Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl: theory and techniques

Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl: theory and techniques

Logotherapy was developed by Viktor Frankl , one of the main representatives of existential analysis. Existentialist philosophy had a great influence on these interventions, which have as their objective the achievement of vital meaning.

In this article we will describe the principles and basic techniques of speech therapy, as well as the types of neuroses that exist according to Viktor Frankl. The most important of these is noogenic neurosis, which was the focus of this author’s interest.

The speech therapy of Viktor Frankl

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 earlier. In 1959 he published his key book, “Man in Search of Meaning”, where he described his model: logotherapy.

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

According to Frankl, we people can always give a meaning to our lives , regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves; this search for meaning constitutes the main vital motivation. Moreover, 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 the lack of meaning in life.

He described three types of values that lead to meaning and, therefore, to happiness: the 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 behaviourism of the time and anticipated the cognitive approaches.

Types of neurosis according to Frankl

Frankl described various types of neurosis depending on the causes that provoke them. Among them, noogenic neurosis stands out, which is the focus of logotherapy.

1. Noogene

Logotherapy is specific to noogenetic neurosis , which arises as a consequence of the existential void, of the non-satisfaction of the human spiritual dimension. When a person does not manage to give meaning to his suffering he feels hopelessness and a sense of loss of vital meaning; Frankl calls this situation noogene neurosis.

2. Collective

Neuroses of this type affect a large number of people who share the same culture and/or were born at a particular time. He defined four attitudes as collective neuroses: fatalism (believing that everything has external causes), fanaticism (idealising 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 frenetic pace of the week. When the weekend, holidays or retirement arrive and one has some 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. Of unemployment

Unemployment neurosis is similar to Sunday’s, but lasts longer. When a person does not have an occupation or job, he tends to experience a state of apathy and feelings of uselessness due to lack of life goals.

5. Psychogenic, reactive, somatogenic and psychosomatic

This classification refers to the factors that cause the alteration. Psychogenic neuroses have psychological causes, such as attitudes, while reactive neuroses 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 physical symptoms triggered by psychological factors “psychosomatic neuroses”; this category included asthma.

Logotherapy techniques

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

1. Socratic dialogue

Socratic dialogues consist of challenging the client’s interpretations of different events (i.e. 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. De-reflexion

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

3. Confrontation

Confrontation is a basic technique of psychotherapy in general. It involves making the client aware of the incongruities and inadequacies of certain behaviours and attitudes so that he/she can be aware of them and modify them.

4. Paradoxical intent

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

Today, the paradoxical intention is considered an effective technique for handling various problems, for example, insomnia of conciliation. It works because, when a person becomes willing to have an event occur that normally causes anxiety or other negative emotions, such associated consequences do not occur.

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