Benedek, Therese (1892-1977)

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BENEDEK, THERESE (1892-1977)

Therese Benedek, a Hungarian psychoanalyst, was born in Budapest on November 8, 1892, and died in Chicago on October 27, 1977. She received her medical diploma from the University of Budapest in 1915. She underwent five months of analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, then in 1918 settled, along with her husband Tibor, in Leipzig. From 1920-1923 she completed her analytic training at the newly established Berlin Institute, where she attended seminars and conducted analyses under the supervision of Karl Abraham and Max Eitingon. A partisan of "developmental psychoanalysis," Benedek followed Ferenczi's recommendation for flexibility during therapy.

In 1933 she emigrated with her husband and their two children to the United States. In 1936 Franz Alexander offered her an administrative position at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis, where he was the director. Here she participated actively in research on psychosomatic medicine for effective coordination of somatic and psychotherapeutic therapies, and published an article on the functions of the sexual apparatus and their disturbances. This study investigated the interaction between organic (hormonal) factors and the psychosexual economy in sexual disturbances by showing their close interdependence.

In 1949 she was one of the first psychoanalysts to speak of the mother-child dyad in terms of emotional symbiosis, insisting on a transgenerational reading of interaction during infancy. Ten years later, in Parenthood as a Developmental Phase, she referred to the interpersonal process that formed the basis of the mother-child interaction as a "transactional spiral," which took place through the reciprocal identifications and introjections between mother and child.

Delphine Schilton

See also: Germany; Hungarian School; Parenthood.


Benedek, Therese. (1949). The psychosomatic implications of the primary unit: mother-child. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 19, 642-654.

. (1956). Psychobiological aspects of mothering. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 26, 272.

. (1959). Parenthood as a developmental phase. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 7, 389-417.

. (1973). Psychoanalytic Investigations: Selected Papers. New York: Quadrangle Books.