Burghölzli Asylum

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The psychiatric asylum in Burghölzli entered the history of psychoanalysis as a result of the interest shown by Eugen Bleuler and his students (including Carl Gustav Jung) in Freud's theories and their possible application to the mental patients at the asylum. By the mid-nineteenth century there were a number of significant problems with this former clinic. Plans for its reconstruction were made between 1860 and 1864 with the help of Wilhelm Griesinger, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Zurich. The actual work took place between 1864 and 1870. On July 4, 1870, work on the Burghölzli was completed.

The various medical directors of the Burghölzli left their mark on the institution. The first director, Bernhard von Gudden (1870-1872), Gustav Huguenin (1873-1874), and Eduard Hitzig (1875-1879), had a purely biological orientation. Brain pathology and physiology were the focus of their research. It was August Forel (1879-1898) who brought international attention to the clinic. The Burghölzli then served as a bridge between the dynamic approach taken by French psychiatry and the biological orientation of German psychiatry. Forel's celebrated book on hypnotism reflects the importance of the asylum at the time.

Bleuler, the director from 1898 to 1927, who had worked with Jung at the Burghölzli, opened the field to psychoanalytic research and its application in an institutional framework. In 1913 he distanced himself from Freud's work because of personal conflicts and scientific disagreements. The clinic lost its importance as a center of psychoanalytic research and a vehicle for its dissemination. The Burghölzli would never again generate the level of interest in psychoanalysis shown at that time.

The clinic did play a central role in the diffusion of psychoanalysis between 1904 and 1913. It was not only the first clinic in the world where Freud's theories were scientifically tested and his therapeutic methods applied to patients, but also an internationally renowned research center for analytical psychology and therapy. For Freud the Burghölzli served to legitimize his work in the face of the often violent polemics against him. Aside from Jung, Adolf Meyer, Abraham Brill, and Emil Oberholzer, a number of Freud's students, including Karl Abraham, worked at the Burghölzli.

The Burghölzli has become a modern psychiatric clinic with 341 beds and more than 1600 new patients annually (1996). In addition to treating a wide range of conditions, there are ambulatory and semi-ambulatory services for all sectors of psychiatry. It administers its own school of nurses. As a university clinic the Burghölzli has continued to pursue teaching and research activities since its inception. Its research in the field of psychopathology and in the treatment of mental illness has attracted international attention.

Bernard Minder

See also: Bleuler, Paul Eugen; Switzerland (German-speaking).


Bleuler, M. (1951). Geschichte des Burghölzlis und der psychiatrischen universitätsklinik. Zürcher Spitalgeschrift, 2, 377-425.

Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik Burghölzli Zürich. (1970). 1870-1970: Hundert Jahre Festschrift (pp. 1-87).