Meaning-Centered Existential Analysis: Philosophy as Psychotherapy in the Work of Viktor E. Frankl by Peter Sarkany
The insightful studies in Peter Sarkany's Meaning-Centered Existential Analysis: Philosophy as Psychotherapy in the Work of Viktor E. Frankl examine the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy, founded by the eminent philosopher Viktor Frankl (1905–1997) as a philosophical trend of psychotherapy. Each essay focuses on the relationship between this meaning-centered existential analysis and various fields such as phenomenology, philosophical counseling, ethics, and religion. The initial chapter introduces the concept of the "philosophical care of the soul" and its relationship to psychotherapy, whereas chapters 2, 3, and 4 provide "methodological approaches to the philosophical importance of logotherapy and existential analysis" (13). Of particular interest is chapter 4, which deals with the philosophical method of Socratic dialogue. The last four chapters discuss the further philosophical dimensions of Frankl's work with comparisons to the thought of Heidegger, Hartmann, and Ingarden with a final chapter on Frankl's philosophy of religion in contrast to Freud's ideas on religion.
In chapter 1, Sarkany states that the philosophical care of the soul does not focus primarily on the individual's salvation, health or physical, spiritual or social well-being but on "the concrete meaning of man's lived existence, the comprehensive meaning of a contemplative life, and on the contemplation of meaning" (24). This "life-philosophical approach" (24) considers the striving for wisdom and for happiness as one unity. Sarkany defines this approach as "the care of thinking" (25) and outlines three dimensions of this approach: (1) problem-solving or thinking that focuses on concrete problems; (2) life-philosophical/ethical thinking that deals with the care of the self, including [End Page 177] the formation of values and duties that shape one's conduct; and (3) contemplative thinking which involves a "transcendental" condition that enables the consideration of the relationship between one's self and another.
The subsequent three chapters offer the core of Sarkany's depiction of a meaning-centered existential analysis. The foundations of this analysis are based on Frankl's Philosophy and Psychotherapy (1938), in which the terms logotherapy and existential analysis appear together to denote a "spiritually approached" (32) psychotherapy aimed at "a responsible being" whose goal is creating or finding meaning. Frankl clearly distinguishes between traditional psychoanalysis and logotherapy: "Psychotherapy endeavors to bring instinctual facts to consciousness. Logotherapy […] seeks to bring to awareness spiritual realities. As existential analysis it is particularly concerned with making men conscious of their responsibility" (32). This responsibility is always a responsibility toward a meaning and encompasses other existential issues such as freedom, challenges (such as suffering, sin, death), and possibilities (work, love). Frankl states that humans can find meaning in three ways: (1) through the creation of something, such as a work of art; (2) through an emotional experience, such as loving someone; and (3) through attitudinal meaning in which meaning can be found in the attitude one chooses within even the most hopeless and unchangeable situations such as a severe illness. As a concentration camp inmate, Frankl discovered these options as a means to survive the horrendous camp conditions. In his landmark memoir Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, Frankl discusses the improvised cabaret inmates created with songs, poems, and ironic jokes that helped them endure their suffering and the redeeming value of loving another, even when the beloved is absent. Reflecting on his love for his wife enabled Frankl not only to survive but also to create meaning in a senseless and brutal existence: "In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment" (49). In a similar vein, the logotherapist guides the client toward the possibilities of achieving meaning in his or her life through understanding the client's life situation and exploring the patterns of his or her existence and values. Furthermore, the focus of existential analysis is always on the here and now, on the concrete possibilities of achieving meaning in a given situation.
If Frankl's approach continues Karl Jaspers's existential philosophy, then [End Page 178] his methodology is based on the Socratic dialogue (chapter 4), which has the widest application in a variety of areas—child rearing, education, social work, and therapy. Based on respectful conversation with a therapist or a group, in which personal experiences and differing viewpoints are shared, the Socratic dialogue not only enables the discovery of one's values but also serves as a mode of ethical personality training as it teaches, directly or indirectly, to respect the discourse and viewpoints of others and to think and act responsibly. The elaboration of the Socratic method by Leonard Nelson, a philosopher from Göttingen, is of particular interest as it outlines a detailed practical application of the Socratic method including the sharing and analysis of individual life examples of the chosen topic and the creation of a definition of the topic based on dialogue and consensus.
If the initial four essays offer a summary of Frankl's logotherapy and its practical application, then the final four chapters situate his thought in its historical context and, consequently, further refine his ideas by juxtaposing them with those of his predecessors such as Freud. For example, in chapter 5, Sarkany contrasts Frankl's ideas with those of German philosopher Nicolai Hartmann, who, like Frankl, poses the question of attaining meaning in an imperfect world of suffering. Whereas Hartmann speaks of Sinngebung, Frankl employs the term Sinnfindung. Thus, an individual discovers (and, I would add, creates) meaning in a concrete task or stance toward a particular situation.
This readable, lucid text for academics and non-specialists offers a thorough description of this significant school of psychoanalysis as well as a practical application of Frankl's thought in therapeutic and educational Settings. Most importantly, it offers an alternative mode of thinking and living as a possible antidote for a contemporary world that promotes self-gratification but also begets isolation. Frankl's key concept of self-transcendence, in which an individual finds meaning beyond oneself and authentic happiness, counters this promotion of self-interest. Sarkany underscores this point when he cites German thinker Robert Spaemann: "One often hears these days that the purpose of education is to teach young people to represent their own interests. However, education has a much more fundamental purpose, namely, to teach young people that taking interest in something should be their interest. Because who learnt how to represent their own interests, but is not actually interested in anything other than themselves, cannot be a happy man" (64–65). [End Page 179]