Bjerre, Poul (1876-1964)

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BJERRE, POUL (1876-1964)

A doctor, writer, sculptor, and psychotherapist, Poul Bjerre was the first Swede to develop an interest in Freud and psychoanalysis. He was born in Göteborg on May 24, 1876, and died in Vårsta on July 15, 1964. Bjerre was the son of a Danish businessman and spent his early life in Göteborg, on the west coast of Sweden, where his father had moved his business. Poul Bjerre was the oldest child; his younger brother Andreas, an eminent criminologist, was a professor of criminal law at the University of Dorpats (Lithuania). He committed suicide in 1925.

In 1905 Bjerre married his sister-in-law's mother. They had no children. His wife, sixteen years his elder, had three children from a previous marriage. In 1906 she fell ill and their marriage remained essentially platonic.

In 1907, after his wife's death and the completion of his medical studies, Bjerre took over the Stockholm practice of Otto Wetterstrand, a renowned European specialist in hypnosis. Although Bjerre never really abandoned hypnosis, he soon took an interest in psychoanalysis. In December 1910 he traveled to Vienna to meet Freud but the meeting was disappointing. As he was to describe later, he perceived Freud as being cold and distant. His meeting with Alfred Adler was more fruitful, however, and he always felt closer to Jung and Adler, without considering himself anyone'sprotégé.

In 1911 Bjerre introduced psychoanalysis to a meeting of the Order of Swedish Doctors. His presentation, which was judged too long for publication in the Swedish medical review Hygiea, appeared in Psyke a year later, together with articles from other researchers in psychology. However, Bjerre maintained a critical attitude toward psychoanalysis. In 1913 he stated that the conscious mind was more important than the unconscious and criticized Freud during the international congress held in Munich. On several subsequent occasions he expressed satisfaction for having distanced himself early from Freud. At the Munich conference, however, Freud introduced him to Lou Andreas-Salomé, with whom he had a brief but stormy and passionate affair.

When Bjerre introduced psychoanalysis to Sweden in 1924 in an early publication, he included articles not only by Freud but by Adler, Jung, and Alphonse Maeder as well. He concluded the book with one of his own articles in which he explained the evolution of psychoanalysis based on his own research.

Bjerre wrote throughout his life. He wrote a biography of Nietzsche in 1903 and translated from several languages. He was interested in the personality of the celebrated industrial magnate Ivan Kreuger and studied the influence of Hitler's ideas on psychoanalysis. In an article published in 1934 he claimed that the three fundamental works of psychotherapy were Liebeault's Le Sommeil provoqué, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and Hitler's Mein Kampf. He had dealings with Jewish and non-Jewish doctors alike and felt that the psychoanalytic movement was pro-Semitic in the same way that Hitler was anti-Semitic. Although he became interested in German culture at a young age, he was not a defender of Nazism.

Six years after the foundation of the Finno-Swedish Psychoanalytic Society in 1940, Poul Bjerre established a psychotherapeutic organization whose administrative directors shared a partial rejection of Freudian theories. Like the other members of the society, Bjerre felt that Freud laid too much stress on the sexual life of the individual and the role of the unconscious, to the detriment of the conscious mind. Moreover, Freudian psychoanalysis was too intellectual and placed too much importance on dream analysis instead of appreciating its curative value and understanding that every individual naturally harbors so-called psychosynthetic conciliatory forces. Early in his career he had, for example, believed that paranoia could be cured by convincing the patient of its absurdity by means of rational arguments, while he maintained the conviction that hypnosis was the best and most effective psychotherapeutic method.

Bjerre never underwent analysis. He could not understand psychoanalysis as a whole and did not practice it. However, he played an essential role in the development of psychoanalysis in Sweden. The majority of Swedish psychoanalysts have, at one time or another, referred to his introduction to Freud's theories.

Per Magnus Johansson

See also: Sweden.


Bärmark, Jan, and Nilsson, Ingemar. (1983). Poul Bjerre, "Människosonen." Stockholm: Natur och Kultur.

Johansson, Per M. (1999). Freuds psykoanalys, arvtagare i Sverige. Göteborg, Sweden: Daïdalos.

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Bjerre, Poul (1876-1964)

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