Suicide Prevention, Part I: Applying Logotherapeutic Principles to Suicide Prevention

Viktor E. Frankl, Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor

The Meaning of Logotherapy

 Viktor E. Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, worked with countless patients who were in despair and attempted suicide. From his work, he developed a school of psychotherapy, which is called “Logotherapy.” It literally means “healing through meaning.” In other words, if a person has meaning, that is, a reason to live; if he or she faces life with a goal or purpose, it is psychologically healthy. It helps a person stay alive.

The Existential Vacuum

According to Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning (Simon and Schuster, 1984), one possible reason a person may commit suicide is the “existential vacuum,” which is “the experience of a total lack, or loss, of an ultimate meaning to one’s existence that would make life worthwhile.” If the vacuum goes unfilled, if one does not see any meaning to life, nor find any reason to live, then he or she may commit suicide or live in despair, which can lead to suicide.

Means without Meaning

In his book The Unheard Cry for Meaning (Washington Square Press, 1985), Frankl says that many suicidal persons “have good jobs and are successful but want to kill themselves because they find life meaningless.” They may also kill themselves even if they are well-educated and “on good terms with their family and friends.”

Even successful people, those who “have it all” or everything they could possibly want, commit suicide. When they finally achieve success, they ask themselves: “What has all my success been for?” They experience, in Frankl’s words, “means without meaning.”

The Uniqueness of Meaning

In Psychotherapy and Existentialism (Simon and Schuster, 1967), Frankl explains why a person should go on living, no matter what crisis he or she may be facing. He says that every person is unique and has “has a unique mission to carry out.” Thus, a human being is “neither expendable nor replaceable.” In other words, every individual “experiences a unique historical context in a world which has special opportunities and obligations reserved for him [or her] alone.”

Finding a Reason to Live

According to Frankl, it is up to each person to discover his or her reason for being alive. Frankl would maintain that even if an individual does not yet know his or her meaning, nevertheless, it can begin right now by reaching out to others in love, dedicating oneself to a worthwhile cause, serving others and having faith in God.

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