Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis

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The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, one of the oldest in the United States, has been both a key institution in its own right and a hub for westward expansion of the profession. Founded during the Great Depression, in the 1940s the Institute served as a training and credentialing institute for analysts who then created organizations in other cities, including Topeka, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Although ultimately most closely associated with the classical ego psychology that dominated analysis at mid-century, the Chicago Institute was distinctive for a certain tolerance of divergent points of view. Its founder, Franz Alexander, promoted several unconventional ideas and techniques; Heinz Kohut, after a long career as a purely orthodox analyst, developed his influential self psychology at the institute during the 1970s. Thomas Szasz, who became a iconoclastic critic of psychiatry, originally trained at the Chicago Institute.

Organized psychoanalysis in the city dates to establishment of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society in 1931. N. Lionel Blitzsten, the society's first president, was considered the first trained analyst in Chicago and a charming teacher who lacked administrative interests or skills. Establishment of the Chicago Institute fell to the Hungarian analyst Franz Alexander.

Alexander, who lectured at the University of Chicago in 1930 but did not receive a warm welcome among psychiatrists there, returned to the city two years later to found and become first director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. His objective was to create a training center outside a university setting that could also support research and clinical activities. A charismatic figure originally attached to the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, Alexander became a magnet for other European analysts, especially with the rise of German fascism. Alexander modeled the center on the Berlin Institute, which itself had been founded along the lines of the great nineteenth-century research institutes designed to encourage intellectual exchange, debate, and collaboration. The Chicago Institute had a brick-and-mortar presence from the beginning and boasted classrooms, a library, and a dining room where staff lunches became an enduring feature, as they had in Berlin.

The organizational structure that Alexander established at Chicago was in certain respects unique. He proved able to attract wealthy donors, some among his analysands, and early funding was provided by Alfred K. Stern, an executive with the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a Chicago-based philanthropy, and by the Rockefeller and Macy Foundations. Alexander created a lay board of trustees with fiscal responsibility for the institute, which became a powerful source of funding, especially during the heyday of psychoanalysis. In addition, the institute was staffed by a small group of analysts with lifetime appointments and, in organizational terms, was entirely separate from the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society. This arrangement is thought to have promoted the tolerance for divergent points of view that helped Chicago avoid the splits so common in psychoanalytic institutes in other cities.

Alexander directed the Chicago Institute for the best part of a quarter century. As an administrator he was regarded as authoritarian, albeit a benign despot, while he and the analytic staff functioned as an oligarchy. Alexander's research, for which he secured large grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, was a considerable stimulus to psychosomatic medicine, which, although later engulfed by molecular psychiatry and other developments, came to enjoy a high profile by the 1950s. Also involved in research were Thomas M. French, until 1961 the institute's director of research, and the German analyst Therese Benedek, the author of a major text on psychoanalytic supervision and one of a number of prominent female analysts at Chicago.

In 1953, Alexander decided to leave the institute and he spent the last phase of his career in Los Angeles, until his death in 1964. To some extent his departure was a consequence of the advancing orthodoxy at Chicago that viewed Alexander's innovative treatment options, such as analysis only three times per week and the concept of a "corrective emotional experience," as out-of-step with techniques then in vogue.

Gerhart Piers effectively succeeded Alexander in 1956, for what became a fifteen-year administration. He exercised power much as Alexander had done and used his influence to reengineer the training institute and introduce several other innovations, including a low-fee graduate clinic. He also paid greater attention to therapy for children and adolescents, an area that Alexander had neglected. Piers organized the Child Therapy Training Program for pediatricians, nurses, and social workers and, in 1965, developed a Teacher Education Program.

To Heinz Kohut, a recent graduate of the institute, Piers entrusted the task of reorganizing and revamping the curriculum. Kohut, who then worked closely with the forces shaping ego psychology, created a core set of classes with a historical perspective, and went on to teach the two-year theory course himself for many years. As was the case at other institutes, the new curriculum at Chicago paid little attention to the work of Melanie Klein or the British analysts who were then developing object relations theory.

Although George Pollock, who succeeded Piers in 1971, became a controversial figure late in his tenure, he was an energetic director who moved the Chicago Institute with a multi-pronged agenda. As a major administrative figure in both the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Psychiatric Association, he raised the profile of the Chicago Institute through the effective exercise of power, though some thought his actions were based too much on a patronage-like system. In 1973, he engineered authorization from the State of Illinois for the institute to offer a doctoral program in psychoanalysis. The same year, the Annual of Psychoanalysis began publication and became an influential yearly review. Pollock also established the Barr-Harris Children's Grief Center, which remains in operation today, to help children cope with the loss of a parent or sibling. Research meetings at the Institute regularly drew renowned analysts as speakers, and although analysis would soon to lose much of its privileged cache to biological psychiatry, Charles B. Strozier wrote (2001), "I doubt there has been a more lively intellectual atmosphere in the history of psychoanalysis than at the Chicago Institute in the 1970s."

While Chicago remained Heinz Kohut's base throughout his career, his innovative brand of psychoanalysis was not warmly received by either Pollock or many of his colleagues at the institute. However, Kohut's deemphasis on drive theory and his view that narcissism was a separate developmental path did win adherentsArnold Goldberg, Charles B. Strozier, and Ernest Wolf at Chicagoand self psychology eventually established itself as a branch movement within psychoanalysis. Kohut died relatively young, at age sixty-seven in 1981, just ten years after publication of his The Analysis of the Self.

Although Pollock liberalized the oligarchic character of the institute's staff and was a successful fundraiser through the lay board of directors, he could not stem the effects of a nationwide decline in the popularity of analysis as it ceased to attract large numbers of psychiatrists and patients. In 1988, after Pollock was sued by the son of a patient who claimed that his mother, a wealthy donor to the institute, had been financially exploited, he resigned. Subsequent reorganization in the wake of his acrimonious departure favored greater pluralism and more power extended to the faculty. Both Arnold Goldberg, who became next director in 1989, and Thomas Pappadis, who succeeded him in 1992, brokered policies that further democratized the institute. Jerome Winer, named director in 1998, continued to broaden the focus of the institute while attempting to enhance funding and to further cooperative ventures with universities.

As was the case in other cities, the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis survived the recalibration of analysis as a therapy and profession by creating for itself a place within the larger context of mental health practice. While the Chicago Society for Psychoanalysis, still a separate body, is comprised primarily of medically trained analysts, the Chicago Institute serves a broader community with a more inclusive mandate. In the early 2000s, the institute provides training programs for physicians, psychoanalysts, social workers, and other professionals, and offers clinical and community services in a variety of venues for children, adolescents, and adults.

John Galbraith Simmons


Kavka, J. (1984). Fifty years of psychoanalysis in Chicago: A historical perspective. In G. Pollock and J. Gedo (Eds.), Psychoanalysis: The vital issues (Vol. II, pp. 465-93). New York: International Universities Press.

Pollock, George H. (1978). The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis from 1932 to the present. In J. Quen and E. Carlson (Eds.). American psychoanalysis: Origins and development (pp. 109-26). New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Strozier, Charles B. (2001). Heinz Kohut: The making of a psychoanalyst. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis

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