Gordon W Allport opens his preface to Man’s Search for Meaning with an anecdote about Viennese psychiatrist-author Victor Frankl. Apparently he used to ask all his patients one question: ‘Why do you not commit suicide?’
French existential philosopher Albert Camus considered this the only serious question of philosophy. For Frankl, this question is the key to his ‘logotherapy’: a meaning-centred psychotherapy that sees much of our modern mental anguish as consequences of a struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of our lives.
Frankl believed that the search and discovery of meaning is itself tremendously therapeutic – and even more fundamental to our existence than our drives for pleasure or power.
During the Second World War Frankl was a longtime prisoner in ‘bestial’ concentration camps, where his father, mother, brother and wife all perished. As Allport says: ‘A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to.’