Logotherapy is officially recognised as a scientifically-based school of psychotherapy by the American Medical Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.


Logotherapy is based on the works of Viktor Frankl, a famous existentialist philosopher, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of the best-seller: Man's Search for Meaning, which records his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. Although Frankl initially was a personal student of Freud, he formed his own theory of human behaviour called logotherapy and had formulated many of his ideas before being imprisoned. Logotherapy is described as a meaning-centred psychotherapy. The word 'logos' is a Greek word which also denotes "meaning". The word "therapy" originates from the Greek word "therapia" which literally means "service". Thus, logotherapy is a therapy through which one can be helped to find meaning — the meaning of one's own life as many people feel that their lives are void of any meaning.

Logotherapy has become known as the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy"'" after that of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler and is a theory Frankl used not only in his professional life, but also in his private life. Frankl maintained that Logotherapy focuses on the future:

"The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed." — Viktor Frankl

Logotherapy is based on an explicit philosophy of man and of human life*. The concept of man as developed in The Doctor and the Soul is multi-dimensional. This means that man lives in a tri-dimensional world.

This tri-dimensional world includes:

  • A world of things (physical), the physical-biological (somantic) level.
  • A world of anxieties and hopes, perceptions and memories, of introspection and emotions (psychic), the mental-intellectual (psychic) level.
  • A world of searching, discovering and actualising unique meanings for one's life (no√ętic), the socio-spiritual (noëtic) level.

* The word "man", used by Frankl and existential theorists to denote the human being, both male and female, is used in describing Frankl's view of human existence.

Basic Tenets

Logotherapy is founded upon the belief that the strongest motivation in human nature is the search for meaning in one's life. Frankl asserted that three facts are fundamental to human experience. These are: freedom of will; the will to meaning; and the meaning of life. Man lives in a world which like himself is unique. It is a world filled with other beings to encounter and meanings to fulfill. Freedom of will is proposed in contrast to philosophies of determinism; the will to meaning is emphasised in contrast to motivational theories based on homeostasis and meaning in life is affirmed in contrast to systems of reductionism.

Frankl spelt out the basic tenets of logotherapy as follows:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

Finding Meaning

According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Frankl contended that the human heart will remain restless until it has found and realized meaning. Meaning is always found outside of ourselves. If we have nothing and no-one to live for, nothing meaningful to give to the world, if we have no greater cause than our own interests to serve, we are overcome with a sense of futility and our lives remain empty.

The existential aspect of Frankl's psychotherapy maintains that man always has the ability to choose; no matter the biological, or environmental forces. An important aspect of this therapy is known as the tragic triad, consisting of pain, guilt, and death.

Frankl's Case for a Tragic Optimism uses this philosophy to demonstrate that optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential, which at its best always allows for:

  • Turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment.
  • Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better.
  • Deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

Meaning can be found in three principle ways, namely:

  1. Creative values or what one gives to the world in terms of one's own positive contributions and creations. They are more or less the active processes of life: working, producing, creating an artistic work, giving help to others, writing a great novel or taking care of a family.
  2. Experiential values or what one takes from the world in terms of one's encounters and experience. Experiential values are realised when a person becomes sensitive and receptive to the truth and beauty. This requires an openness to the world as man engages in dialogue with the world of people and things.
  3. Attitudinal values or the attitude one takes to a specific predicament or unchangeable fate or the stand one takes towards an unchangeable aspect of one's existence.

As human beings, we have freedom of will. We are not the helpless victims of bad circumstances. We can transcend these circumstances and change them. We have the capacity of thought which enables us to think things through and decide whether something is meaningful or senseless, right or wrong, constructive or destructive. We also have a conscience which provides a consciousness of right and wrong and allows us to take responsible action. Human freedom, therefore, is the freedom of responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is something arbitrary, senseless and either leaves us directionless, or can lead to irresponsible, lawless, immoral, violent or self-destructive ways of living.

All of life can be meaningful. It can be realized in every situation and is nowhere more powerfully manifested than in the way we overcome difficulties and hardships, face suffering, or bear witness to the faith we have in good triumphing over evil, however long it takes and however much is asked of us in the process. Our triumph is that we are living our lives as they are meant to be lived, every day and in every way.

Experiential Learning

From mentors, sages and by example, our own and others, we learn lessons, gain wisdom and enrich our lives.

Viktor Frankl speaks of three chief groups of values: "Creative Values", "Experiential Values" and "Attitudinal Values". "This sequence" says Frankl, "reflects the three principal ways in which man can find meaning in life." In the case of "Creative Values" he is referring to what one gives to the world in terms of our creations. "Experiential Values" are about what we take from the world by way of encounters and experiences. Lastly, through our "Attitudinal Values" we take a stand to our predicament in case we must face a fate, which we cannot change. (Frankl, 1969, p70)

It is education through experience; it is education through encountering someone, some group or some thing.

This portfolio will identify, source and highlight those individuals and groups who have and are living examples of logo-life and philosophy. By sharing their stories with us they might discover meaning in their lives, while at the same time, share their lessons, wisdom, ideas, thoughts, talents and abilities for the greater good of the community and society. Their "legacy" will inspire others to live likewise.

What is Meant By a Legacy?

An interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us.

  • Legacy is fundamental to what it means to be human.
  • It is a gift to someone and as such immediately offers the opportunity of self-transcendence, a cornerstone and guidepost to discovering meaning!
  • They are about life and living.
  • They are about learning from the past.
  • They are about living in the present.
  • They are about building for the future.

So, if you feel that you have a story to share, if you are living a meaning-filled life or if you know someone who is and does, I would very much like to talk to you. Please contact me, Coral Wilder.

Applying Logotherapy

"Our calling in life is inherently given, something we fundamentally experience ourselves to be, that we feel a deep and profound kinship with. It is also something that comes to us that confronts us through our lives. As a deep and rich potential talent, peculiar abilities, gifts, this spectrum of who I most fundamentally am, or sense myself to be, is also what I feel called upon to become. — Teria Shantall, Optimal Living Workshop

Logotherapy comes to life in the group workshops. Logotherapists from various parts of South Africa run workshops on numerous logotherapeutic topics, bringing their knowledge, skills and passion to the process of experiential learning. And, as a result, Frankl's teachings become integrated into one's life and meaning is experienced on a moment-to-moment basis. We evolve in the direction of who we are destined to be.

Frankl implored people not to make a guru out of him, but rather to take his work and grow and develop it and let it touch people's lives in a real way. Our senior students are designing their own logotherapy workshops on different topics. For example, empowering teenagers to live a meaningful life, helping people survive retrenchment, bringing meaning and purpose to one's life in order to promote wellness, and many others. These will be offered to the public when the students graduate.