Spitz, Rene A.

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SPITZ, RENE A. (1887–1974), child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Born in Vienna, Spitz worked in Hungary, Austria, and France before he immigrated to the United States at the end of the 1930s. From 1940 to 1957 he was on the faculty of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, where he became a research consultant in pediatrics and psychiatry. During part of this time he was an adjunct psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City (1940–43). As visiting clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado's school of medicine from 1957, he was active in the fields of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and normal and disturbed infant development. He was vice president of the New York Psychoanalytic Society (1950–52). In 1959 he published Genetic Field Theory of Ego Formation. After his retirement, he went to live in Geneva, Switzerland, where he continued to teach and write.

Spitz earned international fame for his pioneering research in infant development. In order to clarify psychoanalytic theories that had previously been based in the retrospective analysis of adults, he carried out direct observation and photographic documentation of infant behavior. His observation of children in hospitals led to one of his most important contributions to psychoanalytic theory – the concept of anaclitic depression, a severe disturbance of infant development resulting from separation from a maternal object and leading to malnutrition and sometimes death. This condition was regarded by subsequent analysts as an attachment disorder. The books Spitz wrote in his later years, No and Yes (1957) and The First Year of Life (1965) provide rich documentary evidence on the early development of infant communication, perceptual development, relation to objects, and development of the mother-child relationship. In them, Spitz tried to conceptualize early development and to correlate the psychological theory of Jean Piaget (1896–1980) with psychoanalytic theory.

add. bibliography:

H. Gaskill, Counterpoint: Libidinal Object and Subject: A Tribute to Rene A. Spitz (1963); R. Emde (ed.), Rene A. Spitz: Dialogues from Infancy (1984).

[Joseph Marcus]