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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is logotherapy? How did Viktor Frankl develop the theory of logotherapy, and how does it work?

Viktor Frankl developed the theory of logotherapy after spending time in a concentration camp. He believed that psychological resistance helped him survive.

So what is logotherapy? Keep reading to find out.

What is Logotherapy?

We’ve covered Frankl’s time in the concentration camps and the observations he made about prisoners’ psychological phases and methods of resistance. This inspired him to create logotherapy, his own school of psychology. So what is logotherapy?

Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy theory has a few core principles:

  • Humans are motivated by meaning. We want to know why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do, and if it has any value. 
    • Social scientists at Johns Hopkins University asked what college students considered very important to them. In America, you might think money reigns–yet only 16% of the students selected “making a lot of money” as the most important thing to them. 78% selected “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.”
  • You should find the true meaning of your life in the world, instead of in your own mind or psyche. 
    • Humans, at their best, are capable of transcending their own wants and feelings to work for things outside themselves–a cause they believe in, or a person they love.
    • From a public opinion poll Frankl conducted in France and Vienna: 89% agreed that humans need a reason to live for, and 61% admitted that in their own lives there was a person or thing/belief that they’d be willing to die for.
  • Make decisions that will benefit your future self.
    • Live as if you were actually living your second life, and in your first life you had made the choice you’re about to make. Would you choose that again?
    • Another way to think of this: “on my deathbed, will I be happy with the choice I’m about to make?”

Prisoners who had a future goal had an easier time surviving than those who didn’t. These future goals were usually meaningful people or meaningful things outside themselves. It was hard to feel like the things happening in the camps had meaning–but working towards something outside themselves and the camps that had great personal meaning to the prisoners gave them more drive to survive. This is Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy theory at work.

Of course, we can toss the word “meaning” around, but it’s a heady concept. What is meaning, and more importantly, how do we find it in our lives? To that end, a lot of us find ourselves asking the same question: what is the meaning of life? Answering the question “what is logotherapy” can help us understand.

Logotherapy: Learning to Survive With Psychology

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Viktor E. Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Man's Search For Meaning summary:

  • How Viktor Frankl survived four Nazi death camps
  • Frankl's life-changing advice for coping with suffering
  • Why focusing on what you enjoy isn't enough to make your life meaningful

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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