Friday, February 15, 2013

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America. (from GoodReads)

I am required to read Man's Search for Meaning for my Counseling Psych class and I'm really glad I was forced to. A few months ago I read an NPR article on this book and the psychiatrist who wrote it, but never thought I would actually read this book. For those interested in the Holocaust and/or the meaning of life, then this is the book for you!

What's really nice about Man's Search for Meaning that it's very short and to the point. Most the book is Frankl's Holocaust memoirs and I thought that was the most interesting part. It just reinforced the horror I already feel when I think about that terrible time in human history. I was so impressed and frankly shocked at  how Frankl survived the concentration camps - and by how he kept his spirits up. He didn't get into it much in this book, but apparently he would counsel the other inmates and try to give them hope. What a hero.

Frankl's counseling theory, logotherapy, is very interesting and easy to understand, even for laypeople. Basically it's a form of therapy that encourages the client to find meaning in their life and in their suffering. It emphasizes the importance of attitude and the way in which you view a situation can change everything. In addition, he discusses the technique of "paradoxical intention" in which a client faces his or her fears in order to get rid of anxiety. A simple example would be if you have insomnia, you should try to stay awake, then you will fall asleep. If you try to sleep, then it will never happen. I'm sure everyone can relate to this!

Overall, I'm very pleased my professor assigned this book! As a psychology major, I find this to be extremely enlightening. I can relate a lot to Frankl's theory and it would definitely be something I could see myself using in my own life. For those interested in psych or the Holocaust or the human condition, I whole-heartedly recommend Man's Search for Meaning.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: bought.

1946/Washington Square Press/214 pages.

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