Alexander, Franz Gabriel (1891-1964)

views updated


A doctor and psychoanalyst, Franz Gabriel Alexander was born January 22, 1891, in Budapest, and died March 8, 1964, in Palm Springs, California. The son of Bernard Alexander, a Jewish professor of philosophy, Franz Alexander studied medicine in Göttingen and Budapest, and specialized in research on the physiology of the brain. Following the First World War, he moved to Berlin. It was Sigmund Freud who introduced him to psychoanalysis, but he completed his analytic training with Hanns Sachs in Berlin.

In 1921 he became a member of the German Psychoanalytic Society, an assistant at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, and a training analyst. He undertook a reformulation of the study of neuroses in his Psychoanalyse der Gesamtpersönlichkeit (Psychoanalysis of the total personality), which represented the first step toward a psychology of the psychoanalytic ego. Together with Hugo Staub he published a psychoanalytic study of criminology in 1929, Der Verbrecher und seine Richter (The Criminal, the judge, and the Public: A Psychological Analysis, 1956). In 1930 he was invited to the United States, where he occupied the first University Chair of psychoanalysis at the University of Chicago. In 1931 he worked at the Judge Baker Institute in Boston on juvenile delinquency and, in 1932, he founded the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, where he remained director until 1952. In 1933 he was admitted as a member of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society and, in 1938, named professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois. Alexander was one of the best known representatives of medicine seen from the point of view of psychoanalysis.

In 1939, in collaboration with Flanders Dunbar, Stanley Cobb, Carl Binger, and others, he founded the review Psychosomatic Medicine. "According to his theory on the specific psychodynamic conflicts associated with certain illnesses, a psychosomatic illness appears whenever there is an encounter between a certain personality type, predisposed to certain illnesses, and a specific conflict situation that lends itself to the formation of specific organic illnesses" (Bonin, 1983).

In 1955 he spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science in Palo Alto, California. Following this year, in 1956, he settled in Los Angeles, where he was named head of the Psychiatric Research Department at Mount Sinai Hospital. With support of the Ford Foundation, he organized a research project to study psychotherapeutic process by direct observation of patients and therapists. That same year Alexander became cofounder of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. He died March 8, 1964, in Palm Springs, California.

Alexander believed that psychoanalysis was a branch of psychiatry, and was also convinced of the efficacy of a shortened course of therapy. Many of his critics considered the new ideas he introduced into analytic theory to be reductive.

Elke MÜhlleitner

See also: Allergy; Asthma; Criminology and psychoanalysis; Hungarian School; Psychosomatics; United States.


Alexander, Franz Gabriel. (1927). Psychoanalyse der Gesamtpersönlichkeit; neun Vorlesungen über die Anwendung von Freud's Ich-Theorie auf die Neurosenlehre. Leipzig, Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag.

. (1961). The scope of psychoanalysis. Selected papers of Franz Alexander. New York: Basic Books.

Alexander Franz, and Staub, Hugo. (1956). The criminal, the judge, and the public: A psychological analysis, (rev. ed., Gregory Zilboorg, Trans.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press. (Original work published 1929)

Bonin, Werner F. (1983). Die grossen Psychologen. Düsseldorf, Germany: Econ Taschenbuch.

Grotjahn, Martin. (1966). Georg Groddeck, the untamed analyst. In Fr. Alexander, S. Eisenstein, M. Grotjahn (eds.), Psychoanalytic pioneers (p. 308-320). New York-London: Basic Books.

Hale, Nathan G. (1995). The rise and crisis of psychoanalysis in the United States: Freud and the Americans, 1917-1985. New York: Oxford University Press.

About this article

Alexander, Franz Gabriel (1891-1964)

Updated About content Print Article