Wiener Psychoanalitische Vereinigung

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The history of the Wiener Psychoanalitische Vereinigung (Vienna Psychoanalytical Society) is the primal history of psychoanalysis. The members of the Psychological Wednesday Society commenced their meetings in Freud's apartment in 1902. In 1908 the group adopted the designation "Vienna Psychoanalytical Society" and was registered under this name as a local group of the newly formed International Psychoanalytical Association in Vienna. Most of the members of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society were of Jewish origin and shared the history of the Jews in the twentieth century.

The Society's first president was Alfred Adler, who resigned in 1911, after which Sigmund Freud himself took over the helm until 1938. The founding period was of course characterized by the genius of Freud, who built the Society's fortunes not only through his theories but also by his skills as an organizer. Sándor Ferenczi described this as the time of heroism and guerrilla war. Adler and others resigned at the end of 1911 and formed the Society for Free Psychoanalytic Research, later known as the Society for Individual Psychology. Practically all activities of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society ceased during the First World War because, as Freud put it, the voice of psychoanalysis could not make itself heard above the thundering of cannon. When the war was over, the society quickly resumed operations. As regards its organization, two groups of members can be distinguished: representatives of the society's "heroic phase" like Paul, Otto Rank, and Eduard Hitschmann; and the second-generation analysts, most of whom had already undergone formalized training, such as Anna Freud, Helene and Felix Deutsch, Edward and Grete Bibring, Wilhelm Hoffer, Wilhelm Reich, Richard Sterba, Otto Fenichel, and Siegfried Bernfeld.

When this new generation of psychoanalysts took over, training was institutionalized and a psychoanalytic outpatient clinic was established. The foundation of the clinic in 1922 was followed two years later by that of the training institute. The clinic was headed by Eduard Hitschmann, with Wilhelm Reich as his deputy. In May 1936, after many peripatetic years, the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society finally acquired premises of its own at Berggasse 7, where the society itself, the training institute, the outpatient clinic and the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag (the publishing house) were accommodated. The head of the training institute was Helene Deutsch, who already complained in her report for 1932 that the number of Austrian candidates had dropped sharply owing to the economic crisis. In the summer semester of that year the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society had 22 candidates, of whom 12 were American, 2 German and 8 Viennese. After Hitler's coming to power in 1933, significant numbers of candidates from Germany found a place for themselves at the training institute of the Vienna society.

After falling ill with cancer, Sigmund Freud was no longer able to take part in the society's scientific meetings. Its affairs were managed by Paul Federn, who was elected deputy president after Otto Rank's departure in 1925, and later by Anna Freud, who was elected second deputy and spoke for her father on the executive. A powerful influence on the affairs of the society was exerted by its "expanded executive," which met on Wednesday evenings at the Berggasse premises.

The imposition of an authoritarian constitution in Austria in 1934 and Hitler's coming to power in Germany did not present an immediate threat to the Vienna society. Although many members of the Society sympathized with the then banned Social Democrats, fewamong them Siegfried Bernfeld, Otto Fenichel, Hermann Nunberg, Buchsbaum, Wilhelm Reich, and Friedjungwere politically engaged. However, "administrative measures" were adopted to prevent politically "dangerous" activity in the illegal left-wing groups by members and candidates.

The Vienna Psychoanalytical Society's heyday was in the late 1920s and the 1930s. Some of the seminal works of ego psychology originated at this timefor example, August Aichhorn's Wayward Youth (1925), Heinz Hartmann's Die Grundlagen der Psychoanalyse (Fundamentals of psychoanalysis; 1927), Anna Freud's Introduction to Psycho-Analysis for Teachers (1930) and later The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936), or Hermann Nunberg's Principles of Psychoanalysis (1932), which was based on lectures at the society. Whereas Vienna already had a rival in the thriving Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute in the 1920s, many Jewish psychoanalysts came to Vienna or to the society's branch in Prague after the Nazis took power in 1933.

Max Schur (1972) noted in his memoirs that Hitler had made an overwhelming impression on the Austrian people and that many of those in Schur's group were convinced that the country would be unable to withstand the rising tide of Nazism. The first wave of emigration commenced in these years, those who left including Helene and Felix Deutsch, Siegfried Bernfeld, Ludwig Jekels, Wilhelm Reich, Hanns Sachs and Fritz Wittels. However, the endurance of Freud and his comrades who stayed behind was unrewarded. Freud's view that the Austrian people were not quite so brutal, expressed in a letter to Arnold Zweig, proved to be false. The Wehrmacht marched into Vienna on March 12, 1938, and the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society's executive held its last meeting on March 13. It was resolved that everyone who could should flee the country and that the seat of the society should be transferred to wherever Freud settled. The 68 extraordinary and ordinary members of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, as well as an estimated 36 candidates, had to leave Vienna; only Alfred von Winterstein and August Aichhorn stayed put.

Freud himself was able to depart with his family on June 4, 1938. At the 15th International Psychoanalytical Congress in Paris, Ernest Jones said in his opening address that it was breathtaking to think that, of all cities in the world, it was precisely in Vienna that psychoanalysis was no longer to be practiced.

From 1938 August Aichhorn gathered a small circle about him. He noted in his "Gedenkschrift" [commemorative review]: "Starting with training analyses and continuing with regular seminars and courses and with the study of the works of the Freud school, the group strove to attain its goal. One of our friends, Count Karl von Motesicky, who had contributed much to the foundation of the group, died in a concentration camp.... Without formalities and difficulties, but exercising caution towards the outside world, the group worked on throughout the period in a genuine spirit of loyalty and friendship." From 1938 until 1945, Vienna was a branch of the "German Reich Institute of Psychological Research and Psychotherapy"; it was headed temporarily by Aichhorn, who was replaced by Gebsattel in 1943.

After 1945, The Vienna Psychoanalytical Society was spared the fate of the German Psychoanalytical Society and the arduous birth pangs of the German Psychoanalytical Association; it was eventually reopened by Aichhorn, who wrote: "Now our path is clear; everyone can follow his own research inclinations without hindrance, and everyone is indeed doing so." Nor was it long before IPA recognition was forthcoming. However, it took decades for the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society to re-establish its links with international psychoanalysis. In setting about the task of reconstruction, it was pervaded by the melancholy realization that, while it had to preserve Freud's legacy, it could no longer aspire to the intellectual greatness and influence of the old society. This was the prevailing atmosphere for many years. After the trauma of the expulsion and annihilation of the Jews and the ensuing destruction of psychoanalysis in Vienna, a cloak of silence descended over the unspeakable.

Upon Aichhorn's death in 1949, Winterstein succeeded to the presidency and remained in office until 1957.

In 1950 the Society had just one candidate in training, and the mood emerges clearly from a letter written by Winterstein to Glover: "The only tendency which I have observed in the last few years, and which I have been enjoining the members to follow since I became president, is to immerse themselves in the study of Freud's writings and to explore new ideas with great caution."

Except for the interregnum of A. Becker (1972-74), Wilhelm Solms-Rödelheim and Harald Leupold-Löwenthal occupied the presidency from 1957 until 1982. Solms was one of the founders of the "Mitteleuropäische Arbeitstagung" (Central European Working Conference), which links the German-speaking psychoanalysts to this day, and also played an important part in the formation of the EPF. The International Psychoanalytical Congress held in Vienna in the summer of 1971 renewed the society's ties with international psychoanalysis. The society began to grow again. After fierce argument over the incorporation of group psychoanalysis and the status of child analysis, a new generation of officers took the helm in 1982. Impelled by the candidates and younger members, a period of intense debate about the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society's past commenced. Although the older members were politically relatively untainted after the war, their mentality had been molded by it, and the society effectively continued its subterranean existence.

Peter Schuster became president in 1982 and was succeeded in 1984 by Wolfgang Berner, whose period of office was distinguished by the rapprochement with contemporary psychoanalysis and the holding of the EPF congress in 1993. The society's president from 1993 until 1998 was Wilhelm Burian. A central concern of the organization since the 1980s has been the permanent reorganization of training so as to bring it into line with international standards. An indication of the laboriousness of this process is the fact that the third revision of the training regulations is as of 2005 being discussed. Unfortunately psychoanalysis has remained substantially a Viennese phenomenon for the Austrian public; debate is largely confined to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, the Vienna Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse (Psychoanalytic study group) and the Freud-Gesellschaft. Like many psychoanalytic organizations, however, the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society has been increasingly preoccupied with itself and has shown relatively little orientation towards the outside world. Around the start of the twenty-first century public relations functions have been assumed with great professionalism by the Sigmund-Freud-Gesellschaft and the Freud Museum.

After prolonged peregrinations, the Vienna society moved into its new headquarters at Gonzagagasse 11 in 1986. By 2005, it had over 70 members and some 100 candidates, thus for the first time exceeding the membership level of 1938. Its work in the 1980s centered on anti-Semitism both within and outside analyses and the working through of the society's wartime and post-war past. Other themes have included the relations between psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapya debate that culminated in the incorporation of a seminar on psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the training syllabus. In the fields of theory and clinical practice there have been many, sometimes violent, arguments about the future direction of psychoanalysis and the influence of other psychoanalytic schools, such as the "modern Kleinians" and object-relations theory as opposed to classical drive theory. The latter prevailed the late 1990s and still has a not inconsiderable number of adherents. Meanwhile, however, the society had also become an official professional organization, oscillating between the isolation of "toeing the line" and "traitorous participation" in the state bodies for psychotherapists. In 1989 the general assembly of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society resolved by one vote to join the "Dachverband für Psychotherapie" (Confederation of psychotherapy) and later the Psychotherapiebeirat (Psychotherapy advisory committee). Then, in 1993, the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society became the first training organization to obtain recognition under the provisions of the Psychotherapy Law. The political work on the committees and vis-à-vis the public has, in truth, not aroused much interest. However, if one were to compile an interim report, it would state that, although the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society is no longer the "hub" around which the other societies revolve, as it was before 1938, it has after a long period of hesitation shrugged off its self-imposed isolation and thereby regained its place in international psychoanalysis.

Wilhelm Burian

See also: Austria; Lehrinstitut der Wiener psychoanalytischen Vereinigung; Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society .


Berner, Wolfgang. (1992). The Viennese Psychoanalytic Society after 1945, In Peter Kutter (Ed.). Psychoanalysis International, 1. Europe. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstadt: Frommann-Holzboog.

Huber, Wolfgang. (1977). Psychoanalyse inÖsterreich seit 1933. Vienna-Salzburg: Geyer-Edition.

Mühlleitner, Elke. (1992). Biographisches Lexikon der Psycho-analyse (Die Mitglieder der Psychoanalytischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft und der Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung 1902-1938). Tübingen: Diskord.

Schur, Max. (1972). Sigmund Freud: Living and dying. New York: International Universities Press.

Solms-Rödelheim, Wilhelm. (1976). Psychoanalyse inÖster-reich. In D. Eicke (Ed.), Tiefenpsychologie. Beltz-Weinheim-Basle: Die psychoanalytische Bewegung.