A psychiatrist and the founder of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) is an important figure in the history of psychotherapy and psychology. In a rare appearance from 1972, his TED talk on the importance of believing in others has garnered nearly a million views. This short, four minute lecture encourages us to look for the best in others. For this, and for his many other contributions to this important field, we say thank you, and Happy Birthday.
Victor Frankl was trained as a physician and expressed an early interest in psychology. He worked in hospitals in Austria before being sent to a concentration camp, along with his wife and parents. Both of his parents and his wife would perish during the Holocaust. His only family member to survive was a sister, who had emigrated to Australia. Through his harrowing experiences in the concentration camps, he developed his theory of logotherapy, which is considered the hallmark of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. This theory is based on Frankl’s belief that man’s ultimate goal is to find meaning in life. He believed that many addictions, frustrations, and feelings of emptiness in man results in the existential feeling of being confused or unaware of the true meaning of life. He wrote about the experience of weekend neurosis, which results from the lack of work on the weekends. Without the distraction of work, he noticed that many ended up with a greater feeling of angst from feeling unsure of the meaning of their life, or life in general.
He further believed that love is the true and only salvation of mankind. Through his many personal dark experiences, his only saving thought was of his wife, and his love for her. He believed that any man that was married experienced the same saving grace of thinking of love during their most trying times in life. He also noticed and wrote about his experiences in concentration camps that involved the basic categorization of two different types of men, those with morals, and those without. He found that this was true on either side of prisoner or guard. In any situation, there seemed to be those that operated with a guiding sense of right and wrong, and those that did not. He felt that this was an inherent quality in man, that was difficult to change through the course of life.
Viktor Frankl left the concentration camp when it was liberated at the end of the war, but he never forgot those experiences. He went on to earn numerous degrees, to teach at The University of Vienna, Harvard University, Duquesne University, and to also receive 29 honorary doctoral degrees. He left a lasting legacy in the field of psychotherapy and psychology. He believed wholeheartedly, and wrote about extensively, the meaning and usefulness of suffering. He went on to marry again and have a daughter, who practiced child psychology. On his birthday, and with great respect, we thank Viktor Frankl for his contributions to this field, and for his bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. The resiliency of the human spirit is in bright display in the study of Viktor Frankl’s life. Happy Birthday, Dr. Frankl.