The Spirit of Logotherapy


The aim of this paper is to adduce the meaning of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and existential analysis—the spirit of logotherapy—in the two-fold sense of its core teachings, as well as its emphasis on the spiritual dimension of the human person. Firstly, I situate Frankl’s tri-dimensional ontology—his philosophical anthropology—within a Platonic perspective, asserting that it was Plato who first gave us a picture and model of mental health which he based on the harmony of the disparate parts of the personality—the aim to become One instead of Many, which finds a modern parallel in Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, which likewise stresses the importance of inner wholeness (an anthropological oneness) despite our ontological differences. Classical Greek philosophers all pointed to the Logos as source of order—to the horizon of meaning-potentials, so I visit the various understandings of this term from the pre-Socratics to Frankl, albeit briefly, to avoid semantic confusion in what is to follow. I then discuss in some detail the exact meaning that logos/spirit has in Frankl’s philosophical conceptualisations. Disorders of logos may be seen in various psychopathologies and pnemopathologies which I go on to consider, highlighting the differences between various terms that are commonly left unclarified. Next, I adumbrate the differences between psychotherapy and logotherapy, which ultimately revolves around the difference between instincts and spirit before demarcating the boundaries between religion (as salvation) and logotherapy (as sanity). The question I pose next is: what exactly constitutes the spiritual in logotherapy, as in life? An example is given to concretise the conceptual considerations previously elucidated before drawing on another distinction, that between “ultimate meaning” and “the meaning of the moment”. The paper concludes with a brief excursus into the work of Ken Wilber by way of enabling us to appreciate and better understand the monumental significance of Frankl’s contribution to the field of transpersonal studies in relation to his refusal to collapse, confuse or conflate the higher dimensions of the person into lower ones.

Keywords: Viktor Frankllogotherapyexistential analysismeaningspiritPlatotri-dimensional ontologyVoegelin


Source: MDPI / Religions 2016, 7(1), 3. License: “This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License” (CC BY 4.0). 


The Spirit of Logotherapy, by Stephen J. Costello
Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland


“So let us be clear: logotherapy is not a psychotherapy, as presently conceived of by Europe or, rather, to be more precise, logotherapy extends beyond psychotherapy; it is primarily a noetic therapy. It is a noölogy rather than a psychology and is best considered, I would argue, as a form of philosophical counselling. … Many commentators place logotherapy within the humanistic and integrative therapeutic schools but logotherapy is existential, personalist and, with its explicit reference to transcendence, it may also be construed as a trans-personal theory and therapy.” (S. Costello)


  1. Frankl with Plato

Viktor Frankl’s “logotherapy” has been labelled a “healing through meaning”. Therapeia is “curing” or “healing” and Frankl translates logos as “meaning” as well as “spirit”. Logotherapy aims to bring not just instinctual factors but the spiritual realities of the person to consciousness. It is a meaning-centred therapy that aims to achieve attitudinal alterations through mobilising the patient’s “will to meaning”. Therapy has traditionally been regarded as a “treatment” (the medical model) or a talking-cure (the psychoanalytic-psychotherapeutic model), as remediation and remedy for maladies and mental illness, but it was Plato who first propounded the notion of philosophy itself as a therapy for disorders of the soul in dialogues from the Charmides to the Timaeus. Indeed, in the Republic he explicitly mentions “mental health” likening it to a musical note and making the point that the ultimate aim is integration of the three parts of the personality (Freud, a self-styled student of Plato, centuries later, would similarly argue for a tripartite structure of the mind: conscious, preconscious, unconscious in his first topography, and id, ego, superego in his second topography). For Plato, philosophy is a way of life and offers itself as a therapy, beginning with a diagnosis of derailment and disorder (in the soul and society) together with its distinctive methods of release and transformation (cathartic cure).

In our own time, psychology (far removed from a logos of the psyche) prioritises techne over (philossophia, thus threatening the very meaning of being. Philosophy, or the love of wisdom, leads to arête (virtue) and thence to eudaimonia (“flourishing” or spiritual “joy” which has been translated as “happiness” too). In this Platonic perspective, sanity is conformity of the mind with Being, insanity the rejection of reality. Nothing less is offered other than “conversion” (metanoia) as the soul pilgrimages from shadows in the cave of the unconscious to the sunlight of the Good (Agathon) itself, achieving in the ascent more consciousness and mental clarity: the turning (periagoge) to meaning and to the incomprehensible presence of the mystery of Being Itself.

This desire for the divine draws us, just as the instincts drive us. This is the Platonic field of tension, which Frankl labels noödynamics (spiritual striving and struggling), consisting of pull and counter-pull in the metaxy. It is not science but the Divine Good alone which satisfies the psyche’s inexpugnable need for what Frankl calls “ultimate meaning”. So for Plato, and Frankl, it is not power, profits, prestige or pleasure which are the source of our motivation but purpose, meaning and virtue, and the true (verum), the good (bonum) and the beautiful (pulchrum).

Inner harmony, for Plato as for Frankl, produces well-being; order is integration and unity—the work of synthesis. Disorder is conflict and strife, Heraclitean flux without anchorage in the divine reality. Plato thus aligns harmony with health and happiness. The aim is to become one instead of many and attain unity and wholeness. To put that in a Franklian framework: unity is the integration of somatic and psychic aspects of the person, wholeness is that plus the integration of the noetic or spiritual dimension from its unconscious depths. This, so we can act in concord and unison. Disorder, by contrast, is discordance, disagreement, and dis-ease—disintegration. For Plato and for Frankl, Socrates was the man of integrity par excellence—he was an integral man (integritas is ultimate unity): a just man in thrall to the divine Eros and participating in the depths of the divine Nous Itself as trans-empirical reality (Plato’s metaphysics is essentially a theomorphic ontology). Socrates’ conscience (daimon) was his guide as he elicited from his interlocutors the truth (aletheia) about their own being—their deepest desires and noblest aspirations through the maieutic art of Socratic dialogue which, for Frankl, is the essence of logotherapy, as existential encounter, itself, with the logos. We can therefore surely say that Socrates was the first logotherapist in the West and Plato its preeminent philosophical practitioner just as Frankl was a pioneer and precursor of contemporary philosophical counselling.

  1. Listening to the Logos: Love, Reason and Reality

Heraclitus, the Pre-Socratic philosopher, tells us that it is wise to listen to the Logos and listening to it we say that all things are one (Frankl’s “monanthropism”/Eric Voegelin’s “universal humanity”). This is the desired end and aim of existential analysis and philosophy: wholeness. Before Plato, Heraclitus established the term Logos as the source of order in the cosmos. “The Logos holds sway always”, as he writes in one of his Cosmic Fragments. Aristotle, for his part, applied the term to rational discourse. Later, the Stoics defined and identified it as the divine principle animating and permeating the universe. The Gospel of John identifies Christ as the incarnation of the Logos, that was in the beginning and without Him was not anything made that was made. Logos so, as theos, as Word of God. Centuries later, C. G. Jung would describe the Logos as the masculine principle of rationality and consciousness and as counterpart to female Eros. Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), in philosophy, would return to the Greeks and make this principle assume a central place in his work while Viktor Frankl, in existential psychology, would term his philosophic-spiritual therapy “logotherapy”. For Pope Benedict XVI, Christianity is the religion of the Logos. Meanwhile, Jacques Derrida and the postmodernists would have cause to critique this notion and deconstruct the entire foundationalist “logocentrism” (as they see it) of Western philosophy.

Jung is erroneous to set Logos up against Eros because Logos includes both reason and love as the twin pillars of reality. Derrida, for his part, deprives us of our foundations in the truth. What, so, is the truth? It was asked before by a jeering Pilate who having asked it, didn’t wait for a response. Before him was Truth Itself, the Logos of the Word incarnate in history: Truth as a Person, not a proposition. In classical thought, truth is the adequation of mind with being; conformity with the Logos/reality. Further, the term Aristotle employs to designate and describe flourishing or spiritual fulfilment or fullness (of life)—eudaimonia—is attained by attunement to the Logos as the source of order in man’s personal, social and historical existence. This is the real meaning of mental health.

If it is true (and I think it is) that we move, as Frankl has persuasively argued in modern times, in three dimensions—man as soma (body), psyche (mind) and noös (spirit)—then all three dimensions or modalities or modes of being need to be accessed. However, ultimately, we are one (an anthropological unity), a unity in diversity (unitas multiplex, as Aquinas states), despite our ontological differences. This is the heart of Frankl’s philosophical anthropology. Unity of course does not designate wholeness which involves the integration of somatic, psychic and the spiritual aspects of the human person, as has already been mentioned. “Without the spiritual as its essential ground, this wholeness cannot exist” ([1], p. 34). The spiritual self emerges from unconscious depths. Here we may note further parallels between Plato and Frankl, points of equivalence and convergence as Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis (remembrance) can be interpreted as a precursor to modern conceptions of “the unconscious”, the aim here being recollection of what was once forgotten (amnesia)—making the unconscious conscious.

I mentioned eudaimonia above. The problem with translating it as “happiness” is that this modern word tends to connote a merely psychological feeling of pleasure or subjective satisfaction [2]. But by eudaimonia the Greeks meant a spiritual happiness (as indicated by the etymology of the word) which we might render as “joy”, about which Christianity speaks. I would suggest that eudaimonia occurs (if I can phrase it like this) by listening to the Logos, to the “flow of (divine) presence” [3], as Voegelin labels it, as divine source of order in the soul (psyche) and in society (polis) and that, therapeutically, it is the Logos or spirit in the human person (and its defiant power) that can never be sick (an insight derived from Viktor Frankl, which he calls his “psychiatric credo”, meaning that there is intactness behind every illness, a person entire and whole beyond every pathology).

Accepting and understanding the Divine Ground, which Plato calls the Good, and attuning ourselves to the flow of presence, to the Logos which is itself both love and reality, brings “the accompanying joy, the eudaimonia—while if we reject it we fall into the state of anxiety”, as Voegelin puts it ([4], pp. 318–19). Frankl, for his part, similarly observes: “Like iron filings in a magnetic field, man’s life is put in order through his orientation toward meaning” ([5], p. 35). Disorder is meaninglessness; it is distance from the divine reality.

We can say that for Christianity, Logos and love are identical. Cardinal Ratzinger sums all this up succinctly when he says that the content of Christianity consists, in the final analysis, “in love and reason coming together as the two pillars of reality [rather than Freudian Eros and Thanatos]: the true reason is love, and love is the true reason. They are in their unity the true basis and the goal of all reality” ([6], p. 183).

Let us examine in more detail this emphasis in logotherapy on the spiritual order of being, as it points to what is distinctively and specifically human in the person and therefore constitutes the core of Frankl’s philosophy and the meaning of his creation of logotherapy.

  1. From Psychopathology to Pneumopathology

Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease. Psychopathology is the study, generally from within psychiatry and psychoanalysis, of mental disorder. Psychiatrists are particularly interested in descriptive psychopathology; that is to say, with denoting symptoms and syndromes of mental illness. This is evidenced in the diagnostic system of both the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and ICD (International Classification of Diseases).

In this section of my paper I would like to outline a noetic nosology of “pneumopathology” in relation to Frankl’s philosophical anthropology; to clarify and detail the distinctions between “soul” and “spirit” which are often confused in relation to this discussion; and to urge the retention of classical logotherapy which resists any subtle or seductive attempts, however well-intentioned, to become a hagiotherapy (healing through that which is holy; from the Greek hagios meaning “holy”).

“Pneumopathology” was a term coined by Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), the German philosopher, who introduced it into the philosophical lexicon, though it has to be said it is neither widely known nor used. A notable exception to this neglect is Eric Voegelin who borrows and employs the term to designate the spiritual disease of Gnosticism. Schelling influenced Coleridge who introduced into English Schelling’s concept of the unconscious, a term the former coined.

Psyche is “soul”. Pneuma is the ancient Greek word for “breath” (ruach in Hebrew) and, in a religious context, for “spirit”, which is how it is commonly employed in Judaic and Christian usage, in the Septuagint and Greek New Testament. “Spirit” (or animus in Latin) operates and realises itself through the body. The spirit is, in essence, freedom (a point avowed by Frankl). So man is responsible at every moment (a key tenet of logotherapy and existentialism). That is why Frankl can correctly and with conviction state that freedom and responsibility constitute man as spiritual being.

Pneumopathology refers, then, to the realm of phenomena which has been described, by Voegelin, as “a disease of the spirit”, though this is not Frankl’s understanding—a point to which I shall return shortly.

In an essay dating from 1966 entitled, “The German University and the Order of German Society: A Reconsideration of the Nazi Era”, published in Published Essays 1966–1985, Voegelin cites the example of Lady Macbeth in the context of his brief citation of Schelling’s neologism. A man has summoned the doctor to observe Lady Macbeth’s strange nocturnal behaviour (she tries to scrub away the spots and sins of the past) in the last act of Shakespeare’s tragedy:

Doctor: What is it she does now? Look how she rubs her hands.

Gentleman: It is an accustomed action with her to seem thus washing her hands.

[Diagnosis of theDoctor: Foul whisperings are abroad; unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. More need she the divine [the priest] than the physician. Good God, forgive us all!

Spirit, in this Voegelinian philosophical, Platonic perspective, designates the openness of man to the divine Ground of his existence; estrangement from the spirit, the closure and revolt against the Ground. It is man’s spirit that partakes of the divine. He thus rises to his divine destiny as the imago Dei. Nazi Germany produced a society whose spirit was sick, according to Voegelin, in its proliferation of evil—“evil is a pneumopathological condition of consciousness”, in Voegelin’s words ([7], p. 35). It was an example of pneumopathological closure to the divine Ground of reality, which signifies more of a derailment and disease, a spiritual disorder and dissociation, than a mere disorientation.

It may be the disorder of an age or an individual. Voegelin gives the example of Hegel and his great sons in sorcery—Marx and Nietzsche—who refused to perceive reality; they closed their existence to the Ground and constructed imaginary secondary realities ([7], p. 278). Man, rather, is consubstantial (in other words, of one substance) though non-identified with divine reality, according to Voegelin, in contradistinction to the theorising of a Marx or Nietzsche. It is noetic consciousness that discerns this and participates in the Flow of divine Presence. Pneumopathology refers to the creation of “second realities”, to reductionist fallacies, to illusions of immortality; the refusal to recognise reality as it is and is the major symptom of existential alienation, of what Frankl labels the existential vacuum. Chrysippus, the Stoic, speaks of the “agnoia ptoiodes” (“scary ignorance”) of the moderns that leads them away from the light (as in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave) and Cicero characterises as a disease of the mind, the rejection of reason, while Voegelin, in his Platonic philosophising, conceptualises it as the disorder in soul (psyche) and society (polis).

I contend that philosophical therapeia needs to be cognisant of such a condition. It has clinical consequences for practising logotherapists and existential analysts in the Franklian tradition, as well as for philosophical counsellors (and these two are not opposed. Indeed, I would argue for logotherapy to be understood as essentially a philosophical form of praxis. Furthermore, many philosophical counsellors are actually applying logotherapy in the clinic). Logotherapy is a cure through “reason” (understood in the classical philosophical sense as openness to receive reality, rather than in its reductionist, Enlightenment sense of instrumental reason).

So where does this fit in relation to Frankl’s existential emphasis on the noetic in terms of his tri-dimensional ontology and philosophical anthropology? Nous is Greek for “thought” or “understanding”; it is that which differentiates humans from (other) animals, who also have psyche or “soul” meaning “life”. Soul animates body (for Aristotle, it is the substantial form of the body). For Frankl, it refers to what is uniquely human. Nous, thus, is (immaterial) “intellect” (also intellectual “intuition”); it is “mind” or “reason”. It is thus akin to logos. The human person, in a Classical Greek and Christian trichotomy, may be viewed in three dimensions: somatic, psychic, and noetic, but while all humans have nous, believers assert we are pneuma or “spirit” too. And as the noetic has also been translated as “spiritual” in English there has been some semantic and conceptual confusion, at least for English-speaking readers of Frankl. Pneuma refers to “spirit” (Geist) or “spiritual soul” (Seelefrom within a religious register. Soul is the principle of life just as spirit is the source of life. Man is in his entirety body, psyche and spirit.

Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and spiritual phenomena, especially the interactions between humans and God. We may speak, therefore, of the human trinity: somatic, psychic, noetic, which is created in the image of the divine Trinity. But this is not a fourth dimension, as some “Christian logotherapists” have asserted, for instance, Donald Tweedie in his book, The Christian and the CouchAn Introduction to Christian Logotherapy ([8], p. 55). Pneuma, or the pneumatic dimension, which is the presence of the Holy Spirit (Heiliger Geist) in every human being created in the image of God Himself (i.e., the indwelling of the Three Persons in the soul), binds and holds the three dimensions together, grounds them. It is not another dimension.

Now, classical logotherapy correctly avoids confusion with this overtly religious connotation and context and avoids committing a category mistake in conflating distinct terms. Frankl was at pains to separate them; indeed he doesn’t address this pneumatic aspect, which grounds man’s existence in God. “Spiritual” is employed by Frankl without religious reference. It would not just be “Christotherapy”, which would explicitly deal with the truly spiritual core of the human person as its specific area of focus but theism generally so we must object to this term—the one Tweedie employs in the book just cited. Moreover, there is no such thing as Christian logotherapy. There is simply logotherapy and its practitioners will be Christian or Jew, Moslem or atheist, etc. So, logotherapy must avoid the pitfall of becoming a hagiotherapy.

Frankl differentiates them thus: (logo)therapy involves helping souls while religion is about saving souls. There is an unconscious religious sense—a spiritual/rational unconscious, but there is also a difference we need to keep demarcated between religion and logotherapy. Logotherapy starts and stems from the spiritual, as Frankl repeats in a number of his works, but he holds the dynamic tension between them in balance; he doesn’t collapse or confuse these two dimensions. In Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl writes:

“Religion provides man with more than psychotherapy ever could….There are some authors who propose that psychotherapy relinquish its autonomy as a science and its independence from religion in favour of seeing its function as that of an ancilla theologiae. As is well known, for centuries philosophy was allotted the role of such an ancilla theologiaei.e., a handmaid in the service of theology. However, just as the dignity of man is based on his freedom…so the dignity of a science is based on that unconditional freedom that guarantees its independent search for truth….whoever tries to make psychotherapy into an ancilla theologiae…not only robs it of the dignity of an autonomous science but also takes away the potential value it might have for religion….psychotherapy has to refrain from setting any preconceived goals along religious lines” ([1], pp. 80–81).

The human psyche is religious by nature but that evidence can only come from a therapy that by its nature is not religiously oriented. Logotherapy is such a secular science; that is its strength. Religion, or the spiritual sphere, is the proper concern of man in his search for ultimate meaning. Therein, the difference.

To make an additional point, alluded to earlier: It is true that the noetic and the pneumatic dimensions cannot become sick in themselves but the search for meaning or God may become frustrated or blocked and originate illness on the other levels and this is what Voegelin probably means by “pneumopathology”, though it has to be said that Frankl is more precise in this regard. Voegelin’s term “disease of the spirit” is misleading and may give the wrong impression. For, as Frankl rightly and repeatedly says, the spirit as such can never be sick. The frustration of meaning may lead to a noögenic neurosis just as frustration on the spiritual level of existence may lead to what I am calling a pneumatogenic neurosis. But the neurosis is the result of access to the pneumatic being blocked or ignored, etc. The pneumatic dimension can’t cause or be the reason for any illness. However, conversely, if positive influences occur at the level of pneuma it will, in turn, influence the somatic, psychic, and noetic dimensions as well. The point here is that this explicitly spiritual dimension may be attested to theoretically or existentially by the theistic logotherapist but it can’t explicitly enter into clinical practice.

Frankl asserts: “A higher dimension, by definition, is a more inclusive one. The lower dimension is included in the higher one; it is subsumed in it and encompassed by it. Thus biology is overarched by psychology, psychology by noölogy, and noölogy by theology” ([1], p. 16). Theology is, thus, the queen of the sciences as its “object” is God Himself—our final end. However, as Frankl points out in his The Will to Meaning and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning there is a dimensional barrier between the human and divine worlds, as well as between the spiritual and the instinctual in contrast to the fluid border between consciousness and the unconscious ([1], pp. 32, 156).

  1. The Meaning of Logotherapy

The subtitle of Viktor Frankl’s very first book, penned in a concentration camp, The Doctor and the Soul is “From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy”, implying from the very outset that there is some difference between these two disciplines. Frankl of course himself does speak of logotherapy, in other passages, as being a psychotherapy but presumably he meant this term loosely as understood within the cultural context of his own day.

Logotherapy is a therapy which starts from man’s spirit; it recognises and respects man’s psycho-physico-spiritual unity—his biopsychospiritual reality. Frankl labels it “a psychotherapy in spiritual terms” ([9], p. 29). The aim of logotherapy initially was not to supplant but to supplement psychotherapy. However, over the years logotherapy has developed into its own independent system, and few logotherapists are rooted in Freud and in existential philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Max Scheler, as Frankl was. Indeed, in 1984 at the first Argentine Congress on Logotherapy, according to Omar Lazarte, people present remember Frankl saying that he supported himself on two pillars ([10], p. 181)—Freud and Heidegger.

Another aim of logotherapy is to purge, according to Frankl, psychotherapy of its psychologism. Frankl delineates the differences between logotherapy and psychotherapy thus: “Psychotherapy endeavours to bring instinctual facts to consciousness. Logotherapy, on the other hand, seeks to bring to awareness the spiritual realities” ([9], p. 43). Logotherapy indeed is specifically designed to help and “handle those suffering over the philosophical problems with which life confronts human beings” ([9], p. 46). Logotherapy, unlike, nearly all of the psychotherapies, with the exception of Assagioli’s psychosynthesis, takes explicit account of the spiritual sphere which Frankl calls the noetic or noölogical, and which we have been exploring here.

Logotherapy is the clinical application of Frankl’s existential analytic approach. Already in 1926 logotherapy “had extended beyond the scope of psychotherapy beyond the psyche, beyond the psychological dimension to include the noölogical dimension, or the logos” ([1], p. 67). So Franklian psychology, in its clinical praxis, is both a therapy and an analysis; it is a logo- not a psycho-therapy just as it is an existential analysis rather than psycho-analysis. Franklian existential analysis differs quite radically from the existential analysis of Medard Boss and Ludwig Binswanger, Igor Caruso and Rollo May, in that it draws in its philosophical dimensions more from Max Scheler’s phenomenology and philosophical anthropology, as evidenced especially in logotherapy’s tri-dimensional ontology, rather than in the Heideggerianism of the other schools of Continental existential analysis.

So let us be clear: logotherapy is not a psychotherapy, as presently conceived of by Europe or, rather, to be more precise, logotherapy extends beyond psychotherapy; it is primarily a noetic therapy. It is a noölogy rather than a psychology and is best considered, I would argue, as a form of philosophical counselling. Didn’t the great Eric Voegelin, that Platonic scholar par excellence whom we cited earlier, not tell us that Frankl, in modern times, was renewing and retrieving the older Platonic tradition of philosophy as a therapeia with his “Socratic dialogue”? ([7], pp. 278–79). Many commentators place logotherapy within the humanistic and integrative therapeutic schools but logotherapy is existential, personalist and, with its explicit reference to transcendence, it may also be construed as a trans-personal theory and therapy.

Peter Sarkany’s seminal paper, “Outlines of Viktor Emil Frankl’s Religious Philosophy” is instructive in this regard and my analysis agrees in the main with his. In it Sarkany argues that logotherapy/existential analysis is rooted in the philosophical dimension and that its theory of personality is transpersonal. In another article, “An Outline of the Philosophical Care of the Soul: Phenomenology, Existential-Analytic Logotherapy and Philosophical Counselling”, Sarkany outlines the case made superbly by Pierre Hadot in his Philosophy as a Way of Life that logotherapy be considered as a philosophical therapy which has as its principal aim the cure or care of the soul. This Platonic philosophical tradition of care of the self or soul ruptures in the Middle Ages and in Modernity but is alive and well in the twentieth-century in the work of Wittgenstein, Jan Patocka, Werner Jaeger, Michel Foucault, Pierre Hadot, and others. Logotherapy has much in common with this older philosophical tradition which views philosophy not only as a noetic therapy but also as a practical system of spiritual exercises which were developed by the Stoics and others and which find their way into logotherapy as dereflection, Socratic dialogue and attitude modification.

But what precisely does the term “spiritual” mean in logotherapy and where does it fit in to Frankl’s philosophy?

  1. The Spiritual Dimension

According to Frankl, instincts and spirit are incommensurable concepts. The spiritual, to repeat, is the human in the person, the specifically human dimension. Instincts and spirit form an ontological hiatus; they represent two fundamentally distinct regions within the total structure of the human being. In Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl asserts that existence “is in essence spiritual” ([1], p. 27); on the other side of the divide is facticity (a Heideggerian term) meaning somatic and psychical facts—the realm of the physiological and the psychological. A sharply drawn line separates and demarcates these two “regions” unlike the blurred line between the somatic and the psychic. In terms of a multidimensional aetiology of a psychosomatic condition, every clinician knows how difficult it is to differentiate between psychogenic and somatogenic components.

Spiritual existence is seen by Frankl in terms of freedom and responsibility. We spoke about dimensions of the person; the core is precisely the person as a spiritual being, the centre of spiritual activity. Putting this another way: the spiritual personal centre is encompassed by peripheral psychophysical layers. There is thus the spiritual person and his psychophysical overlay. The core individualises and integrates. The spiritual core constitutes oneness and wholeness in the acting person—a threefold wholeness makes man complete. The spiritual is man’s essential ground and, of course, spiritual phenomena may be conscious or unconscious but the spiritual basis of man is unconscious. The human spirit is in its very origin (depth) unconscious spirit.

Logotherapy and existential analysis tries to elicit man’s striving for a meaning to life by elucidating the meaning of his existence, unravelling it like a carpet. At all times, Frankl holds that there is a positive correlation between meaning orientation and mental health. When man’s search for meaning is frustrated or thwarted it leads to a spiritual distress, which is not the same as a mental disease. The self is not his or her symptoms; the person is not his or her pathology. We are able to self-distance and self-transcend.

In self-distancing the person can create a small area of freedom between a stimulus impinging upon him and his response to it; we can detach from psychological conditions in our noölogical dimension. Freedom is not just freedom from conditions but freedom to take a stand or stance towards them (spiritual attitude). And the lopgotherapeutic technique of paradoxical intention makes use of such noö-psychic detachment. Similarly in self-transcendence which, for Frankl, is the essence of human existence as such, the person can move beyond himself, can stretch out to a world beyond his own ego. Logotherapy takes seriously this noölogical component in its focus on meaning and spirit. A person’s spiritual resources are a vast reservoir for mental health. The spirit of man contains many riches and is essentially creative. “It is the task of logotherapy to bring to light the spiritual struggle of the individual” ([11], p. 59).

Geist is the nucleus of the personality; the final requirement is fulfilment—flourishing. In The Doctor and the Soul, Frankl opines that logotherapy is “psychotherapy in spiritual terms” ([9], p. 29). In, what he labels “medical ministry” the logotherapist offers the non-religious person (the religious person will find his security and solace in the mystery of his metaphysics) a space for therapeutic talking which will bring relief. This clarifying, critical, consoling and contemplative conversation on personal predicaments will touch upon questions of value and of meaning and enters into medicine’s borderland but existential analysis will not block the door to transcendence. Medical ministry is concerned with the health of a man’s soul not its salvation and nurses are in a privileged position to carry out their immensely important tasks against the backdrop of such a mission and divine mandate (Isaiah: “comfort ye, comfort ye my people”). A person’s soul is healthy when he or she remains conscious of his or her responsibility. So, if we view the human person in terms of a pyramidal structure, the noetic dimension provides his spiritual anchorage.

  1. Example

Let us take an example to concretise these theoretical observations: depression may manifest itself somatogenically as an endogenous melancholia in which case medication and pharmacological intervention may help (psychiatry), or psychogenically as a reactive depression in the wake of the loss of a loved object in which case talking therapy may be the preferred option in terms of a treatment modality (psychotherapy), or noögenically whereby the patient philosophises when confronted with the perceived pointlessness of his existence, in which cases meditation is probably better than medication; sometimes Plato is better than Prozac (logotherapy where the patient is guided through Socratic questioning to locate logo-hooks where meaning-potentials reside and to draw these latent possibilities to the surface).

Noögenic neurosis is the term employed by Frankl to designate mental disorders that arise from spiritual or existential reasons rather than biological causes. There are endogenous psychoses which are somatogenic (have a biological cause), psychosomatic illnesses (that are triggered but not caused by psychological factors), reactive neuroses (arising from a psychological reaction to the effects of somatic or psychological disturbances); there are personality disorders (which possess constitutional traits), iatrogenic neuroses (caused or exacerbated by therapeutic intervention) and psychogenic neuroses (arising from psychological causes) but Frankl was alone in the 1950s in formally classifying the noögenic neuroses—the notion that spiritual factors can play a decisive part in the origin (aetiology) of neuroses. “Spiritual” refers to persons as free, responsible and oriented toward meaning. Spiritual crises are not all pathogenic—they pertain to the human condition.

Spiritual weariness can be seen in the nihilism of the age and in its reductionism. LTEA (Logotherpay and Existential Analysis) can best be seen as integral non-reductionism, as holism in its best sense. Frankl felt that the gas chambers of Treblinka and Auschwitz and Dachau were not prepared in some Ministry in Berlin but at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers who denied the freedom of the will, the will to meaning, and meaning in life—logotherapy’s three pillars and foundational principles/postulates. The correlation between a feeling of meaninglessness and a number of dysfunctional behaviours has been amply attested to and empirically demonstrated.

Examples of the spiritual or noetic include the following: crises of conscience, value conflicts, existential frustrations and the sense of meaninglessness or despair to name but some. In chapter ten of On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders, Frankl defines logotherapy as “a therapy from a spiritual perspective” and existential analysis as a therapy that “targets personal spiritual existence” ([12], p. 171). Here is presupposed a conception of the person as a subject oriented, ordained toward meaning. Logos signifies the spiritual and meaning above and beyond this but it is “not meant in a religious sense” ([12], p. 173). Frankl construes the human being’s motivation not primarily in terms of pleasure (Freud) or power (Adler), like the other two schools of Viennese therapy, but in terms of purpose, by the struggle for the most meaningful fulfilment of personal existence possible. Failure to fulfil meaning leads to an emptiness of the human heart, to an anxiety that is afraid ultimately of its own nothingness. The will to meaning belongs to the noetic as does the call of conscience and love which is neither reducible to eroticism or to sex. Noögenic neuroses are illnesses from the spirit, not in the spirit. According to Frankl, the noetic can’t be neurotic. Behind every illness, the spirit of the person remains intact. Logotherapy is a noetic supplement to somato-psychological therapy as well as being a specific therapy in its own right recognised by the World Health Organisation amongst others. Logotherapy doesn’t overlook the biological or the psychological. “It seeks only one thing, namely, that after the physiological and the psychological have received attention, the noölogical is not forgotten. When a house is built and the roofer finally begins to work, no one would reproach him for not giving thought to the basement” ([12], p. 186).

Life has meaning up to the very last breath; we don’t know what magnificent hour may still await us. We can give meaning to our lives by doing a deed (completing a work), by appreciating the true, the good and the beautiful, by loving someone or when all these possibilities have been taken from us, by altering our attitude towards an unbearable and unavoidable fate such as an inoperable cancer. Meaning is never wanting, only waiting.

We can find fulfilment even in the face of extreme failure. Indeed, the mystery of the meaning of suffering is dimensionally superior to the meaning of both work and love. Such “quiet heroism” distinguished Frankl’s own life and countless others, from nurses to carers, from teachers to therapists. Such heroism, however, can only ever be asked of oneself, never of another. But it is such spiritual stuff and mettle that saints are made of.

  1. Ultimate Meaning

The unconscious logos has been disclosed to us with the discovery of the spiritual unconscious in logotherapy. Freud identified the unconscious but the human person stands in an intentional not instinctual relation to transcendent reality even if this is on an unconscious level. In “Unconscious Religiousness” in Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl writes: If one calls the intentional referent of such an unconscious relation “God”, it is apt to speak of an “unconscious God”. This, however, in no way implies that God is unconscious to himself, but rather that God may be unconscious to man and that man’s relation to God may be unconscious’ ([1], p. 68).

Neither is this “unconscious God” to be located in impersonal archetypes aka Jung, but in personal and existential regions. Religion may have positive psychotherapeutic effects on the patient but this is not its primary intention. Religion might promote mental health but this is not its principal aim, which is spiritual salvation. “Religion provides man with more than psychotherapy ever could” ([1], p. 80). Man’s psyche is religious by nature (anima naturaliter religiosa); this has been determined by a therapy which by nature is not religiously oriented (scientia naturaliter irreligiousa), viz., logotherapy. Frankl opines: “The less psychotherapy condescends to serve theology as a handmaid, the greater will be the service it actually performs. One need not be a servant to be able to serve” ([1], p. 81).

The spiritual is as powerful as the instinctual—more so: this arguably is the sovereign precept of Viktor Emil Frankl’s school of logotherapy. In the movie of man’s life, sometimes little sense can be made of it until the last sequence has been shown. Frankl asks: “Doesn’t the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if ever at all, only at its end, on the verge of death?” ([1], p. 143). Frankl formulates a law thus: The more comprehensive the meaning, the less comprehensible it is. Ultimate or absolute meaning is beyond comprehension. As Augustine noted: if you understand it, it is not God. Frankl’s definition of God is one that he arrived at by the age of fifteen: “God is the partner of our most intimate soliloquies”.

Religion is the fulfilment of the will to ultimate meaning. (This view is paralleled by Einstein’s comment: “To be religious is to have found an answer to the question of what is the meaning of life?” and to Wittgenstein’s one: “To believe in God is to see that life has a meaning”).

Viktor Frankl’s metaphysics of meaning can help humanity in the hour of its horror. For our lives possess spiritual significance and their ultimate secret is that love is our salvation. Doesn’t this indirectly serve as service to the hidden God (Deus absconditus)? For God and love are one.

Logotherapy is not a Jewish or catholic or Protestant therapy due to the dimensional differences between religion and therapy. Logotherapists don’t sing Te Deums or Gloria in Excelsis to patients! ([13], p. 143). It must appeal to theistic, agnostic, pantheistic, anatheistic and atheistic persons. The fusion of therapy and religion leads to a confusion between theology and anthropology. Frankl hopes and wagers that his question to the why of human suffering will one day find an answer though perhaps not in this world. Mere thinking cannot reveal our highest purpose; “faith in the ultimate meaning is preceded by trust in an ultimate being” ([13], p. 145). There is an ontological difference between creature and Creator, in the Heideggerian sense. We write straight on straight lines (setting parallel letters perpendicular to the lines). God writes straight in crooked lines. In other words, “something which seems to be impossible in a lower dimension, is perfectly possible in a higher one” ([13], p. 148). Stumbling blocks in our relation to religion and therefore to God include: anthropomorphism, authoritarianism and rationalism. Trust in meaning is transcendental in the Kantian sense. God is not dead (aka Nietzsche) but silent: “from the infinite height no light is reflected—and from the infinite depth no sound is returned” ([13], p. 154).

  1. Three Eyes

We can illustrate Frankl’s conceptual considerations above with reference to the work of Ken Wilber, the American philosopher who draws on St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan philosopher, in relation to “the three eyes” of knowledge and what Wilber calls the “Pre-Trans Fallacy” (PTF). Transpersonalists such as Wilber and Assagioli distinguish between the prepersonal, personal and transpersonal, between the subconscious, self-consciousness, and the superconscious. In general agreement with Frankl, such thinkers would argue that Freud reduced the higher dimensions of the psyche (the transpersonal in their language) to the prepersonal (for example, in seeing in religion nothing other than infantilism and illusion and God as nothing other than a sublimated father-figure) whereas Jung elevated the prepersonal (archaic myths) into transpersonal archetypes. Freud commits gross reductionism in pathologising religion, while Jung commits elevationism or spiritualism (subtle reductionism) in psychologising religion (God being seen as an archetype of the Self, for example).

Both the prerational and the transrational are non-rational; the prepersonal and transpersonal are both non-personal. We tend, thus, to confuse “pre” and “trans”. So we either reduce transpersonal, spiritual, superconscious states to prerational, infantile ones, or we elevate infantile, prerational states to transpersonal and transrational glory. We reduce “trans” to “pre” or elevate “pre” to “trans”. But the dregs of an infantile past are not the same as the depths of eternal being.

Now, according to Bonaventure the three eyes of the soul, by which we attain knowledge, are the eye of flesh (science) by which we perceive the external world of space, time, and objects; the eye of reason (philosophy-psychology), by which we attain a knowledge of philosophy, logic, and the mind itself; and the eye of contemplation (religion-mysticism), by which we rise to a knowledge of transcendent reality. All knowledge is a type of illumination for Bonaventure: cogitatio or empirical cognition; meditatio, seeking for truths within the mind; and contemplatio or transcendental insight (Hugh St. Victor’s epistemology). Or in Wilber’s schema: gross (flesh and material reality); subtle (mental); and causal (transcendental and contemplative). Now, this is crucial and is in complete accord with Frankl’s refusal to collapse or conflate or confuse any dimension: the mental eye can’t be reduced to the flesh eye. Not all our knowledge is entirely empirical. The truths of ideas (of the intellect) can’t be seen by the senses (mathematics is nonempirical). Just as reason transcends flesh, so contemplation transcends reason. The eye of reason is transempirical; the eye of contemplation is transrational. A category error is committed when one realm or dimension is confused with or collapsed into another one, when an attempt is made by one eye to usurp the role of the other two in which case we get scientism or spiritualism. There are, thus, three distinct realms of valid knowledge: empiricism, rationalism, and transcendentalism. These insights from the world of transpersonal psychology [14] concur with Frankl’s own transpersonal philosophy.

  1. Concluding Notes

Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, philosopher, Jew, Holocaust survivor, offers unconditional faith in unconditional meaning to the sad, the suffering, the sterile, the senile, the saints and the swine. Without Frankl’s and logotherapy’s stress on the spiritual dimension our clientele would be the same as those visiting veterinary surgeons.

The Russian philosopher, Semyon Frank, penned a book in 1925, The Meaning of Life, and in it he states that “the sole human work consists in seeking and finding the meaning of life” ([15], p. 25). Eternal life is the abiding ground of my entire earthly life. “Love is an overcoming of our selfish personal life, an overcoming which gives us the blissful fullness of true life and thereby gives meaning to our life” ([15], p. 32). Mind demands a metaphysical foundation in the ultimate depths of being. The search for the meaning of life is also the struggle against its meaninglessness. Only in finite time does the supratemporal, transfinite Being reveal Itself. Frank avers: “The sole work which illuminates life with meaning and therefore has absolute meaning for man is therefore nothing else but active co-participation on the Divine–human life” ([15], p. 97). That “place” is the ultimate beyond of logotherapy and philosophical practise, which can but point to it.

Viktor Frankl pointed, in his time, as Plato did before him, to the spiritual foundations of life and revealed, for our time, the ultimate secret of all time: that love is salvation and joy eternity.


Conflicts of Interest. The author declares no conflict of interest.

  1. Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. New York: Basic Books, 2000. [Google Scholar]
  2. Stephen J. Costello. The Ethics of Happiness: An Existential Analysis. Lima: Wyndham Hall Press, 2010. [Google Scholar]
  3. Stephen J. Costello. Philosophy and the Flow of Presence. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. [Google Scholar]
  4. Eric Voegelin. “Conversations with Eric Voegelin at the Thomas More Institute for Adult Education in Montreal.” In The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939–1985. Vol. 33, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2004. [Google Scholar]
  5. Viktor Frankl. Psychotherapy and Existentialism. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967. [Google Scholar]
  6. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003. [Google Scholar]
  7. Eric Voegelin. Published Essays 1966–1985. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1990. [Google Scholar]
  8. Donald Tweedie. The Christian and the Couch: An Introduction to Christian Logotherapy. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963, pp. 14–15. [Google Scholar]
  9. Viktor Frankl. The Doctor and the Soul. Great Britain: Souvenir Press, (1952) 2004, Citations refer to the 2004 edition. [Google Scholar]
  10. Omar Lazarte. “Reflections on Viktor E. Frankl’s Anthropology.” In Existential Psychotherapy of Meaning. Edited by Tucker Zeig, Alexander Batthyany and Jay Levinson. Arizona City: Tucker and Thiesen, 2009. [Google Scholar]
  11. Viktor Frankl. The Unconscious God. New York: Washington Square Press, (1948) 1985, Citations refer to 1985 edition. [Google Scholar]
  12. Viktor Frankl. On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. New York and Hove: Brunner-Routledge, 2004. [Google Scholar]
  13. Viktor Frankl. The Will to Meaning. New York: Meridian Books, (1969) 1988, Citations refer to 1988 edition. [Google Scholar]
  14. Ken Wilber. Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm. Boston: Shambhala, (1983) 2001, Citations refer to 2001 edition. [Google Scholar]
  15. Semyon L Frank. The Meaning of Life. Translated by Boris Jakim. Grand rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing, 2010. [Google Scholar]

© 2015 by the author; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons by Attribution (CC-BY) license (



Similar Posts

Leave a Reply