Ludwig Binswanger

Last updated
Ludwig Binswanger
Kirchner - Dr Ludwig Binswanger.jpg
Portrait of Dr Ludwig Binswanger.
Born13 April 1881
Died5 February 1966 (1966-02-06) (aged 84)
Kreuzlingen, Switzerland
Nationality Swiss
Known for Daseinsanalysis
Scientific career
Fields Psychiatry
Influences Martin Heidegger
Edmund Husserl
Martin Buber
Influenced Eugène Minkowski
Laurence A. Rickels
Medard Boss
Franco Basaglia
Jürgen Habermas

Ludwig Binswanger ( /ˈbɪnzwæŋər/ ; German: [ˈbɪsvaŋɐ] ; 13 April 1881 5 February 1966) was a Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of existential psychology. His parents were Robert Johann Binswanger (1850–1910) and Bertha Hasenclever (1847–1896). Robert's German-Jewish [1] father Ludwig "Elieser" Binswanger (1820–1880) was founder, in 1857, of the "Bellevue Sanatorium" in Kreuzlingen. Robert's brother Otto Binswanger (1852–1929) was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Jena.


Ludwig (1881–1966) is considered the most distinguished of the phenomenological psychologists, and the most influential in making the concepts of existential psychology known in Europe and the United States. [2]

Life and career

In 1907 Binswanger received his medical degree from the University of Zurich. As a young man he worked and studied with some of the greatest psychiatrists of the era, such as Carl Jung, Eugen Bleuler and Sigmund Freud. He visited Freud (who had cited his uncle Otto's work on Neurasthenia) [3] in 1907 alongside Jung, approvingly noting his host's "distaste for all formality and etiquette, his personal charm, his simplicity, casual openness and goodness". [4] The two men became lifelong friends, Freud finding Binswanger's 1912 illness "particularly painful", and Binswanger offering Freud a refuge in Switzerland in 1938. [5]

Binswanger became a member of the early 'Freud Group' Jung led in Switzerland; [6] but nevertheless wrestled throughout his life over the place of psychoanalysis in his thinking [7] – his 1921 article on 'Psychoanalysis and clinical Psychiatry' [8] being only one landmark of that lifelong struggle. [9]

Binswanger was further influenced by existential philosophy, particularly after World War I, [10] through the works of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Buber, eventually evolving his own distinctive brand of existential-phenomenological psychology.

From 1911 to 1956, Binswanger was medical director of the sanatorium in Kreuzlingen.

Thinking and influence

Binswanger is considered the first physician to combine psychotherapy with existential and phenomenological ideas, a concept he expounds in his 1942 book; Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins (Basic Forms and the Realization of Human "Being-in-the-World"). In this work, he explains existential analysis as an empirical science that involves an anthropological approach to the individual essential character of being human. [11]

Binswanger saw Husserl's concept of lifeworld as a key to understanding the subjective experiences of his patients, considering that "in the mental diseases we face modifications of the fundamental structure and of the structural links of being-in-the-world". [12] For Binswanger, mental illness involved the remaking of a world - including alterations in the lived experience of time, space, body sense and social relationships. [13] Where for example the psychoanalyst might only see "an overly strong 'pre-oedipal' tie to the mother", Binswanger would point out that "such overly strong filial tie is only possible on the premise of a world-design exclusively based on connectedness, cohesiveness, continuity". [14]

Binswanger's Dream and Existence — which was translated from German into French by Michel Foucault who added a substantial essay-introduction — highlighted in similar fashion the necessity of "steeping oneself in the manifest content of the dream - which, since Freud's epoch-making postulate concerning the reconstruction of latent thoughts, has in modern times receded all to[o] far into the background". [15] Eugène Minkowski had earlier introduced Binswanger's ideas into France, influencing thereby among others the early work of Jacques Lacan. [16]

In his study of existentialism, his most famous subject was Ellen West, a deeply troubled patient whose case-study was translated into English for the 1958 volume Existence. [17] Binswanger ascribed "schizophrenia" to her, and her case is included in his book "Schizophrenie". But few contemporary psychiatrists would accept this diagnosis. "Anorexia nervosa" is also misplaced. She felt an extreme urge for weight loss.

Through his adoption from Buber of the importance of the concept of dialogue, Binswanger can also be seen as an ancestor to intersubjective approaches to therapy. [18] Binswanger emphasised the importance of mutual recognition, as opposed to the counterdependency of destructive narcissism, as described by Herbert Rosenfeld for example. [19]

Binswanger on existence

Ludwig Binswanger contributed much to the idea of existence in the school of existential psychology. He believed that human existence was complex in that one has control over how one exists. As he described, humans have the choice of existing as,"being a hunter, of being romantic, of being in business, and thus (we are) free to design (ourselves) toward the most different potentialities of being." He therefore believed that such an existence "transcends the being," making the being accessible to itself in numerous different outcomes in life based on the existential path one chooses. [20] In addition to this belief, Binswanger also thought that you can only observe one's existence and/or unique personality by looking at it holistically, emphasized in this quote from Binswanger:

"It is a question of attempting to understand and to explain the human being in the totality of his/her existence. But that is possible only from the perspective of our total existence: in other words, only when we reflect on and articulate our total existence, the "essence" and "form" of being human." [21]


Modes of existence

Binswanger argued that there are certain modes of existence. These modes of existence, he believed, allowed humans and non-human animals to be separated based on this concept. These modes include:

The Umwelt can apply to both non-human animals and humans. It is the relationship between the organism and its environment. However, according to Binswanger, non-human animal cannot possess the world as humans do. Non-human animals, "can neither design world nor open up world nor decide independently in and for a situation. As for humans, they do possess the world in the way that they can transcend their being above the level of non-human animals by, "climbing above it (the world) in care and of swinging beyond it in love." [20]

The Mitwelt refers to the mode of existence involved in inter-species relations. Specifically, this mode applies mainly to humans in the sense of human interaction. It also refers to the "shared world" that we have with other people, i.e., viewing our lives according to our relationships with other humans. [23]

The Eigenwelt refers to a person's own subjective experience, or the "self world." In other words, the Eigenwelt is the relationship that one has with themselves. This mode of existence is the most difficult to grasp because of its vague definition. [24]

Binswanger believed that to fully understand a person, you must take into account the specificities of all three modes of existence. [21]


Weltanschauung (world-design) also applies to one's existence. An individual experiences the world through their own Weltanschauung, or world-design. A person's world-design is essentially how they view and open up to the world around them. This concept also is related to the modes of existence, as Binswanger points out:

"The world-design"..."is by no means confined to the environment to the world of things, or to the universe in general, but refers equally to the world of one's fellow men (Mitwelt) and to the self world (Eigenwelt)" [20]

Being-in-the world vs. being-beyond-the-world

Two other concepts relate to Binswanger's view on existence, relating to the relationship between humans and the world or objects around them. Being-in-the-world is, "the normal and lawful interaction with the real-world environment that is considered primary to our way of existing in the world". It explains how we interact with our environment and the impact of that relationship. When "being-in-the-world," there are 3 general steps of assessment:

  1. Identify the situation in reference to known objects and their properties
  2. Assign general rules to that situation according to those objects and properties
  3. Use logical rules in the situation and draw conclusions as to what must be done [25]

Being-beyond-the-world is the second of these concepts. This idea refers to how people can change their circumstances in the world by using free will. Similar to the concept of being-in-the-world, a person is transcended and is able to transform their world following their own motivations. Binswanger relates this idea to love, believing that, "it (love) takes us beyond the world of one's own self to the world of we-hood". [26]


R. D. Laing criticised Binswanger's phenomenology of space for insufficiently realizing the extent to which one's sense of space is structured by others. [27]

Fritz Perls criticized Binswanger's existential therapy for leaning too heavily upon psychoanalysis. [28]


German editions of selected works

See also

Related Research Articles

Psychoanalysis Psychological theory and therapy established by Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis is a set of theories and therapeutic techniques used to study the unconscious mind, which together form a method of treatment for mental disorders. The discipline was established in the early 1890s by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, who retained the term psychoanalysis for his own school of thought. Freud's work stems partly from the clinical work of Josef Breuer and others. Psychoanalysis was later developed in different directions, mostly by students of Freud, such as Alfred Adler and his collaborator, Carl Gustav Jung, as well as by neo-Freudian thinkers, such as Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and Harry Stack Sullivan.

Sigmund Freud Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

Viktor Frankl Austrian Holocaust survivor, neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and author

Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor.

Eugen Bleuler

Paul Eugen Bleuler was a Swiss psychiatrist and eugenicist most notable for his contributions to the understanding of mental illness. He coined many psychiatric terms, such as "schizophrenia", "schizoid", "autism", depth psychology and what Sigmund Freud called "Bleuler's happily chosen term ambivalence".

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in answer to the limitations of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism. With its roots running from Socrates through the Renaissance, this approach emphasizes the individual's inherent drive toward self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing one's own capabilities and creativity.

Existential psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the model of human nature and experience developed by the existential tradition of European philosophy. It focuses on concepts that are universally applicable to human existence including death, freedom, responsibility, and the meaning of life. Instead of regarding human experiences such as anxiety, alienation and depression as implying the presence of mental illness, existential psychotherapy sees these experiences as natural stages in a normal process of human development and maturation. In facilitating this process of development and maturation, existential psychotherapy involves a philosophical exploration of an individual's experiences stressing the individual's freedom and responsibility to facilitate a higher degree of meaning and well-being in their life.

Eugène (Eugeniusz) Minkowski was a French psychiatrist of Jewish Polish origin, known for his incorporation of phenomenology into psychopathology and for exploring the notion of "lived time". A student of Eugen Bleuler, he was also associated with the work of Ludwig Binswanger and Henri Ey. He was influenced by phenomenological philosophy and the vitalistic philosophy of Henri Bergson, and by the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler; therefore his work departed from classical medical and psychological models. He was a prolific author in several languages and regarded as a great humanitarian. Minkowski accepted the phenomenological essence of schizophrenia as the "trouble générateur", which he thought consists in a loss of "vital contact with reality" and shows itself as autism.

Medard Boss was a Swiss psychoanalytic psychiatrist who developed a form of psychotherapy known as Daseinsanalysis, which united the psychotherapeutic practice of psychoanalysis with the existential-phenomenological philosophy of friend and mentor Martin Heidegger. During his medical studies in Vienna, he initiated his psychoanalytic training by undergoing some psychoanalytic sessions with Sigmund Freud, an analysis he later continued at length in Zurich with Swiss psychoanalyst Hans Behn Eschenburg.

Jan Hendrik van den Berg was a Dutch psychiatrist notable for his work in phenomenological psychotherapy and metabletics, or "psychology of historical change." He is the author of numerous articles and books, including A different existence and The changing nature of man.

Otto Binswanger

Otto Ludwig Binswanger was a Swiss psychiatrist and neurologist who came from a famous family of physicians; his father was founder of the Kreuzlingen Sanatorium, and he was uncle to Ludwig Binswanger (1881–1966) who was a major figure in the existential psychology movement. He was brother-in-law to physiotherapist Heinrich Averbeck (1844–1889). Other notable family members include his son-in-law Hans-Constantin Paulssen (1892-1984), who was the first president of the BDA.

Irvin D. Yalom

Irvin David Yalom is an American existential psychiatrist who is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, as well as author of both fiction and nonfiction.

History of psychotherapy

Although modern, scientific psychology is often dated from the 1879 opening of the first psychological clinic by Wilhelm Wundt, attempts to create methods for assessing and treating mental distress existed long before. The earliest recorded approaches were a combination of religious, magical and/or medical perspectives. Early examples of such psychological thinkers included Patañjali, Padmasambhava, Rhazes, Avicenna and Rumi.

Daseinsanalysis is an existentialist approach to psychoanalysis. It was first developed by Ludwig Binswanger in the 1920s under the concept of "phenomenological anthropology". After the publication of "Basic Forms and Perception of Human Dasein", Binswanger would refer to his approach as Daseinsanalysis. Binswanger's approach was heavily influenced by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud. The philosophy of daseinsanalysis is centered on the thought that the human Dasein is open to any and all experience, and that the phenomenological world is experienced freely in an undistorted way. This way initially being absent from meaning, is the basis for analysis. This theory goes opposite to dualism in the way that it proposes no gap between the human mind and measurable matter. Subjects are taught to think in the terms of being alone with oneself and grasping concepts of personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself. Binswanger believed that all mental issues stemmed from the dilemma of living with other humans and being ultimately alone.

This is a timeline of the modern development of psychiatry. Related information can be found in the Timeline of psychology and Timeline of psychotherapy articles.

Arnold Kutzinski was a German psychiatrist and neurologist, known as an outspoken critic of psychoanalysis.

Jacques Schotte was a Belgian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, co-founder, in 1969, with Antoine Vergote and Alphonse De Waelhens of the Belgian School of Psychoanalysis.

Harald Leupold-Löwenthal was an Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst known for his involvement in the establishment in 1971 of the Sigmund Freud Museum and in its further development. Co-founder of the Sigmund Freud Society.

Gustav Bychowski

Gustav Bychowski was a Polish-American psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and author. He studied for a medical degree at the University of Zurich and studied psychiatry at Burghölzli, the University of Zurich's psychiatric hospital. He then studied psychoanalysis under Sigmund Freud in Vienna before moving back to Warsaw in 1921 and translating Freud's Introduction to Psychoanalysis into Polish.

Henry Zvi Lothane

Henry Z'vi Lothane, M.D., is a Polish-born American psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, educator and author. Lothane is currently Clinical Professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, specializing in the area of psychotherapy. He is the author of some eighty scholarly articles and reviews on various topics in psychiatry, psychoanalysis and the history of psychotherapy, as well as the author of a book on the famous Schreber case, entitled In Defense of Schreber. Soul Murder and Psychiatry. In Defense of Schreber examines the life and work of Daniel Paul Schreber against the background of 19th and early 20th century psychiatry and psychoanalysis.


  1. Klaus Hoffmann, "The Burghölzli School: Bleuler, Jung, Spielrein, Binswanger and others" in Yrjö O. Alanen, Manuel González de Chávez, Ann-Louise S. Silver, Brian Martindale (ed.), Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Schizophrenic Psychoses: Past, Present and Future, Routledge (2009), p. 44
  2. Todd May, 'Foucault's Relation to Phenomenology', in Gary Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2007) p. 287
  3. Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 36
  4. Quoted in Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988) p. 203
  5. Gay, p. 229 and p. 789
  6. Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1961) p. 331
  7. Gay, p. 242–3
  8. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neorosis (London 1946) p. 416 and p. 598
  9. Herbert Spiegelberg, Phenomenology in Psychology and Psychiatry (1972) p. 197
  10. Spiegelberg, p. 198–202
  11. Ludwig Binswanger
  12. Quoted by May, p. 288
  13. May, p. 295
  14. Quoted by May, p. 289
  15. Quoted in May, p. 289
  16. Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (2005) p. 45
  17. Eugene Taylor, The Mysteries of Personality (2009) p. 81
  18. Donna M. Orange, Thinking for Clinicians (nd) p. 3
  19. Brian Koehler, 'Ludwig Binswanger: Contributions to an Intersubjective Approach to Psychosis' Archived 2006-04-20 at the Wayback Machine
  20. 1 2 3 May, Rollo (1958). Existence. Oxford: The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. pp. 191–213.
  21. 1 2 Frie, Roger (1997). Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity in Modern Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. Lanhman, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. pp. 22–23. ISBN   9780847684168 . Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  22. Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning. pp. 575–576.
  23. Lindemann, Gesa; Millay Hyatt (2010). "The Lived Human Body from the Perspective of the Shared World (Mitwelt)". The Journal of Speculative Psychology. 24 (3): 275–291. doi:10.1353/jsp.2010.0012. S2CID   143450599.
  24. de Avila, Diana Teresa. "Existential Psychology, Logotherapy & the Will to Meaning". Archived from the original on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  25. Zahorik, Pavel; Rick L. Jenison (1998). "Presence as Being-in-the-World". Presence. 7 (1): 78–89. doi:10.1162/105474698565541. S2CID   12150291.
  26. Popovic, Nash (Autumn 2002). "Existential Anxiety and Existential Joy". Practical Philosophy: 36.
  27. R. D. Laing, Self and Others(1969) p. 135
  28. Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1972) p. 16-17

Further reading