The search for meaning – amateur logotherapy in the life of the unemployed


During my university studies, I had a lot of subjects connected with psychotherapy. The name of Viktor Frankl was well known to me, but I never read any of his books. Until recently. I took in the library probably his most famous and the most influential book “Man’s search for meaning – The classic tribute to hope from the holocaust.” I have borrowed the title for my blog post from there. If you pass this book in the library, don’t hesitate and take it home for reading. Today I will not write exactly what this book is about. Rather I would like to spend some time discussing how useful logotherapy may be in the work with unemployed people.

But firstly some short intro for those of you who are not familiar with different schools of psychotherapy or with the name of Viktor E. Frankl. 

Viktor Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and he was also head of the Neurological Hospital in Vienna. Besides, he held a doctorate in philosophy. He had survived 4 concentration camps (Auschwitz, Dachau, Kaufering, Türkheim) and lost literally his entire family during the holocaust. After Frankl’s camp was liberated, he returned to Vienna and almost immediately started to work on his book on logotherapy – the new approach in psychotherapeutic practice. 

Logotherapy is seen as “the 3rd Viennese school of psychotherapy”. Frankl’s predecessors were Sigmund Freud (1st Viennese school) and Alfred Adler (2nd Viennese school). To simplify their theories for a very narrow explanation: Freud’s theories are based on sexual desires, Adler’s on the desire for power and Frankl’s focus is on meaning in life.    

Frankl stressed that if you have meaning in life, you can survive almost any condition. Crucial is to have WHAT and then HOW is not so important anymore. His approach was based on observations and experience from concentration camps, but also from his rich medical practice. What he found out was that people experience neurosis because of the lack of meaning in their lives. Even nowadays, we aim for more money, bigger houses or a better position in the social structure, but it doesn’t bring us real satisfaction as we are rarely happy with what we have already had. In his words, even sorrow, suffering, pain or incurable diseases might be dealt with if all that you experience has some meaning. Logotherapy sees people as active actors and as those who have to find what the meaning of their life is. 

I particularly like what he wrote about so-called “unemployment neurosis”“… originated in a twofold erroneous identification: being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life.” Frankl described how he had encouraged his unemployed patients to volunteer in different organisations and how to find some sort of meaning during their actual conditions of unemployment. He recorded that after his patients did so, their mental conditions improved, even if their financial conditions were still the same. 

Frankl’s other famous statement is: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” As being unemployed for quite a long period and knowing many people with great potential in the same situation, I often recall his statements. I was fighting the system because I was kind of proud and it felt unfair to be at home useless and meaningless. But a few months ago I decided to just accept the status quo. To be specific: accept how the job search looks in Finland, accept that Valvira has in my case a final word in education recognition, and accept that I am not as an attractive candidate as I originally thought.

Logotherapy recognized 3 main possibilities how people can find meaning in their life:

  1. by creating a work or doing a deed (activity)
  2. by experiencing something or encountering someone (feelings)
  3. by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering (self-development)

Once I wrote how happy I am volunteering and how strongly I recommend to job seekers to volunteer too. I believe that we are not just puppets in the show, but we can create our agenda. We can determine ourselves and choose our attitudes in circumstances of life’s reality. I chose awareness over pride and resilience over self-pity. The question to ask is: What can be done in a given situation? What can I do?

Keep in mind those possibilities whatever the circumstances of your life are. To be creative, to have some activities or to feel love and rise upon difficulties might be the line that separates those who succeed over those not. Remember, if you have WHAT, you will overcome HOW.


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