Discovering Logotherapy: Our Search for Meaning

The Mane Intent

I’ve just completed my first year of academic studies as I work towards a Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology. I have another year of course work followed by an eight month practicum at a local agency. Ultimately my intention is to become a Registered Therapist through the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and establish a private practice. This experience and supporting credentials will be a great complement to the work we are already doing with our horses and I’m thoroughly enjoying the learning process.

Most recently, as part of a counselling skills assignment, one of my professors suggested that I had a natural orientation to Logotherapy. Because my professional experience includes marketing and branding, I initially thought he was joking. Then I discovered the work of Viktor Frankl.

If you haven’t yet read Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning then I highly recommend it. As described in the book, 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 of logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”) suggests that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful. It brings together body, mind and spirit as three central dimensions that define the human experience.

Frankl’s experience in the Nazi death camps is described in the book. Between 1942 and 1945 he laboured in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Frankl earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. He published more than thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology and served as a visiting professor and lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. He died in 1997.

Perhaps one of the most quoted statements of his work is this one describing the individuals within the death camps who made an effort to comfort others: “They may have been few in numbers, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

For me, a nugget is embedded in his preface of the 1992 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a principle he shared with students: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Listen to what your conscience wants you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see in the long run success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

It takes me to the first group of clients who came to the farm and one man in particular who shared this wisdom with me: “You can’t force a goal.”

As a therapist, my offering will be influenced by the principles reflected in Frankl’s Logotherapy and I look forward to supporting others as they find new meaning in lived experiences.

What is your vision for the kind of work that you would like to do and a life that is meaningful for you?

About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses, donkeys and humans together to explore new possibilities and find new meaning in lived experience.

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