Home PageBlogInspiring Moments with the Masters – An Essay on Viktor Frankl – Part 2

Picture of Jeff Zeig Viktor Frankl Article

By Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D.

In the last issue of the newsletter, I initiated this column (Vol 38 No 2 – Page 10) so that I could share the experiences I’ve had in meeting masters of psychotherapy, recycle the wisdom I gleaned, and further my lifelong mission of honoring forebearers. I started off with Viktor Frankl, and in this issue continue with Viktor Frankl Part II; Part III will appear in the next issue.

In 1990 when I visited Viktor Frankl in his home, I signed a second guestbook. I skimmed the first guestbook, which was already filled with the distinctive signatures of prominent visitors and existential philosophers I had studied in college, including Heidegger.

After giving me a tour of his office, Frankl announced that we would go for dinner. I said “Fine. But I am inviting you and Mrs. Frankl.” He immediately declared, “Don’t give me any of that manipulative Ericksonian stuff. I am taking you to dinner.”

At the restaurant, Frankl talked about his experiences with Freud and Adler. He started out a disciple of Adler’s and was therefore expected to defend him when he was attacked by colleagues. But Frankl did not do this, because he thought the criticism was justified. This resulted in Frankl’s excommunication from the Adlerian society, and he was also shunned at the Vienna coffeehouses, which at that time were a center for discourse on the development of psychotherapy.

Frankl met Freud when Freud was on a walk in Vienna. Aware of Frankl’s interest in psychoanalysis from their correspondence, Freud referred him to a colleague. At the initiation of the meeting with the colleague, the colleague asked Frankl in a desultory tone, “And why do you want to become a psychoanalyst?” as if the profession was chosen because of a character flaw. Frankl said at that moment he knew he did not want to be a psychoanalyst. He instead wanted to focus on a patient’s strengths, not on pathology.

As Frankl continued telling stories, I turned to Mrs. Frankl and said, “I’m sorry. You must have heard these stories many times.” She replied, “No. Some I am hearing for the first time.”

There was understructure to the dinner conversation: Prof. Frankl and I were in a Herculean struggle. I was working hard to make him feel good about himself, but Frankl, who was more adept at this, was also working to make me feel good about myself.

In afternoon of my arrival at Frankl’s home, we exchanged autographed books, and he wrote “To Dr. Zeig. Thank you for visiting me at my home in Vienna.” At the end of dinner, I asked Frankl to autograph another book, and gave him my copy of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl had advanced macular degeneration, so using only his peripheral vision, he first drew a caricature of himself, and then wrote: “To Jeff Zeig — after hours of discussion, discussion enriching me. Viktor Frankl”

When we were leaving the restaurant, Frankl warmly hugged me and remarked, “Your idea for the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference is a great one, but the field of psychotherapy would be so much better if there were more people like you in it.” He paused, and said: “And thank you for being.” Then he and Mrs. Frankl headed home, and I went to a coffee shop. Deeply moved, I felt the need to immediately make notes about my experience.

Viktor Frankl keynoted the 1990 Evolution Conference and this revealing conversation hour is available for streaming at our store online: Conversation Hour with Viktor Frankl.

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