Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl
Born Mar. 26, 1905
Leopoldstadt, Vienna
Died Sep. 2, 1997 (at age 92)
Nationality Austrian

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist. He pioneered the form of existential analysis known as logotherapy and also wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, he discussed his experience of life in a Nazi concentration camp.

From his wartime experience, Frankl realized that even the worst life experiences had meaning, and he came to the conclusion that life was always worth continuing. He has been highly influential in humanistic psychology, as well as being at the heart of existential therapy.

Early Life

Frankl was born on March 26, 1905, in Vienna. The city was the base of both Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud, a fact which was later to influence Frankl himself. He excelled in his studies and became intensely interested in human society, later moving on to a specific interest in psychiatry.

Frankl had socialist sympathies, and he joined more than one youth organization devoted to that cause. When he was 16, he wrote to Freud and the two began a long-running correspondence. In 1924, he sent Freud an essay of his on psychoanalysis, and three years later this was published. He graduated from high school in 1925 and began to study medicine for his degree.

Beginning a Career in Psychology

Also in that year, he met Freud for the first time, as well as publishing a further article, this time in the journal edited by Adler. In 1926, Frankl introduced the term “logotherapy” during a public lecture, as well as working toward an individual school of psychological thought.

He set up counseling centers in several cities, aimed at teenagers, and toward the end of the 1920s he accepted a post at the Psychiatric University Clinic. He earned his medical degree in 1930 and was placed at the head of one of the city’s psychiatric wards which dealt with women who were exhibiting suicidal tendencies.

Frankl and the Nazis

Frankl set up his own psychiatric practice, which also operated in the neurological sphere, in 1937. A year later, Hitler ordered the annexation of Austria in the Anschluss. Frankl would have been able to leave for the United States, as he had sought and received the necessary visa: however, he was unwilling to leave his patients, many of whom were elderly.

Viktor FranklBy 1940, he had been appointed to the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna, the only hospital that was available to Jews in Nazi-ruled Vienna. Frankl headed up the neurological department, and he began work on a book that he named The Doctor and the Soul. The original version was lost, and he had to reconstruct it after the war. He married in late 1941.

In the fall of 1942, Frankl was arrested and deported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, along with his brother, parents, and wife. They did not survive the Holocaust, but Frankl himself managed to endure the war. By the time it ended, he had spent time in no fewer than four camps, including spending three years in Auschwitz.

The arriving prisoners were being personally supervised by Josef Mengele, who ordered Frankl to join the line that would lead to the gas chambers. He managed to slip into the other line without detection, but the other members of his family were unable to escape and perished shortly afterward.

Finding Meaning in Suffering

While Frankl was working at a camp, he thought about his wife – whose fate he did not then know – and realized that her presence would always be within him. He said later that it was then that he understood that love underlay all human salvation. He came to understand that even those who had nothing could still be happy in that instant of inner communing with those who lived on in their hearts.

Frankl came to the conclusion that survival in extreme circumstances was more likely if one was able to retain a sense of a personal future. Despite having himself lost several family members to the Nazis, he found a rationale for his suffering, writing Man’s Search for Meaning as a result.

Later Years and Death

The camp at Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, and Frankl published a book of his ideas regarding logotherapy. This was inspired by notes he had secretly kept in the camp, which were written on scrap paper and stored in the lining of a jacket. The clothing had been discarded, but the ideas lived on in Frankl’s mind.

An expanded edition of The Doctor and the Soul was published in 1963, by which time Frankl’s fame was far-reaching. Man’s Search for Meaning, however, was by far his most famous book, being published in more than 20 languages and becoming a standard text for many college courses.

Frankl died in Vienna on September 2, 1997.

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