Hoffer, Willi (Wilhelm) (1897-1967)

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Willie Hoffer, British physician and psychoanalyst, was born in Luditz, Austria in 1897, and died on October 25, 1967, in London.

Educated in Pilsen and Vienna, he became keenly interest in biology and psychology, and took a Ph.D., the thesis for which concerned play as a means of education. He was analyzed by Herman Nunberg from 1921 to 1922. Although he first joined the Viennese Psychoanalytical Society in 1923 as a non-medical member, he studied and qualified in medicine in 1929.

In Vienna, Hoffer worked closely with Anna Freud, and when the Freud family and others left for London in 1938, he too came to London and remained a staunch supporter and in many ways a protector of Freud's youngest daughter. Anna Freud repeatedly consulted him on many important matters and strongly relied on his judgement. He was a consultant at the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic, which was founded by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham.

Hoffer obtained a British medical qualification in 1943 and taught at the Maudsley Hospital, as Consultant Psychotherapist, from 1954 to 1962. In 1949 he was elected Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. In 1957 he resigned this post to become President of the British Psycho-Analytical Society for the following three years; he had already, in 1957, been elected an Honorary Vice-President for life of the International Psychoanalytical Association. His many other honors included appointments as Abraham Flexner Lecturer in Nashville, Tennessee in 1953 and Sigmund Freud Lecturer in New York in 1966. Of his tours abroad, his help in re-establishing psychoanalysis in post-war Germany through repeated visits to teach in Frankfurt were particularly appreciated.

Hoffer wrote a great deal. His best-known work is perhaps his paper on "Mouth, Hand and Ego-Integration" (1950), followed the next year by a paper on oral aggressiveness and ego development. He was also fascinated by young children and what could be learned by studying them. Anna Freud, in a memorial address in 1968, emphasized his "unique role in laying the foundations for a sound and well-planned approach to the study of children of all ages" and reminded her audience that he had set up, in Vienna, a psychoanalytic training course for teachers, graduates of which were spread all over the western world.

His interest in children was reflected in his writings on play, fairy tales, and education, but his interests were wide and his papers included work on the psychoanalytic investigation of brain damage, schizophrenia, group formation, metapsychology and analytic technique. Hoffer based much of his work on clinical observation and he was at all times a careful writer whose works were frequently revised before publication.

His warmth and personal qualities made him very popular in the British Society, and his work was appreciated by many outside his own group. His wife Hedwig was a non-medical psychoanalyst with whom he lived happily and to whom he was close in every way; her death in 1961 was a very heavy blow to him, and although he faced it bravely, it left its mark.

Clifford Yorke

See also: Controversial Discussions; Gesammelte Werke ; Great Britain; International Journal of Psychoanalysis, The ; Lehrinstitut der Weiner Psychoanalytishen Vereinigung; Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung.


Hoffer, Willi. (1947). Diaries of adolescent schizophrenics (hebephrenics). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 293-312.

. (1950). Mouth, hand and ego integration. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 3-4, 49-56.

. (1955). Psychoanalysis: Practical and research aspects. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

. (1956). Transference and transference neurosis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 37, 377-379.

. (1968). Notes on the theory of defense. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 23, 178-188.

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Hoffer, Willi (Wilhelm) (1897-1967)

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