Viktor Emil Frankl was born on March 26, 1905 in Vienna, Austria. He graduated from the University of Vienna, focusing on psychiatry and neurology, specifically in the areas of suicide and depression. Frankl held the position of president at the Sozialistische Mittelschüler Österreich and successfully counseled students and virtually eliminated suicides during his tenure. His accomplishments were noticed and he was asked to head the suicide prevention department of the General Hospital in Vienna. After treating thousands of people over the four years he was there, Frankl took a position as the head of the neurological department at the Rothschild Hospital, one of the few facilities that allowed Jews to practice medicine at that time.
Frankl, his parents and his wife were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. He worked as a doctor and eventually was instructed to create a department that helped new arrivals deal with the trauma of being sent to the concentration camp. He created a suicide unit and was responsible for monitoring any attempted suicides. Frankl was later moved to Aushwitz, and eventually ended up in the Turkheim concentration camp. His wife and parents were sent to different camps where they eventually died. Frankl was freed in 1945 and used his experiences to develop his theory of logotherapy, known as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.” Frankl believed that even in the midst of dehumanizing and atrocious conditions, life still had meaning, and therefore that suffering had a purpose. Frankl thought that during extreme physical circumstances, people could escape though their spiritual self, a self that could not be affected by external forces, and could use this method of coping to survive despite unbearable conditions. Frankl spent most of his later career studying existential methods of therapy.
After his release, Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, a groundbreaking book that detailed his perspective of living through the ordeal that was the concentration camp. He accepted a position at the Vienna Policlinic of Neurology, and remained there for 25 years. He held a professorship at the University of Vienna and was a visiting professor at Harvard University. Throughout his long career, Frankl published numerous books, lectured throughout the world, and received dozens of honorary degrees.
Contribution to Psychology
Logotherapy is a form of existentialist therapy that is based on a “will to meaning.” Diverging from Freud’s will to pleasure and Adler’s will to power, Frankl’s theory relies on the belief that the driving force to human is existence is the search to find purpose and meaning to one’s life. The basic principles of Logotherapy encompass the belief that regardless of the conditions of one’s life, it still has meaning and one’s preeminent motivation is the will to discover that meaning. Logotherapy states that each person has the ability to discover meaning in everything they do and experience and within their own moral position. Frankl refers to “spirit” often in his theories on Logotherapy, but the term does not have religious connotations. Rather, it is defined through Logotherapy as a human’s will to search for meaning, not necessarily a higher power.
Quote by Viktor Frankl