Logotherapy: Use & Techniques

Instructor: Emily Cummins
How do we find meaning in life? Does it exist objectively? In this lesson we'll talk about the idea of logotherapy, which is a technique in psychiatry that tries to help patients find meaning in life, even in the face of terrible circumstances.

Victor Frankl and Logotherapy

Have you ever been faced with a very difficult time and weren't sure how to get through it? Maybe you started to feel like you didn't have much purpose in life or that it was very difficult to find meaning. Maybe you started to question the meaning of life altogether. These are the kinds of questions that the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl began to ask himself after spending time in concentration camps in Germany during World War II. Viktor developed an idea known as logotherapy, which is a philosophical approach to psychiatry that suggests all life has meaning, even in the face of great suffering. No matter what we're going through, there's meaning that we can find in our life. Let's talk a bit more about this idea.

Frankl believed we can find meaning in life even in the worst times
Viktor Frankl, logotherapy

Premises of Logotherapy

Frankl based logotherapy on a few key philosophical premises. First, he suggested that humans have freedom of will. This means that we all have the ability to make choices in our life. While we might be constrained by bigger forces, we still have the power to shape our own lives. This is kind of like that old adage that part of being happy is choosing to be happy. This helps us believe that we have some agency even during dark times. We all have a will to meaning. This means that in addition to having free will to make choices, we need to be striving for something. We need to have goals we can accomplish. Frankl believed that experiencing something like true love can also help us achieve a will to meaning. Finally, Frankl believed that there is always meaning in life. In other words, he meant that meaning exists objectively. It might look different in each of our lives, but it's always there. We just need to try and find it. So what does it look like when we try and use logotherapy to help people who are suffering?

Uses of Logotherapy

Frankl believed that many mental illnesses are caused by a feeling of meaninglessness. If we feel meaningless and as if there is no point to life, we can fall into a depression. Frankl called this existential frustration. So logotherapy can be useful for treating conditions like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. There are three main techniques associated with logotherapy:

  • Dereflection: this is used to try and help someone who is too focused on a goal or an issue or a problem. The idea here is a therapist or practitioner tries to help the patient focus less on this by reflecting their attention away from themself. Focusing too much on something like, say, an upcoming exam, can make us perform worse.
  • Paradoxical intention: this is a technique that can be used when people experience a lot of fear or anxiety. It can be used to treat phobias. Basically, you use this technique to wish for or do something you're afraid of. (See where the notion of paradox comes in?) The idea is that by wishing for what we're afraid of we can reduce this fear.
  • Socratic dialogue: in this method a therapist listens to a client's harmful thoughts, maybe even repeats them back in a way that affirms them, but then tries to get the client to see alternative ways of thinking. The hope is to change the harmful thoughts and help a client develop different ways of thinking.

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