Individuals suffering from depression often report a persistent line of thinking, a despair that comes with the inability to find meaning in life. What is it all for? Why bother to get up in the morning?
Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, faced these questions from his fellow prisoners while in concentration camps during WWII. It was during these times that Frankl understood that suffering itself is not the root cause of despair, rather, Frankl identified feeling a lack of purpose and a failure to find meaning in life's challenges as the root cause of psychological distress.
According to Viktor Frankl, depression occurs on three levels: psychological, physiological, and spiritual.
On a psychological level, Frankl believed feelings from inadequacy arise from undertaking a task beyond our abilities. At the physiological level, a vital lowering of physical energy occurs. At the spiritual level, a deep tension is felt as a result of who a man is in relation to who he should be. Frankl described this tension as a gaping abyss. If goals are unreachable, a loss of meaning occurs and is accompanied by a loss of a sense of future. With the loss of meaning and future comes the loss of the will to live (Frankl 1986).
Logotherapy helps people address the root of these issues. The loss of meaning in one’s life is one of the major challenges of living in modern times and creates an existential emptiness.
Logotherapy is an effective treatment approach for depression. In a recent study, a group of 10 college students with symptoms of depression and significant feelings of meaninglessness participated in group Logotherapy.
The goals of the program were as follows:
Help find and clarify values that were meaningful
Set reasonable goals that would actualize the participant’s values
Set practical plans to achieve these goals
Identify the participants' assets and deficits that would affect their ability to achieve their set goals.
Intentionally incorporate the assets and deficits in the plans to achieve set goals.
Over 10 sessions, the group participated in exercises designed to expand conscious awareness, stimulate creative imagination, and project personal values (Robatmili, Sohrabi … & Hasani, 2015).
At the end of the program, the students measured lowered rates of depression and felt an increased sense that life was meaningful.
It is human nature to need and want life to be meaningful. Without meaning, we feel empty and we are apt to lose our sense of direction. Frankl understood that the key to survival was to maintain an inner hold on our moral and spiritual self. This could be accomplished by setting realistic, achievable goals.
In society, many people have lost their direction. No one wants to feel like we were born to work, pay bills, and then die. This view can develop if we are stuck in what we experience as an unsatisfying job. Additionally, if you are unable to meet the goals you have set for yourself this may lead to a sense of hopelessness.
Frankl coined the term “Existential Vacuum” to describe what happens with a frustrated will. You don’t know what you are living for and may resort to substance abuse, suicidal ideation, violence, boredom, or pleasure-seeking, and power-hungry behavior. These are attempts to fill a hungry heart for those who have been disillusioned with life and lack a sense of direction and purpose.
During his time in concentration camps, Frankl understood that it was not the suffering itself that caused despair in himself and his fellow prisoners; it was the feeling that they had nothing to give and no one to love. These feelings led them to believe they had nothing to live for.
Logotherapy heals because it teaches us to celebrate life. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude is hakarat hatov literally meaning recognition of good. The person feeling gratitude enjoys more than the gift; he or she also enjoys the love that comes with the gift. Giving increases love in the world, not just for those who receive but also for those who give.
Logotherapy is designed to help you find meaning and give your life purpose. Each of us has a unique role to play and it is our responsibility to find and choose our own authentic path. The spiritual focus of Logotherapy is neutral and non-denominational, and aims to assist in shifting the question from “Why me?” to “Who am I?”
Frankl, V. E. (1986). The doctor and the soul: From psychotherapy to logotherapy. Vintage.