Viktor Frankl

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Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl2.jpg
Frankl in 1965
Viktor Emil Frankl

(1905-03-26)26 March 1905
Died2 September 1997(1997-09-02) (aged 92)
Vienna, Austria
Resting placeZentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria, Old Jewish Section
EducationDoctorate in Medicine, 1931, Doctorate in Philosophy, 1948
Alma materUniversity of Vienna
OccupationNeurologist, psychiatrist
Known forLogotherapy
Existential analysis
Spouse(s)Tilly Grosser, m. 1941
Eleonore Katharina Schwindt, m. 1947
Children1 daughter

Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997)[1] was an Austrian Holocaust survivor,[2] neurologist, psychiatrist and author.

He was the founder of logotherapy (literally "healing through meaning")–– a meaning-centered school of psychotherapy, considered the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy[3]–– following the theories developed by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Logotherapy is part of existential and humanistic psychology theories.[4]

He is the author of over 39 books;[citation needed] he is most noted for his best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps.[5]

Early life[edit]

Frankl was born the middle of three children to Gabriel Frankl, a civil servant in the Ministry of Social Service, and his wife Elsa, née Lion.[1] His interest in psychology and the role of meaning surfaced early when he began taking night classes at the Adult Education Center (Volkshochschule) on applied psychology while still in junior high school.[1] As a teenager he began corresponding with Sigmund Freud. For the final exam (Matura) in the Sperlgymnasium High School, he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking.[2] After graduation from Gymnasium in 1923 he studied medicine at the University of Vienna, specialising in neurology and psychiatry, with a focus on depression and suicide. During a part of 1924, Frankl became president of the Sozialistische Mittelschüler Österreich, the Social Democratic youth movement for high school students, throughout Austria.[1] That same year Frankl's first scientific paper was published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in 1924[6] on the recommendation of Sigmund Freud.[1] During this time he began questioning the Freudian approach to psychoanalysis. He joined Alfred Adler's circle of students and had his second scientific paper, Psychotherapy and Worldview (Psychotherapie und Weltanschauung) published in the International Journal of Individual Psychology in 1925.[1] Frankl was expelled from Adler's circle[2] when he insisted that meaning was the central motivational force in human beings. From 1926 forward he began refining his theory which he coined logotherapy.[7]


Medical and academic roles[edit]

Between 1928 and 1930, while still a medical student, he organized special youth counselling centers[8] to address the high numbers of teen suicides occurring around the time of end of the year report cards. The program was sponsored by the city of Vienna and free of charge to the students. Frankl recruited other psychologists to join him including such notables as Charlotte Bühler, Erwin Wexberg and Rudolf Dreikurs. In 1931 not a single Viennese student committed suicide.[9] The success of this program caught the attention of the likes of Wilhelm Reich who invited him to Berlin.[2][10]

After obtaining his M.D. in 1930, Frankl gained extensive experience at Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital where he was in charge of the "pavilion for suicidal women". Over a four-year period (1933–1937), he treated no less than 3,000 patients each year. In 1937, he began his private practice, but with the Nazi annexation of Austria, his ability to treat patients became limited.[1] In 1940, he joined the Vienna Rothschild Hospital as head of the neurology department. It was the only hospital in Vienna still admitting Jews. Prior to his deportation to the concentration camps, he helped numerous patients avoid the Nazi euthanasia program that targeted the mentally disabled.[2][11]

Following the war, he became head of the neurology department of the Vienna Policlinic Hospital and established a private practice in his home. He actively worked with patients until his retirement in 1970.[2]

In 1948, Frankl earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Vienna. His dissertation, The Unconscious God, is an examination of the relation of psychology and religion.[12] In this, Frankl advocates for the use of the Socratic dialogue or "self-discovery discourse" to be used with clients, to get in touch with their "Noetic" (or spiritual) unconscious.[13]

Grave of Viktor Frankl in Vienna

In 1955, Frankl was awarded a professorship of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and as visiting professor, he lectured at Harvard University (1961), at Southern Methodist University, Dallas (1966), and at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh (1972).[7]

With the success of his books Man's Search for Meaning and The Doctor and the Soul he became a sought after speaker, invited to teach and lecture around the world.

The American Psychiatric Association awarded Frankl the 1985 Oskar Pfister Award for important contributions to religion and psychiatry.[14]


Frankl published 39 books, which were translated into 49 languages.[15] He received 29 honorary doctoral degrees.[16]

Man's Search for Meaning[edit]

Soon after his return to Vienna, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning over a 9-day period.[17] The book, originally titled A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp, was released in German in 1946. The first edition cover does not identify who wrote it because Frankl felt he could express himself more freely.[2] He was surprised that out of the numerous books he wrote, the one that he wanted to publish anonymously became his most popular.[1]

The English translation of Man's Search for Meaning was published in 1959 and became an international bestseller.[2] He saw this not so much as a personal achievement, but as a symptom of the "mass neurosis of modern times" since its title promised to deal with the question of life's meaningfulness.[18]

Contributions to therapy[edit]

Elements of logotherapy/existential analysis[edit]

In logotherapy the search for a meaning in life is identified as the primary motivational force in human beings. Frankl's approach is based on three philosophical and psychological concepts, Freedom of Will - Will to Meaning - Meaning in Life:[19][20]

- Humans are basically free to take their stance towards internal (psychological) and external (biological and social) conditions.

- The search for meaning is seen as the primary motivation of humans. Logotherapy assists clients in finding and pursuing meaningful goals in their lives. However, they are not offered specific meanings; rather, they are encouraged to realize of those meaning possibilities they have detected themselves.

- Logotherapy is based on the idea that meaning is an objective reality, as opposed to a mere illusion arising within the perceptional apparatus of the observer.

Frankl identified three main ways of realizing meaning in life: First, by making a difference in the world through our actions, our work or our creations - referred to as "Creative Values". Second, by experiencing something (such as truth, beauty) or encountering someone (love) - "Experiential Values". Third, by adopting a courageous and exemplary attitude in situations of unavoidable suffering - "Attitudinal Values."

The primary techniques offered by logotherapy and existential analysis are:[21][19][20]

Paradoxical intention[edit]

Clients learn to overcome their obsessions or anxieties by self-distancing and humorous exaggeration, thus breaking the vicious circle of symptom and symptom amplification.


To remove the obstruction of instinctive, automatic processes caused by exaggerated self-observation, dereflection breaks the circle of hyper-reflection and the ensuing inhibition by drawing the client's attention away from the symptom.

Socratic dialogue / attitude modification[23][edit]

Specific questions are aimed to raise into consciousness the possibility to find, and the freedom to fulfill, meaning in one's life. The logotherapist refrains from imposing their own values or meaning perceptions. Rather, clients are guided to perceive their unrealistic and counterproductive attitudes and to develop a new outlook that may be a better basis for a fulfilled life.


In the 1960s Rollo May criticised logotherapy as authoritarian, a view which was debated by Frankl[24] and Reuven Bulka.[25]

Timothy Pytell, a history professor at California State University, San Bernardino, criticizes Frankl's logotherapeutic approach in published articles.[26][27]


Frankl's logotherapy and existential analysis (LTEA) was considered by Frankl as "the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy",[15] among the broad category that comprises existentialists.[28] His acknowledgement of meaning as a central motivational force and factor in mental health and resilience is his lasting contribution to the field of psychology. It provided the foundational principles for the emerging field of Positive Psychology.[29]

He has coined the term noogenic neurosis,[21] the feeling of an inner void. This results from an awareness of the emptiness caused by a lack of meaning, or "existential vacuum",[30] another term coined by Frankl.

Throughout his career, Frankl argued that the reductionist tendencies of most psychotherapeutic approaches dehumanised the patient and advocated for a rehumanisation of psychotherapy.[14]

Viktor Frankl often emphasised the importance of responsibility in conjunction with personal freedom. To illustrate his point he often recommended that the 'Statue of Liberty' on the East Coast of the United States be complemented by a 'Statue of Responsibility', on the West Coast.[31]In 1991, Man's

Man's Search for Meaning was listed as "one of the ten most influential books in the U.S". by the Library of Congress.[32] Still today, decades later, it shows up consistently on Amazon's "Top 100 Books" list and is recommended as one of Amazon's "Top 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime".[33]

Decorations and awards[edit]

Personal life[edit]

In 1941 he married his first wife Tilly Grosser, who was a station nurse at the Rothschild hospital. Soon after they were married she became pregnant but they were forced to abort the child. Tilly died in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.[2][1]

His father Gabriel died in the Terezin concentration camp (Theresienstadt) on 13 February 1943, aged 81, from starvation and pneumonia. His mother and brother, Walter, were both killed in Auschwitz. His sister, Stella, escaped to Australia.[2][1]

In 1947 he married his second wife Eleonore "Elly" Katharina Schwindt. She was a practicing Catholic, and the couple respected each other's religious backgrounds, going to both church and synagogue, and celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. They had one daughter, Gabriele, who went on to become a child psychologist.[2][4][16]

Frankl died of heart failure in Vienna on 2 September 1997. He is buried in the Jewish section of the Vienna Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof). He is survived by his wife Eleonore, one daughter, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.[34]


His books in English are:

  • Man's Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8070-1427-1 (Originally published in 1946)
  • The Doctor and the Soul, (originally titled Ärztliche Seelsorge), Random House, 1955.
  • On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. An Introduction to Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, Translated by James M. DuBois. Brunner-Routledge, London-New York, 2004. ISBN 0-415-95029-5
  • Psychotherapy and Existentialism. Selected Papers on Logotherapy, Simon & Schuster,New York, 1967. ISBN 0-671-20056-9
  • The Will to Meaning. Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy, New American Library, New York, 1988 ISBN 0-452-01034-9
  • The Unheard Cry for Meaning. Psychotherapy and Humanism, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4516-6438-6
  • Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography.; Basic Books, Cambridge, MA 2000. ISBN 978-0-7382-0355-3.
  • Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning. (A revised and extended edition of The Unconscious God; with a Foreword by Swanee Hunt). Perseus Book Publishing, New York, 1997; ISBN 0-306-45620-6. Paperback edition: Perseus Book Group; New York, July 2000; ISBN 0-7382-0354-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Frankl, Viktor Emil (11 August 2000). Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-7382-0355-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Haddon Klingberg (16 October 2001). When life calls out to us: the love and lifework of Viktor and Elly Frankl. Doubleday. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-385-50036-4.
  3. ^ Längle, Alfried (2015). From Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy to Existential Analytic psychotherapy; in: European Psychotherapy 2014/2015. Austria: Home of the World's Psychotherapy. Serge Sulz, Stefan Hagspiel (Eds.). p. 67.
  4. ^ a b Redsand, Anna (18 December 2006). Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-72343-0.
  5. ^ Schatzmann, Morton (5 September 1997). "Obituary: Viktor Frankl". The Independent (UK).
  6. ^ "List of books and articles about Viktor Frankl | Online Research Library: Questia". Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Viktor Frankl Biography". Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna.
  8. ^ Batthyány, Alexander (Ed.) (2016). Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, Volume 1. Springer International. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-3-319-80568-9.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905-1997. (2005). Frühe Schriften, 1923-1942. Vesely-Frankl, Gabriele. Wien: W. Maudrich. ISBN 3-85175-812-9. OCLC 61029472.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905-1997. (2000). Viktor Frankl recollections : an autobiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Pub. ISBN 0-7382-0355-6. OCLC 50503161.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2002). Von der Zwangssterilisierung zur Ermordung. Zur Geschichte der NS-Euthanasie in Wien Teil II. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau. pp. 99–111. ISBN 978-3205993254.
  12. ^ Boeree, George. "Personality Theories: Viktor Frankl." Shippensburg University. Accessed 18 April 2014.
  13. ^ Lantz, James E. "Family logotherapy." Contemporary Family Therapy 8, no. 2 (1986): 124-135.
  14. ^ a b Frankl, Viktor (10 August 2000). Man's search for ultimate meaning. Perseus Pub. ISBN 978-0-7382-0354-6.
  15. ^ a b "Viktor Frankl – Life and Work". Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna. 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  16. ^ a b Scully, Mathew (1995). "Viktor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview". First Things. Archived from the original on 1 May 2012.
  17. ^ "The Life of Viktor Frankl". Viktor Frankl Institute of America.
  18. ^ Frankl, Viktor (2010). The Feeling of Meaninglessness. Marquette University Press. ISBN 9780874627589.
  19. ^ a b Frankl, Viktor (2014). The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New York: Penguin/Plume. ISBN 978-0-14-218126-3.
  20. ^ a b "What is Logotherapy/Existential Analysis".
  21. ^ a b Frankl, Viktor (2019). The Doctor and the Soul. From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-525-56704-2.
  22. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (1975). "Paradoxical intention and dereflection". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 12 (3): 226–237. doi:10.1037/h0086434 – via
  23. ^ Ameli, M., & Dattilio, F. M. (2013). "Enhancing cognitive behavior therapy with logotherapy: Techniques for clinical practice". Psychotherapy. 50 (3): 387–391. doi:10.1037/a0033394. PMID 24000857.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Frankl, Viktor (1979). "Reply to Rollo May". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 19 (4): 85–86. doi:10.1177/002216787901900410. S2CID 145012871 – via
  25. ^ "Is Logotherapy Authoritarian?". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 18 (4): 45–54. 1978. doi:10.1177/002216787801800406. S2CID 220400019.
  26. ^ Batthyány, Alexander (2007). Mythos Frankl?: Geschichte der Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse 1925-1945. Entgegnung auf Timothy Pytell. (German; to appear in English, 2020.). LIT. ISBN 978-3825810320.
  27. ^ Redeeming the Unredeemable:Auschwitz and Man's Search for Meaning, Timothy E. Pytell, California State University, San Bernardino. Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2003 Oxford University Press
  28. ^ Yalom, Irvin D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 0-465-02147-6.
  29. ^ Viktor Frankl’s Meaning-Seeking Model and Positive Psychology Chapter from book 'Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology' (pp.149-184) accessed 26 May 2020
  30. ^ Frankl, Viktor (2006). Man's Search or Meaning. Beacon Press. p. 106. ISBN 9780807014271.
  31. ^ Pattakos, Alex (2019). "Viktor Frankl and the Statue of Responsibility". Psychology Today.
  32. ^ Fein, Esther B. (20 November 1991). "New York Times, 11-20-1991". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Amazon’s Top 100 Books to Read In a Lifetime.
  34. ^ Noble, Holcomb B. (4 September 1997). "Dr. Viktor E. Frankl of Vienna, Psychiatrist of the Search for Meaning, Dies at 92". The New York Times. p. B-7. Retrieved 6 September 2009.

External links[edit]