How Logotherapy Can Help You Find Purpose In Life
By Nate Miller
Updated March 17, 2020
Reviewer Nicole Gaines, LPC
In psychology there is a field of study called existential therapy. This area is focused on addressing the inherent challenges of human existence and enabling people to feel empowered to handle them confidently. One of those existential challenges is finding meaning in life.
Logotherapy is focused on this issue specifically. According to its creator, a psychiatrist named Dr.Victor Frankl, the most important issue for people to address, the one they must address before all others, is the issue of finding a purpose in life. Frankl believed that this was the greatest source of strength and motivation for everything else a person might do. He also believed that not having a purpose could be extremely destabilizing.
Everyone can sympathize with wanting to have purpose. More and more people are focused on finding jobs that do more than just pay the bills. We all want to feel fulfilled by and excited about our work. Having something to live for makes hardships easier to endure and can even lead to a longer lifespan. It's no wonder that countless blogs and books are all trying to help people find meaning in their lives.
While the value of finding a purpose in life is relatively undisputed, the techniques that Frankl established originally faced serious criticisms. Since then the discipline has come a long way. It's worth exploring why he focused on meaning, how logotherapy can help you find purpose in life, some techniques, and whether it's the right method of treatment for you.
Principles of Logotherapy
Victor Frankl was a brilliant neurologist and psychiatrist from Vienna who had studied extensively in the existential theories of psychology. It was from this knowledge base that he defined these three principles as the theoretical core of human existence:
- No matter the situation, everyone's life has meaning and value
- The greatest drive for everyone is the desire to find meaning in life
- No matter the situation, everyone has the ability to control their attitude in response to the environment
These principles led Frankl to the conclusion that he should develop an approach that focuses on this primary human drive and help people develop the tools to achieve it by controlling their own attitude and perception of life.
In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl also outlined the three basic methods by which people can find/create meaning in their lives.
- You can create something or do something for someone
- You can experience something or have an encounter with someone
- You can change your attitude towards life's inherent challenges
These options may seem obvious, but they are critical for logotherapy. Your ability to achieve the first and second option can be taken away from you in difficult circumstances. Nothing, however, can deprive you of your ability to change your attitude towards your life. This is why Frankl focused on this idea. It is also a clear reminder of how Logotherapy was born out of truly horrible circumstances.
Logotherapy's Tragic Origins
Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the holocaust through multiple concentration camps. This experience was formative on his understanding of how the human mind works and the importance of finding meaning. To Frankl, it was because he had found a purpose in life that he was able to endure what he had endured. Therefore, the power of finding meaning in life could not be denied and, for him, was paramount.
Furthermore, and a little more controversially, Frankl believed this meant that anyone, no matter how difficult their situation, could find a way to see a positive purpose in their life. This led him to guiding people into finding inspiring stories about what their life meant even in the face of tragedy. Sometimes this was positive, but sometimes he would come across as though he was ordering patients to not be unhappy with their lives.
This focus on almost forcing people to be happy is generally frowned upon in psychology circles today. Therapists and counselors are focused on helping their patients solve problems and overcome negative mental states. However, it isimportant that your therapist meets you where you are at the time you begin therapy and perhaps you can get 'deeper' into sorting through your meaning of life after you start to feel a bit better.
Who Is Logotherapyfor?
The first thing to understand about logotherapy is that it is not an exclusive method of treatment. You can apply logotherapy techniques and principles to other treatment methods. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example, has been able to apply some of the techniques in logotherapy without sacrificing the objectives of CBT.
With that in mind, logotherapy itself works on a range of issues, including but not limited to
Burnout: It has been observed to help people overcome feeling burnt out at work. By determining that employees felt disengaged because they stopped seeing any value in what they were doing, researchers were able to reignite people's passions for their jobs.
Depression: Unsurprisingly, logotherapy can help overcome and/or manage depression. Those struggling with depression can feel isolated and lost. Rediscovering a meaning for life can go a long way in ameliorating that pain.
Marriage Issues: When a couple starts to drift apart, a common problem is two people who no longer believe they want the same things out of life. Logotherapy has been observed to help married couples find a shared purpose again.
These are just a few examples, but they are powerful demonstrations of logotherapy's potential.
As a quick aside, logotherapy can have a reputation for being a little harsh. Some people take issue with the idea in logotherapy that no one's situation is so bad that they can't find a positive purpose in it. That idea can come across as unsympathetic. How forceful your logotherapy experience is in this regard will depend largely on you and your therapist, but it is worth noting.
How Do Logotherapy Techniques Work?
There are specific techniques and general principles that inform logotherapy work.
The general principles are that progress is made via honest collaboration between the therapist and the patient. Despite Frankl's occasional reputation for being bossy, modern day logotherapy is all about a shared process for finding and attaining value. Furthermore, as may be clear by now, logotherapy is attentive to the things in life that have meaning and value. Finding, moving towards, and expanding those things/people/activities are a huge part of logotherapy treatment.
In addition to these general guidelines, there are some specific methods that a logotherapist may apply to help adjust someone's attitude towards their life.
- Dereflection: If a therapist believes that your problems are based in an excessive focus on oneself, they may use dereflection to shift your focus to people/places/things external to you
- Paradoxical Intention: Sometimes what's holding you back is an excessive fear or phobia. A therapist may try to help you overcome this fear by "paradoxically" having you talk about the issue often, and even joke about it. This is intended to make the fear seem more manageable, even laughable.
- Socratic Method: The philosopher Socrates was known to challenge and teach his students by asking a series of questions that pushed their understanding of ideas. In logotherapy, this tool allows a therapist to help patients find new answers to problems by guiding the patient. The questions should lead to a place where the patient discovers the answer through what they know and believe rather than having it handed to them by someone else.
How Does Logotherapy Help You Find Meaning in Life?
People lose sight of their purpose in life for many reasons. Sometimes it's through one or more major events, like a brush with death or a great personal loss. Other times it can come about gradually, after a long time spent in a sad living situation until one day you realize you're just not happy. Whatever the reason, we are all susceptible to losing our way.
By starting with an individual's power to control how they perceive the world, logotherapy necessarily begins treatment from a place that everyone can understand. From there, logotherapy can help you see that whatever it seems like on the surface, your life has not and cannot lose all meaning. You feel terrible because deep down you believe you are in a life without purpose, an existential vacuum.
Logotherapy starts on the inherent value of your life and builds on it collaboratively. By asking questions, challenging your perceptions, defining new goals, and shifting your focus, a counselor can help you find and/or create new sources of meaning.
Logotherapy Is Challenging, Purposeful, And Rewarding
When Victor Frankl gave voice to his idea that having a purpose in life had helped him endure the unimaginable horrors of the holocaust, people listened. Over 50 years later, the strength of his ideas and their power to help others continue to show. While his interactions with patients were, in some cases, slightly questionable, his overall goal and theory were sound.
If you believe that your life has no meaning, or if you feel like you are striving for a purpose on this earth, then logotherapy may be right for you. You must be ready to ask hard questions about your behavior. You need to be open to the idea that the real problem is your attitude towards your situation rather than the situation itself. If you can do these things and work collaboratively with your counselor, you can make great progress.
Understanding how to navigate them and determining how they impact you takes practice, patience, and perception. Professional help from people like the counselors at ReGain can go a long way in making your exploration of finding meaning life much more fruitful.
Everyone struggles with losing their way, and everyone is happier when they believe there is a reason for living. Logotherapy is a powerful way to explore your purpose and how to make it real.