Viktor Frankl

One of the psychologists who did not deny transcendence, and sharply opposed the fallacies of determinism and relativism, was Viktor E. Frankl.

Life as proof

He was born on March 26, 1905 in Vienna, and died on September 2, 1997, and is buried in the main Jewish cemetery in his native Vienna. He is considered one of the leading Viennese psychiatrists of the 20th century. Numerous books and study reports have been written about his approach in psychology and therapy and many them have been translated into multiple languages.

Coming from a Jewish family, he was struck by the fate of his countrymen. His three-year odyssey through the darkness of human cruelty, torture, fear, and horror began at the age of 37 when it seemed best to seek salvation in death. The “descent into hell” began by train in his hometown of Vienna in a north-easterly direction. None of the 1,500 passengers knew or guessed where the train was going. There were about eighty “passengers” in the train compartment with him. It was crowded so they couldn’t even sit down. They tried to fall asleep leaning on the bags they had brought with them. The train ran for several days and nights without stopping. One morning it finally slowed down and stopped. “Passengers” peered through the windows in fear to find out where they were. The station said: Auschwitz. Frankl carried with him a manuscript of his book that was almost completed. Because he considered the manuscript his spiritual child, it was not easy for him when he had to leave it in one of the offices. He did it with a heavy heart. The answer however came quickly. In the pocket of the suit he was given he found a paper with the Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael” written on it (Hear, O Israel…). This prayer was an encouragement to him to say“yes” to life, both in joy and in suffering, and even in dying. A piece of paper with a written prayer has now become more valuable to him than a lost manuscript, with a significant call for him to now live out the philosophy of life he wrote about in the said manuscript of the book. “How else could I interpret this ‘coincidence,'” Frankl later wrote, “than as an invitation to live my thoughts, instead of just putting them down on paper.”

So, Frankl found himself in an environment of organized torture. And he will be one of the few “lucky ones” to survive. Suffering, however, will afford him the greatest life experience he could ever have imagined. He lost all his family members in the “holocaust” of war. But he survived the horrors of concentration camps. And even more. He overcame all of life’s challenges (Viktor means winner). And he came out of these trials strengthened by the faith in human abilities. The experience of suffering gave birth to the belief that the meaning of life is stronger than anything. Even from death. And although he was tormented by the thought of suicide in a “meaningless situation”, at least for a short time, Frankl gave himself a firm word on the first night that “he will not run into a wire”. Namely, this term was used to describe the method of suicide in the concentration camp, so that the fence wire was touched under an electric charge.

From concentration camp to logotherapy

During his three-year stay in the concentration camp (1942-1945), Frankl was not a psychiatrist, medical doctor, or head of the neurology department, but a prisoner and inmate with the number 119,104. In miserable conditions of the concentration camp, he learned that there are only two races of men in this world, good and bad. There he discovered the importance of having ideals and reasons for life and came to confirm his scientific theses that even in the darkest moments of existence it is possible to survive and save a part of mental freedom that no one can take away, especially when the meaning of one’s existence is revealed by freedom. That is why he writes that for the one who in life has the answer to the question “why”, it creates no problem to answer the question “how”.

Frankl translated the theory and his rich life experience into his numerous works. He is the author of about forty books that by 2017 have been translated into forty-nine languages.

After the end of the war, he became director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic in 1946, a position he would hold for 25 years.

He soon published the book ” The Doctor and the Soul” (“Ärztliche Seelsorge”), with which he achieved a habilitation at the University. Shortly afterwards, for several consecutive days, he dictated the content of the book “Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager”. The book was immediately translated into English under the title “Man’s Search for Meaning” and sold 9 million copies in America. According to a survey conducted by the by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club it is considered one of the ten most influential books in America (New York Times, November 1991).

In 1947 Frankl published a very interesting work, “Die Psychotherapie in der Praxis. Eine kasuistische Einführung für Ärzte“ (“Psychotherapy in practice. A casuistic introduction for physicians“), enriched with clinical examples and cases.

In 1948 he obtained a habilitation in neurology and psychiatry and a doctorate in philosophy with the dissertation “Der unbewußte Gott. Psychotherapie und Religion” (“The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology”).

He created the Austrian Medical Society for Psychotherapy and became its first president.

In 1949 he gave several interesting lectures on the meaning of suffering which he would publish in the book “Homo patiens. Versuch einer Pathodizee“. In this book he will highlight one of the essential aspects of logotherapy, i.e. a comfort to those who are suffering. At the Salzburg Summer School he will present the “Ten Theses On The Human Person”, a cornerstone in the anthropological foundation of Logotherapy, and he will present and explain them in more detail in 1951 in the book “Logos und Existenz. Drei Vorträge“. (“ Logos and Existence. Three Lectures”).

In 1952, together with Otto Pötzl, he published a popular edition of psychophysiological studies which he held on the radio: “Die Psychotherapie im Alltag. Sieben Radiovorträge“ (“Everyday Psychotherapy – Seven Radio Shows”).

In 1970, the United States International University in San Diego, California, installs a Chair for Logotherapy and the world’s first Institute of Logotherapy was established. In the same year Frankl received honorary doctor degrees at Loyola University in Chicago and Edgecliffe College in Cincinnati.

Invitations to give lectures at universities around the world followed, where Frankl received numerous awards and honorary doctorates.

His last two books, “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning,” and “Viktor Frankl – Recollections” were published in 1997.

He lectured at a total of 209 Universities on all 5 continents. He is an honorary member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.