Held, René (1897-1992)

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HELD, RENÉ (1897-1992)

René Held, a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, was born October 7, 1897, in Paris, where he died on February 18, 1992. He was the second son of a family that had emigrated from Russia after a short stay in Germany. His father was unable to obtain an equivalency diploma for his medical degree and held a series of relatively minor positions with pharmaceutical companies. Consequently, Held was forced to go to considerable efforts to become fully integrated in French society.

A man with curious mind, cultivated and sharp witted, Held was not immediately attracted to psychoanalysis. He was initially interested in psychiatry, which he had discovered during his medical studies at the Salpêtrière and then at Val-de-Grace during the First World War. It was here that he met André Breton and Louis Aragon. His was an inquisitive mind, and it was difficult for Held to settle into a sedentary and unchanging activity. The uncertainties of life led him to dabble in Russian revolutionary activities while he was an assistant surgeon in Kiev in 1917 (which earned him the Croix de Guerre in 1918). Through his friendship with the painters of the Paris School and his familiarity with the surrealist movement, he developed an in-depth understanding of art.

It is said that the young twenty-nine-year-old psychiatrist was offered an opportunity to participate in the foundation of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (Paris Psychoanalytic Society) in November 1926 and that he refusedsomething he regretted all his life. The story is not entirely credible, however, as Held would have been more attracted to the newly formed Évolution Psychiatrique, because he was a contributor to the first issue of that organization's review.

During the 1930s, he was much more interested in developing a clientele as an independent psychiatrist than in adopting Freudian theories that were not yet fully accepted. He got married on March 26, 1926, had a son, Jean Francis, in 1930, and had divorced by 1933. His mother, who followed Jewish family tradition closely, almost never left his side from then on.

Miraculously, he managed to survive the Occupation unscathed. A disciplined Frenchman who believed in his country, Held registered as a Jew with the police in his area and returned home with a yellow star, which he decided, two days later, never to wear again. After narrowly escaping a roundup of French Jews, he left the city for the unoccupied countryside but returned to Paris, where, in spite of the seals that had been placed on the door of his apartment on avenue Raymond-Poincaré, he managed to live there, treating American pilots who had been hidden by the Resistance.

It wasn't until the Liberation that Held's name began to appear on the rolls of psychoanalytic meetings. He underwent a teaching analysis with John Leuba, and was then supervised by Sacha Nacht. At a meeting of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris held in October 1947, presided over by his analyst, he gave a talk on "a phobia about knives." It was here that he met Pierre Mâle, a man who was to remain a colleague and friend until his death. That same year he was made a member of the society. The following year, Professor Gilbert-Dreyfus created for him, at the La Pitié hospital, the first department of psychosomatic medicine.

He was not fond of Jacques Lacan and remained faithful to his friends during the 1953 split. He was made a full member of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris on February 16, 1954, when Pierre Mâle was president, and was given responsibility for teaching activities in the new Paris Psychoanalytic Institute. He taught psychosomatic medicine in 1954, and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, with Mâle, in 1957. In 1963, during the 24th Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans (Congress of French-speaking psychoanalysts from Romance-language-speaking countries), he presented a "Rapport clinique sur les psychothérapies d'inspiration psychanalytique freudienne," which became a book, Psychothérapie et Psychanalyse (1968). He was also president ofÉvolution Psychiatrique and the Société de Médecine Psychosomatique (Society of Psychosomatic Medicine).

Held was a brilliant improviser, simultaneously droll and wise, sometimes carried away by his garrulousness. All of his verbal eloquence has vanished but, as Gérard Mendel, one of his analysands, wrote, "We have his books, four books, in which, regardless of the subject, the man could be seen on the page, thumbing his nose at dogma and obfuscation." His books include De la psychanalyseà la médicine psychosomatique (1968) and his memoir of surrealism published in 1973 as L'Oeil du psychanalyste (Payot). His last completed bookHeld began dozens of unfinished projects for novels, scripts, and other writingsbrings his critical faculties to bear on the then-current fashion for all things Freudian: Problèmes de la cure psychanalytique d'aujourd'hui. Us et abus de la psychanalyse (1976).

Although there was much that was colorful about Held's character, we must not overlook the originality of his ideas and his numerous contributions to the psychoanalytic conferences organized by the SPP until the 1970s. As Roland Jaccard remarked, "rationalist, atheist, and materialist, René Held was an old-fashioned psychoanalyst: sensitive and warm, he placed the interests of his patients above those of theory."

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Face-to-face situation; France; Psychotherapy; Société psychanalytique de Paris and Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Held, René. (1968). De la psychanalyseà la médecine psycho-somatique. Paris: Payot.

. (1968). Psychothérapie et psychanalyse. Paris: Payot.

. (1973). L'Œil du psychanalyste. Paris: Payot.

Jaccard, Roland. (1992). La disparition de René Held: la psychanalyse et l'humour. Le Monde, Tuesday, February 25, 1992.

Mendel, Gérard. (1992). René Held toujours vivant. Raison présente, 102, 120.