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Review of Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was originally published in 1959. Since then, it has sold over 12 million copies. That is an astounding number for any work, but after you read it you will understand why it has been so influential. Frankl opens the book with an autobiographical account of his time spent in four different Nazi concentration camps. Before the war, he was a practicing psychiatrist and physician. When he was picked up and placed in his first camp he held on to a manuscript containing his life's works and theories up to that point. He pleaded with the guards to allow him to keep his most meaningful possession, but his pleas fell on deaf ears, and his years of painstaking effort and passion were wiped away. Some choose to give up and withdraw for far less powerful reasons, and for Frankl, his reasons to throw in the towel would only increase as the true horrors of concentration camp lifestyle were revealed to him.

Informed by a combination of experiences prior to the war as well as his time in concentration camps, Frankl developed a new branch of psychotherapy he called logotherapy. This therapy rather than centering on sexual conflicts (Freud) or power structures (Adler), focused on discovering or defining meaning in life for the afflicted patient. For example, rather than re-hash a patient's relationship with his father as the reason for having problems with his bosses at work, Frankl proposed asking whether or not the work itself held any meaning for the individual. Did they feel as though their work had a larger purpose? A "yes" response did not mean that it had to have a larger meaning for the entire human race, but only that the person performing the work believed it to be truly worthwhile and meaningful for at least some number of individuals. This change of focus from Freudian dynamics had implications both in psychology and other fields such as philosophy. If finding a meaningful existence is so crucial to humans, schools such as nihilism (in which every act is meaningless) should be rejected outright and therapy should focus on understanding the way patients thought about meaningful tasks and relationships within their own lives. Large scale organizations such as schools, non-profit, and community centers could benefit from looking at logotherapy and determining how they can create meaningful experiences within their specialized contexts. I expect that sales of Man's Search for Meaning will continue, as the pursuit of meaning is a nearly universal phenomenon, a further testament to Frankl's insights.