Kurt Schneider is, along with Karl Jaspers, the main representative of the Heidelberg School, an important antecedent of biological phenomenology and psychopathology.
In this article we will analyze the biography and theoretical contributions of Kurt Schneider, Especially those related to schizophrenia, depression and psychopathy.
Biography of Kurt Schneider
Kurt Schneider was born in 1887 in the city of Crailsheim, currently in Germany but which at the time belonged to the independent kingdom of Württemberg. He studied medicine at the universities of Berlin and Tübingen and in 1912 obtained a doctorate with a thesis on the psychopathology of Korsakoff syndrome (or “psychosis”).
After serving in the military during World War I, Schneider went on to train as a psychopathologist, philosopher, and teacher. In 1922, he was hired as associate professor at the University of Cologne. In 1931 he became director of the Munich Institute for Psychiatric Research and head of psychiatry in a municipal hospital.
He collaborated with the German Army as a senior physician and psychiatrist during the years of World War II. Later, in 1946, he was appointed head of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Heidelberg, An institution that played a key role in subsequent developments in academic psychopathology.
Schneider retired from professional activity in 1955; until this moment he retained his position as dean in Heidelberg, obtained four years previously. He died in October 1967 at the age of 80, leaving a legacy in psychology and psychiatry that would have a notable influence.
One of the key points of Schneider’s methodology was his particular interest in the analytical description of the subjective experience of patients. In this way his propositions can be linked to the phenomenological method, And must be understood in a larger theoretical context: that of the Heidelberg School of Psychiatry.
Heidelberg School of Psychiatry
Kurt Schneider is considered, along with Karl Theodor Jaspers (1883-1969), one of the main theorists of the Heidelberg School of Psychiatry, the nucleus being at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. This current was characterized by its approach to mental disorders from a biological point of view.
Jaspers is best known for his work on delusions; a very relevant aspect of his work is his emphasis on the importance of the topography (the formal aspect) of psychopathological symptoms, as opposed to their specific content. Other relevant authors from the Heidelberg school are Wilhelm Mayer-Gross and Oswald Bumke.
The clearest antecedent of the Heidelberg school is Emil Kraepelin (1855-1926). This author created a classification of mental disorders based on their clinical manifestations, as opposed to previous systems which used hypothetical causes as the primary endpoint. Kraepelin’s influence on modern diagnostic classifications is evident.
Contributions by this author
Kurt Schneider’s most important contributions to the field of psychopathology relate to diagnostic methods.
Specifically, he focused on the most characteristic symptoms and signs of certain psychological disorders in order to systematize and facilitate their identification, as well as the distinction of similar but not equivalent phenomena.
1. First-order symptoms of schizophrenia
Schneider demarcated the conceptualization of schizophrenia from a series of manifestations that he described as “first-order symptoms” that would help distinguish this disorder from other types of psychosis. It is important to note that at the time the term “psychosis” also referred to phenomena such as mania.
The main symptoms of schizophrenia according to Schneider these would be auditory hallucinations (including voices that comment on the subject’s actions and the echo of the thought), experiences of passivity (such as illusions of control), the illusion of stealing the thought, the diffusion of delusional thinking and perceptions.
The influence of this clustering of symptoms on subsequent diagnostic classifications was very significant. The DSM and CIE textbooks draw heavily on Schneider’s view that there are nuclear symptoms (such as delusions and hallucinations) that may be accompanied by less specific symptoms.
2. Endogenous and reactive depression
Another of Schneider’s most important contributions is the distinction between two types of depression: endogenous, which would have a biological origin, and reactive, Associated to a greater extent with psychological alterations, in particular due to negative vital events.
At present, the usefulness of this distinction is highly questioned, in large part because it is known that in “reactive depressions” the functioning of neurotransmitters is altered and that Schneider’s idea under- tends a dualistic conception of psychology. However, the term “endogenous depression” remains popular.
3. The 10 types of psychopathy
Today, we approach psychopathy in the same way as the antisocial personality disorder described by major diagnostic textbooks. These ideas owe much to another contribution by Kurt Schneider: his description of psychopathy as an ambiguous deviation from normative behavior and the 10 types of psychopathy.
Thus, this author created an unsystematic typology, based only on his own ideas, thus differentiating psychopathy characterized by abnormalities in mood and activity, Those of the insecure-sensitive and insecure-anancastic type, the fanatic, the self-assertive, the emotionally unstable, the explosive, the insensitive, the weak-willed and the asthenic.