Heinz Kohut: biography and career of this psychoanalyst

Heinz Kohut was an Austrian psychoanalyst who developed his entire career in the city of Chicago, United States.

The culmination of Kohut’s life was the development of his theory of the self, which went beyond the scope of Freudian theories, its nuclear construction being the “self” over the personality of human beings.

Below we will briefly review the life of this Viennese psychoanalyst through a biography of Heinz Kohut, highlighting the most important milestones and events of his career.

    Brief biography of Heinz Kohut

    Heinz Kohut was born in 1913 in Vienna, belonging to an upper middle social class Jewish family.. His father, named Félix, was a pianist with a recognized career, who had to collaborate on the Eastern Front for 4 years during the First World War.

    His mother, Else, was the primary breadwinner of the marriage’s only child, Heinz. She has always been an overprotective mother to her son, so during her early student years Kohut spent them learning at home with the help of tutors her mother had hired.

    However, Heinz ended up going to school to continue his final year of primary education, then studied for 8 years at Doblinger Gymnasium, a secondary school in Vienna.

    The teenage years

    During teenagehood, Kohut had a tutor named Ernst Morawetz, who was responsible for nurturing the young man’s cultural interest., taking him to visit museums and the opera, which they could visit up to three times a week.

    Kohut, from an early age, proved to be an educated person with a great desire to learn in various fields such as history, literature, the arts and music; always be on the lookout for the most avant-garde trends of the time.

      University internship

      In 1932, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Vienna, where he graduated in 1938.

      At that time, he had little interest in Sigmund Freud or psychoanalysis; However, he had already done research in psychotherapy around 1937, when he found the work of a psychologist named Walter Marseille interesting., which specialized in a test primarily used to assess personality, the Rorschach test.

      Later he began to search for a psychoanalyst named August Aichhorn, who was a friend of Freud’s, having to interrupt his studies for a politico-social event that occurred that year in his country, the Anschluss, or this which is the same, the barrier of possession. of Austria by Hitler and his army in 1938.

        Arrival in the United States

        Due to the politico-social situation in his country, and by extension of much of Europe, Kuhut, who was in grave danger, first went to England, where he resided for a year then went to get a visa to emigrate to the United States. .

        Kohut arrived in the United States in 1940 with only 25 cents in his pocketor, with whom he took a bus to the city of Chicago, where one of his childhood friends, Siegmund Levarie, who worked at the University of Chicago, resided.

        At the start of his stay in Chicago, Kohut decided to continue his medical training, coming to do residencies in psychiatry and neurology at the same university where his friend Levarie worked.

          Specialization as a psychoanalyst

          It was during these first years of work as a neurologist and psychiatrist, in the 1940s, that he gradually began to take more interest in psychoanalysis.

          For that, started working with psychoanalyst Ruth Eissler and also started her career at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Chicago, where he graduated in 1950.

          During this decade he married Elizabeth Meyers in 1948 and they both had a son, Thomas August Kohut.

          Stage of great growth as a recognized psychoanalyst

          In the 1950s, the name of psychoanalyst Kohut began to resonate strongly among his fellow psychoanalysts in the city of Chicago, being widely recognized for the most part, being considered the most creative figure of the movement of the time.

          This stage has been very prolific for Kohut. He worked as a professor of psychiatry at the university, while working as a clinical psychoanalyst.. All this by publishing articles in widely recognized journals on psychoanalysis; being the most popular an article published on empathy in 1959.

          In this article, Kohut argued the fundamental importance of empathy in the conduct of psychoanalytic therapy, defining empathy as “vicarious introspection”.

          After Kohut’s research on empathy, which is the concept, it became for him an essential and elementary tool in his conception of psychoanalysis and psychology in general.

            His time as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association

            In the 60s, the highlight could be his administrative step as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, which meant the recognition of a whole professional life devoted to the study and development of psychoanalysis in the broadest sense; having come to develop new theories and models of therapy based on psychoanalytic theory.

            Last years and culmination of his professional career

            At this stage published his most important book, “The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Analysis of the Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders” (Self Analysis: A Systematic Analysis of the Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders), 1971.

            This book had a great impact in the field of theories of psychoanalysis because Kohut extended in itself the Freudian theory of narcissism.

            In 1977, he continued the theory of the book published in 1971, with the publication of another book entitled “The Restoration of the Self”, in which he went from an approach of narcissism to a debate on the Self (self or self), self-development, the vicissitudes of self-development and its stress gradient, called by Kohut as the “bipolar self”, being an idea that has not transcended much.

            However, in his later years he suffered from cancer due to which he had to slow down his pace of work in all areas. In addition, he had to undergo bypass surgery in 1979, expected to recover slowly, and during this period began to develop inner ear problems, as well as suffering from pneumonia.

            Although Kohut suffered from very serious health problems, he continued to work until his last days.. In 1981 Kohut was in a very delicate state of health. He died on October 8 of the same year.

            Posthumous publications by this author

            At the time of his death, Kohut had a book he was about to complete, titled How Does It Cure Analysis? (How does analysis heal?). This book was edited by one of his colleagues, Arnold Goldberg, and was published in 1984.

            In 1985, Charles B. Strozier published a book with unpublished essays by Heinz Kohut entitled “Self Psychology and the Humanities”.

            In the 90s, two other volumes have emerged from a collection of articles by Kohut, under the name “Search for the Self”, as well as a volume on Kohut’s epistolary, edited by Geoffrey Cocks, entitled “The Curve of Life” in 1994.

            Below we will see the most essential aspects of the psychoanalytic theory that Kohut developed, throughout his long career, according to the analysis of the “me” (self).

            Heinz Kohut’s theory of the self

            The theory developed by Heinz Kohut was seen as a revolution in the current of psychoanalysis.

            The main contributions of Heinz have been the concept of self, the redefinition he made of narcissism and his vision of empathy or vicarious introspection.

            Kohut took a positive view of the people who deviated from the Freudian view of the human being in a constant division between his impulses and continuous internal conflicts. Kohut also makes a substitution in his psychoanalytic theory of concepts fundamentals of Freudian theory (me, this and superego; conscious and unconscious) by the concepts called as Self and objects of the Self.

            1. The me

            For Kohut the ego is constituted as a nuclear concept of the personality of the human being, being the place through which their experiences pass; which makes it possible to give meaning and coherence to psychological processes or to the human psyche.

            2. Self-objects

            Self-objects they are made up of the person’s experiences of others. For Kohut there are two types of objects:

            • Mirrors: We are reflected in others through the feedback received from interactions with them.
            • Idealizers: One internalizes the positive qualities of others and adopts them for oneself.

            3. Narcissism

            As for narcissism, unlike Freud who had a negative conception of it, Kohut has an evolutionary vision.

            He understands that in self-development, the child needs to receive the attention of the parents and to feel like a special human being, so the parents should respond to his call for attention, forming a coherent narcissism . His parents, in addition, must facilitate the aid to the boy so that he confronts the reality of the limitations that he has.

            According to this theory, problems with narcissism arise when parents do not properly help the child in this process, because they do not support him enough or are very critical of him, which results in problematic narcissism.

              4. Empathy

              As for Kohut’s conception of empathy, this it approaches the vision of Carl Rogers and modern psychology.

              They understand empathy as the ability to understand the thinking and the feeling of the person in front of them. Therefore, their main idea when dealing with patients is that the best way to do it is to try to understand their perspective and the experiences they are having.

              Bibliographical references

              • Rodriguez, A. (2019). Manual of psychotherapies. Barcelona: Herder
              • Strozier, CB (2001). Heinz Kohut: A Biography of Charles B. Strozier. International Association of Psychoanalytic Autopsychology. Retrieved from https://iapsp.org/heinz-kohut-a-biography-by-charles-strozier/.
              • Strozier, CB (2004). Heinz Kohut: The Creation of a Psychoanalyst: The Creation of a Psychoanalyst. New York: Other Press.

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