What is Logotherapy and What Does It Have to Do With Family Conflict and Mediation?

By Jennifer Winestone

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances
— Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Logotherapy is a therapeutic doctrine developed by famed psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.  The term logo therapy comes from the Greek word “Logos”, which means “meaning”.  Frankl believed that our primary motivation as humans is our search for meaning (in contrast to Freud's theory that we are driven by our search for pleasure).  Accordingly, in logotherapy a person is focusedon the task of finding their meaning.  Frankl found that it is this "meaning" - a sole purpose unique to each individual - that is the key to a person's survival of life's most challenging circumstances and ultimate happiness.

In family disputes arising from separation, child custody and divorce, “meaning”  often finds its link with “principle,” grown from a foundation of past decisions (regret), disagreements (anger/hurt), behaviors and events (blame).   However, in mediation, which is by nature a future-focussed process, meaning is broadened and cultivated with a focus on interests and a view to the future. The search for meaning in this context may include a respect of each party’s suffering (compassion), their shared journey to find resolution of the conflict (collaboration), and the meaning that is ultimately realized in settlement (peace).  

Frankl describes the logotherapist’s role as analogous to an ophthalmologist “widening and broadening the visual field of the patient so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him.”  The family mediator has a similar opportunity to widen the narrow context of the dispute,  unveiling the broad spectrum of interests (legal, economic, personal, emotional, etc.) that inform the parties’ decision-making processes, and helping parties find meaning and move forward from the dispute.

Family mediation is not therapy, but it is a logother-ipical approach to conflict resolution - a self-determinative, voluntary, non-judgmental, future-focussed injection of hope and optimism in difficult circumstances.  

Whatever family conflict resolution process you or your clients find your/themselves in - litigation, mediation, or the kitchen table - remember to focus on meaning, have a clear direction for purpose, and remain hopeful for the future.    

Check out Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2014).