Aichhorn, August (1878-1949)

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AICHHORN, AUGUST (1878-1949)

An Austrian educator with an interest in psychoanalysis, the pioneer of a new approach to reeducating problem children, August Aichhorn was born July 27, 1878, in Vienna, Austria, where he spent his entire life, and died October 13, 1949. He was raised, along with a twin brother who died when Aichhorn was 19, in a Catholic family of modest means. He became a teacher and continued his studies at the Technische Hochschule of Vienna.

From 1908 to 1918 he was in charge of managing homes for boys in the Austrian capital. In 1918 he was made responsible for setting up an educational center for delinquent children in an unused refugee camp. Convinced that the suppression then commonly practiced was not the right approach, and disappointed by the kinds of psychological training taught at the university, he introduced unorthodox methods, based on "warm sympathy with the fate of those unfortunates and was correctly guided by an intuitive perception of their mental needs" (Freud, 1925f). His educational success caught the attention of Anna Freud, and it is through her that he discovered psychoanalysis when he was already past forty. He undertook an analysis with Paul Federn and, in 1922, became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association. When his experiment in reeducation came to an end, Aichhorn created, in 1923, educational centers that focused on psychoanalysis in each of Vienna's fourteen districts. He worked in the centers, always at his teacher's salary, until his retirement in 1930.

Along with his responsibilities as a re-educator, he expended tremendous energy in teaching and training. The conferences at which he discussed his original approach to problem adolescents are collected in his book Wayward Youth (1925), with a preface by Sigmund Freud. The book was an international success. He was invited to Zurich, Basel, Bern, Prague, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Lausanne. He collaborated in the Revue de pédagogie psychanalytique (Review of Psychoanalytic Pedagogy), which he co-edited from 1932 on. Between 1931 and 1932 he directed the small school created by Dorothy Burlingham. After Freud and his followers fled the city, Aichhorn continued to train doctors and psychologists in psychoanalysis and to organize seminars for education and guidance counselors. Made president of the new Vienna Psychoanalytic Association in 1946, he continued his work among educators, whom he exposed to the importance of psychoanalytic training.

Aichhorn opened a new field of activity in psychoanalysissocial work. He radically renewed the approach to "abandoned" youth, showing that asocial phenomenalatent or manifesthad their origin in the severe lack of social and emotional support experienced during childhood. His ideas on how to use transference as a therapeutic tool, on the importance of the individual, both the educator and the delinquent, and on the necessity of giving marginalized youth a sense of responsibility to help reintegrate them socially are still relevant. "Psycho-analysis could teach him little that was new of a practical kind, but it brought him a clear theoretical insight into the justification of his way of acting and put him in a position to explain its basis to other people" (Freud, 1925f).

Jeanne Moll

See also: Abandonment; Adolescence; Austria; Burlingham-Tiffany, Dorothy; Puberty; Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung; Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik .


Aichhorn, August. (1951). Wayward youth. London: Imago Publishing Company.

Cifali, Mireille, and Moll, Jeanne. (1985). Pédagogie et Psychanalyse. Paris: Dunod.

Freud, Sigmund. (1925f [1951]). Preface to Wayward youth. London: Imago Publishing Company.