Viktor Frankl: Biography of an existential psychologist

Viktor Frankl is one of the most important figures in the history of psychology. As the creator of logotherapy, Frankl approached the treatment of the mental alterations from a perspective and existencialista that decades later served to reinforce a current known like Pscología Humanista, to which Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow among others belonged.

Very centered on phenomenology and the subjective, Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy is hardly comparable to forms of psychotherapeutic intervention whose effectiveness has been demonstrated in independent studies, and currently its scientific status is seriously questioned. But to fully understand the origins of Viktor Frankl’s work, it is necessary to consider the historical context in which they occurred.

Viktor Frankl and the existential struggle

Pain and sadness are two of the most studied phenomena in psychology, for good reason. There are many paths in life that seem to lead there, and when we experience them, everything we feel and do tends to revolve around feeling bad. In some cases, even
restlessness can have so much power over us that it prevents us from enjoying life and can play an important role in suicide. This is why an aspect of psychology has turned to the treatment of these problems and many therapeutic proposals have been developed to alleviate suffering.

But not all of these therapies are based on philosophical assumptions that seek to cover all aspects of how we live our lives: some aim to be useful in very specific contexts and others not and use criteria to measure. the results they can be too rigid. This is why among the proponents of using a psychology more based on philosophy than in the natural sciences, there is great respect for
Victor frankl, A Viennese psychiatrist born at the beginning of the 20th century, constructed a therapeutic approach based on his experiences as a survivor in the concentration camps of the Nazi regime.

The beginnings of young Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl was born to a Viennese Jewish family in 1905, when Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis began to gain popularity among European psychiatrists. This is why during his youth, when he became interested in psychology and mental health, his self-taught training on the subject included many texts on psychoanalysis.

However,
also from an early age he began to develop a remarkable interest in philosophy, A characteristic that would define his personality and his way of asking existential questions about the meaning of life. In fact, as a miner he started giving his first speeches in which he shared some of his thoughts.

The university and its specialization in psychiatry

When Viktor Frankl entered the University of Vienna to major in psychiatry in the mid-1920s, Freud’s work on mental health and the functioning of the psyche had gained such notoriety that the young student had no problem. to move like a fish in water. in a discipline which combined the study of the organic (the nervous system) with the use of a meta-psychology very close to the philosophy which so interested Frankl.

However, he ended up distancing himself from orthodox psychoanalysis by deeming it too reductionist and began to form in the psychodynamic stream of Alfred Adler. This perspective was not marked by the pessimistic view that each person is linked to unconscious forces that emerge from their mental structure, and therefore better suited to the way Viktor Frankl understood life.

The importance of philosophy in the search for happiness

Because young Frankl knew that suffering and conflict exist, but he believed that through a combination of philosophy and knowledge of psychology, it is possible to achieve an adjustment between what is experienced and how it is thought. so as not to fall into misfortune. During his formative years among Adler followers, Viktor Frankl came into contact with Rudolf Allers, which led him to develop a type of existential psychology that we know today as logotherapy.

So even though Viktor Frankl ended his academic relationship with Adler years later, the idea that well-being and mental health have a lot to do with how life takes on meaning was deeply rooted in the philosophy of this psychiatrist. But what will lead him to reassert himself in his convictions was a terrible and potentially traumatic experience: his time in the Nazi concentration camps.

Viktor Frankl as a Holocaust survivor

During his student years, Viktor Frankl had many opportunities to learn about pain. In fact, they wanted to specialize in the study and treatment of depression and the prevention of suicide, which led him to offer support services to students in stressful situations and, during the 1930s, he treated many patients at risk of suicide. From 1938, however, he began to be increasingly cornered by the rise of Nazism.

In 1942, after being forced to work in the only hospital in the area where Jews could work,
Viktor was deported to a ghetto, and from there to a number of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Most of his family, including his wife, died in the network of extermination camps and Viktor Frankl had to work in conditions of slavery until the camp he was in was liberated in 1945. .

The man in search of meaning

After the end of the war, Viktor Frankl
he discovered that many people he loved had died, but he found a way to deal with these losses. According to him, the simple fact of discovering the meaning of suffering makes her live in a much more bearable way, making it enter into the narrative of her own life story as one more element, which does not prevent her from transforming the page and be able to move on.

This idea, which in fact largely coincides with the principles of the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and other thinkers, was embodied by Viktor Frankl in his best-known work: The Man in Search of Meaning, published in 1946, which is also a book that serves as an introduction to logotherapy.

Viktor Frankl’s theories today

Viktor Frankl’s work draws on influences that date back hundreds of years, when Eastern religious leaders spoke about how to deal with suffering by changing the way we think about it and when the ascetics of ancient Greece have learned to let go of preconceived ideas generates desire and what does not. In fact, their contributions to psychology are less important as we stick to the idea that psychology must be a science based on measurement and experimentation.

However, the intellectual filter posed by Viktor Frankl did not have logotherapy as its only product: one can also consider that his early work on existential analysis laid the foundations for the humanistic psychology that popularized people. Carl rogers or Abraham Maslow and who recently illuminated the positive psychology, Aims to investigate topics such as self-actualization, achievement of vital goals and happiness.

You can check out the books Viktor Frankl wrote through this link.

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