Meaning Seeking/Making:
Contributions of Viktor Frankl
© Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D, C.Psych
The Alberta Pastoral Care Association
45th Annual Conference
April 15 - 16, 2013
• Dr. Frankl’s Logotherapy & Spirituality
• Comparing Logotherapy with Positive Psychology
• The basic concepts of Logotherapy
• Logotherapy & Spiritual Care
The Socio-political Milieu of
• Logotherapy was first developed after the
devastating First World War and the
collapse of the monarchy
• Became widely accepted during time of
meaning crisis caused by the Second World
War and the collapse of traditional values
Viktor Frankl &
the Medical Ministry
• Logotherapy is adjunct to
medical treatments &
• Healing needs to occur at
the spiritual level
• Designed to address
questions of suffering &
Religion vs. Logotherapy
• People have accused Frankl of sneaking religion
into psychotherapy.
• Frankl is very clear that religion and
psychotherapy are two different but overlapping
• Religion is about salvation of the soul whereas
logotherapy is an adjunct to healing of the
• Both disciplines address spiritual and value issues.
The Importance of Spirituality
• Spirituality is one of the three dimensions of
personhood. The other two are biological and
• Logotherapy recognizes the spiritual nature of
human beings and the individual responsibility
to live according to enduring values.
Human Dimensions of Personhood
Will to meaning
Defiant spirit
Sociocultural Context
• Sacredness
• Transcendence
• Compassion
The Noetic Dimension
• It is the healthy core or “medicine chest” of
human beings.
• It contains uniquely human attributes, such
as: will to meaning, ideals, creativity, faith,
love, conscience, self-detachment, selftranscendence, humor, goal-striving,
commitment & responsibility.
The Noetic Dimension (cont.)
• It is Frankl’s way of capturing what is right
about people and what is distinct about
human beings.
• Human beings are motivated to serve others
and understand the larger scheme of things.
• It represents the common denominator of all
spiritual traditions.
The Spiritual Core manifests
itself in…
1. Meaning seeking & myth making
2. The desire to serve God and others
3. A sense of awe & sacredness
4. Belief in the transcendent realm
5. Responsibility to God & people
Logotherapy as a
Depth Therapy
• Viktor Frankl was a student of Sigmund Freud
and was influenced by psychoanalysis.
• Human beings are not only motivated by the
will to pleasure (Freud) & the will to power
(Adler), but also the will to meaning.
• The will to meaning often lies latent in the
unconscious because it is blocked by our
pursuit of pleasure & power.
Two Approaches to Meaning
Existential Psychology
• There is a God and
Ultimate Meaning.
• There is no God and no
Ultimate Meaning.
• Life has intrinsic meaning
& value.
• You have to create your
own meaning & value.
• Meaning is based on
objective values.
• Meaning is based on
subjective values.
• Life has both negative &
positive existential givens.
• Focuses only on
existential anxieties
Two Approaches to Positive
Existential Positive Psychology Positive Psychology
• Focuses on positive & negative
• Focuses on the positive
• Meaning is the primary life goal
• Wellbeing is the primary life goal
• Meaning is a terminal value
• Meaning is an instrumental
• Emphasizes existential meaning
& spiritual beliefs
• Emphasizes cognitive meaning
& rational thinking
• Focuses on inner personal
transformation & values
• Focuses on activities & character
Logotherapy &
Positive Psychology
Although logotherapy emerged from
discovering meaning in suffering,
Frankl is primarily concerned with the
existential challenges of how to
become fully human through selftranscendence.
What is Logotherapy?
• Logotherapy literally means therapy
through meaning.
• It is a spiritually-oriented psychotherapy.
• It is designed to make clients aware of their
need for meaning & their responsibility.
• “Inasmuch as logotherapy makes him aware
of the hidden logos of his existence, it is an
analytical process” (Frankl, 1984, p. 125).
Existential Vacuum
• Modern life is characterized by
meaninglessness, boredom, & alienation.
• Many people seek to assuage inner emptiness
through distractions, escape, & addiction.
• Such attempts only serve to increase it.
• Existential vacuum may lead to both the
tragic triad & neurotic triad. Meaning therapy
is uniquely suitable to address these issues.
The Tragic Triad
The Neurotic Triad
The Basic Tenets of
• Freedom of will: Both freedom from a
negative condition and freedom to
something meaningful
• Will to meaning: This is a universal &
primary human motivation
• Meaning of life: Meaning can be found in
all situations
Freedom & Responsibility
• Frankl emphasizes the responsible use of
• Human existence can only be understood in
terms of responsibility or “responsibleness.”
• The will to meaning entails responsibleness to
meet the demand quality of every situation.
• He differentiates between cause & reason.
Human Autonomy
• We always have the reason &
freedom to transcend causality.
• Exercising the human capacity for
freedom and responsibility is related
to basic human motivation for
autonomy and authenticity.
The Will to Meaning
• It is a primary & universal motive for selftranscendence & the quest for meaning.
• It is the origin of a purpose driven life.
• It is uniquely human and universally
• It can be suppressed or blocked by other
Meaning of Life
• Life has meaning under all circumstances.
• Each person must discover the meaning
potential of each situation.
• The ultimate meaning lies in its pursuit.
• The situational meaning can be experienced
through three avenues of value.
Three Basic Pathways
to Meaning
• Creative value: giving something to the
world through creative works
• Experiential value: receiving something
from the world through appreciation
• Attitudinal value: taking a heroic stand
towards suffering and fate
Frankl’s Concept of
Tragic Optimism
• It is possible to remain optimistic in
spite of the tragic triad of pain, guilt,
& death.
• We maintain optimism by
discovering meaning through the
three values (creative, experiential,
Wong’s Elements of
Tragic Optimism
• Acceptance of the worst
• Affirmation of the value and meaning of life
• Self-transcendence (altruism)
• Faith in God and others
• Courage to face adversity
The Search for
Ultimate Meaning
• It is a matter of choice or presupposition.
• Such a global belief is more adaptive than
the alternative that life has no ultimate
• It is a life-long process; we can only
approximate ultimate meaning.
• It is closely related to theistic beliefs.
Situational Meaning
“Every situation, every unrepeatable
moment, offers a specific meaning
potential. To respond to these
meaning offerings of the moment is to
lead a meaningful life”
(Fabry, 1994, p. 37).
Situational Meaning
• There is meaning potential in every
• The search for situational meaning can
be facilitated by our global belief in
ultimate meaning & enduring values.
• Responsibleness means meeting the
demand quality of every situation.
A Meaning Mindset
• Meaning Mindset represents a basic value
orientation different from the happiness or
success mindsets.
• You cannot really practice Logotherapy
without embracing a Meaning Mindset.
• A Meaning Mindset facilitates the discovery of
meaning potentials in every situation.
Commitment to a Greater Good
“Meaning comes from commitments
that transcend personal interests; it
comes as Frankl puts it, from ‘reaching
beyond the self toward causes to serve
or people to love’” [UC, p. 35]’
(Fabry, 1994, p. xix)
Self-Transcendence & Well-being
Recent research on self-transcendence has
demonstrated that it is related to
 Well-being & life satisfaction
 Spirituality & religiosity
 Especially for the elderly & terminal patients
Self-Transcendence as Calling
• Duffy and associates (2013) emphasize the
importance of living out a calling rather
than simply perceiving a calling, in
promoting life satisfaction and well-being.
• This research reinforces Frankl’s emphasis
on self-transcendence as a way of life.
Humans are spiritual beings.
• The will to meaning flows from the noetic
dimension and represents what is uniquely
• To be fully human is to become fully engaged
in pursuing self-transcendence and assume
full responsibility for one’s life.
Spiritual Care for the Suffering
Whether one is in old age or in the
terminal stage of cancer, individuals
can still grow spiritually, in terms of
meaning, faith, courage, compassion,
and altruism.
Meaning seeking never ends.
“The search for meaning is a neverending attempt to make sense of life in
spite of apparent chaos and
arbitrariness. We cannot find meaning
once and for all, just step by step.”
(Fabry, 1994, p. xvi)
Meaning Making
• “Frankl cautions that we cannot invent
meanings arbitrarily; we can only discover
the meaning inherent in the situation”
(Fabry, p. xvi).
• Meaning making needs to be based on
time-tested values.
• Meaning making is often related to creative
values and myth making.
• Meaning is a key component in spiritual care
for cancer patients.
• Logotherapy focuses on the responsibility to
discover & fulfill the will to meaning through
self-transcendence & authentic living.
• Meaning therapy is integrative. It focuses on
the human capacity for meaning-seeking &

Meaning Making -