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Man’s Search for Meaning Teacher’s Guide

By Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl



Please click on the PDF link at the bottom of this page to download the Teacher’s Guide.
Man’s Search for Meaning (hereafter MSFM) is an autobiographical account of Viktor E. Frankl’s application of his trademark theory, which he calls, “Logotherapy.” He began formulating this theory, which posits that finding meaning and purpose in life is the key to personal happiness and well-being, in Vienna, Austria, before the dawn of Nazi aggression. Later, while imprisoned for three years in first a Nazi ghetto and then in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl applied his theory to his own immediate situation, to console himself and his fellow prisoners.                           
Because he was Jewish, Frankl was arrested by Nazi German authorities in September 1942, along with his pregnant wife, his parents, and his brother. They were deported from their beloved Vienna and transported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where Frankl’s father died. Frankl and his remaining family members were next transported to Auschwitz in Poland, where all of them, except Frankl, died.

At the time of his arrest, Frankl was a well-regarded psychologist. He had already begun developing his theory of Logotherapy (literally, “meaning therapy”). Frankl carried his manuscript outlining his theory, titled The Doctor and the Soul, with him to Auschwitz. (It was slipped into a pocket sewed between the lining and the outer fabric of his overcoat.) At Auschwitz, in short order, Frankl was separated from his family and stripped of his clothing (including his overcoat, which contained his manuscript). The Nazis even shaved all of his body hair off. Of this experience, Frankl wrote, “most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives” (p. 15).

In the “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” section of MSFM, Frankl writes about consciously commanding his mind to detach from his immediate physical circumstances in order to apply the central tenet of Logotherapy—namely, that life holds meaning regardless of one’s circumstances—to his own situation. The depiction of this concentration camp experience is followed in MSFM by a poignant argument in favor of all aspects of Logotherapy.

In spite of the loss of his family, his professional manuscript, and his dignity, Frankl pressed on to “live” as fully as possible in the face of imprisonment by Nazi Germany. In essence, MSFM provides a living example of Logotherapy in practice, as Frankl writes about how he survived his experience in the Nazi concentration camp, before moving on to an in-depth account of the theory itself. Frankl organizes MSFM into the following sections: 1) “Experiences in a Concentration Camp”; 2) “Logotherapy in a Nutshell”; and 3) a postscript, “The Case for Tragic Optimism.”

was first translated into English in 1959. As a result, teachers should be aware that Frankl’s work contains words and phrases that may be anachronistic or confusing to modern readers. For example, Frankl uses the term “moslem” (p. 19). “Moslem” is an abbreviated version of the German word “musselman,” a term Nazis used for prisoners who have lost the will to live. (For more on Nazi Holocaust terminology, go to

Viktor Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna, and died in 1997. His life, therefore, spanned most of the twentieth century. As a young child, Frankl would meditate on the meaning of life—“Particularly about the meaning of the coming day and its meaning for me” (p. 156). As a teenager he was fascinated by philosophy, psychology, and psychoanalysis—the latter of which was theorized and popularized by Sigmund Freud. As a young adult, he supplemented his high school studies with adult education courses. He also began a correspondence with Freud. At eighteen, he wrote a psychoanalytic essay titled “On the Mimic Movements of the Affirmation and Negation,” and sent it to Freud, who eventually submitted Frankl’s work for publication in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. While in college, he worked for the psychotherapeutic department of the Psychiatric University Clinic. Frankl earned a Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Vienna in 1925. From 1940 to 1942, he was director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital (a hospital for Jewish patients). During this time, Frankl began writing his manuscript The Doctor and the Soul, which was the forerunner of MSFM. After his release from the Türkheim concentration camp, Frankl returned to Vienna and became director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic. In 1946, he published A Psychologist’s Experiences in the Concentration Camp, which was later republished as Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything. The book was finally translated into English in 1959 as Man’s Search for Meaning. In 1948, Frankl received a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and he was eventually named professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. Throughout his career, Frankl was in high demand on the lecture circuit. He also held guest professorships at several American colleges and universities, including Harvard University and Duquesne University.

Frankl wrote several more books, including The Will to Meaning, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, The Unconscious God, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.

The Viktor Frankl Institute was founded in Vienna in 1992. For more information on the prolific life and works of Frankl, consult the Afterword in MSFM by William J. Winslade (p. 155), and the Viktor Frankl Institute (

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning provides a vivid account of an individual’s experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. The book focuses on love, hope, responsibility, inner freedom, and the beauty to be found in both nature and art as means that help one endure and overcome harrowing experiences. As noted above, Frankl had begun developing meaning therapy (Logotherapy) before he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. Thus, he was able to apply his theory to help himself and other prisoners, as Frankl states, in a psychohygienic manner (“psychohygiene” is a term that Frankl uses to explain the prevention of mental disease through the application of clear thought processes—that is, through the application of Logotherapy).

Viktor Frankl’s MSFM would fit well in Language Arts, History, Social Sciences, Psychology, Philosophy, and Religion courses. This guide contains classroom discussion and writing prompts. In addition, it contains references to images of Frankl at various stages in his life in order to deepen comprehension and provide context. This guide also includes references to a postwar letter that Frankl wrote to a life-long friend and two of Frankl’s speeches. The letter and speeches provide the reader with a view of Dr. Frankl’s progressive application of his theory of Logotherapy.

The prompts in the following “Examining Content Using Common Core State Standards” section of this guide provide for a critical analysis of MSFM using the Common Core State Standards for Informational Text for grades 11 and 12. The prompts are organized according to the standard they primarily support. In addition, at the end of some of the standards sections, a classroom activity is provided that can further enhance analysis of the text (for a complete listing of the Standards, go to:

In the Afterword of MSFM, Frankl is quoted as saying, “It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence” (p. 156). The goal of this guide is to illuminate this responsibility for readers, by providing a means for thorough investigation and comprehension of MSFM, as well as accompanying self-investigation and introspection.


CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
1. The etymology of the term “concentration” translates literally as “the action of bringing to a center.” As you read Frankl’s account of being a prisoner in German concentration camps during World War II, think about what those in power were trying to bring to the center: were they more interested in physical human beings or abstract human ideas? Support your response using examples from the book.
2. Describe the command hierarchy of German concentration camps. Pay special attention to those prisoners who were selected to supervise camp activities. How does Frankl describe these selected individuals? Support your answer with evidence from the book.
3. On p. 7, Frankl states that World War II gave us “the war of nerves and it gave us the concentration camp.” As you read through this book, note the mental anguish of prisoners in the camps. By what psychological methods did they survive—or not?
4. In what ways could a prisoner obtain sufficient sustenance? What is Frankl’s observation of this process?
5. Why would politics and religion play a vital role in concentration camps (p. 34)? Support your answer using MSFM and other reputable sources.
6. In MSFM, Frankl observes that the “intensification of inner life” helped prisoners cope with their dire situation. He then uses examples drawn from his own interior life that helped him cope with his own prisoner experience: a vivid memory of observing the mountains of Salzburg; a strong connection to a watercolor painting of the Bavarian woods by Albrecht Dürer; and a poignant reflection on his wife as a bird alights on a mound of dirt which the prisoner Frankl has just dug. In what ways did Frankl’s interior   life help him maintain his will to live in this seemingly meaningless world (pp. 39–41)?
7. Think carefully about those prisoners who clung to a desire to live (p. 40), as opposed to those who succumbed to death. By what psychological methods did the survivors manage to survive? Support your answers with examples from MSFM, especially from Part II, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell.”
8. Frankl states that “freedom is in danger of degeneration . . . unless it lives in terms of responsibleness” (p. 132). He then posits that the United States should have a “Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” After reading MSFM, what do you think he means by these statements? Do you agree? Why or why not?
9. Analyze “The Psychiatric Credo” in MSFM (p. 133) using both what you have learned about Frankl’s concentration camp experiences and other reputable sources.

1. View Albrecht Dürer’s Pond in the Woods, the watercolor that Frankl may have been referring to on p. 40, at Frankl was an avid reader, and he had an intense appreciation for the fine arts. These qualities, at times, helped him transcend the atrocities of the concentration camps. Discuss as a class the role of education as a coping mechanism. Choose your own favorite great work of art, music, or literature and write an essay that supports how it could help you endure a dire situation.
CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis: provide an objective summary of the text.
2. Frankl writes, “we know: the best of us did not return” (p. 6). Survival is a key theme in MSFM. Examine why Frankl states that the best did not physically survive the concentration camps. By what methods did those who lived manage to survive (examples: humor, detachment, hope, luck, etc.)? Support your answer using examples from MSFM.
3. Psychohygiene is a central idea in MSFM. What does Frankl mean by that term? How does it affect a concentration camp prisoner’s experience and outcome? Describe examples in which Frankl helped his fellow prisoners via psychohygienic methods. Then describe examples in which others helped Frankl through similar methods.
4. Analyze the role Frankl’s family—especially his parents and wife—played in helping him decide that he wanted to live.
5. Refer to question 3 above and substitute the central idea of “family” with that of “profession.”
6. In MSFM, Frankl describes prisoners in the second reactional phase, which he calls “apathy,” as focused solely on self-preservation and the preservation of fellow prisoners. Why would people subjected to such inhuman conditions pause to consider the well-being of others in the same predicament? Support your answer using examples from MSFM.
7. In what ways did Frankl and other prisoners of Nazi concentration camps achieve “freedom from suffering” (p. 47)?
8. Do you agree with Frankl that we retain the right to choose, even in the face of cruel detainment? Support your answer using MSFM and other reputable sources.
9. Investigate the roles of optimism, humor, psychological detachment, solitude, and resolve in surviving the concentration camp experience, using examples from MSFM.

1. Conduct a “Story Corps”-type interview with students in your classroom or with members of your community based on the central ideas listed above. For help with setting up this activity, visit
2. Draw a picture of something or someone you love. Frame it in barbed wire. In the classroom, discuss how the barbed wire impacts your feelings about the loved thing or person you have drawn (p. 51).
3. Some say that survival is 80 percent mental (maintaining a positive attitude), 10 percent skill (knowledge), and 10 percent equipment (specialized resources). After losing his family and literally being stripped of everything except his glasses and his belt (p. 15), Frankl not only survives the Nazi concentration camps, but thrives in his post-camp life, embarking on a renowned career and living up to the age of ninety-two. Discuss the importance of a positive attitude, and access to knowledge and resources, in Frankl’s experiences. Frankl’s difficulties in the concentration camp can be compared to attempting to survive in the wilderness. Conduct a problem-solving survival scenario using groups of four or five, using the Montclair State University Survival Lesson Plan ( See also “Three Things Required for Survival in Any Situation” at
CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
4. In the preface to the 1992 edition, Frankl describes his thought processes during a series of events that led to his decision to remain in Austria. Do you agree with his decision? Further, how did his decision support his theory about success and happiness? Bear in mind his assertion that, “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue” (p. xiv).
5. Frankl describes the sequence of events that led to the loss of the manuscript which he had sewn behind the lining of his coat. In the section “The Meaning of Suffering” in Part II of MSFM, Frankl recounts the event again (pp. 114–115). In this recounting, the reader discovers that Frankl found in the pocket of his “new” coat the prayer Shema Yisrael. After reading the prayer, he decides to live his thoughts, rather than merely put them on paper. As you read through MSFM, determine whether Frankl succeeds in living his thoughts (which is the essence of Logotherapy). You can read the Shema Yisrael at
6. In MSFM, Frankl uses his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps to test and support his Logotherapy theory. In Part II, Frankl advances “Logotherapy as a Technique” (p. 122) that can relieve psychoses such as phobias and obsessive-compulsive behavior more effectively than traditional psychoanalysis can. Support or refute his stance using MSFM and other reputable sources.
7. Examine the critically ill woman’s conversations with the chestnut tree (p. 69). Does nature speak to you? Support your answer using events from MSFM and from your own experiences. Create a position paper that includes other reputable sources.
8. Research the Jerry Long story that Frankl mentions in “A Case for Tragic Optimism” (p. 147). View Lecture 1 of a series by Dr. Long (, and analyze how it supports Frankl’s conception of Logotherapy.

1. Frankl quotes or references several accomplished philosophers, writers, and painters in MSFM, including Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Baruch Spinoza, Gotthold Lessing, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Albrecht Dürer, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Albert Camus. Assign each student one of the masters referenced by Frankl in MSFM. Have each student research that thinker’s or artist’s concept of the meaning of life. Either have your students write a research paper on their chosen figure, or have them debate the issue of life’s meaning from their assigned individual’s perspective. Conduct mock interviews with each author; students will be the actors.
2. Create a flow chart of Frankl’s concentration camp experiences. Research statistics on the Theresienstadt Ghetto and the concentration camps where he was held, as well as the concentration camp he most feared entering, Mauthausen (p. 33). For more information, see the Holocaust Encyclopedia at
3. As a class, discuss Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Apply those needs to MSFM as you read through the book. See for more information on Maslow’s theory.
4. Write a position paper that analyzes Frankl’s theories in comparison to those of his early mentors, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings: analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
1. Frankl expands upon Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s observation that man is a being that can get used to anything, adding, “but do not ask us how” (p. 18). As you read through MSFM, cite examples of both physical and mental acuity that could possibly answer the “how.”
2. In Part II of MSFM, Frankl introduces his Logotherapy theory by describing the difference between it and psychoanalysis. Defend or refute his theory using examples of his life in a concentration camp, as well as the examples he gives from his life both before and after the camp.
3. In Part II of MSFM, Frankl uses two key terms to clarify his Logotherapy method: “Existential Frustration,” and “Noögenics.” Describe what he means by these terms (pp. 100–103).
4.Noö-Dynamics” (p. 103), according to Frankl, is a prerequisite for mental health. How does he support this view in MSFM? Do you agree? Support your answers using the book and other reputable survival accounts.
5. How does Frankl define existentialism? Based on that definition, what does Frankl mean by the “Existential Vacuum”? Do you agree? Support your answer using examples from MSFM and/or other reputable sources.
6. React to Frankl’s statement, “to life he can only respond by being responsible” (p.109). Support your reaction with examples from both MSFM and your own personal experiences.
7. Describe Frankl’s intentions regarding “The Essence of Existence” and “The Meaning of Love” (pp. 108–112).
8. In Part II, in the section “The Meaning of Suffering,” Frankl discusses the importance of attitude by citing a patient example. Reflect on Frankl’s remarks using other examples from MSFM and your own experiences.
9. Define “Logodrama.” In the “Logodrama” section of MSFM, how did Frankl help the mother give meaning to her life? For comparison (or contrast), read Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” at Listen to Dylan Thomas recite the poem at Support your opinion of Frankl’s assistance to this mother, using MSFM, Dylan Thomas’s poem, and other reputable sources.
10. In “The Super-Meaning” (p. 118), Frankl states that his existential view differs from that of other existential philosophers. Formulate an argument regarding unconditional meaningfulness using MSFM and other reputable sources.
11. In “Life’s Transitoriness” (p. 120), Frankl argues that the only transitory aspects of life are “potentialities.” Support or refute his observation using MSFM and other reputable sources.
12. In Frankl’s section on “Pan-Determinism” (p. 130), he argues that traditional psychoanalysis “disregards the [human] capacity to take a stand toward any conditions whatsoever,” and “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment” (p. 131). Frankl then recounts his understanding of the actions of Dr. Erwin Jekelius, “the mass murderer of Steinhof,” who was a doctor in a Viennese mental hospital. According to Frankl, “Dr. J.” eventually redeems himself. Research this account using reputable sources and support an argument for or against Frankl’s assertion. Is man capable of deciding “what his existence will be” from moment to moment? Support your answers using reputable sources.

1. Draw or find images that suggest or represent peace or inner tranquility. Create a collage out of these images and draw a barbed-wire frame around them—or, if you prefer, another kind of framing imagery that has negative connotations. How does this activity help you understand why Frankl included the Bavarian Hills imagery in MSFM (p. 51)?
2. Research other examples of forced containment besides the Holocaust. Develop a research paper comparing Frankl’s experience with other forced-containment events. Present your findings to the class.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5 Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
3. In MSFM, Frankl describes his experiences in a concentration camp before he makes an argument in favor of his trademark theory of Logotherapy (p. 97). Defend or refute this structure using textual examples from both the “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” and the “Logotherapy” sections of MSFM.
4. Photos of Frankl at various stages of his adult life can be viewed at Among the pictures are a 1929 picture of Frankl, a 1945 picture of Dr. Frankl and Dr. Rudolph Stenger before a concentration camp fence, hiking and mountain climbing photos from 1948 and 1960, respectively, a 1978 family picture with his second wife, and a photo of a 1970 meeting with Pope Paul VI, among others. Describe how the viewing of these images enhance the reading experience.

1. Have students analyze the events that led up to the Holocaust using Raul Hilberg’s “Six Stages that Led to the Holocaust” (from his book The Destruction of European Jews) by using the prompts provided online at Students can also go to the TED Ed site for the video “I’m Still Here,” which is referenced on the above-mentioned Facing History website (
2. Project a map of Nazi Germany concentration and death camps on your classroom wall. Mark Frankl’s timeline in these camps. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a map available at
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
1. As a psychoanalyst and psychohygienist, Frankl determines early on during his forced incarceration to analyze his experience, as well as the experiences of his fellow prisoners, from a professionally objective point of view. How did this approach to his situation strengthen (or weaken or refute) his Logotherapy theory? Support your answer with details from the book and other authoritative sources.
2. As you read through MSFM, keep in mind Frankl’s three phases of psychological reaction to internment in Nazi concentration camps: 1) Admission/Shock; 2) Entrenchment in Camp Routine/Apathy; and 3) Liberation/Disillusionment. How could Logotherapy be applied to each of these phases?
3. How does Frankl use the “Death in Tehran” story, and his ill countryman’s knowledge of Frankl’s imminent escape plans, to cultivate inner peace (pp. 56–59)? How does this compare with Frankl’s decision to let his American visa expire?
4. In MSFM, Frankl argues that when all else is taken away from a human being, there still remains “the last of the human freedoms––to choose one’s attitude” (p. 66). Support or refute Frankl’s assertion using examples from MSFM and other reputable sources.
5. Compare Frankl’s account of a woman in the typhus ward who talked to a tree with his description of the senior block warden who confided in Frankl about his liberation dream (p. 69, 74).
6. Frankl argues that humankind must change its approach to achieving meaning in life: meaning springs from what life expects of human beings, not what human beings expect from life. Analyze this statement using examples from MSFM and other reputable sources.
7. Analyze the collective psychotherapy session Frankl leads for his fellow prisoners (pp. 81–84).
8. Frankl argues for the necessity of “Tragic Optimism” (pp. 137–54). Support or refute Frankl’s position using examples from MSFM and other reputable sources.
9. What does Frankl mean when he writes, “Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now” (p. 150)?

1. As noted above, according to Frankl, the “three phases of mental reaction” to life as a prisoner in a concentration camp are Admission/Shock, Entrenchment in Camp Routine/Apathy, and the Period Following Liberation/Disillusionment. Create a classroom chart that allows readers to post the demonstrations/examples of the three reactionary phases in MSFM.  In classroom discussion or with a research activity, provide a connection to these phases to current world events.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
1. Frankl notes the reaction of train passengers as they approached Auschwitz: “There is a sign, Auschwitz!—the very name stood for all that was horrible” (p. 9). Determine how much prior knowledge the inhabitants of Northern Europe had of Hitler’s concentration camps. Consider using the Boycott of 1933 ( as a starting point for this research.
2. In the video available at, Frankl describes living a meaningful life, using flying lessons as an analogy. Apply this analogy to Frankl’s experiences before, during, and after his time in the concentration camp.
3. In the Afterword, William J. Winslade writes that Frankl had personal relationships with the philosophers Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and Gabriel Marcel. All of these thinkers offered radical philosophical theories in comparison to Frankl’s Logotherapy. Research these men and their theories. Based on what you have discovered about Frankl, how was he be able to establish and maintain these professional friendships?
4. Read Frankl’s “Letter to Wilhelm and Stepha Börner” online at and two of Frankl’s speeches: one on the fortieth anniversary of the liberation of the Türkheim Camp; and one on the fiftieth anniversary of Hitler’s invasion. Both speeches are included in the book “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis: Proceedings . . . Volume 1,” edited by Alexander Batthyány, available at (see pp. 13 and 17, respectively).
a.       In the letter to the Börners, Frankl describes his life upon returning to Vienna after the war. How does he not succumb to despair? How does his reasoning support his Logotherapy theory?
b.      In the fortieth-anniversary memorial speech, how does Frankl refute the concept of collective guilt? Support your answer using both the speech and examples from MSFM.
c.       In the fiftieth-anniversary memorial speech, Frankl argues that there are only two races of people in the world: the race of decent people, and the race of not-decent people. Do you agree? Support your answer using MSFM and other reputable sources.
How do all of these writings support or refute Frankl’s Logotherapy theory?
At the Mind’s Limits, Jean Améry
In the Heart of the Sea, Nathanial Philbrick
Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Pathologies of Power, Paul Farmer
On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche
Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy
Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
Unbroken (Adult edition), Laura Hillenbrand
JUDITH TURNER is a longtime educator at Terrace Community Middle School in Tampa, Florida. She has held Subject Area Leader positions in language arts and social studies. She has also served the school as an assistant principal. Ms. Turner received her BA in Literature and Language from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and her MA in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of South Florida-Tampa.

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