Logotherapy and Existential Analysis

What is Logotherapy / Existential Analysis?

Author: Alexander BatthyƔny

The development of LTEA dates back to the 1930s. On the basis of Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler's Individual Psychology the psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) laid down the foundations of a new and original approach which he first published in 1938. Logotherapy/Existential Analysis, sometimes called the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy", is an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy.

In Logotherapy/Existential Analysis (LTEA) 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

According to LTEA humans are not fully subject to conditions but are basically free to decide and capable of taking their stance towards internal (psychological) and external (biological and social) conditions. Freedom is here defined as the space of shaping one's own life within the limits of the given possibilities. This freedom derives from the spiritual dimension of the person, which is understood as the essentially human realm, over and above the dimensions of body and of psyche. As spiritual persons, humans are not just reacting organisms but autonomous beings capable of actively shaping their lives.

The freedom of the human person plays an important role in psychotherapy, in that it provides clients with room for autonomous action even in the face of somatic or psychological illness. And it just that resource which enables clients, in the context of the techniques of Paradoxical Intention and Dereflection, to cope with their symptoms and to regain control and self-determination.


Will to Meaning

Human beings are not only free, but most importantly they are free to something – namely, to achieve goals and purposes. The search for meaning is seen as the primary motivation of humans. When a person cannot realize his or her "Will to Meaning" in their lives they will experience an abysmal sensation of meaninglessness and emptiness. The frustration of the existential need for meaningful goals will give rise to aggression, addiction, depression and suicidality, and it may engender or increase psychosomatic maladies and neurotic disorders.

Logotherapy/Existential Analysis assists clients in perceiving and removing those factors that hinder them in pursuing meaningful goals in their lives. Clients are sensitized for the perception of meaning potentialities; however, they are not offered specific meanings. Rather, they are guided and assisted in the realization of those meaning possibilities they have detected themselves.


Meaning in Life

LTEA 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. According to LTEA humans are called upon, on the grounds of their freedom and responsibility, to bring forth the possible best in themselves and in the world, by perceiving and realizing the meaning of the moment in each and every situation. In this context it must be stressed that these meaning potentials, although objective in nature, are linked to the specific situation and person, and are therefore continually changing. Thus LTEA does not declare or offer some general meaning of life. Rather, clients are aided in achieving the openness and flexibility that will enable them to shape their day-to-day lives in a meaningful manner.



Therapeutic Techniques in LTEA (Selection)


Paradoxical Intention

Indications: mainly compulsive disorders and anxiety, also vegetative syndromes.
Guided by the physician or therapist, clients learn to overcome their obsessions or anxieties by self-distancing and humorous exaggeration, thus breaking the vicious circle of symptom and symptom amplification.



Indications: Sexual disorders and sleeplessness, also anxiety disorders.
Instinctive, automatic processes are impeded and hindered by exaggerated self-observation. By the same token, some mild and well-founded sensations of anxiousness or sadness will be increased and amplified by self-observation, making them more noticeable and engendering even more intense observation. It is the purpose of dereflexion to break this neuroticizing circle by drawing the client's attention away from the symptom or the naturally flowing process.


Socratic dialogue / Modification of attitudes

Certain attitudes and expectations may be obstacles to meaning fulfillment. They can alienate a person from the meaning potentialities in his or her life, thus accentuating neurotic disorders, or even producing them via repeated maldecisions and formation of behavior patterns.

It is important to note that the therapist or physician must refrain from imposing his or her 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.

Socratic dialogue is a conversational method frequently used by logotherapists. Specific questions are aimed to raise into consciousness the possibility to find, and the freedom to fulfill, meaning in one's life. In the philosophical setting this technique of guiding by questioning was introduced by Socrates, who characterized it as a sort of "spiritual midwifery".



Dictionary of LTEA



The greek word "logos" is here used in the sense of "meaning"; the equally valid translations, "word" or "rational order" are not helpful in explaining the tenets of LTEA. In particular, the logotherapist is not attempting to persuade the client by logical reasoning; rather, they assist the clients in detecting their specific and individual meaning.

Logotherapy is applied therapy on the basis of the psychological-anthropological model developed by Viktor Frankl.


Existential Analysis

EA may be understood as the philosophical and scientific basis of logotherapy as well as an essential part of a therapy proper.

Basically, existential analysis means analysis with respect to existence, or "explication of existence" with consideration of a self-responsible, self-realized and humane life.

In "general existential analysis" the pursuit of meaning is discussed and identified as a basic motivation in humans, and arguments are provided that demonstrate the fundamental possibility of finding meaning in life. On this basis the therapeutic effects of a successful search for meaning may be explained.

In "special existential analysis" the specific, individual life of a person or a group is probed for the possible existential roots of a mental or psychological disorder. In this context it provides the basis for a logo-therapy as a specific therapy proceeding via the "existential core". Thus the therapeutic value of existential analysis lies in the elucidation of the concrete existential situation and the preparation for giving assistance in the – autonomous – search for meaning.