Oberholzer, Emil (1883-1958)

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OBERHOLZER, EMIL (1883-1958)

Emil Oberholzer, a Swiss doctor who specialized in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, was born December 24, 1883, in Zweibrücken, and died May 4, 1958, in New York. He studied medicine and received his training in psychiatry from Eugen Bleuler in Zürich, beginning May 6, 1908. From February 1, 1911, to October 1, 1916, he was an assistant physician at the psychiatric clinic at Breitenau-Schaffhouse, then a physician at Dr. Brunner's sanatorium (Küsnacht, in the canton of Zürich). In 1919 he began working as a private practitioner in Zürich.

Oberholzer became friends with Hermann Rorschach and helped in developing the shape interpretation test; he continued work on the test and was considered one of its best interpreters. Most of his writing was devoted to the Rorschach test and its interpretation. As a member of the Zürich group, which was part of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), he gave a presentation on November 3, 1911, on dream analysis.

After an initial analysis with Oskar Pfister, he began analysis with Freud in June 1913 and remained faithful to Freud following Carl G. Jung's defection. With his wife, Mira Ginzburg (1887-1949), a physician who was also analyzed by Freud, and Oskar Pfister, he created the Swiss Society for Psychoanalysis on March 21, 1919, and became its first president, a position he held until 1928.

He is important because he was the first person in Zürich, in fact the first person in German-speaking Switzerland, to be analyzed in the Freudian manner, with several weekly sessions over a period of several years. He published relatively little on psychoanalysis, aside from two case studies of children (1922).

At the end of 1927 Oberholzer tried to resolve the conflict that had been developing within the Swiss Society for Psychoanalysis "because of analyses that had been enthusiastically shortened" (letter from Freud to Pfister, February 17, 1928) by Oskar Pfister. Because there was some confusion between Pfister's specific problem and the more general problem of "lay analysis," the SchweizerischeÄrztegesellschaft für Psychoanalyse (Swiss Medical Society for Psychoanalysis), which he created in 1928, was not accepted into the IPA and was dissolved after a few years.

On March 25, 1938, Oberholzer emigrated to the United States, and escaped the threat of Nazi Germany, primarily out of concern for his Jewish wife and his son. The couple practiced psychoanalysis in New York (they were not licensed to practice there as physicians). After his wife's death in 1949, Oberholzer became increasingly isolated and died in 1958 after suffering for many years from diabetes.

Kaspar Weber

See also: Burghölzli Asylum; SchweizerischeÄrztegesellschaft für Psychoanalyse; Splits in psychoanalysis; Switzerland (French-speaking); Switzerland (German-speaking).


Freud, Sigmund; and Pfister, Oskar. (1963a [1909-39]). Psycho-analysis and Faith; the Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister (Heinrich Meng and Ernst L. Freud, Eds.; Eric Mosbacher, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.

Müller, Max. (1982) Erlebte Psychiatriegeschichte 1920-1960. Berlin: Springer.

Oberholzer, Emil. (1922). Der Neurose entgegen. Schweizerische pädagogische Zeitschrift, 10 (32), 168-174.

. (1922). Phobie eines sechsjährigen Knaben. Schweizerische pädagogische Zeitschrift, 18-21.

Weber, Kaspar. (1994). Gespräche mit Margrit Wettstein, die noch die Anfangszeiten unserer Gesellschaft erlebt hat. Bulletin de la Société suisse de psychanalyse, 37, 45-54.

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