Logotherapy, Psychology and Modern Society

Logotherapy, Psychology and Modern Society

          Logotherapy, the groundbreaking work of psychologist Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, does not fit in with established notions of psychology. Concurrently, establishment psychology supports and advances modern societal trends. The psychological establishment, assuming the bright mantle of settled science wrapped in the glittering cloak of received wisdom, holds the high ground in the culture which marginalize Logotherapy. We shall study Logotherapy and juxtapose its theory with that of its official Freudian opposite while keeping in mind the fact that Viktor Frankl, who survived four years in Nazi concentration camps, achieved a certain credibility that other psychological theorists did not attain.

          In his concentration camp memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl attributed his unlikely survival in conditions of unimaginable horror to his well-developed intellectual and spiritual life. He observed that by focusing on such external factors as his love for his wife, fleeting observations of natural beauty such as a sunset, and barely perceptible acts of defiance in the face of totalitarian forces, he found meaning to his life and the inner strength to live. Frankl survived while many stronger and younger men who perhaps lacked similar internal resources did not. Frankl’s habit of focusing on meaning outside of himself and beyond his indescribably miserable condition resulted in a greater awareness of his surroundings which helped him to read the character and intentions of those who might kill him at any moment.

          Logotherapy is an applied practical social science, one that helps the patient find solutions to psychological problems with techniques that aid in finding meaning. The patient is able to tackle normal but difficult situations related to suffering, loss, obsessive fear, depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, and other conditions that have contributed to neurosis in the patient. Logotherapy is based upon the premise that by perceiving purpose, and by discovering meaning the individual, even those experiencing extreme neurosis or psychosis,   is capable of determining how to cope and, in the process, how to advance the course of their own life and destiny within the bounds of capability and circumstance.

          The obvious reason why the psychological establishment rejects Logotherapy is because Logotherapy can actually lead a patient toward resolving or solving a problem. This, quite frankly, threatens the financial interests of psychotherapy which is, at the end of the day, a cash cow. If the patient figures out how to cure himself, that patient would no longer be inclined to spend a ton of money and waste interminable hours over weeks, months, years, even decades in the therapist chair. Indeed, with Logotherapy, conventional psychotherapy might no longer be a lifestyle, as it is for such cultural luminaries as movie producer Woody Allen. The therapist, practicing Logotherapy, would rather help the patient solve or learn to cope with a real life problem. Having said this, it should be noted that there are many talented and brilliant Freudian oriented psychotherapists who care about and help their patients. This critique is philosophical as opposed to one directed at individual professionals.

          The psychological establishment rejects Logotherapy, however, for reasons that transcend mere pecuniary interests. Indeed, the rejection of Logotherapy has a philosophical component. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl contrasts his concept of a will to meaning with Sigmund Freud’s will to pleasure and Alfred Adler’s will to power. All three men were practicing psychologists around the same time in pre-World War II Vienna where, it has been suggested, they each established three major psychological schools of thought. While Frankl focused on the discovery of meaning as a choice, Freud focused on the centrality of the subconscious mind and Adler focused on the centrality of the individual as the primary source of existence.

          Freud and Adler were both determinists with Freud claiming that the human psyche was
pre-determined by the ultimately unknowable subconscious mind as it was formed in the formative years of infancy and early childhood. Freud was likely influenced in this regard by the work of enlightenment philosopher Emmanuel Kant who viewed reality as devided into two spheres, the conscious or nominal sphere which was not real, and the unconscious or phenomenal sphere which was real but unknowable. Adler’s will to power was likely influenced by the philosophy of Frederich Nietzsche who developed a concept of will to power that he applied to political leaders as well as to societies and nations.

          Freud and Adler both viewed the individual as a reactive animal, responding primarily to external stimuli and to innate genetic biological factors. While Frankl acknowledged these factors as influential on individual development, he nevertheless viewed environment and genetic influence as existing outside the ability of the individual to exercise free will and self-determination based upon individual educational, moral and ethical development. Frankl’s personal experience in the Nazi concentration camps led him to realize the ability of the individual to transcend and overcome extreme external environmental factors. This same concentration camp experience led Frankl to reject the deterministic genetic argument given that he witnessed first-hand the Nazi crack-pot genetic race theories in action and he understood more fully than most the real effects of their consequences.

          Frankl believed that the individual was capable, through self-reflection and self-knowledge, of changing direction of his or her life. He believed that every person had an inner core of dignity. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl offers an example of a Nazi camp doctor, who he described as satanic, but who was later changed into a better person while held in the infamous Soviet Lubianka prison.    

          Freudian psycology emphacizes the pleasure principle, the idea that the purpose of life is to be happy. The work of life, in this context, is to “find yourself” to use the old counter-culture term. Freud may have drawn inspiration from the ancient Greek philosophical schools of epicureanism and sophism which hold that whatever feels good is good and that all of existence is based on the sensate. This belief, along with the widely reported and accepted assumption that Freud was having an adulterous affair with Mina Bernays, his wife’s sister, probably had a lot to do with his obsession with sex. The Oedipus Complex, by which the child desires an incentuous relationship with the parent of the opposite sex, constituted a major role in Freud’s psychological theories.

Freud viewed “polymorpheus pervisity,” sex with anyone, at any time, in any combination, as an ultimate virtue and he viewed opposition to polymorpheus pervisity a0s a form of psychological repression. This view would be advanced by Soviet theoretician Alexandra Kollentai who wrote about winged as opposed to unwinged eros. Winged eros, according to Kollentai, was sex connected to the sacred, or sex connected to love, commitment, or meaning which she viewed as a bourjouis affectation and, as such, a form of false consciousness. Kollentai viewed unwinged eros, which she described as occurring when sex became as common and as devoid of meaning as the act of drinking a glass of water, as a virtue.

Logotherapy is a form of spsychtherapy that recognizes the obvious, that tension is a normal and is often a positive dynamic of life, that tension can be harnessed in positive ways when viewed in the context of meaning. The unnatural goal of Freudian psycology, on the other hand, is equilibrium, a condition by which tension has been eradicated which is impossible. Equalibriam, which is a condition by which there is no tension, can only be achieved when the person is dead.

In the process of finding meaning as a response to the natural conditions associated with tension, the individual is set on a cource of solving a problem. This required the marshalling of all aspects of the human being, physical as well as intellectual. A byproduct of working toward a goal, or a purpose, is a sense of self-esteem which is a byproduct of such advancement. This is likewise the case with a sense of happiness. These factors are thus not a goal, per se, but rather they are a byproduct of experience and achievement.

Viktor Frankl anchored his psychological theory on the importance of a sense of responsibility. The successful sovereign individual finds meaning in life as a result of developing an internal moral and ethical code, one based on reason as well as faith. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl suggests that the Statue of Liberty, situated in New York harbor, be completed by a Statue of Responsibility to be located in Los Angeles. Frankl derived his own moral and ethical code from his study of science, by which he derived principles of reason, and his faith, which he integrated with scientific knowledge.

Thus Psycology today reflects the pleasure principle, whatever feels good is good, and the psycology of politics reflects the Adlerian principle of the will to power. Individuals sacrifice a besic objective understanding of right and wrong in favor of satisfying whatever they precieve as pleasurable at the moment. In the process, they lose their sense of meaning, they forget the past or the future as they live only for the moment, and they ultimately forget who they are.

This is likewise the case with nations that operate on the principle of arbitrary fiat power as opposed to limited representative responsibility which opens the door to a deliberative expression of the national will. Both nations and individuals would be well served to explore the psychological philosophy of Viktor Frankl, a psycology that was forged in the hot irons of Aushwitz.