There are several theories that have been developed over the years that relate to mental health. For example, Sigmund Freud is well recognized for his psychoanalytic theory that discusses the will to pleasure in explaining mental health. Additionally, Alfred Alder developed the Individual Psychology theory that focuses on the will to power in discussing cognitive issues. However, this paper analyzes the logotherapy theory as proposed by Viktor Frankl.
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Frankl (2006) used personal experiences from his time at the Nazi concentration camps in Germany. The psychologist argued that positive thinking, in regards to the meaning of life, helped him overcome the difficulties he faced while in the camps. Frankl (2006) goes further to state that other people who could not find the meaning of their lives while in camps did not survive. This essay looks at how logotheraphy relates to mental illness and emotional distress. The techniques and methods proposed by the theory will also be analyzed in relation to their link to cognitive conditions.
Logotherapy and Mental Illness
Logotherapy theory associates mental health issues to an individual’s willingness to discover the significance of life. Frankl (2006) argued that prisoners in the Nazi camps would succumb to their conditions because they “gave up on life” (p. 19). Through the book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl (2006) argues that there are three things that ensure mental health. The three elements, which also affect one’s search for meaning, are immense suffering, meeting someone significant/influential, and creating or designing a relevant piece of work in their careers, or doing a good deed. Frankl used the first element to find meaning as he agrees he only sought to this after he was arrested and detained in the Nazi camps.
Frankl’s day-to-day activities were interrupted when he was arrested and detained in the concentration camps. He not only had to adjust to the life of a prisoner but also to develop a positive attitude that he will one day be set free. All this relates to mental health.
One can argue that logotherapy theory assumes that life has meaning in all situations (Frankl, 2006). The three elements mentioned summarise every situation one can ever find himself or herself in at any given point in time. Everybody will meet an influential person at one point of their life or another. Additionally, everyone goes through some hard times and lastly, everyone also creates or becomes proud of something they have done at least once in their life. It is crucial to also state that the theory assumes that individuals have the liberty to find the meaning of life. The concepts enhanced by Frankl suggest that everyone has a choice to explore the significance of his or her life in spite of the circumstances and status he or she is in at the time.
Towards this end, the logotherapy theory assumes that mental health is “easy”. Frankl (2006) states that human beings have a body and a mind, which they can control. The soul, however, is the essence of man (Frankl, 2006).
The premise suggests that the mind is an element of man that is easily controllable. Thus, mental health can be viewed as easily comprehensible and manageable. The assumption that humans have a will to meaning also suggests that mental health is something innate and one just has to “unlock” it when the three events happen (suffering, meeting someone significant and creating, designing or doing a work one is proud of). Therefore, according to the premise suggested, the causes of mental illness are closely related to the individual’s failure or denial to search for the importance of his or her life (Frankl, 2006).
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It is arguable that logotherapy theory does not fully consider therapeutic goals that involve groups. However, this does not purport that the premises proposed through the theory cannot be used for therapeutic goals during counseling. Counseling is an interpersonal activity that involves more than one person. One can argue that logotherapy is founded on the assumption that people are able to realize their own life’s meaning but they often need help from “others” to do this.
However, the impact of “others” in searching for meaning is clearly brought out by Frankl’s (2006) analysis of how the environment affects one’s search for meaning. This is clearly brought out in his example of the General who lost his wife. Therefore, one can state that a significant therapeutic goal that can be used, in relation to logotherapy theory, is connecting with other people in an attempt to realize one’s own life’s meaning.
Techniques and Methods of Logotherapy
As stated previously, Frankl (2006) identified three elements that can help an individual find meaning in his or her life. These three elements are also referred to like the methods of logotherapy theory. The first method is immense suffering. Monumental suffering can enhance feelings of depression and this can lead to more severe mental health issues. The example of the general who lost his wife as quoted by Frankl (2006) can be used to explain how the method helps people find meaning in their lives.
Frankl (2006) narrates the story of a Nazi general who was also in the camp. Frankl noticed that the general had become melancholic and depressed. Upon inquiring, Frankl realized that the general had just lost his wife (Frankl, 2006). To console him, and help him realize his goal in life, Frankl told the general that his wife dying first was beneficial as it had spared her the pain of losing him (the general) first. According to Frankl (2006), this realization helped the general also realize the meaning of his life as he became assured that it was to love and take care of his wife (Frankl, 2006).
The second method is the meeting of someone influential. From the book, Frankl refers to people who have lost the will to live as “Moslems” (Frankl, 2006, p. 19), a name he explains was also used by the Nazi soldiers. According to Frankl, Moslems who had met someone influential, whether it was a friend, lover or lost family member, in that situation ended up surviving their depression. The third method is a creation or design of a piece of work or project that one felt proud of or doing a good deed (Frankl, 2006). The example of the general can be used to explain this method further. In the case of the general, Frankl did a good deed by helping a grieving soldier despite the fact that he (Frankl) had been ill-treated and tortured by the same Nazi soldier.
Apart from the methods, there are three techniques that are linked to logotherapy theory as well. The first technique is the paradoxical intention (Frankl, 2006). The technique uses what an individual fears most to liberate him or her. For instance, a person who fears being laughed at can be encouraged to be comical so that people laugh at him or her. By doing so, it is expected that the person will realize that they can handle being laughed at as it is normal.
The second technique is de-reflection (Frankl, 2006). The said technique, as the name suggests, is the use of re-direction of focus from self to others. Frankl (2006) argues that focusing on helping other people eases the burden of focusing on one’s own situation.
For example, Frankl (2006) has suffered immensely after being arrested and taken to the Nazi camps. Not only had he lost his profession as a psychologist, but he had also lost all of his family members. In an attempt to ease the heartbreak, he sought to help other people in the camp realize their own meanings. Frankl (2006) explains that he had to force his mind to find positivity in the situation he was in at that time and helping others made this easier. The third and last technique of logotherapy theory is Socratic dialogue (Frankl, 2006). This technique guides a patient through a journey of self-discovery by encouraging him or her to use his or her own words. A therapist can then point out common patterns, words and expressions, and help a patient find meaning in them.
Three Things Learnt from Logotherapy
One thing I learnt from logotherapy theory is that one’s will can be significantly strong such that it changes one’s whole perspective on life. As mentioned previously, Frankl (2006) argues that he forced his mind to adapt to his new life. The scholar explains that his will was so strong that it gave him the courage and determination to make a better life for himself in the camps. By doing this, he not only became happier but also interacted well with other people, including the Nazi soldiers.
The fact that people can achive themselves to that extent is fascinating as it contradicts with many of the concepts discussed in psychology. For example, the premise suggests that the mind is so self-reliant and self-sufficient. Thereby, one can argue that the mind is an entity on its own and can do whatever it wants as long as the individual wills it.
The second thing learnt from conducting research on logotherapy theory is that the mind not only controls the body but also the soul. Frankl (2006) defines the soul as the essence of man. The body and the mind, on the other hand, are the aspects that make a man (Frankl, 2006).
It is interesting that Frankl does not in any way refer to the soul as a spiritual or religious entity. In fact, many of his arguments contradict with both spirituality and religion. One can argue that the fact that the mind is controllable, and the soul is the essence of man, then one can easily resist any outer influences as long as they understand who they really are as a person. When people understand the three aspects of themselves (body, mind and soul), then the environment and other outer influences cannot change their ideologies.
The third thing learnt after reading the book is that the mind can endure anything and in doing so ensures that the body too can survive anything. This lesson is picked from Frankl’s ordeal in the concentration camps. Frankl was both emotionally and physically hurt when he was put into the Nazi camps. He had lost his family and, in the beginning, did not know whether they were alive or dead. Additionally, he had been tortured, evicted from his home and had to abandon his career. He lived in despicable conditions in the camps and his religion had been challenged. Despite this, the author explains that he forced his mind to find the little pleasures of living in the concentration camps. According to the scholar, it is this will to find meaning in that situation that ensured his survival.
The perspective towards logotherapy theory changed after reading the book. One of the reasons for the change was the fact that Frankl offers personal examples of how each method and technique in the theory can be used in psychology and counseling. Initially, logotherapy theory appeared to propose an individual struggle that encouraged the affected patient to pretend to be healthy until the day they actually become healthy. This misunderstanding was corrected after reading the book and understanding of the concepts of the theory.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Logotherapy Theory
Logotherapy theory can be both useful and harmful to patients based on their cultural and demographic differences. Logotherapy can be beneficial for patients that are spiritual or religious. This is due to the fact that it employs the principles of the theology of hope. One can argue that for people to push their minds to such extents that logotherapy encourages, they have to be hopeful. This type of hope is brought on by a spiritual or religious understanding of outcomes. Despite the fact that Frankl does not tie the theory to religion, he was, in fact, a very religious man and it is his faith that helped him survive the Nazi concentration camps.
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Towards this end, one can argue that the theory can be counterproductive in people who are not religious or inclined to be hopeful. On the same note, logotherapy can be harmful to clients who cannot seem to find the meaning of life as the psychologist will be inclined to give such patients goals, which will not necessarily solve their mental concerns. This is especially the case in younger patients who are yet to understand the meaning and complexities of life. The treatment process will be biased as it will be fully dictated by the goals set by the counselor.
Logotherapy is one of the many therapeutic theories used in psychology and counselling today. The theory was developed by Alfred Frankl after he was arrested, tortured and held at the Nazi concentration camps. The theory has three methods that have been used to help patients find the meaning of life. The three methods are creating or designing an impressive piece of work that one is proud of or doing a good deed, immense suffering, and meeting someone significant.
The theory also has three techniques that counselors use. The three techniques are the Socratic dialogue, paradoxical intention, and de-reflection. It is important to note that logotherapy gives an individual the power to survive anything. This is because the theory depicts the mind as a powerful element that can shape how a person views the world and the people around him or her. To Frankl, using the concepts associated with logotherapy helped him survive the concentration camps as he was willing to see the positive elements of the camps and the situation he was in at that time.
Frankl, A. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.