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Simmel, Ernst (1882-1947)

SIMMEL, ERNST (1882-1947)

Neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel was born on April 4, 1882, in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) and died in Los Angeles on November 11, 1947.

From a Jewish background, Simmel was the youngest of nine children. His father, Siegfried, was a banker; his mother, Johanna, managed an employment agency for domestic servants.

After studying medicine and psychiatry in Berlin and Rostock, Simmel received his medical degree in 1908; his dissertation concerned the psychogenic etiology of dementia praecox. Early in his career he worked as a general practitioner in Berlin. During World War I, however, he served as military doctor and chief of a hospital for psychiatric battle casualties in Posen. There he introduced the use of psychodynamic principles; at the time, he was still self-taught in psychoanalysis.

Returning to Berlin after the war, Simmel underwent a didactic analysis with Karl Abraham in 1919. Together with Abraham and Max Eitington, he helped establish the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute in 1920. He served as president of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society from 1926 to 1930, and founded and served as chief physician of the Tegel sanatoriumat Schloss Tegel, outside Berlin, in 1927. The sanatorium, the first ever designed to employ psychoanalytic principles in treating patients who might benefit from observation, went bankrupt and closed in 1931.

In 1910, Simmel married Alice Seckelson, and the couple would have two sons. In 1929 he married his second wife, Hertha Brüggemann.

Simmel, a liberal who had helped to found the Society of Socialist Physicians and served as its president from 1924 to 1933, ran afoul of Nazi authorities soon after Hitler came to power in 1933. Emigrating to the United States in 1934, he moved to Los Angeles after a brief period at the Topeka Psychoanalytic Institute. He was instrumental in founding the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute soon after the Second World War; he also helped establish the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Society, and served as its first president.

Simmel published both clinical and theoretical papers. On the Psychoanalysis of War Neuroses (1921) became a classic. His 1927 lecture at the Innsbruck Congress on the use of psychoanalytic principles in treating institutionalized patients was also highly original. A major theoretical contribution is "Self-Preservation and the Death Instinct," published in 1944. Another significant contribution to theory was Simmel's hypothesis concerning the existence of pre-oedipal anal libido, germane to certain psychosomatic and psychotic disorders. These ideas would find resonance in the work of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, and Donald Meltzer.

Simmel also published some thirty original works on social issues, clinical problems, and matters of mental health policy. He is important both as a founder of the institutions noted above and for establishing a place for psychoanalysis in health care and suggesting its applications to clinical medicine. Many of his works concern psychosomatic medicine, including his "Über die Psychogenese von Organstörungen und ihre psychoanalytische Behandlung" (The Psychogenesis of Organic Disturbances and Their Psychoanalytic treatment") from 1931. He edited the anthology Anti-Semitism. A Social Disease, published in 1946. Psychoanalyse und ihre Anwendungen [Psychoanalysis and its applications], a collection of numerous abstracts, lectures, and unpublished manuscripts, appeared in 1993.

Ludger M. Hermanns

Ullrich Schultz-Venrath

See also: Alcoholism; Berliner Psychoanalytische Poliklinik; Berliner Psychoanalytisches Institut; Christians and Jews: A Psychoanalytical Study ; First World War: The effect on the development of psychoanalysis; Germany; Indications and contraindications for psychoanalysis for an adult; "Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy"; Money and psychoanalytic treatment; Racism, antisemitism, and psychoanalysis; Relaxation principle and neocatharsis; Technique with adults, psychoanalytic; Tegel (Schloss Tegel); War neurosis.


Peck, John S. (1966). Ernst Simmel: psychoanalytic pioneering in California. In F. Alexander, S. Eisenstein, M. Grotjahn (Eds.), Psychoanalytic pioneers. New York: Basic Books.

Simmel, Ernst. (1921). On the psychoanalysis and the war neuroses. London: International Psychoanalytic Press.

. (1931).Über die Psychogenese von Organstörungen und ihre psychoanalytische Behandlung. In Report on the sixth general medical congress for psychotherapy (p. 56-65; 251-260). Leipzig: Hirzel.

. (1937). The psychoanalytic sanitarium and the psychoanalytic movement. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 1, 133-143.

. (1944). Self-preservation and the death instinct. Pyschoanalytic Quarterly, 13, 160-185.

. (1946). Anti-Semitism: A social disease. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1993). Psychoanalyse und ihre Anwendungen. Frankfurt-am-Main: S. Fischer.

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