Isakower, Otto (1899-1972)

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ISAKOWER, OTTO (1899-1972)

American physician, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, Otto Isakower was born in Vienna on June 2, 1899, and died in New York on May 10, 1972.

He studied medicine, graduating in 1923, and remained at the University of Vienna to specialize in psychiatry, working with Paul Schilder and Heinz Hartmann in Julius Wagner-Jauregg's psychiatric clinic. After analysis with Paul Federn, he became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV) in 1925, and later served as a training analyst. From 1934, he served as co-chairman with Eduard Hitschmann at the ambulatorium of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. A Jew, he was forced to flee upon the arrival of the Nazis in 1938.

Isakower first emigrated to London where in June 1938 he married Salomea Gutmann, also a physician and, from 1928, a member of the WPV. They joined the British Psycho-Analytical Society and worked in Liverpool and Manchester, and Isakower was selected to co-edit the collected edition of Freud's works (Gesammelte Werke ) that Anna Freud carried on from London. In 1940, the couple emigrated to New York where they would spend the rest of their lives. A member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, Isakower became essentially involved in teaching at its Institute. He served as chairman of the Educational Committee and for many years was chairman of the Curriculum and Library Committees. In February 1972, he gave up his teaching activities at the Institute due to a cardiac ailment. He died three months later.

A man of considerable learning, fascinated by history, he left only a few scientific contributions. Most notable was his classic description of self-observed hypnogogic states and body-ego regression while falling asleep, which came to known as the "Isakower phenomena." First published in German in 1936, his "Beitrag zur Pathopsychologie der Einschlafphänomen" appeared two years later in English as "A Contribution to the Pathopsychology of Phenomena Associated with Falling Asleep" (Isakower, 1938). In addition, through his teaching of the techniques of interpretation of dreams, he influenced several generations of New York psychoanalysts.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Gesammelte Werke ; Isakower phenomenon; Lehrinstitut der Wiener psychoanalytischen Vereinigung; New York Psychoanalytic Institute.


Isakower, Otto. (1938). A contribution of the pathopsychology of phenomena associated with falling asleep. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 19, 331-325.

Kronold, Edward. (1973). Otto Isakower (1899-1972). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 54, 369.

Mühlleitner, Elke. Biographisches Lexikon der Psychoanalyse (Die mitglieder der Psychologischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft und der Wiener Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung 1902-1938). Tübingen: Diskord, 1992.