Szondi, Leopold (1893-1986)

views updated

SZONDI, LEOPOLD (1893-1986)

The Hungarian physician, psychopathologist, and psychoanalyst Leopold (or Lipot) Szondi was born in the Slovakian city of Nitra (then in Hungary) on March 11, 1893, and died on January 24, 1986 in Küsnacht, near Zurich.

In 1898, Szondi's family moved to Budapest, where Leopold was an excellent student, first in Greek and Latin and subsequently in medical school at the University of Budapest. He was fascinated by Dostoevsky and Freud, and The Interpretation of Dreams became his vade mecum at the front during World War I. In 1919, as neuropsychiatrist and assistant to Paul Ranschburg, he published a series of analyses of personality based on constitutional and genetic factors; from 1921, he worked in private practice.

In charge of the state orthopedagogy program for secondary education from 1924 to 1927, Szondi served as professor of psychopathology at Pazmany-Peter University Medical School and also served as director of the Royal Hungarian Institute for Psychopathology and Psychotherapy. A decade of research followed together with self-analysis in which Szondi developed his method as an extension of psychoanalysis. That and regular contact with Imre Hermann moved Szondi beyond his earlier work on the constitutional and genetic bases of personality and destiny to psychoanalysis and the concept of the "familial unconscious." Shortly after publication of an investigation of marriage in 1937, which won Freud's stamp of approval, anti-Semitic legislation enacted by the pro-Nazi Hungarian government doomed Szondi's laboratory.

Dismissed from his state appointments in 1941, Szondi was eventually banned from practicing privately; in 1944 he was deported with his wife and two children to Bergen-Belsen; eventually released, he found refuge in Switzerland. He spent some months as a psychotherapist at the Forel Clinic in Prangins before settling in Zurich in 1946. Excluded from academic psychiatry, he continued his practice, wrote, and trained students from Switzerland and abroad through analysis and supervision.

An international research association was created, today known as the Szondi Society; beginning in Zurich in 1957, it organized triennial symposiums. Funding enabled foundation of the Szondi Institute in 1969. The recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Louvain in 1970 and the University of Paris in 1979, Szondi continued to work as long as his health permitted, dying in 1986 in a nursing home near Zurich.

Although remembered as inventor of a simple and controversial projective test, Szondi always conceived of his technique as an adjuvant to Shicksalanalyse (Fate Analysis) which was inspired by depth analysis. Five large volumes formed the discipline's basic program. Shicksalanalyse (1944) presented results of laboratory research that aimed to reveal how people are motivated to make the "choices in love, friendship, professions, illness and death" that determine personal destiny. The test that was developed from this work was published in 1947, and translated into English in 1952 as Experimental Diagnostics of Drives.

Freud's influence, already present in Szondi's thinking, would be further manifest in subsequent work in Zurich. Triebpathologie (Drive pathology; 1952), aimed to move classical descriptive psychiatry in a psychoanalytic direction. Triebpathologie II appeared in 1956, dedicated to Freud on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, fulfilling his wish that one day successors would carry on an analysis much as he had done with sexuality. Finally, Schickalanalytische Therapie (Fate Analysis Therapy), published in 1963, used a Freudian cast to investigate problems associated with active techniques (such as Ferenczi had employed) and the application of analysis to psychosis and mood disorders. Szondi's work in later years included articles in various reviews and Szondiana, and, most memorably, the complementary volumes in which he reprised his theme of paroxysmality as clarified by the contrasting figures of the murderer Kain (Cain; 1969) and the lawgiver Mose (Moses; 1973).

For a variety of reasons, Szondian analysis has remained fairly obscure. To the effects of war and relocation in Switzerland, which occurred just as his research was moving him toward a radical shift in perspective, must be added the occultation of the work due to reception of the test and some difficulty on Szondi's part in clearly describing that change, together with its new foundation. Finally, Szondi's clinical genius and the effective range of his work were obvious only to patients and disciples with whom he had a close relationship in Zurich. Some followers took it upon themselves to lay a new foundation for his work; with a presence at university centers in Lou-vain and Liège, Szondian analysis at last found indispensable ground for further development and the opportunity to better explain and propagate the core of his teachingparadoxically, primarily in francophone and Latin countries. Szondi, by moving beyond his own test, brings us to a broad view of his work as constituting the most significant attempt yet to create a global psychiatry undergirded by the spirit of psychoanalytic thought.

Jacques Schotte

See also: Psychological tests.


Lekeuche, Philippe, and Mélon, Jean. (1990). Dialectique des pulsions. Bruxelles: De Boeck-Université.

Schotte, Jacques. (1990). Szondi avec Freud: Sur la voie d 'une psychiatrie pulsionnelle. Bruxelles: De Boeck-Université.

Szondi, Leopold. (1965). Schicksanalyse. Basel and Stuttgart: Benno Schwabe, five volumes, 1965; Bern: Hans Hubert, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1963.

. (1969). Kain. Gestalten des Bösen. Bern: Hans Huber.

. (1973). Moses: Antwort auf Kain. Bern: Hans Huber.

Szondi, Lipot. (1952). Experimental diagnostics of drives. New York: Grune and Stratton.