Inspire A Friend—With Viktor Frankl

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

People Who Kick Buts: Viktor Frankl

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What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

  • Born on March 26, 1905; Passed away on September 2, 1997
  • An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor.
  • Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis, the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”.
  • His best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning (published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism, and originally published in 1946 as trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager), chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate based on his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living.
  • Frankl was born in Vienna into a Jewish family of civil servants.
  • His interest in psychology surfaced early. For the final exam (Matura) in Gymnasium, he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking. After graduating from Gymnasium in 1923, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna and later specialized in neurology and psychiatry, concentrating on the topics of depression and suicide. His early development was influenced by his contacts with Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, although he would later diverge from their teachings.
  • In 1924 he became the president of the Sozialistische Mittelschüler Österreich. In this position he offered a special program to counsel students during the time they were to receive their grades (Zeugnis). During his tenure, not a single Viennese student committed suicide. The success of this program grabbed the attention of the likes of Wilhelm Reich who invited him to Berlin.

    From 1933-1937 he headed the so-called Selbstmörderpavillon, or “suicide pavilion”, of the General Hospital in Vienna. Here, he treated over 30,000 women prone to suicide. Yet, starting from the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, he was prohibited from treating “Aryan” patients due to his Jewish identity. He moved into private practice until starting work in 1940 at the Rothschild Hospital, where he headed its neurological department, and practiced as a brain surgeon.[3] This hospital, at the time, was the only one in Vienna to which Jews were still admitted. Several times, his medical opinions saved patients from being euthanised via the Nazi euthanasia program. In December 1941 he married Tilly Grosser.

  • On September 25, 1942 he, along with his wife, and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There Frankl worked as a general practitioner in a clinic until his skill in psychiatry was noticed, when he was asked to establish a special unit to help newcomers to the camp overcome shock and grief. He later set up a suicide watch unit, and all intimations of suicide were reported to him. To maintain his own feeling of being worthy of his sufferings in the dismal conditions, he would frequently march outside and deliver a lecture to an imaginary audience about “Psychotherapeutic Experiences in a Concentration Camp”. He believed that by fully experiencing the suffering objectively, he would thereby end it.
  • He is thought to have coined the term Sunday Neurosis referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. This arises from an existential vacuum, which Frankl distinguished from existential neurosis.[15]

    The existential vacuum – or, as he sometimes terms it, “existential frustration” – is a common phenomenon and is characterised by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction and questions the point of most of life’s activities. Some complain of a void and a vague discontent when the busy week is over (the “Sunday neurosis”).

  • Liberated after three years in concentration camps, he returned to Vienna. During 1945 he wrote his world-famous book titled …trotzdem ja zum Leben sagen (Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager) (translated: “…saying yes to life in spite of everything; A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp)”, known in English by the title Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, he described the life of an ordinary concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist.

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