In ďManís Search for MeaningĒ Victor Frankl contends that every individual has an innate propensity to search for the meaning of his existence. He further contends that proper counseling, in the form of logotherapy (the word Logos is defined as "meaning"), will help the individual find the will to meaning. The authorís experiences in a NAZI death camp are used quite effectively to demonstrate how focusing on the reasons behind a situation rather than the results that follow, allows a person to survive even the most torturous circumstances. Appropriate counseling, according to Frankl, removes the obstacles that are preventing individuals from using this capability and identifying and/or expressing their will to meaning. This will to meaning is distinctive in that only unique individuals can discover the source of their own unique significance. Yet the counselor can assist in guiding the individual towards recognizing this innate need to find meaning and can then help them overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from exploring the possible answers.
According to Frankl, when a person is obstructed from connecting with his will to meaning, it can result in extreme frustration and eventually a mental breakdown. Thus the role of logotherapy is vitally important in helping the individual to uncover the veiled meaning of his existence and consequently restore and sustain mental health. Conversely, non-existentialists like Sigmund Freud viewed the conflict between sexual needs and societal mores as the source of mankindís propensity for dissatisfaction, aggression, hostility and ultimately, violence. Thus for Freud, the greatest struggle in life is the conflict between the reality that we have created within ourselves and the society which has been created for us. Frankl's logotherapy, therefore, is much more compatible with Western religions than Freudian psychotherapy.
In Freudís perception, harmony and inner peace can only be attained when we have learned to control our aggressive impulses by resolving this incongruity. Under this guise, society functions as an expansive terrain designed to further extend the symbolic distance between the metaphoric and the authentic. This implies that the most insurmountable barrier between discovering the true meaning of our existence and the perceived meaning of our existence rests in the mores of society. †
Frankl disagrees with this perspective, purporting that it is the individualís inner struggle to find meaning that frustrates him; not how his purpose aligns with the goals of society. In other words, it is manís lack of ability to find meaning on a personal level rather than a comparative one that drives him to feel hopeless and distraught. Thus Frankl's logotherapy specifically attempts to restore a sense of meaning to replace feelings of worthlessness and alienation common in people with depression. He achieves this primarily by helping individuals to see that the power of the human spirit is more powerful than any other force on earth.
"Our generation is realistic, for we have come
to know man as he really is," Frankl writes. "After all, man is that
being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that
being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the
Shema Yisrael on his lips."
The message that is prevalent is that no matter what type of suffering a person endures, as long as they hold onto their faith that everything happens for a reason, they can survive. This scenario goes all the way back to the Bible and the story of Job and the lesson is the same as well; that no matter what tragedies befall the faithful, as long as they donít let go of their faith, they are reaping lifeís greatest rewards. By believing that everything happens for a reason, individuals are able to weather the storms of their lives with the strength and determination to overcome.
Since the beginning of time, mankind has searched to find reasons and explanations for the seemingly inexplicable suffering of so many good people. Frankl perceives his theories not as a defense of suffering, but more as a way of validating its existence. I personally agree with Frankl that believing that everything happens for a reason can make even the direst of circumstances seem bearable. Man has always sought to find meaning for his existence and a counselor can play a significant role in helping individuals travel down the path of understanding. Many experts feel however, that the desire to find meaning in life is the only force driving man; there are certainly valid points in Freudian perspectives as well in that it is human nature to compare oneself with others in society. Frankl places a great deal of confidence in the power of the human mind. Yet in order to wholly validate his suppositions, one would have to conclude that society provides little more than an extraneous influence on self-image. This seems implausible, however such a construct would constitute and ideal state of being.
Written by A. L. Davidson