existential primer

Viktor Frankl
psychology, surviving the absurd

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Existentialism’s contribution to psychology is probably best viewed through the works of Viktor Frankl. While Jean-Paul Sartre and other philosphers saw the need for an existential psychotherapy, Frankl’s position as a leading psychiatrist allowed him to make the connection between philosophy and therapy.

Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…

Do not use this site as a study guide. The Existential Primer is a “living” academic project, unlike a static text. This primer is only a shallow introduction to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result in misunderstanding the profiled individuals. These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations included because within them is where you will find the experts. Read their works!

NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

Work; Author, p. Page


Viktor Frankl was born 26 March 1905 in Vienna, Austria, to Gabriel and Elsa (Lion) Frankl. Gabriel was a civil servant.

Frankl’s interest in psychology developed early. During his youth he began corresponding with Sigmund Freud.

After earning his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1930, Frankl began treating suicidal women with various forms of depression.

In December of 1941, Frankl married Mathilde Grosser. Mathilde would die in 1945, as World War II was ending.

World War II

As Hitler was beginning military actions, Frankl was appointed director of neurology at the Rothschild Hospital, a “Jewish” facility, in Vienna. Sadly, it was only a few months before Frankl and most of his family were deported to various concentration camps. Frankl, deported in 1942, was held by the Nazis in four camps, including the infamous Auschwitz and Dachau.

Both a doctor and natural leader, Frankl took it as his duty to help other inmates dealing with both medical and emotional needs. Frankl worked with suicidal prisoners, in particular. The Jewish prohibition against suicide, as well as a desire to resist Nazi oppression, helped many of these prisoners deal with horrendous conditions.

Before his deportation, Frankl had started writing a book to explain his observations on mental illness. His wife, Mathilde, had sewn the text’s notes and outline into the lining of Frankl’s coat to sneak the work past Nazi guards. Unfortunately, the guards confiscated his coat and Frankl’s original notes were forever lost. During his internment, Frankl used scraps of paper to write a new version of the text.

During the war, Frankl’s parents, brother, and Mathilde were killed. Mathilde had been pregnant when the Nazis killed her.

Despite his suffering, Frankl completed the text he had composed in the camps. The finished work was Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. After World War II the text would be published in more than two-dozen langauges, with more than seventy printings, making the work on of the most influential psychology texts ever published.

After the War

Following World War II, Frankl married Eleonore Katharina Schwindt on 18 July 1947. The couple had one daughter, Gabrielle.

Frankl returned to the University of Vienna as a professor of neurology and psychiatry. He would remain a professor at the university until he was 85 years old. He did take several leaves to serve as a visiting professor at Harvard, Southern Methodist, Duquesne, and Standford Universities. He lectured throughout the world during his teaching career. Frankl was also the director of the department of neurology at Vienna Polyclinic (Poliklinik) Hospital from 1946 until 1970.

Driven to live life to its fullest potential, Frankl enjoyed mountain climbing and even obtained a pilot’s license in his sixties.

Frankl died of cardiac arrest on 2 September 1997, in Vienna, Austria.

1905 March 26 Born in Vienna, Austria.
1930 Obtains M.D. from University of Vienna.
1940 – 1942 Director of Dept. of Neurology, Rothschild Hospital, Vienna.
1941 December Marries Mathilde Grosser.
1945 Wife Mathilde dies.
1946 – 1970 Director, Dept. of Neurology, Poliklinik Hospital.
1947 Professor of neurology and psychiatry, University of Vienna.
1947 July 18 Marries Eleonore Katharina Schwindt.
1949 Obtains Ph.D. from University of Vienna.
1950 Serves as president of the Austrian Medical Society of Psychotherapy.
1961 Visiting professor at Harvard and Southern Methodist Universities.
1966 Returns to Southern Methodist University as a visiting professor.
1971 – 1972 Visiting professot at Stanford University.
1972 Visiting professor at Duquesne University.
1997 September 2 Dies of heart disease in Vienna.



The following information is excerpted from the New Dictionary of Existentialism (1971), by professor St. Elmo Nauman, Jr., a work no longer in print.

Logotherapy - (from DE) In Existential psychology, the term for Dr. Viktor Frankl’s therapy. The theory states that the spiritual aspects of the distressed individuals require treatment rather than the physical symptoms. Thus it is names Logotherapy, from the Greek word “logos,” which is “word,” “meanings,” or “spiritual.”

“Logos” being the meaning — and, beyond that, something pertaining to the noetic, and not the psychic, dimension of man. — Frankl, From Death Camp to Existentialism

According to logotherapy, the striving to a meaning in one’s own life is the primary motivational force in man. — Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It is, of course, not the aim of logotherapy to take the place of existing psycho-therapy, but only to complement it… which includes the spiritual dimension. — Frankl, Doctor of the Soul

Thus, logotherapy is a personalistic psychotherapy which does not concern itself primarily with symptoms, but rather tries to bring about a change in orientation with respect to the symptoms. The therapeutic aim of logotherapy is to make the individual aware of him purpose in life and to bring him to a fuller understanding of it.

Logotherapy is based on the observation that uncertainty about life’s meaning is one of the most important causes of emotional problems in the world today.


Coming Soon…


Frankl, Viktor Emil; Recollections: An Autobiography (Cambridge, Mass: Perseus, 2000)

Frankl, Viktor Emil; Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963, 1984)

Frankl, Viktor Emil; The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. [3rd, expanded ed] (New York: Vintage Books, 1986)

Gould, William Blair; Viktor E. Frankl: Life with Meaning (Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole, 1993)

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