Ludwig Binswanger: biography of this Swiss psychiatrist and thinker

The phenomenological current is, at the same time, a philosophical school through which many authors have made contributions in the field of psychology. One of them is Ludwig Binswanger, creator of concepts such as “Dasein” (“being in the world”) and “Daseinanalyse” (existential analysis).

This Swiss psychiatrist encouraged great authors to develop his theory and worked as a mental health doctor for most of his life. In this article we will see a biography of Ludwig Binswanger and we will know in detail his important theoretical contributions.

    Ludwig Binswanger: a brief biography

    Ludwig Binswanger was a Swiss psychiatrist born in the town of Kreuzlingen in 1881. He died in 1966, at the age of 84. His formative trajectory focuses on the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl (Philosopher and mathematician, founder of transcendental phenomenology) and in the existentialist orientation of Martin Heidegger (German philosopher).

    Professionally, he worked as a doctor and as director of a clinic for people with mental disorders in his hometown, Kreuzlingen.

    One of the contributions of this psychiatrist was the introduction of psychoanalysis in Switzerland (Although later moved away from this theoretical orientation). More precisely, he put it into practice in his psychiatric clinic. In addition to running the clinic, he worked there as a doctor. Through his work here and his years of work, he was able to gather a lot of information from clinical cases that would allow him to develop his theory and work.


    Ludwig Binswanger studied medicine during the years 1900 and 1906, in Lausanne, Heidelberg and Zurich. Before working as a doctor, he worked as a volunteer assistant in a university clinic called Burghölzli.

    At that time, this clinic was headed by the famous psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (also Swiss), who made important contributions to the field of schizophrenia. So, Binswanger he nurtured the knowledge of Bleuler, Which had a great influence for him. Later, Ludwig Binswanger obtained his doctorate, completing his doctoral thesis on the psychogalvanic reflex, under the supervision of Carl Jung.

      Theoretical orientation in philosophy

      The theoretical orientation of Ludwig Binswanger focuses on the current of thought initiated by Karl Jaspers, German psychiatrist and philosopher born in 1883. This current was based on the phenomenological method applied to psychopathology. Ludwig Binswanger, influenced by many authors (psychiatrists and psychologists of the time), adopts a phenomenological, humanist and existential point of view in his works.

      In the field of psychology, Ludwig Binswanger considers mental disorder as an “inauthentic” way of life and of its own existence, And encompasses a series of gaps, defenses, refusals, renunciations or loss of freedom that the person manifests.

      The influences

      The authors who most influenced Ludwig Binswanger are Sigmund Freud (from whom he gradually moved away), Franz Brentano (German philosopher born in 1838), Karl Kaspers and Edmund Husserl.

      Gradually, Ludwig Binswanger adopted the ideas of these other authors and built his own theory. Another of his influences, Martin Heidegger, allowed him to truly immerse himself in existentialist thought.. For Heidegger, and referring to this type of philosophical thought, the most important thing in philosophy was to clarify the meaning of being and to find its way.

      From these ideas, Ludwig Binswanger establishes the concept of “Dasein” (“to be in the world”, “to exist”), which we will see later. Thus, the thought of this Swiss psychiatrist took shape, and ended up adopting the name of “Daseinanalyse”, which means existential analysis.

      Ludwig Binswanger’s existential analysis has become one of the most important currents in the history of contemporary psychology. We will cover this concept later. First, we will learn the basics of Binswanger’s theory, based on phenomenology.


      The phenomenology that Ludwig Binswanger ultimately adopted and developed, and which we will explain below, was actually in Franz Brentano, one of its influential authors.

      Brentano, in fact, laid the foundations for the germination of this current; he has contributed to a series of works close to phenomenology, where he has emphasized the experience and the intentional nature of acts, in addition to the active character of the subject.

      Although Brentano made great contributions which helped to sow the seed of phenomenology, the main representative of the phenomenological current, and the one who really initiated it, was Husserl.

      Phenomenology, of which Ludwig Binswanger was the advocate, considers that “the immediate experience of the act of knowledge can reveal the nature of things”; that is, it focuses on immediate experience as an explanatory factor for the origin of what we observe and, ultimately, of reality. Its supporters, like Binswanger, are engaged in an analysis of observable phenomena in order to explain being and consciousness.

      Types of phenomenologies

      But there is no single type of phenomenological current; furthermore, Ludwig Binswanger actually developed a specific type of phenomenological current: categorical phenomenology, focused on the search for the deep meaning of things.

      In addition to this, there is descriptive phenomenology, developed by K. Jaspers, which focuses on the exact and as precise description of the experience as possible. Finally, we find the genetic-structural phenomenology, developed by Minkowski, and which focuses on “the description of the disorder that generates the problem and the deduction of the state of consciousness of the person”.

      Analysis of the existence of Binswanger

      Focusing on Ludwig Binswanger’s categorical phenomenology, we find another interesting and fundamental concept in his theory: “Daseinanalysis” (existential analysis). This concept refers to understanding the structure of “Dasein”, a term meaning “to be in the world”.

      In other words, Ludwig Binswanger considered it essential to understand how we position ourselves in the world, and that is why he developed this philosophical concept, which it broadly defines its work and its theoretical orientation. So, in fact, Ludwig Binswanger’s “Daseinanalysis” refers to a therapeutic process that synthesizes psychoanalytic, phenomenological and existentialist concepts.

      Binswanger’s existential analysis is based on a phenomenological anthropology, which seeks to understand man in depth, understanding that man is in direct contact with the world of phenomena. Through this method, he seeks to understand the cause of mental illness, its hidden “meaning”. He links mental disorders to a failure of existence, in “Dasein” itself.

      Existential analysis and “Dasein”

      As we have seen, another central concept of Ludwig Binswanger’s work is that of existential analysis (“Daseinanalysis”). This phenomenon (and psychotherapeutic method) which proposes, moves away from the psychoanalysis that the psychiatrist began to follow, considering it reductionist.

      In relation to “Daseinanalysis”, and in order to be able to carry it out, Ludwig Binswanger proposes the concept of “Dasein”, already explained. “Dasein” has a structure that can be investigated, described and rectified (modified). In turn, it consists of three elements:

      1. Environment

      The first element of Dasein proposed by Ludwig Binswanger refers to the part of the biological and physical being, The most “tangible” part.

      2. Mitwelt

      It is to be with others, in relation to others; encompasses the interpersonal world of the person.

      3. Eigenwelt

      The eigenwelt alludes to how we live.


      Some of Ludwig Binswanger’s most important works were:

      • Introduction to problems of general psychology: 1922 (considered the most important work).

      • The famous contribution to the interpretation of existential pathology, Ueber Ideenflucht: 1933.
      • Three forms of frustrated existence ”, Three forms of failure of existence: 1956.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Villegas and Besora, M. (1981). Ludwig Binswanger: on the occasion of the centenary of his birth. Yearbook of Psychology, 24 (1).
      • Yalom, ID (1984). Existential psychotherapy. Barcelona: Herder.

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