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Rapaport, David

Rapaport, David



Although David Rapaport (1911–1960) died at the early age of 49, he left an enduring legacy to the fields of psychoanalysis and psychology. He was born to a middle-class Hungarian family but in his early teens was already deeply involved in left-wing political activities and spent several years in Israel working as a surveyor in a kibbutz. He returned to Hungary, resumed his studies at the Péter Pázmány University in Budapest, entered psychoanalysis, and ultimately changed his field of study from physics to psychology. His effort to integrate the psychosocial investigations of Erik H. Erikson with psychoanalytic theory undoubtedly derived some of its impetus from his early period of political activity.

Rapaport immigrated to America in 1938 and worked principally in two private psychiatric hospitals—the Menninger Clinic of Topeka, Kansas, from 1940 to 1948, and the Austen Riggs Center at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, from 1948 until his death.

His central interest was the psychology of thinking, both its relatively autonomous laws and the influence upon it of the affective and drive life. In his formulation the central problem in the psychology of thinking is an epistemological one: how man can come to know reality, influenced as he is by his drives.

His first major work was an integration of the psychoanalytic, clinical and experimental psychological, and psychopathological data relating to the concepts of emotions and memory (1942). He proposed a hierarchy of organizing principles of the thought process, shading from drive into ego motivations, and described memory, concept formation, and anticipation as major dimensions of thinking.

This concern with the nature of thinking was continued in his pioneering work in diagnostic psychological testing. In detailed studies of the rationales of specific tests, he showed that while some of these tests are more revealing of intellectual functioning and others more revealing of personality characteristics, all recorded responses have implications for both of these aspects of human functioning, and the two kinds of tests have synergistic value when jointly employed in batteries (Rapaport et al. 1945–1946).

The next major period of Rapaport’s life was spent on a creative systematization of psychoanalytic theory. He explicated the basic Freudian model (1951a; Rapaport & Gill 1959) and the Freudian theory of thinking (1951b) and of affect (1953b). However, he was also a systematizer of the newer ego psychology (1959a), to which he believed the contributions of Heinz Hartmann (1939) and Erik H. Erikson (1959) to be the most important. He saw Hartmann’s contributions as a programmatic outline for a comprehensive psychology, which would encompass issues of adaptation as well as the more usual psychoanalytic considerations, and Erikson’s main import to be his specification of the stages of psychosocial epigenesis, with Erikson’s concepts of mode and modality providing a bridge between individual and social psychology [seeIdentity, Psychosocial; see also Erikson 1950].

Rapaport’s more innovative contributions (1958) lay in developing the concept of the autonomy of the ego from the environment and in elaborating the relationship between this autonomy and the autonomy of the ego from the id, a concept previously formulated by Hartmann. He integrated the dimensions of activity-passivity into the theory of ego autonomy (1953a), resuscitated Freud’s theory of consciousness as a “sense organ,” and developed a theory of states of consciousness (1957).

Rapaport worked toward integrating psychoanalysis with contributions from general psychology, notably the work of Jean Piaget (Wolff I960), from ethology, and from experimental studies relating innate central organismic states and environmental input (1960a). His systematization of psychoanalytic theory was capped by a monograph which has the merit of attempting to translate much of psychoanalytic thinking—on the “meta-psychological” level—into the discourse of contemporary psychology (1959b).

Perhaps even more central than any of these contributions is Rapaport’s emphasis and elaboration in all his work of Freud’s concept of structure in psychological functioning. Rapaport defined structures as processes of slow change, in contrast to motives, which are processes of rapid change. He believed that the sorely needed psychoanalytic theory of learning would deal with the establishment and maintenance of structures and that this theory could be based on Freud’s hypotheses concerning the functioning of attention cathexes. He included cognitive structures among the most critical determinants of behavior.

The last phase of Rapaport’s work was an experimental program concerning structure formation. Except for a brief statement included in his study “On the Psychoanalytic Theory of Motivation” (1960fo) and a paper on “The Theory of Attention Cathexis,” this experimental work is available only in the publications of his students and associates (Paul 1959; Schwartz & Rouse 1961).

Rapaport insisted that in psychoanalytic theory “instinctual drive” is a psychological concept that cannot be equated with either the peripheral somatic or the neurophysiological concepts of drives in behavioristic theories. He argued that a self-contained psychology can and should be developed in its own terms.

Rapaport was a complex and colorful man of brilliant mind, strong opinions, and many interests. Despite stylistic roots in rabbinical casuistry, his condensed writing unfailingly strikes to the heart of an issue. He was an inspiring, dedicated, and demanding teacher, responsible for launching and contributing to the careers of a number of leading workers.

Merton M. Gill And George S. Klein

[For discussion of the subsequent development of Rapaport’s ideas, seeClinical Psychology; Identity, psychosocial; Psychoanalysis.]


(1942) 1950 Emotions and Memory. 2d ed. New York: International Universities Press.

1945–1946 Rapaport, David; Schafer, R.; and Gill, M. M. Diagnostic Psychological Testing: The Theory, Statistical Evaluation, and Diagnostic Application of a Battery of Tests. 2 vols. Chicago: Year Book Publishers.

1951a The Conceptual Model of Psychoanalysis. Journal of Personality 20:56-81.

(1951b) 1959 Rapaport, David (editor and translator) Organization and Pathology of Thought: Selected Sources. Austen Riggs Foundation, Stockbridge, Mass., Monograph No. 1. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

1953a Some Metapsychological Considerations Concerning Activity and Passivity. Unpublished manuscript. → Two lectures given at the staff seminar of the Austen Riggs Center.

1953b On the Psycho-analytic Theory of Affects. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 34:177-198.

1957 Cognitive Structures. Pages 157-200 in Colorado, University of, Psychology Department, Contemporary Approaches to Cognition: A Symposium. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

1958The Theory of Ego Autonomy: A Generalization. Menninger Clinic, Bulletin, 22:13-35.

1959a A Historical Survey of Psychoanalytic Ego Psychology. Psychological Issues 1, no. 1:5-17.

1959b The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory: A Systematizing Attempt. Pages 55-183 in Sigmund Koch (editor), Psychology: A Study of a Science. Volume 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw-Hill.

1959Rapaport, David; and Gill, Merton M. The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 40:153-162.

1960a Psychoanalysis as a Developmental Psychology. Pages 209-255 in Bernard Kaplan and Seymour Wapner (editors), Perspectives in Psychological Theory: Essays in Honor of Heinz Werner. New York: International Universities Press.

1960b On the Psychoanalytic Theory of Motivation. Volume 8, pages 173-247 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.


Erikson, Erik H. (1950) 1964 Chiidftood and Society. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1959 Identity and the Life Cycle: Selected Papers. Psychological Issues 1, no. 1. → See especially the “Introduction” written by Rapaport.

Gill, Merton M. 1961 David Rapaport: 1911–1960. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 9:755-759.

Gill, Merton M.; and Klein, George S. 1964 The Structuring of Drive and Reality: David Rapaport’s Contributions to Psycho-analysis and Psychology. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 45:483-498.

Hartmann, Heinz (1939) 1958 Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation. Translated by David Rapaport. New York: International Universities Press. → First published as Icfe-Psi/cJioIogie und Anpassungs-problem.

Knight, Robert P. 1961 David Rapaport: 1911–1960. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 30:262-264.

Paul, Irving H. 1959 Studies in Remembering: The Reproduction of Connected and Extended Verbal Material. Psychological Issues 1, no. 2.

Schwartz, Fred; and Rouse, Richard O. 1961 The Activation and Recovery of Associations. Psychological Issues 3, no. 1.

Wolff, Peter H. 1960 The Developmental Psychologies of Jean Piaget and Psychoanalysis. Psychological Issues 2, no. 1.

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Rapaport, David (1911-1960)

RAPAPORT, DAVID (1911-1960)

David Rapaport, a Hungarian psychoanalyst with a PhD in philosophy, was born in Budapest on September 30, 1911, and died December 14, 1960, in Stock-bridge, Massachusetts. Born into a middle-class Jewish family, he quickly became active in the Zionist movement and, after studying mathematics and physics at the university, spent two years in a kibbutz in Palestine. There he married Elvira Strasser; their first child, Hanna, was born shortly after. Upon returning to Hungary in 1935, he ran the Young Zionist movement and began studying psychoanalysis with a relative, Samuel Rapaport, about whom he wrote two books. He was analyzed by Theodor Rajka from 1935 to 1938, and obtained his doctorate in psychology at the Royal University of Hungary, Petrus-Pazmany, in 1938, with a dissertation on the history of the concept of association from Bacon to Kant.

In December 1938, with the help of the Emergency Committee on Relief and Immigration of the American Psychoanalytic Association, he and his family traveled to the United States. He worked in New York as a psychologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, then at Osawatomie State Hospital, Kansas, for a year. In 1940 he joined the Menninger Clinic, in Topeka, Kansas, where he became director of the School of Clinical Psychology, then head of the Research Department. His Emotions and Psychology, which appeared in 1942, is a record of his early research, as is Diagnostic Psychological Testing (1945-1946), published in collaboration with Roy Schafer and Merton Gill.

In both books Rapaport refers to the theories of ego-psychology. In August 1948 he left Topeka for the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, leaving behind his wife, a mathematician, and his two daughters Hanna and Juliette (born in 1943). He worked at Austen Riggs until his death from a heart attack at the age of forty-nine.

Although he never worked as a psychoanalyst, Rapaport was interested in treating schizophrenics and borderline cases, and soon became an eminent theoretician of psychoanalysis. His classes and conferences on affects, activity-passivity, and memory, his comments on chapter 7 of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, his translations of Otto Fenichel, Paul Schilder, and Heinz Hartmann, provided him with many students and material for several books, including Organization and Pathology of Thought (1951), and many articles, which were collected after his death and are often cited. A member of the Western New England Psychoanalytical Society, he was an at-large member of the International Psychoanalytical Association and, shortly before his death, in September 1960, received a prize from the American Psychological Association's division of clinical psychology.

His close collaborator Merton Gill said of Rapaport that "he spoke of metapsychological abstraction with the fervor of a political orator and the thunder of a Hebrew prophet." Gill also recalled Rapaport's desire to create a general psychology that would include ego psychology and social psychology while retaining Freud's revolutionary intuitions about the id.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Cognitivism and psychoanalysis; Ego autonomy; Ego states; Hungarian School.


Gill, Merton M. (1961). David Rapaport, 1911-1960. Bulletin of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 17, 755-759.

. (Ed.). (1967). The collected papers of David Rapaport. New York: Basic Books.

Knight, Robert P. (1961). David Rapaport 1911-1960. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 30, 262-264.

Rapaport, David. (1951). Organization and pathology of thought. New York: Columbia University Press.

. (1959). The structure of psychoanalytic theory: A systematizing attempt. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science, vol. 3. New York: McGraw-Hill. (Reprinted in Psychological Issues Monographs, 6, 1960.)

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