Michael A. Pitts, Ph. D



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Michael A. Pitts, Ph.D.

  • Michael A. Pitts, Ph.D.

  • Northwest Nazarene University

  • Professor of Counseling

  • Logotherapy Diplomate




Like Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) grew up in an urban Viennese environment.

  • Like Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) grew up in an urban Viennese environment.

  • Freud lived not far from Frankl’s home.

  • Adler practiced across the street from the home of Frankl’s parents.

  • His life was influenced by the same events as Freud and Adler





  • “Work Makes You Free”



1946 he published his first book:

  • 1946 he published his first book:

    • Say ‘Yes’ to Life In Spite of Everything
    • From Death Camp to Existentialism
    • Now published as Man’s Search for Meaning
    • More than 12 million copies worldwide
    • One of the ten most influential books in the United States (U.S. Library of Congress)


Logos: an important term in philosophy, psychology, and religion

  • Logos: an important term in philosophy, psychology, and religion

    • Translated as word, plan, wisdom, and meaning
  • Frankl translates logos as meaning

    • Meaning is defined as truth, beauty, goodness, love, rightness, and God
  • Logotherapy translates as “therapy through meaning

    • Health through meaning
    • Growth through meaning


Logotherapy is an existential philosophy as well as an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy.

  • Logotherapy is an existential philosophy as well as an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy.

  • Our Purpose: To think about how this theory and philosophy applies to work and career concerns.

  • My Hope: That you will consider some of the basic principles of this approach as seen through the lens of your own theoretical orientation.

  • Logotherapy is not meant to be a stand-alone theory.

  • (V.E. Frankl)



Logotherapy rests on three basic pillars, or three fundamental assumptions. These are:

  • Logotherapy rests on three basic pillars, or three fundamental assumptions. These are:

    • Freedom of Will
      • The concept that human beings have the capacity of free choice
    • Will to Meaning
      • Finding meaning is the primary motivation for living
    • Meaning of Life
      • Meaning is contained within the concrete experiences of life


Three ways of discovering meaning:

  • Three ways of discovering meaning:

    • By creating a work or accomplishing a task
    • By experiences in life (something or someone)
    • By the attitude that a person takes toward unavoidable suffering


  • What I give to life through my creativity

  • What I receive from life through experience

  • The stance I take toward life through my attitude



  • What creative gifts have I offered to others through my talents, my work, deeds done, and goals achieved, that held meaning for me?



  • What experiences have I received from encountering others in relationships of all kinds, from nature, culture or religion that were deeply meaningful?



  • What attitudinal values have I realized by taking a stance toward situations or circumstances that was courageous or self-transcending?



I had been working as an instructor at a university and volunteering with a community project.  I thought both of these titles or jobs should bring me meaning and I struggled when they did not.  If only I had understood Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, I would have realized that I had the freedom to choose my attitude toward conditions and to give of myself instead of expecting work to give me something.

  • I had been working as an instructor at a university and volunteering with a community project.  I thought both of these titles or jobs should bring me meaning and I struggled when they did not.  If only I had understood Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, I would have realized that I had the freedom to choose my attitude toward conditions and to give of myself instead of expecting work to give me something.

  • (Student) 



Logotherapy is an existential theory that focuses on at least five circumstances in which we are likely to find meaning:

  • Logotherapy is an existential theory that focuses on at least five circumstances in which we are likely to find meaning:

    • Self-Discovery
    • Choices
    • Uniqueness
    • Responsibility
    • Self-Transcendence


It is not a person’s occupation

  • It is not a person’s occupation

  • that creates meaning or fulfillment

  • but how he or she does the work.

  • Viktor E. Frankl

  • Work can provide opportunity to activate the circumstances in which we are likely to find meaning

  • Self-Discovery

  • Choices

  • Uniqueness

  • Responsibility

  • Self-Transcendence



The Work:

  • The Work:

  • Potting plants

  • Pulling weeds

  • Carrying dirt

  • Clipping leaves

  • The Meaning:

  • Being appreciated for creativity

  • Conversation with a variety of people

  • Caring about people with medical concerns

  • Freedom to choose arrangement of plants

  • Opportunity to do something she does well



  • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics





80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs

    • 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs
    • The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime – more than any other category of life
    • On average, Americans hold seven to eight different jobs before age 30
    • 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is “very or extremely stressful”
    • More than 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress-related illnesses
    • Business Insider Statistics


39% of people work more than a typical workweek (40 hours)

    • 39% of people work more than a typical workweek (40 hours)
    • 10,000 workers per year drop dead at their desks as a result of 60 to 70 hour work weeks in Japan. The phenomenon is known as “karoshi”
    • 39% of employees feel rage at their coworkers
    • 24% of employees work six or more extra hours per week without pay. That figure doubles for management.
    • 25% of people check into work hourly while on vacation, via email and phone. 59% said they check work during traditional holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.
    • Business Insider Statistics


Meaning is not inherent in the work itself, but in the perceptions and understanding of the worker.

  • Meaning is not inherent in the work itself, but in the perceptions and understanding of the worker.

  • (V.E. Frankl)

  • A Short Story of Three Brick Masons

    • “I’m laying brick”
    • “I’m making a wall”
    • “I’m building a cathedral”


I don’t repair dolls for a living. I work construction for a living. I repair dolls to live. (Expressions of creative activity)

  • I don’t repair dolls for a living. I work construction for a living. I repair dolls to live. (Expressions of creative activity)

  • Construction Worker

  • This family will have heat tonight.

  • Journeyman Plumber



50% of workers report that they experience no meaning or significance at work.

  • 50% of workers report that they experience no meaning or significance at work.

  • The Energy Project, 2013

  • If work is not meaningful then the largest part of every day (work day) lacks meaning.



The result of a repressed will to find meaning is an inner emptiness which Frankl called an “existential vacuum.” (1955)

  • The result of a repressed will to find meaning is an inner emptiness which Frankl called an “existential vacuum.” (1955)

  • If work is not meaningful then the largest part of every day (work day) lacks meaning.



When meaning is frustrated, repressed, or blocked we will settle for pleasure or power.

  • When meaning is frustrated, repressed, or blocked we will settle for pleasure or power.

  • If work is not meaningful then the largest part of every day (work day) lacks meaning.



Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum (in 1955):

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum (in 1955):

    • Increased laziness
    • Tendency toward aggression
    • Drug addiction
    • Over emphasis on play and leisure
    • Increase of criminal acts
    • Excess sexuality and seeking of pleasure
    • Discontent
    • Increasing doubts about the world, society, and life
  • What about 2015?



Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Increased laziness

    • On average: 3 hours per 8 hour workday are wasted
      • TrendHunter Workplace Productivity Infographic


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Tendency toward aggression

    • 47 million Americans experience psychological or physical aggression while on the job.
      • 18 month study: Science, Industry and Business
    • 14,770 workplace homicide victims between 1992 and 2012
      • Bureau of Labor Statistics


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Drug addiction

    • Over 4 million employed adults used illicit drugs before reporting to work or during work hours at least once in the past year, with approximately the same number working while under the influence of an illicit drug.
    • Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Increase of criminal activity (aggression)

    • While working or on duty, American employees experienced 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults from 1993 to 1999
      • National Sexual Violence Resource Center


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Excess sexuality and seeking of pleasure

    • 70 % of all online porn access occurs during the nine-to-five workday.
      • CNBC


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Excess sexuality and seeking of pleasure

    • 25% of those exposed to sexual behavior in the workplace found it fun and flattering while half were neutral. But even employees who enjoyed the behavior tended to withdraw from work, felt less valued and reported depressive symptoms more often than employees who experienced little to no sexual behavior at the office. The results were found among both women and men.
      • Journal of Applied Psychology


Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Symptoms of the Existential Vacuum:

  • Discontent

    • Just 30% of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to the Gallup Organization, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012.
    • 52% of those surveyed have a perpetual case of the Mondays — they're present, but not particularly excited about their job.
    • The remaining 18% are actively disengaged or, as Gallup CEO Jim Clifton put it in the report, "roam the halls spreading discontent." Worse, Gallup reports, those actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity.
      • Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report


Given these “symptoms” …

  • Given these “symptoms” …

    • Have we undervalued the importance of meaningful work?
    • How do we fully calculate the cost of a lack of meaning in the workplace?
    • What do these symptoms say to those preparing to enter the workforce – and those of us who work with them on career choices?
    • How do we assist clients and ourselves in discovering ways to engage in meaningful work?


The existential importance of work is most clearly seen where work is entirely eliminated from a person’s life, as in unemployment. Psychological studies of the unemployed have arrived at the concept of unemployment neurosis. Remarkably enough, the most prominent symptom of this neurosis is not depression, but apathy. The unemployed become increasingly indifferent and their initiative more and more trickles away.

  • The existential importance of work is most clearly seen where work is entirely eliminated from a person’s life, as in unemployment. Psychological studies of the unemployed have arrived at the concept of unemployment neurosis. Remarkably enough, the most prominent symptom of this neurosis is not depression, but apathy. The unemployed become increasingly indifferent and their initiative more and more trickles away.

  • (The Doctor and the Soul)

  • During the Depression Frankl gave the unemployed volunteer work in Vienna’s youth movement. This provided meaning, which helped them survive even though their financial status had not changed.



The jobless person experiences emptiness of time as inner emptiness. Just as idle organs in the body may become the hosts for rampant growths, so idleness in the psychological realm lead to morbid inner developments. Unemployment becomes a culture medium for the proliferation of neurosis. When the human spirit idles at full throttle, so to speak, a permanent Sunday neurosis may result.

  • The jobless person experiences emptiness of time as inner emptiness. Just as idle organs in the body may become the hosts for rampant growths, so idleness in the psychological realm lead to morbid inner developments. Unemployment becomes a culture medium for the proliferation of neurosis. When the human spirit idles at full throttle, so to speak, a permanent Sunday neurosis may result.

  • (The Doctor and the Soul)



“I can afford not to work” (Adult ADD Client)

  • “I can afford not to work” (Adult ADD Client)

    • “I can’t afford not to work” (Downsized Student)
  • “I don’t know who I am if I’m not working” (University President)

  • Life change often requires attitude change

    • “I’ll volunteer and reach out to those who struggle like me”
    • “I’ll pursue my dream now that I’ve been downsized”
    • “I’ll be a late bloomer”
    • “I’ll get my pilot’s license”


Carol Gardner and Zelda Wisdom Cards

  • Carol Gardner and Zelda Wisdom Cards

    • At age 52 her divorce attorney gave her some advice: “Get a therapist or get a dog.” She got a dog ... and a multi-million dollar business.
  • Harland Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken

    • At age 65 he had nothing but a Social Security check and a secret recipe for fried chicken. He did okay.
  • Jan Hively and Retirement

    • Received her PhD at age 69
    • Helped found three organizations dedicated to empowering older adults
    • Personal Credo: Maximize productivity and assure “meaningful” work, paid or unpaid, through the last breath.
    • “I am doing my most meaningful work at 83.”


My Work:

  • My Work:

  • Writing on small pads of paper

  • Carrying plates of food

  • Cleaning peanut shells off the floor

  • Weaving in and out of narrow and crowded spaces while carrying trays full of water glasses

  • My Perspective:

  • Working with friends

  • Meeting new people

  • Helping families enjoy a good meal

  • Contributing to my college tuition



I have had multiple occupations in my lifetime, in part because I have varied interests, and in part because I like new challenges.  I can relate to trying to find that one occupation that will, in and of itself, be fulfilling and I have yet to find it.  It makes sense to me that “how I do the work is more fulfilling than the work itself.” Yet, if I truly dislike the work it is hard to be engaged and to even want to do it.  I have found that if I dislike the work it becomes just a means to an end, a necessary evil and I can’t wait to get to my leisure time so I can do something that is truly fulfilling. I am seeing that I have equated fulfillment only with doing something that I like.  I am challenged to approach my work from a different perspective, recognizing that only I can do the work like I do it, particularly as it impacts my coworkers and customers. Viewing each day and each hour as an opportunity for new deeds and experiences even within the same context seems exciting.

  • I have had multiple occupations in my lifetime, in part because I have varied interests, and in part because I like new challenges.  I can relate to trying to find that one occupation that will, in and of itself, be fulfilling and I have yet to find it.  It makes sense to me that “how I do the work is more fulfilling than the work itself.” Yet, if I truly dislike the work it is hard to be engaged and to even want to do it.  I have found that if I dislike the work it becomes just a means to an end, a necessary evil and I can’t wait to get to my leisure time so I can do something that is truly fulfilling. I am seeing that I have equated fulfillment only with doing something that I like.  I am challenged to approach my work from a different perspective, recognizing that only I can do the work like I do it, particularly as it impacts my coworkers and customers. Viewing each day and each hour as an opportunity for new deeds and experiences even within the same context seems exciting.

  • (Student)



… it cannot be said that this or that particular occupation offers a person the opportunity for fulfillment. In this sense no one occupation is the sole road to salvation. The work in itself does not make the person indispensable and irreplaceable; it only gives him or her a chance to be so.

  • … it cannot be said that this or that particular occupation offers a person the opportunity for fulfillment. In this sense no one occupation is the sole road to salvation. The work in itself does not make the person indispensable and irreplaceable; it only gives him or her a chance to be so.

  • (The Doctor and the Soul)



One of the reasons I want to be a counselor is because I want to help people and interact with people. By doing those things I have found meaning in my work. (Student)

  • One of the reasons I want to be a counselor is because I want to help people and interact with people. By doing those things I have found meaning in my work. (Student)

  • What is it that makes your work meaningful?

  • Self-Discovery?

  • Choices?

  • Uniqueness?

  • Responsibility?

  • Self-Transcendence?



The job at which one works is not what counts, but rather the manner in which one does the work. It does not lie within the occupation, but always within us, whether those elements of our existence (particularly creative values, uniqueness of human experience, and self-transcendence) are expressed in the work and thus make life meaningful.

  • The job at which one works is not what counts, but rather the manner in which one does the work. It does not lie within the occupation, but always within us, whether those elements of our existence (particularly creative values, uniqueness of human experience, and self-transcendence) are expressed in the work and thus make life meaningful.

  • (The Doctor and the Soul)





An Old Quaker Saying

  • An Old Quaker Saying

  • “Let your life speak.”

  • “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

  • Parker J. Palmer

  • Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation



It is of meaningful importance to you to know who you are. Not who you seem to be behind all the masks you have learned to put on so that you will be loved, accepted, and successful, but who you really are at your core. We must come to say, “Yes, that’s the way I am. That’s how I feel, think, and react.” Every time we catch a glimpse of true self, we also have a glimpse of meaning.

  • It is of meaningful importance to you to know who you are. Not who you seem to be behind all the masks you have learned to put on so that you will be loved, accepted, and successful, but who you really are at your core. We must come to say, “Yes, that’s the way I am. That’s how I feel, think, and react.” Every time we catch a glimpse of true self, we also have a glimpse of meaning.

  • (Joseph Fabry, 1988)

  • The story of Zusya



  • Whenever you interview people who are truly successful at their chosen profession … you discover that the secret to their success lies in their ability to discover their strengths and to organize their life so that these strengths can be applied.

  • Now Discover Your Strengths

  • D. Clifton and M. Buckingham



Our uniqueness plays a significant role in meaning fulfillment.

  • Our uniqueness plays a significant role in meaning fulfillment.

  • Being self aware of our unique make-up of personal strengths is a key to meaning fulfillment for each individual.

  • How do we come to a more accurate and clearer understanding of individual strengths?









Your individual Signature Themes are unique to you. There is a 1 in 33 million chance that you will ever meet someone with your same Top 5 in the order you have them.

  • Your individual Signature Themes are unique to you. There is a 1 in 33 million chance that you will ever meet someone with your same Top 5 in the order you have them.

  • There is a 1 in 275,000 chance that you will ever meet someone with your same Top 5, regardless of order.



Yearning: To what kinds of activities are you naturally drawn?

  • Yearning: To what kinds of activities are you naturally drawn?

  • Rapid Learning: What kinds of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?

  • Flow: In what activities did the “steps” just come to you automatically?

  • Glimpses of Excellence: During what activities have you had moments of subconscious excellence, when you thought, “How did I do that?”

  • Satisfaction: What activities give you a kick, either while doing them or immediately after finishing them, and you think, “When can I do that again?”



Achiever Context Input

  • Achiever Context Input

  • Activator Deliberative Intellection

  • Adaptability Developer Learner

  • Analytical Discipline Maximizer

  • Arranger Empathy Positivity

  • Belief Focus Relator

  • Command Futuristic Responsibility

  • Communication Harmony Restorative

  • Competition Ideation Self-Assurance

  • Connectedness Includer Significance

  • Consistency Individuation Strategic

  • Woo



Achiever Context Input

  • Achiever Context Input

  • Activator Deliberative Intellection

  • Adaptability Developer Learner (3)

  • Analytical Discipline Maximizer

  • Arranger Empathy (2) Positivity

  • Belief Focus Relator (5)

  • Command Futuristic Responsibility

  • Communication Harmony (4) Restorative

  • Competition Ideation Self-Assurance

  • Connectedness (1) Includer Significance

  • Consistency Individuation Strategic

  • Woo







  • The common denominator to success or effectiveness is not a particular set of strengths.

  • It is Self-Awareness



  • Your signature themes

  • are not just the way you do what you do.

  • Your signature themes

  • are the lens through which you see the world.



Achiever Context Input

  • Achiever Context Input

  • Activator Deliberative Intellection

  • Adaptability Developer Learner

  • Analytical Discipline Maximizer

  • Arranger Empathy Positivity

  • Belief Focus Relator

  • Command Futuristic Responsibility

  • Communication Harmony Restorative

  • Competition Ideation Self-Assurance

  • Connectedness Includer Significance

  • Consistency Individuation Strategic

  • Woo







  • Grief and Loss

  • Pursuing a Love/Romantic Relationship

  • Facing Surgery

  • Buying a Lawnmower

  • Taking on new responsibility at work



Logotherapy focuses on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the client in his/her future.

  • Logotherapy focuses on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the client in his/her future.

  • Viktor Frankl (MSM, pg. 104)

  • The StrengthsFinder tool focuses on the avenues through which the individual is most likely to be successful in the pursuit of meaning fulfillment.



  • Vocation

  • The place where your deep gladness

  • meets the world’s deep need.



  • What you do is of great importance!

  • Thank you for the deeply meaningful work you do.



  • Thank you for your participation.

  • You have made this

  • a meaningful experience for me.




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