers to the factors that originate the alteration. Psychogenic neuroses have psychological causes, such as attitudes, while reactive ones are due to an intense response of the organism to the presence of somatic or psychological symptoms.

Somatogenic neuroses are due to biological dysfunctions, such as hyperthyroidism or excessive reactivity of the nervous system. Finally, Frankl called “psychosomatic neuroses” to physical symptoms triggered by psychological factors; in this category he included asthma.

Logotherapy techniques

The goal of speech therapy is to help the client give meaning to their life. To do this, according to Frankl, the speech therapist should use the following techniques.

1. Socratic dialogue

Socratic dialogues consist of challenging the client’s interpretations of different events (that is, their belief system) through questions based on logic. Socratic dialogue was adopted by cognitively oriented psychotherapists, such as  Aaron Beck, and constitutes one of the fundamental pillars of cognitive restructuring.

2. Dereflection

Some people pay excessive attention to their goals or problems, which creates anxiety and interferes with life; Frankl called the first case “hyperintention” and the second as “hyperreflection.” The technique of dereflection consists of redirecting this attention in an adequate and functional way.

3. Confrontation

Confrontation is a basic technique of psychotherapy in general. It is about making the client see the incongruities and inappropriateness of certain behaviors and attitudes so that they can be aware of them and modify them.

4. Paradoxical intention

Frankl called “paradoxical intention” a technique consisting of making the client intensify his symptoms in new contexts, promoting the symptom to lose its functionality. In other words, it is intended that the client intentionally provoke what he fears, so that a logical, often humorous, contradiction is generated.

Nowadays, paradoxical intention is considered an effective technique to handle different problems, for example, work-life insomnia. It works because, when the person happens to wish for an event that normally causes anxiety or other negative emotions to occur, such associated consequences do not occur.

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