Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – Book Review

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, originally written in German and translated to other languages, is a part memoir of the author’s experiences in concentration camps part non-fiction on psychology. It was first published in 1946 in its original language and English version was published in 1959. The book is divided into two parts – Experiences in a Concentration Camp and Logotherapy in a Nutshell – the first talks about his experiences in camps and explains the basis of his findings, and second part is completely about logotherapy(“meaning”). Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, was born on the 26th of March, 1905 in Vienna, Austria. He was a psychiatrist and psychotherapist and also a philosopher and Holocaust survivor. He developed “Logotherapy” – a psychological approach. His developments and findings are categorised as the third school of Viennese psychotherapy. The works of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler belong to first and second school of Viennese psychotherapy. His primary focusses in university, where he was a student of psychiatry and neurology, were the areas of sucide and depression. He received his MD and PhD from the University of Vienna. He based his works on his experiences in concentration camps. He breathed his last on 2nd September, 1997 in Vienna.

This work is based on Frankl’s own experiences and observations of other inmates in four different concentration camps(between 1942 and 1945). He lost his parents, brother and his pregnant wife in concentration camps.The book is written in a lucid manner and explains the concepts clearly. Based on his experiences and observations in the camp, Frankl argues that man by nature is not a pleasure seeking animal and his primary is motivation is to search for meaning in his circumstances. He states that only when man falls into a gulf devoid of meaning he resorts to seeking pleasure in immediate pleasure providing activities and needs.His concept logotherapy focusses on helping an individual find meaning in his circumstances. He quotes his experiences to show that man can find strength even in seemingly hopeless situations. His concept logotherapy focusses on helping an individual find meaning in his circumstances. Finding that meaning can help an individual bear suffering and find hope. 

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

His work on logotherapy and his existential analysis is mostly based on finding meaning and free will. In this work, he also explains certain techniques to deal with life. He uses the concept ‘paradoxical intention’ – practising contrary and humorous thoughts – to deal with anxieties and other problems. He also introduces the concept of dereflection – diverting the concentration of a person from his symptoms to other things – as a technique of logotherapy. Another of his techniques is about questioning the patient in a way to help him find meaning.  

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Throughout his book, the author emphasises on the human capability to deal with even the most challenging circumstances. He states that man can find courage and strength no matter what the circumstance. His views, in certain aspects, echoes the teachings of religions.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

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