Friday, May 11, 2012

Man's Search for Meaning

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The first half of this book is devoted to the years that followed�to Number 11,104’s struggle to survive; a struggle as mental as it was physical. He describes the psychological progression (or regression) of prisoners as the realities of their hopeless circumstance wear away at mind and body. It doesn’t take long before prisoners become numb to the common afflictions of every day life.

“The prisoner who had passed into the second stage of his psychological reactions did not avert his eyes any more. By then his feelings were blunted...he stood unmoved while a twelve-year-old boy was carried in who had been forced to stand at attention for hours in the snow or to work outside with bare feet because there were no shoes for him in the camp. His toes had become frostbitten, and the doctor on duty picked off the black gangrenous stumps with tweezers, one by one.”

Thus desensitized, prisoners often gave-up the hope of survival. Death soon followed. This observation leads Frankl to conclude that, “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future�his future�was doomed.” In an effort to “restore a man’s inner strength,” Frankl is disposed to help men identify future goals for themselves; borrowing Nietzsche’s maxim that, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn...that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life�daily and hourly...Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

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At the close of Part I, Frankl extracts personal meaning from his experience in Auschwitz. “The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more�except his God.”

In Part II, Dr. Frankl leverages this autobiography into his original school of psychotherapy logotherapy.

“Can you tell me in one sentence what is meant by logotherapy?” [an American doctor] asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but in the first place, can you tell me in one sentence what you think the essence of psychoanalysis is?” This was his answer

“During psychoanalysis, the patient must lie down on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell.” Whereupon I immediately retorted with the following improvisation

“Now, in logotherapy the patient must remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

Logotherapy is a future-focused, introspective form of psychotherapy to a degree unprecedented. “Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life,” Dr. Frankl writes, “Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego, and superego, or in the mere adaptations and adjustment to society and environment.”

The rest of this book is devoted to a more exact explanation of logotherapy, including anecdotal accounts of patients under such treatment�and its apparent success.

Dr. Frankl is a world-renowned psychiatrist. Unfortunately, he is also a mystic. And, he seems to almost revere suffering to an extent dangerously beyond a mere recognition of value. Even so, his unique perspective as outlined in this text has a definitive advantage over the perverted ramblings of predecessors such as Sigmund Freud. Logotherapy affords a predominately rational approach to the human psyche, although Frankl remains unable to grasp the necessity that man’s goals�the goals themselves�be rationally chosen. As a result, he allows patients to nest their mystic irrationalities�in full ghostly form�on that sacred alter upon which only the most noble goals of a truly rational man should perch.

The introspective reader; the reader frustrated with the absurdity of intuition-based therapy; the reader who recognizes the toddler-like state of modern psychology�this reader will find Frankl’s introduction to logotherapy refreshing. Psychiatrists can make sense, after all! Well...once in a while, anyway.

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