Pankow, Gisela (1914-1998)

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PANKOW, GISELA (1914-1998)

A French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Gisela Pankow was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, on February 25, 1914, and died in Berlin on August 14, 1998. She came from a Christian democrat family that paid heavily for its active opposition to the Nazi regime. After obtaining degrees in mathematics, physics, geography, and philosophy at the University of Berlin, Pankow began studying medicine in Tübingen, where she became an assistant to Professor Ernst Kretschmer. She helped with his research in morpho-endocrinology and began to publish articles in the field.

Having arrived in Paris in 1950 with a grant to conduct research, she worked as an intern at the hospital of La Pitié under the direction of Jacques Decourt. She published articles in German and French. In February 1953 she obtained a doctorate in science from the University of Paris with a dissertation entitled "Les rapports métriques entre la base du crâne et la partie supérieure de la face."

While following her medical and scientific studies, she began training in psychoanalysis in 1944, first in Germany with Luisa Weizsäcker (later Käte Weizsäcker-Hoss), then with members of the German Institute for Psychological and Psychotherapeutic Research (DIPF), and finally with Ernst Blum, a member of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society, in Berne. In France she became a member of the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP) (French Society for Psychoanalysis) in 1953. For a while she attended Jacques Lacan's seminars at Sainte-Anne Hospital and conducted a number of supervised analyses with Lacan, Françoise Dolto, and Daniel Lagache.

In 1956 she published, in French, her first book (an abridged version of the German edition that appeared the following year): Structuration dynamique dans la schizophrénieContributionà une psychothérapie analytique de l'expérience psychotique du monde. With a preface by Juliette Favez-Boutonier, the book established the foundations of her research on the psychoanalytic approach to psychoses. After giving a series of conferences in Australia, in 1956 Pankow left for the United States to work as a research assistant at the psychiatry institute of the University of Baltimore. She taught at John Rosen's Institute for Direct Analysis, met Gregory Bateson, Helen Flanders Dunbar, and most importantly, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, who strongly encouraged her to continue her work.

She returned to France in late 1957, where she settled permanently. There, she introduced a private seminar in March 1958 and broke with the SFP in 1960, although she remained a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association. In 1960 she began teaching in the school of medicine of the University of Bonn. She also taught in Paris, at the Sainte-Antoine school of medicine (University of Paris VI), beginning in 1971. She participated in a number of international congresses and gave talks in several European countries, in Tunisia, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Gisela Pankow was decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honor. She left behind a substantial body of writingbooks and articles, in French, English, and German. Her work has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. A remarkable clinician, she influenced several generations of psychotherapists in France and abroad through her insights and work on psychosis. In her practice she introduced an original technique involving modeling clay as a mediating element in transference dynamics. Deeply faithful to Freud, her work, enlivened by her extensive philosophicalprimarily phenomenologicaland scientific learning, is remarkably rigorous. Her theories, derived from clinical research, are based on the conception of an "image of the body," which, according to Pankow, serves two functions. The first involves the recognition of spatial and formal structure, incorporating a dialectic of inside and outside, and part and whole; the second involves the content and meaning of that structure. The use of modeling enabled her to reveal the structural destructiveness of psychoses, the most serious of which affect the first function (Kernpsychosen or Kretschmer's "nuclear psychoses," which are distinguished from Randpsychosen, or "marginal psychoses," which affect only the second function). Her conceptual apparatus led the way to an understanding of psychotic experience and initiated, through a reintroduction of the symbolization process, a therapeutic strategy whose productivity proved itself in practice. "Transference graft" and "structuring fantasies" are two terms in Pankow's theory that qualify the essential moments of a therapeutic process that attempts to encourage the psychotic patient to "build, inhabit, and think" the concreteness of his being.

Marie-Lise Lacas

See also: Psychanalyse, La; Psychoses, chronic and delusional.


Pankow, Gisela. (1957). Dynamische strukturierung in der psychose, beiträge zur analytischen psychotherapie. Bern: Hans Huber.

. (1973). The body image in hysterical psychosis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 55, 3, 407-414.

. (1980). Rejection and identity. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7, 3, 319-32.

. (1983). L'Homme et sa psychose. 3d ed. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne. (Original work published 1969)

. (1983). Structure familiale et psychose. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne. (Original work published 1973).

(Ed.). (1984). Vingt-cinq années de psychothérapie analytique des psychoses. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne.

. (1987). L'Être-là du schizophrène. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne. (Original work published 1981)