Viktor Frankl; Psychotherapist Forged Pioneering Theory During Holocaust

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Viktor E. Frankl, author of the landmark “Man’s Search for Meaning” and one of the last great psychotherapists of this century, has died of heart failure. He was 92.

Frankl died Tuesday and his funeral already has been held, the Austria Press Agency reported Wednesday, citing information from the Viktor Frankl Institute here.

Frankl survived the Holocaust, even though he was in four Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz from 1942 to 1945. But his parents and other members of his family died in the concentration camps.


During--and partly because of--his suffering in the camps, Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy.

At the core of his theory is the belief that humanity’s primary motivational force is the search for meaning, and the work of the logotherapist centers on helping the patient find personal meaning in life, however dismal the circumstances may be.

In reviewing Frankl’s 1963 book “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Times book critic Robert R. Kirsch called it “the most important contribution to psychiatry since the writings of Freud.”

In the book, which sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, Frankl said: “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

Frankl’s teachings about “the will to meaning” have been described as the Third Vienna School of Psychotherapy, after that of Sigmund Freud, often described as “the will to pleasure,” and Alfred Adler, who stressed “the will to power.”

According to logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways: “by creating a work or doing a deed; by experiencing something or encountering someone; and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering,” he wrote.


“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation,” he insisted, a theory he gradually developed as a concentration camp survivor.

Viktor Emil Frankl was born in Vienna on March 26, 1905. As a high school student involved in socialist youth organizations, Frankl became interested in psychology.

In 1930, he earned a doctorate in medicine and then was in charge of a ward for the treatment of suicidal women. When the Nazis took power in 1938, Frankl was put in charge of the neurological department of Rothschild Hospital, the only Jewish hospital in the early Nazi years.

But in 1942, he and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp near Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Frankl returned to Vienna in 1945, where he became head physician of the neurological department of the Vienna Polyclinic Hospital, a position he held for 25 years. He was a professor of both neurology and psychiatry.

Frankl’s 32 books on existential analysis and logotherapy have been translated into 26 languages.


Starting in 1961, Frankl held five professorships in the United States--at Harvard and Stanford universities and at universities in Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

In 1960 he was honored by the Religion in Education Foundation, which he addressed at the old Huntington-Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena.

He was awarded the Oskar Pfister prize of the American Society of Psychiatry and held honors from several European countries.

He is survived by his wife, Eleonore, and a daughter, Dr. Gabriele Frankl-Vesely.