Remembering Victor Frankl
by William N. Grosch, M.D., M.Div.
Dr. Frankl, one of the last great Viennese psychiatrists,
died at 92 on September 2, 1997.
His Man's Search for Meaning, completed in 1946, and
originally titled in German From Death Camp to
Existentialism, remains one of the most influential books I
have ever read. Even though he lost his parents, brother,
and pregnant wife in the camps, he left us with some
enduring truths: that we are still "free to choose our
attitude' toward our plight and 'if we have a why to live,
we can endure almost any how." This book, the first of 34
books, was reprinted 73 times, was translated into 24
languages, and sold more than 10 million copies. A 1991
Library of Congress survey found that Man's Search for
Meaning was one of the ten most influential books ever read
by general-interest readers.
According to Dr. Frankl, behavior is driven by a need to
find meaning and purpose. His ideas have been especially
appealing to those who complain about emptiness or the
meaninglessness of their lives. In the concentration camps,
between 1942 and 1945, he discovered a link between
prisonersí loss of faith in the future and a
dangerous giving up. He found the only meaning for him was
to try to help his fellow prisoners restore their
"We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore, we had to
teach the despairing men, that it did not matter what we
expected from life, but rather what life expected from us,"
he wrote. "We needed to stop asking about the meaning of
life, but instead to think of ourselves as those who were
being questioned by life, daily and hourly."
"Our answer must consist not in talk and medication, but
in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means
taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its
problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets
for each individual."
One specific action, in which he found "the tender
beginnings of a psychotherapy," were attempts by himself and
those who were able to fight off depression, to help prevent
suicides among others.
During his later years as a psychotherapist with severely
depressed patients, Dr. Frankl said he pointedly asked, "Why
do you not commit suicide?" The answers he received - love
of one's children, a talent to be used or perhaps only fond
memories - often were the threads he tried to weave back,
through psychotherapy, into the pattern of meaning in a
He developed a school of existential psychotherapy called
Logotherapy and contributed to the development of humanistic
psychotherapy and existential philosophy in Europe and the
He was a visiting professor at Harvard, Stanford,
Southern Methodist, and other American universities, and
lectured in the United States and around the globe.
Click here to go to the Viktor Frankl Institute Web page.