GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO LOGOTHERAPY AND EXISTENTIAL ANALYSIS
Godela v. Kirchbach, Mai 2002
The article then goes on to describe the modern development under the auspices of the GLE in Vienna. This comprises foremost the elaboration by Alfried Längle of the four fundamental motivations as an anthropological framework for understanding behaviour and experience and for explaining psychopathologies. The search for meaning, on which Frankl put so much emphasis, comes at the fourth level. Secondly, the development of the Personal Existential Analysis by Alfried Längle produced a comprehensive psychotherapeutic procedure that can be applied for individual situations as well as for longer stretches of therapy.
Finally, the actual application and indication of the modern form of logotherapy and existential analysis are specified, and its actual form of organisation and and the various forms of training are mentioned.
The name “existential analysis” brings to mind existential philosophy. This is not coincidental, since existentialism is its philosophical background (Frankl 1986, 17). In contrast to other psychotherapeutic approaches, existential analysis in its early stages was mainly founded on philosophical thinking and only to a lesser degree on psychiatric medicine and empirical, practical experience, which, however, have played an important part in its further development.
Today, logotherapy defines the special part of existential analysis that deals with the analysis, prevention and therapy of meaning-related problems and in particular with the loss of meaning. Methodically speaking, logotherapy is a method of counselling or treating dealing with meaning. A short definition would be: logotherapy is assistance in the quest for meaning.
The notion of existential analysis has been greatly enlarged since its beginnings and today designates a psychotherapeutic approach that comprises a theory as well as a practical application. Its aim is to empower people to lead their lives with their own inner consent (Längle 1993, 1995, 1999). It may be described in short as an analysis of the conditions required for a fulfilled existence, the latter being a life in which the individual himself experiences fulfilment and meaning.
Existential analysis can furthermore be described as a phenomenological-personal psychotherapy with the aim of enabling a person to experience his life freely at the spiritual and emotional levels, to arrive at authentic decisions and to come to a responsible way of dealing with himself and the world around (Längle 1993). This reflects Frankl’s teaching which said that man’s existence is characterised by freedom, the capacity for decision and responsibility. Furthermore each of these three steps contains the most important asset of existential analysis, i.e. that of a person’s own inner consent.
But existential analysis today is not only applied as a psychotherapeutic approach. Because of its theory and anthropology, it is also brought to use in education, in pastoral counselling, in the prevention of psychological diseases and in coaching.
II) A SHORT REVIEW OF THE ORIGIN AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Frankl (1984, 104) saw himself as the advocate of humane aspects, and he saw the quest for meaning as the most profound, specific and primary motivation in man’s life. This was not so much a psychological as a spiritual concern for him. He considered Freud’s and Adler’s idea of man as flat. To their two dimensions of body and psyche he wanted to add a third dimension which contained the spiritual or noetic capacity of man (Frankl 1985, 77ff).
Probably he arrived at this accentuation of the quest for meaning at least in part as a consequence of the historical situation of his time. World War I, the German and Austrian defeat, the replacement of the monarchy by a republic and the Great Depression had shaken many secure beliefs and convictions. Numerous people had suffered enormous material, but also ideological and existential losses and had to redefine their own identity. In philosophy this had led to a concentration on the question of meaning and to the development of existential philosophy.
Apart from the political and economic situation for Frankl, the roots for the increasing feelings of meaninglessness also lay in the Darwinist, naturalist concept of man that was largely dominated by utilitarian ideas. These had arisen as a consequence of the rapid development of technology and industrialisation. In opposition to this view Frankl saw in man foremost a being that is characterised by the qualities mentioned above: freedom, responsibility spirituality (Frankl 1985, XXIV) According to this concept man always decides what he is and what he is going to be. Thus man begins where naturalism makes him end. It is especially in extreme situations that man’s true nature with its capacity for decision becomes manifest and contradicts all determinism. Frankl developed this concept in the 1930ies and proved it impressively himself with his own behaviour and experiences in German concentration camps in the 1940ies, where he was able to survive with the help of his strong will and by clinging to his determination to see his wife again. He describes this in detail in his book “Experiences in a Concentration Camp”, first published in Austria in 1946 (Frankl 1984, 15-100).
III) FRANKL'S CONCEPT OF MAN
In the first dimension man’s needs, i.e. his bodily functions, are of great importance. Disease, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, sexual deprivation and all kinds of physical privation can impair one’s life and one’s vitality deeply and make all other emotions or problems seem unimportant in comparison.
The second dimension is that of the psyche, which, according to the old concept, included everything not physical, thus also everything metaphysical. But Frankl limited the content of the psychic dimension to the forces that express themselves in drives and emotions. These are not subject to free will, but follow their own rules and regularities. All information from the physical and from the spiritual dimensions about the world and about their own state enter the psychic dimension, where it is screened and evaluated according to its significance for survival. The psychodynamics process this information close to the physical dimension in the form of affects, moods and emotions and thus have a guardian function for existence.
Frankl added a third dimension which he called “spiritual” in the beginning and later “noëtic”. Greek “nous” signifies “spirit” or “mind”. (Frankl 1985, 79). Today we prefer to speak of the “personal” dimension. There, questions are concerned where we are asked to decide,; true vs. false, valuable vs. worthless, free vs. not free, just vs. unjust, responsible vs. irresponsible. In all of these questions our sensibility and conscience are called for and we reveal ourselves as the persons we are. This dimension touches the innermost core of the person, of the individual. This inner person is what makes us truly human and distinguishes us from animals.
Frankl’s three dimensions are not clearly separated from each other but interact, since man forms a unity. Deficiencies in the existential dimension may have somatic effects, e.g. in muscular tension in the case of conflicts of conscience. The different dimensions may also find themselves in contradiction with each other and force the person to make a decision. Thus the same thing can simultaneously procure pleasure and be experienced as wrong or inappropriate. But even if these dimensions influence each other, they do not merge. The physical and psychic correlate strongly, and both are determined, which means that they follow certain rules and evade conscious control. This is why they are analysed with scientific methods. In existential analysis their relation is described as in a psychophysical parallelism. For example, there is no anxiety originating in the psychic dimension without any physiological or somatic symptoms as a consequence. Vice versa, palpitations may cause anxiety if they are not dealt with properly in the third dimension.
In contrast, the third or personal dimension is free as far as its nature is concerned. For this reason, Frankl postulates a hiatus, a fundamental distance between the psychophysical parallelism and the third dimension. According to Frankl, the noetic dimension resonates through the whole of man, and man is most himself where the three dimensions join. It is man’s lifelong task to balance and harmonise his diverging aspirations. It is in this struggle that Frankl sees the dominant role of the third dimension because of its meaning for the individual’s relation to the outer world. At the same time he thought that it was exactly there where modern man suffers the greatest deficit, which result in feelings of meaninglessness, of disorientation and lack of fulfillment.
It is characteristic of existential analysis that the whole of human life is being taken into account. Man is seen as being intimately connected with his values. Man does not necessarily experience his life as fulfilled if he is in good health and all his drives are satisfied. Instead, as a person he strives for more, he senses the need to surpass himself and to devote himself to something beyond himself, either to people or to self-defined aims, because it is only in doing so that he finds his existential fulfillment. Frankl said: “I thereby understand the primordial anthropological fact that being human is being always directed and pointing to something or someone other than oneself: to a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter, a cause to serve or a person to love. Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence, is he truly human or does he become his true self. He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self’s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.” (Frankl 1978, 35)
As far as motivation is concerned, man experiences needs on the physical level, the search for pleasure on the psychic level and meaning and values on the existential level. These are the dynamics or forces that move man. Logotherapy works in the third dimension as an assistance and aid in the quest for meaning. For modern existential analysis as well, a decisive criterion for fulfilled existence and a prerequisite for the quest for meaning is the ability of an individual to engage fully in life and to devote himself to something beyond himself. But existential analysis focuses also on the emotions and physical experiences since fulfilment of existence can only be achieved by this complete and interactive unity of all dimensions. The pathological is hence defined as a condition in which a person feels blocked or hindered in his attempts to live what he deems important (Längle 1992a).
Frankl himself used predominantly the Socratic dialogue in order to make his patients find meaning in situations of conflict or suffering. (Frankl 1985, 66) He was certainly extremely gifted in that respect, but this procedure is difficult to teach as a method. In modern development existential analysis has been further elaborated as a theory and as a psychotherapeutic approach.
IV) MODERN DEVELOPMENT
Since 1986, Alfried Länge has put the three-dimensional concept of man in an existential perspective. As a result even more stress was laid on man’s capacity for decision and on the sense of duty, which accompanies the awareness of being human. This view is not only (Längle 1992b) are concerned with existential questions and have their place in Frankl’s noëtic dimension. Among these four motivations the quest for meaning is situated within the fourth or existential motivation, but it builds on three underlying, preceding, existential motivations. These concern our need of a sense of sufficient support and safety, the search for the value of life and the assertion of our individuality and autonomy. These three constitute, together with the quest for meaning, the so-called four fundamental motivations for fulfilled existence. They form the cornerstones of human existence in its full sense and may be described in short as follows.
By the simple fact of being in the world one is put before the questions:
1. Can I accept my place in this world and the conditions I am subjected to? Can I experience protection and support in the world? Whatever the conditions may be, a decision is asked for, a decision to accept one’s reality as such. This, in turn, leads to a basic sense of ability.
2. Does one like the fact of being in existence, does one feel the quality of one’s life? This requires feeling close to people, animals, things, and taking time for establishing and attending to relationships. All of this is to be experienced, but also to be decided upon. It takes the decision to devote time
to whatever one feels is precious, to build a relationship and to admit closeness. This leads to a sense of liking, to a consent to life.
3. Does on experience one’s own self and one’s inner world as unique? Does one feel the permission to be oneself and to be authentic? These feelings arise from the experiences of having received attention, of having been justified in one’s personhood and of having been respected. But one also has to feel these towards oneself. This leads to a sense of one’s own worth, of authorisation, of consent to one’s own person.
4. Does one hear a calling from the world as an orientation for the meaning of one’s own life? Basically, man wants to transcend himself and wants his life to serve a purpose. An openness is required here and an active and decided engagement in the pursuit of this calling. This leads to a consent to the challenges and offers brought to us in our lives, which, in turn, provides a sense of existential meaning in one’s life.
The first fundamental condition or motivation deals with the question whether one is able to be there. This sounds easy, but, at a closer look, it is not. This question concerns the environment, the space of one’s life and the outer conditions. In this context, to accept means to feel that one can survive and breathe under the specific conditions such as they are. This does not mean to agree with these conditions. It simply means that one is able to recognise these conditions as part of one’s reality.
This is the ontological basis of existence or the existential foundation. Support is experienced in the world first of all in one’s own body. Everything that inspires confidence and a feeling of sufficient safety belongs to this level. This is an existential motivation since man strongly aspires to be part of the world, to have his place in order to be able to exist.
The second fundamental motivation deals with the question whether we can perceive our life as good and worth living. After all, being here consists in living as a person, of experiencing moods and feelings with the extremes of suffering and joy, and, finally, of depending on relationships. The decision asked for here is whether to say yes or no to one’s life with its warmth, suffering and its relationships. This is called the fundamental value.
But one can only feel affection and warmth in relationships, if one has experienced these oneself earlier in life. We feel the value of our lives in relationships. If there are none, we do not experience the fundamental value of life and tend to retreat inwardly and to suffer from the void and cold of our uninhabited life.
The third fundamental motivation deals with the questions of whether I can consent to the way I am, whether I can stand by myself and my actions and whether I am truly myself. These questions concern one’s own world, one’s personal identity. Everyone looks for recognition of his own specific way of experiencing, thinking, feeling and acting as well as for respect of one’s dignity. We need recognition for the way in which we as individuals lead our lives, and collective protection of the species alone is not sufficient. We need to find the sense of our own authenticity and our delimitation against others. We want to be ourselves and to appreciate ourselves for what we are. Conscience plays an important role here, because if man wants to respect himself he must be able to stand by himself in what he does and in what he has become. Here one feel the value of one’s self.
The fourth fundamental motivation differs from the preceding ones, because it is concerned with questions about the future and they derive their importance from our awareness of our own finality. If our life ends, what will it have been good for? This fundamental motivation deals with something that still lies in the future and waits to be realised. It is therefore always an open question and the answers may not always be fully realisable. But what is finally intended here, is a meaningful way of leading one’s life, to become active and engaged and to be committed to people, aims or values. In a sense, this is the comprehensive motivation and here one feels fulfillment. This is where logotherapy works.
The fundamental motivations also provide an excellent framework for explaining psychopathological disorders. On the first level, where a sense of protection and support is asked for, we find anxiety disorders, phobias, obsessions and compulsions. All of these are the result of a lack of the conditions defined on this level. On the second level, where my own inner consent to the worth of life and its values is asked for, we find, in the case of absence, depression or forms of self-sacrifice in order to be loved by others. On the third level, where authenticity and individuality are defined, psychopathological disorders can be found that arise from a lacking sense of just these things. Hysteria, narcissism, borderline are all to be found here. Finally, on the fourth level, which deals with the conditions for fulfilled existence, addictions and dependencies will be the result, if not enough meaning can be found in one’s life.
It is not by chance that the fundamental motivations are presented in this sequence; on the contrary, they are based on each other. If someone is, for example, overwhelmed by anxiety, he may not have the force or the opportunity to truly feel values or to build relationships. He may, of course, also (ab)use relationships to compensate for his anxiety. On the other hand a person may be free of anxiety, but not susceptible of values and may suffer from a lack of relationships and from depression. If this is the case, this person will also be unable to feel the value of himself, since this always happens in dialogue and in delimitation from others. He will suffer from a lack of self-esteem and meaning. Furthermore, everyone will only be able to experience life as meaningful, if he feels his own authenticity. In the sequence of fundamental motivations, the first and the second fundamental motivation ensure our existential and social survival, whereas the third and fourth lead to an authentic and fulfilled existence.
Clearly, the fundamental motivations offer a theoretical framework in which psychic problems can be well explained and easily understood. At the same time they facilitate the explanation of psychopathological phenomena. To put it differently, disturbances in the fundamental motivations may give rise to psychic disorders. This model serves for diagnostics, but also for the development of therapeutic interventions, since it allows the explanation of symptoms, an understanding of the suffering of the patient and a comprehension of the lack at its origin. Therefore this concept has proved an extremely helpful tool in psychotherapeutic practice.
VII) PERSONAL EXISTENTIAL ANALYSIS
PEA is based on the concept of the person that was developed by A. Längle, which assumes that the person realises his existence in a dialogical exchange with the world. This comprehends three major steps, which mark the three basic abilities essential for personal encounter. These are openness, selectivity and interaction, which make the person accessible from the inside and the outside. At the same time, they always form a unity in the event of a dialogue.
PEA comprehends four steps, the first of which (PEA 0) consists in a description of the facts. This implies on the part of the patient to enter a first relation to the problem. On the part of the therapist this demands a cognitive attitude. The second step (PEA 1) contains a phenomenological analysis, in which the emotional content and the message of these facts are analysed. This requires empathy on the part of the therapist. The third step (PEA 2) leads to an authentic restructuring process, which means that the newly identified impression is brought integrated into the patient’s existing frame of values. This requires an inner decision on the part of the patient and a confronting and encountering attitude on the part of the therapist. The fourth and final step (PEA 3) comprises the self-actualisation of the patient, i.e. finding an adequate expression for his decision. The therapist has to be protective and encouraging in this phase. (Längle 1995b, 348-364)
VIII) APPLICATION AND INDICATION OF LOGOTHERAPY AND EXISTENTIAL ANALYSIS
(I. FM), in his feelings (II.FM), in his decisions (III. FM) or in his conduct (IV. FM).
Existential analysis can therefore be applied as a preventive or therapeutic intervention, even before the disorder has reached a pathological degree. It is equally suited to treat all kinds of psychic disorders, sexual and family disorders, addiction and dependency, personality disorders and psychoses. But also in workplace coaching it has achieved good results.
Existential analysis is basically suited for the treatment of all psychic and psychosomatic disorders. Its effectiveness and efficiency for the whole range of these troubles had to be proven before a specific board of the Austrian Ministry for Health, before existential analysis was officially approved as a psychotherapeutic approach in 1993.
A short-term application of existential analysis takes less than 30 hours and is probably the most frequent form because of patients’ reserve about a long duration of therapy, because of loss of motivation after the suffering has diminished and because of financial reasons. The main objective of this intervention is the precise grasp of the problem, improved understanding of oneself, a change in perspective, appraisal and evaluation of the disorder and the achievement of new attitudes, strategies and techniques. This happens within the framework of a relationship between therapist and client that is marked by empathy and trust. Besides counselling various other specific techniques are used.
Personal existential analysis as a more profound form of psychotherapy takes 50 hours or more, in the case of serious personality disorders even years. The aim of this extended psychotherapy is a revision of fundamental existential attitudes and positions by systematically working on the traumatising biographic experiences, by identifying and correcting deficient or erroneous decisions and by working on continued conflicts and lack of maturity.
Logotherapy has its emphasis on the treatment of existential crises such as occur after experiences of loss through disease or death, in loss of orientation and in prevention. Since logotherapy normally takes the form of counselling, usually less than ten hours will be needed. The task there consists primarily in transmitting knowledge and know-how for the client to apply himself. Generally the contents of the general existential analysis and its approach to man are communicated and its application is practised with the client.
IX) FORMS OF ORGANISATION AND FORMATION
The national societies offer training courses for therapists and counsellors. Each formation starts with a two-year course in general existential analysis, which is then followed by the clinical formation which takes half a year for counselling and two years for therapists. Both phases of the formation end with written examination. After that a period of practical work under supervision ensues, and finally a research paper has to be submitted. During the formation the candidate undergoes self-experience, both in group and in individual sessions in order to know himself well before working with patients.
As a summary it can be said that the most specific aspects of logotherapy and existential analysis are the following points:
- The meaning of existence depends largely on the subject, i.e. the individual himself. It consists in an existential meaning which is not given but always to be looked for and to be realised in concrete situations. Existential analysis provides aid in this process.
- The background for this is the assumption that existence is seen as an opportunity and as potentially meaningful. This constitutes the ontological meaning, which is not a topic of psychology or psychotherapy but of intellectual debate.
- Man is always suspended in the tension between existence as an open potential on the one hand and what he perceives as his moral obligation arising from the context of his life on the other hand. From there he decides for his future.
- Life is never conclusive in itself, but always presents opportunities waiting to be realised.
- In each and every situation, trivial or difficult as it may seem, there is an appeal concerning an opportunity or a task.
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