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Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute


Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles enjoyed considerable success after World War II. A fairly large contingent of working analysts, frequently with university and hospital affiliations, had busy practices and widely enjoyed intellectual prestige. On an institutional level, however, West Coast analysis was notable for conflicts that, though largely healed by the 1990s, included splits, internal tensions, and damaging personal rivalries.

The beginnings of psychoanalysis in Los Angeles date to an informal study group in the late 1920s. By the mid-1930s a more formal group had been organized under the aegis of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, with Ernst Simmel, originally of Vienna, as the first of a number of highly-regarded European analysts who, once in the United States, migrated to California. The arrival of Otto Fenichel, the eminent analyst and prolific author formerly of Berlin, was another key addition; others included May Romm, Frances Deri, and Hannah Heilborn, whom Fenichel eventually married.

The Los Angeles Institute was founded in 1946. Although financial resources were at first strained, with some classes for analysts-in-training held in a nursery school, the institute eventually established itself in Beverly Hills as the profession itself became a highly regarded specialty, with its practitioners much in demand.

From the beginning, however, tensions among members caused strife at the institute, which led to a factional crisis and split in 1950. The reasons for the split seem to have been both personal and ideological, with nonmedical analysts as a major issue. Some of the institute's founding members, including Otto Fenichel, were not against lay analysis, which Freud himself had supported, but others, Martin Grotjahn and May Romm among them, were strongly opposed. This issue, which arose even before the institute was founded, was particularly difficult to resolve, in part because newly arrived European analysts, even if physicians, were compelled, whether by state law or evolving custom, to retrain in the United States if they wished to be considered doctors. Indeed, Fenichel was undergoing a medical internship when he died unexpectedly in 1946, perhaps from the rigors of hospital work.

The Institute for Psychoanalytic Medicine of Southern California emerged as the breakaway group of medical analysts in the 1950 split, while the Los Angeles Institute retained its name, and both groups affiliated with the American Psychoanalytic Association. The Los Angeles Institute did not programmatically eschew nonmedical analysis and so retained its European-trained contingent. The preponderance of its members were especially insistent on orthodox Freudian theory and technique. By way of contrast, the medical group was strongly influenced by novel ideas in analysis, such as the practice of short-term therapy and "corrective emotional experience," originally promoted by Franz Alexander.

During the 1950s both institutes flourished in the heyday of psychoanalysis in the United States. By the early 1960s, however, the Los Angeles Institute was again riven with internecine strife. A good deal of the tension revolved around the rivalry of two of the institute's most prestigious members, Ralph Greenson and Leo Rangell, each in his way a charismatic figure. Greenson became (like his training analyst Fenichel) the author of a key textbook on psychoanalytic technique; Rangell was also prolific and twice served as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Their rivalry was said to have negatively affected the institute's training program.

By the time reorganization of the training program reduced these problems to manageable proportions, the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, as it was called from 1967, was embroiled in conflicts over the controversial introduction of Kleinian thought into American psychoanalysis. For its part, the American Psychoanalytic Association eschewed the views of Melanie Klein and long ignored the significance of her intellectual successors, such as W. Ronald D. Fairbairn and Donald W. Winnicott, who fruitfully developed object-relations theory. Los Angeles, far from the East Coast centers of psychoanalysis, became for a time a key destination for visits by British Kleinians and object-relations theorists, including Wilfred Bion and Herbert Rosenfield.

Growing enthusiasm for British theorists, particularly at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, led the Kleinians to engage in a bitter fight for acceptance from that organization, amid attacks from within and without. A report by a committee from the American Psychoanalytic Association after a site visit in 1973 accused the institute training program of a variety of faults, an accusation that many viewed as connected to the credibility that some of the analysts at the institute accorded Kleinian thought. In the tumultuous period that followed, a new split threatened, with the Kleinians at one point prepared to go to court. However, issues of both training and theoretical orientation were resolved by the late 1970s and the institute remained unified.

In the 1980s, when psychoanalysis began to lose intellectual ground to biological psychiatry and analysts began competing for patients with practitioners of a welter of new therapies, both institutions adapted to the changing times in a variety of ways. Continued intellectual strife was not absent, but there was also dialogue, tolerance, and movement toward pluralism. The advent of Heinz Kohut's self psychology may have played a role in this process, both by creating conflict and by enabling resolution without the same magnitude of acrimony as in earlier crises.

In contrast with the turbulence at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, the Southern California Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, as the breakaway progeny of the 1950 split eventually became called, remained relatively calm for several decades until the influence of self psychology led to strife within the organization in the late 1980s. The Southern California body gave up its insistence on psychoanalysis as a medical specialty, and it actively developed and cultivated a psychoanalytic training program for academics in a variety of fields. In addition, it welcomed Franz Alexander, who moved from Chicago to end his career in California, and was the home organization of Judd Marmor, who served as president of the American Psychiatric Association and, during the 1970s, was influential in deleting homosexuality as a mental disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -III).

Over the course of several decades, new institutions broadened the base of psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies, an organization of psychologists and educators, was founded in 1970 and eventually became affiliated with the International Psychoanalytical Association. It offers a training program for mental-health professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Kleinian analysts, who remained influential in both the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and the Southern California Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, went on to form the Psychoanalytic Center of California, which joined the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1989. Analysts devoted to self psychology formed the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in 1990.

As a sign of convergence among analysts on the West Coast, though not without some turmoil and resignations, soon after the turn of the twenty-first century negotiations were begun for a merger between the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and the Southern California Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Both institutes are located in the mainstream of psychoanalytic thought, and each is similarly engaged in training psychiatrists as well as postgraduates in the fields of medicine, psychology, social work, marriage and family counseling, law, and the humanities.

John Galbraith Simmons


Kirsner, Douglas. (2000). Unfree associations. London: Process Press.

Wilson, Samuel, et al. (Eds.). (1986, December). The "10/40" celebration. Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Bulletin, special anniversary issue.

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