Logotherapy, founded by neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), literally means “therapy through meaning.” It rests on three inter-related pillars—freedom of will, will to meaning, and meaning of life—and its main contribution to the therapeutic community is its focus on the vital role of meaning in healing and flourishing. Effective logotherapy depends on the affirmation of these basic beliefs. This entry highlights some of the major tenets of logotherapy that enable people to maintain their human dignity, overcome adversities, and transform tragedy into triumph.
Against the backdrop of the Holocaust, Frankl emphasized the human responsibility to care for others and pursue a meaningful life. Frankl has shown that human beings have the freedom to choose to go to the gas chambers with dignity and prayers on their lips.
Frankl’s approach to personal development and human excellence is teleological—we become fully human only when we fulfill our spiritual nature of serving a higher purpose for the greater good. In this view, deepest life satisfaction and strongest resilience are the natural consequences of pursuing self-transcendence rather than other competing values such as pleasure, power, and success. According to Frankl, self-transcendence is a uniquely human capacity and the essence of human existence. Being human is to step out of oneself and rise above all limitations to fulfill one’s spiritual nature—to lose oneself in a unique calling in serving a higher purpose. Positive psychology research has provided evidence that meaning and authentic happiness come from pursuing something larger than oneself…
This encyclopedia entry is published as Wong, P. T. P. (in press). Logotherapy. In A. Wenzel (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology (pp. 1984). New York, NY: Sage. | This publication was partially supported by the research grant on Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life from the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more at virtue.uchicago.edu.
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