Frankl founded a new school of psychotherapy called logotherapy which differs to Freud’s “will to pleasure” and Adler’s “will to power,” by being based on the idea that we are driven by a “will to meaning” or an inner desire to find purpose and meaning in life. "Logos" is the Greek word for meaning, and logotherapy involves helping a patient find personal meaning in life. A lot of the techniques of logotherapy have been applied to the more a modern form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:
The therapist diverts the patients away from their problems and complaints; and instead towards something else meaningful in the world. It is based on the concept of self-distancing and self-transcendence.
The following is a transcript from Frankl’s advice to Anna, 19-year old art student who displays severe symptoms of incipient schizophrenia. She considers herself as being confused and asks for help.
Patient: What is going on within me?
Frankl: Don’t brood over yourself. Don’t inquire into the source of your trouble. Leave this to us doctors. We will steer and pilot you through the crisis. Well, isn’t there a goal beckoning you – say, an artistic assignment?
Patient: But this inner turmoil …
Frankl: Don’t watch your inner turmoil, but turn your gaze to what is waiting for you. What counts is not what lurks in the depths, but what waits in the future, waits to be actualized by you….
Patient: But what is the origin of my trouble?
Frankl: Don’t focus on questions like this. Whatever the pathological process underlying your psychological affliction may be, we will cure you. Therefore, don’t be concerned with the strange feelings haunting you. Ignore them until we make you get rid of them. Don’t watch them. Don’t fight them. Imagine, there are about a dozen great things, works which wait to be created by Anna, and there is no one who could achieve and accomplish it but Anna. No one could replace her in this assignment. They will be your creations, and if you don’t create them, they will remain uncreated forever…
Patient: Doctor, I believe in what you say. It is a message which makes me happy.
Frankl argued that we always have the freedom to find meaning through meaningful attitudes even in apparently meaningless situations. For example, an elderly, depressed patient who could not overcome the loss of his wife was helped by the following conversation with Frankl:
Frankl: What would have happened if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?
Patient: Oh, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!
Frankl: You see such a suffering has been spared her; and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving her and mourning her.
The man said no word, but shook Frankl’s hand and calmly left his office.
Watch the 1965 TV interview from this transcript here:
Socratic dialogue employs a method of self-discovery to demonstrate to the patient that the solution to the patient’s problem is actually within him or her. The logotherapist, herein would use the patient’s words, by listening carefully for patterns, to help the patient discover new meaning in his or her own words.
Paradoxical intention is employed primarily to overcome fear by anticipating the very object of one’s fear. For instance, with humor and ridicule, one may wish for the very thing one is afraid of, in order to remove fear from one’s intention. This practice would likely result in reducing the symptoms as well.
Frankl believed that it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment. He viewed guilt as an opportunity to change oneself for the better, and life transitions as the chance to take responsible action. In this way, this psychotherapy was aimed at helping people to make better use of their "spiritual" resources to withstand adversity. In his books, he often used his own personal experiences to explain concepts to the reader.