|March 26, 2016|
Viktor Emil Frankl M.D. , Ph.D. (March 26, 1905, Czerningasse 6, Leopoldstadt, Vienna ??? September 2, 1997, Vienna) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor . Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis , the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy". His best-selling book, Man's Search for Meaning (published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism , and originally published in 1946 as trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager ), chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living. Frankl was one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists .
Frankl was born in Vienna into a Jewish family of civil servants ( Beamtenfamilie ). His interest in psychology surfaced early. For the final exam ( Matura) in Gymnasium , he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking. After graduating from Gymnasium in 1923, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna and later specialized in neurology and psychiatry, concentrating on the topics of depression and suicide. His early development was influenced by his contacts with Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, although he would later diverge from their teachings.
In 1924 he became the president of the Sozialistische Mittelsch??ler ??sterreich . In this position he offered a special program to counsel students during the time they were to receive their grades ( Zeugnis ). During his tenure, not a single Viennese student committed suicide. The success of this program grabbed the attention of the likes of Wilhelm Reich who invited him to Berlin.
From 1933-1937 he headed the so-called Selbstm??rderpavillon , or "suicide pavilion", of the General Hospital in Vienna. Here, he treated over 30,000 women prone to suicide. Yet, starting from the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, he was prohibited from treating " Aryan " patients due to his Jewish identity. He moved into private practice until starting work in 1940 at the Rothschild Hospital, where he headed its neurological department, and practiced as a brain surgeon . This hospital, at the time, was the only one in Vienna in which Jews were still admitted. Several times, his medical opinions saved patients from being euthanised via the Nazi euthanasia program . In December 1941 he married Tilly Grosser.
On September 25, 1942 he, along with his wife, and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There Frankl worked as a general practitioner in a clinic until his skill in psychiatry was noticed, when he was asked to establish a special unit to help newcomers to the camp overcome shock and grief. He later set up a suicide watch unit, and all intimations of suicide were reported to him. To maintain his own feeling of being worthy of his sufferings in the dismal conditions, he would frequently march outside and deliver a lecture to an imaginary audience about "Psychotherapeutic Experiences in a Concentration Camp". He believed that by fully experiencing the suffering objectively, he would thereby end it.
Though assigned to ordinary labor details until the last few weeks of the war, Frankl (assisted by Dr. Leo Baeck and Regina Jonas among others) tried to cure fellow prisoners from despondency and prevent suicide. He worked in the psychiatric care ward, headed the neurological clinic in block B IV, and established and maintained a camp service of psychic hygiene and mental care for sick and those who were weary of life. Frankl at Theresienstadt also gave lectures on topics like Sleep and Its Disturbances, Body and Soul, Medical Care of Soul, Psychology of Mountaineering, Rax and Schneeberg , How I keep my nerves healthy, Existential Problems in Psychotherapy, and Social Psychotherapy. On July 29, 1943, he organized a closed event of the Scientific Society. Then, on October 19, 1944, he was transported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was processed and spent a number of days and then was moved to T??rkheim, another Nazi concentration camp affiliated with Dachau , where he arrived on October 25, 1944, and was to spend 6 months and 2 days working as a slave-labourer. Meanwhile, his wife had been transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she was murdered; his father passed away of pulmonary edema and pneumonia in Theresienstadt camp, and his mother was sent to Auschwitz from Theresienstadt and was murdered there as well.
On April 27, 1945, Frankl was liberated by the Americans. Among his immediate relatives, the only survivor was his sister, who had escaped by emigrating to Australia.
It was due to his and others' suffering in these camps that he came to his hallmark conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. This conclusion served as a strong basis for Frankl's logotherapy. An example of Frankl's idea of finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering is found in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of the Auschwitz concentration camp:
Another important conclusion for Frankl was:
Frankl's concentration camp experiences thus shaped both his therapeutic approach and philosophical outlook, as reflected in his seminal publications. He often said that even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and unprincipled ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups. Following this line of thinking, he once recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East coast of the US be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West coast, and there are reportedly plans to construct such a statue.
Frankl's approach is often considered to be amongst the broad category that comprises existentialists.
He is thought to have coined the term Sunday Neurosis referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. This arises from an existential vacuum, which Frankl distinguished from existential neurosis.
Liberated after three years of life in concentration camps, he returned to Vienna. During 1945 he wrote his world-famous book titled ...trotzdem ja zum Leben sagen (Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager) (translated: "...saying yes to life in spite of everything; A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp)", known in English by the title Man's Search for Meaning. In this book, he described the life of an ordinary concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist.
Shortly after the war he voiced the opinion of reconciliation. In 1946 he was appointed to run the Vienna Policlinic of Neurology. He remained there until 1971. In 1947 he married his second wife Eleonore Katharina Schwindt. She was a practicing Catholic and the couple respected each other's religious backgrounds, going to both church and synagogue, and celebrating Christmas and Hanukah. They had one daughter, Gabriele, who went on to become a child psychologist. In 1955 he was awarded a professorship of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and as visiting professor, he resided at Harvard University.
In the post-war years, Frankl published more than 32 books (many were translated into 10 to 20 languages) and is most notable as the founder of logotherapy. ( Logos, ??????????, is Greek for word , reason , principle ; therapy, ????????????????, means I heal .). He lectured and taught seminars all over the world and received 29 honorary doctorate degrees.
Frankl died on September 2, 1997, of heart failure. He is survived by his wife Eleonore, his daughter Dr. Gabriele Frankl-Vesely, his grandchildren Katharina and Alexander, and his great-granddaughter Anna Viktoria.
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