What’s The Meaning of All This? Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy

“Typically, if a book has one passage, one idea with the power to change a person’s life, that alone justifies reading it, rereading it, and finding room for it on one’s shelves. This book has several such passages.” – Harold S. Kushner in the Forward to Man’s Search for Meaning (1992 Edition)

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If you were to conduct a Google search with the terms “life changing books” or “books everyone should read”, Viktor Frankl’s indispensable psychological treatise Mans Search for Meaning wold no doubt appear repeatedly. In my experience, it is surely both. Written by Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (March 26, 1905–September 2, 1997), Man’s Search for Meaning continues to influence generations, having sold over 10 million copies in 24 languages.

First and foremost, Man’s Search for Meaning is a tale of survival, chronicling Frankl’s harrowing experience in several Nazi concentration camps throughout the course of the Second World War. But this is less the tale of one man’s survival than it is a depiction of the triumph of the human spirit, as Frankl concerns himself not with the question of why some men died in the camps, but what it was that helped others to survive. The second half of this most important of books is a manifesto of Frankl’s personal brand of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy, in which he argues that to find a meaning to live for is the primary motivational force within human being, a drive which represents a powerful capacity for personal transformation.

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Evolutionary Psychology Offers A Fresh Perspective On Depression

Depression

It must be incredibly difficult to imagine the maddening reality of living with a mental illness for someone who has never experienced it first hand. We all feel blue from time to time, but few ever experience the debilitating inability to feel joy, constant fatigue, and mind-numbing impediment of thought accompanied by major depressive disorder. William Styron once described it as being attached to a bed of nails which one carries around wherever they go, and in my experience this is strikingly accurate.

Yet for all its unpleasantness the noonday demon seems to pose an evolutionary paradox. Darwin’s legacy was that evolutionary pressures shape not only our physical characteristics but our mental and behavioural processes as well. This being the case, how is it that an illness characterized by a myriad of symptoms so obviously detrimental to evolutionary fitness – decreased cognitive function, a loss of interest in sex, socializing, and exercise, not to mention suicide – has persisted?

Not only has depression not been wiped out through the course of natural selection, it is now – and I believe rightly so – considered an epidemic. The global burden of depression is soaring; the latest estimates by the World Health Organization place the global prevalence of depression at three hundred and fifty million worldwide [1], and in the last forty five years alone the annual rate of suicide has increased by sixty percent [2]. Despite our best efforts in the development of behavioural therapy, pharmacological treatment, and psychological theory the depression epidemic shows no signs of letting up. We are losing the fight against depression.

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