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Blos, Peter (1904-1997)

BLOS, PETER (1904-1997)

A German psychoanalyst with a degree in education and a PhD in biology, Peter Blos was born February 2, 1904, in Karlsruhe (Germany), and died June 12, 1997, in Holderness, New Hampshire (United States). Blos's childhood and adolescence were marked by the spiritual influence of his father, a doctor drawn to Gandhi's ideas. Early in life he became a friend of Erik Homburger, who later became the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Blos studied education at the University of Heidelberg to become a teacher, and then obtained a doctorate in biology in Vienna.

During the 1920s, he was introduced to Anna Freud, who asked his help in creating a school for children undergoing analysis. The project was supported and encouraged by Eva Rosenfeld and Dorothy Burlingham, a friend of Anna Freud, whose children attended the small school. Blos invited Erik Homburger to join him there. Within the Vienna psychoanalytic circle August Aichhorn exerted considerable intellectual influence on Blos, which strongly affected his psychoanalytic training. Blos entered psychoanalysis through teaching, while giving his work an orientation and sensitivity influenced by spirituality.

To escape the rise of Nazism, Blos fled Vienna in 1934 for the United States, where he settled in New Orleans. There he was hired as a teacher in a private school, before leaving for New York, where he continued his analytic training. According to Aaron H. Esman, he became a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, becoming a special member in 1965 and then a supervisor and trainer. As a teacher he introduced, in 1972, a course on delayed adolescence, which he discontinued in 1977. He continued his clinical practice and did some teaching at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center as cofounder of the Association of Child Psychoanalysis. When he retired from professional life, he spent his time writing poetry and fiction, playing the violin, and practicing carpentry in his country home in Holderness, New Hampshire. He died there at the age of ninety-three, by the side of his second wife.

Of his four published books, it is On Adolescence: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation that led to his national and international recognition. This book, supported by his extensive clinical experience with adolescents, picks up the thread of an idea that Sigmund Freud failed to develop. Freud identified the beginning and end of the process of puberty, largely ignoring the intermediary stages. Blos decided to elucidate the various stages of development of the personality, from latency to post-adolescence. His goal was to present a unified theory of adolescence, a necessary first step in introducing an adolescent-specific psychopathology and psychotherapeutic technique. Five years later he developed a key concept, inherited from the work of Margaret Mahler, the "second individuation process." Here, the emphasis is on the importance of renegotiating the separation with the parents' imagos during adolescence. The author emphasizes the importance of gaining access to regression, which, contrary to what occurs in the case of the infant and the adult, is tied to the ego.

The second individuation process is what made Blos well-known. His theoretical and clinical approach to the gradual development of the personality, delinquency, and the problems of the ego (superego, ego ideal, integrative capability) also made a significant contribution to understanding adolescence. In the United States he is considered an eminent specialist, a forerunner of child and adolescent analysis, who trained several generations of analysts in adolescent psychotherapy.

Florian Houssier

See also: Adolescence; Adolescence crisis; Hietzing Schule/Burlingham-Rosenfeld School.


Blos, Peter. (1962). On adolescence: A psychoanalytic interpretation. New York: The Free Press.

. (1967). The second individuation process of adolescence. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 162-186.

. (1978). The concept of acting out in relation to the adolescent process. In E. Rexford (Ed.), A developmental approach to the problem of acting out (p. 153-174). New York: International Universities Press.

(1985). Son and father. New York: The Free Press.

Eisman, Aaron H. (1997). Obituary of Peter Blos. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 78, 813-814.

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