Flournoy, Henri (1886-1955)

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FLOURNOY, HENRI (1886-1955)

Henri Flournoy, a Swiss medical doctor and psychiatrist, was born on March 28, 1886, in Geneva, where he died on May 6, 1955. He was the son of Théodore Flournoy. One of his sisters, Ariane, married Raymond de Saussure. His son, Olivier, became a psychoanalyst in Geneva. Flournoy studied medicine in Geneva and then took internships in Berne, Warburg, Munich, and Baltimore (at Johns Hopkins University). During the Balkan War, from 1912 to 1913, he served as a Red Cross doctor. A man of insatiable curiosity from an early age, he developed an interest in heraldry, to which he became a devoted amateur.

In 1920 he became a privatdocent and lecturer in psychopathology at the University of Geneva. He was president of the Société genevoise de prophylaxie mentale (Geneva Society for Mental Prophylaxis) and of the Conseil de surveillance des aliénés (Supervisory Board for Mental Illness) for the canton of Geneva.

In 1922 he opened a psychiatric and psychoanalytic practice in Geneva. There were four phases to his psychoanalytic training: an initial series of twenty-six sessions with Carl Gustav Jung, a six-month analysis with Johan Van Ophuijsen in the Netherlands, a three-month analysis with Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and a final six-month analysis with Hermann Nunberg, also in Vienna.

He was a close friend of Charles Odier, Raymond de Saussure, and Princess Marie Bonaparte and played an important role in the Swiss Society for Psychoanalysis. He was an active, though unofficial, participant in establishing the acts of incorporation of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. In 1933 he presided at the eighth Conférence des psychanalystes de langue française (Conference of Francophone Psychoanalysts).

He worked intermittently after 1939, many foreign patients (mostly from the League of Nations) having left Switzerland and local demand having fallen off because of the war climate. As a result, Flournoy concentrated increasingly on psychotherapy.

He was appointed an expert for providing women who intended to have abortions with advice consistent with current legal requirements. Flournoy expended considerable energy in demonstrating that mental distress is a sufficient, more than sufficient, justification for abortion and advocated legalizing it. This contributed greatly to his celebrity, or notoriety, well beyond the borders of Switzerland. It was also the origin of an extensive correspondence with various medical, psychological, and legal publications.

As a psychoanalyst, Flournoy contributed to the development of the young Swiss Society for Psychoanalysis and to the acceptance of psychoanalysis in Switzerland. In addition to his many articles, in 1949 he published Erreurs et dignité de la pensée humaine.

Olivier Flournoy

See also: Flournoy, Théodore; France; Société psychanalytique de Genéve; Switzerland (French-speaking); Switzerland (German-speaking).


Flournoy, Henri. (1920). Dreams on the symbolism of water and fire. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1 (3), 245-255

. (1922). Çiva androgyne: contributionà l'étude psychanalytique des principaux symboles et attributs d'une divinité hindoue. Archives de psychologie, 18.

. (1932). Le caractère scientifique de la psychanalyse. Revue française de psychanalyse, 5 (2), 190-200.

. (1949). Erreurs et dignité de la pensée humaine. Paris: Le Mont-Blanc.