Binswanger and Daseinsanalysis from Existencial Therapies
, by Mick Cooper.
It is something of a paradox that one of the earliest attempts to develop an existential approach to therapy is grounded in some of the latest existential thinking. Daseinsanalysis draws almost exclusively from Heidegger’s later teachings and, as such, places a great deal of emphasis on helping clients to open up to their world. This makes it very distinctive amongst the existential therapies. What also makes it very distinctive is the depth and thoroughness with which it has critiqued the theoretical foundations of classic Freudian psychoanalysis.
Ludwig Binswanger (1881—1966), a Swiss psychiatrist, founded the Daseinsanalytic movement in the early 1930s, Binswanger was a close friend of Freud, but felt that Freud’s attempts to understand human beings scientifically had led him to reduce people to a distinctly inhuman collection of causal mechanisms, instincts and formulae. Binswanger also felt that Freud had split human beings off from the world that they inhabited — referring to this subject-object divide as ‘the cancer of psychology’. In an attempt to construe a more dignified and holistic understanding of human existence, Binswanger turned to the work of such existential-phenomenological philosophers as Husserl, Buber and Heidegger, and developed an approach that he termed ‘Daseinsanalyse’ or ‘phenomenological anthropology’. Here, he attempted to describe the nature of human psychopathology in terms of the sufferer’s way of being-in-the-world — a descriptive enterprise that did not attempt to reduce human suffering to deterministic, world-less mechanisms. Drawing on Buber, Binswanger also critiqued, and attempted to develop, Heidegger’s work on interpersonal relationships, arguing that the highest and most original form of human existence is the reciprocal love relationship: the ‘dual mode of love’.
It was one of Binswanger’s followers, the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss (1903—1990), however, who was to become the pivotal figure in the development of Daseinsanalysis. Whilst Binswanger was primarily interested in understanding psychopathology from an existential and phenomenological perspective, Boss went on to consider the implications of Heideggerian thought for therapeutic practice. Binswanger’s denunciation by Heidegger — for fundamentally misinterpreting Being and Time in individualistic and subjectivistic terms — also led to his increasing marginalisation within the Daseinsanalytic movement. In contrast, Boss maintained a close friendship and collaboration with Heidegger for many years; and, between 1959 and 1969, hosted a series of seminars by his mentor. Even in his later years, Boss felt that there was nothing that he could criticise or modify in Heidegger’s thought. Indeed, such was Boss’s devotion to Heidegger that one of Boss’s key works, Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology (1979), was written under Heidegger’s watchful eye.
In 1971, Heidegger encouraged Boss to establish the first
Daseinsanalytic training institute: the Daseinsanalytic Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine in Zurich, Switzerland. Today, several further Daseinsanalytic training institutes have been established across mainland Europe. Gion Condrau, director of the original Zurich Institute, is now one of the key international proponents of Daseinsanalysis, and has made many steps to popularise and broaden the appeal of this approach. Recent years have also witnessed the growth of the Swiss Society for Daseinsanalysis, which has provided a second focal point for the Daseinsanalytic movement: one that is less wedded to a strictly Heideggerian and Bossian viewpoint. Unfortunately, few of the writings of this new school of Daseinsanalysis have been translated into English. There are, however, a handful of papers in a special edition of the Humanistic Psychologist (edited by Eric Craig) that give a flavour of this emerging approach.