Existential Analysis and Psychoanalysis: Specific Differences and Personal Relationship between Ludwig Binswanger and Sigmund Freud

By Buhler, Karl-Ernst | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Existential Analysis and Psychoanalysis: Specific Differences and Personal Relationship between Ludwig Binswanger and Sigmund Freud


Buhler, Karl-Ernst, American Journal of Psychotherapy


The concise curriculum vitae of the founder of existential analysis is followed by an exact comparison of the polarity (homo natura versus homo cultura) between Binswanger and Freud. Then the five stages in the development of (Existential Daseinsanalysis Analysis) are described: the stage of learning, of practice, of criticism, of the alternative to psychoanalysis, and of reconciliation. The criticism is aimed especially at Freud's naturalism and at the concept of drive. These concepts are opposed by ontoanalytic doctrines derived from Heidegger's ontoanalysis. The differences are further exemplified by the comparison of the existentialanalytical and the psychoanalytical view of the unconscious. A presentation of the treatment of a "hysterical phobia," which is first explained in psychoanalytic terms and later in existentialanalytic terminology (mainly concerning the world-projects) makes the difference between the two schools of thought explicit.

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this historical assessment is to show that against a modern reading of Freud psychoanalysis does not equal Existential Analysis (Daseinsanalyse) or Existential Psychotherapy, and that there are fundamental differences between both traditions even if they have a common beginning rooted in the acquaintance of Ludwig Binswanger and Freud.

To show this difference is important because the disciples of the Frankfurt School of Sociology (for example, Habermas), tried to understand psychoanalysis as their paradigmatic case for a criticism of ideology and hence gave psychoanalysis a hermeneutic disguise (e.g., see Ricoeur). Their attempt to reinterpret Freud is at least controversial. But such a reinterpretation is possible because central concepts of Freud's theory are not precisely stated. Hence his relationship to Binswanger is very important for the authentic understanding of Freud himself. It explains the interest in clarifying the similarities and the differences between psychoanalysis and existential analysis by elucidating Freud's and Binswanger's personal relationship.

The psychoanalytic movement was split by schismatic differences in the conception of essential topics even during the life of Sigmund Freud himself, the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychotherapy. The most significant breaks were those of Carl Gustav Jung and Alfred Adler but also that of Ludwig Binswanger. In contrast to the personal clash with Sigmund Freud, caused by different views of Jung and Adler, the friendship of Freud with Binswanger lasted a lifetime. The reasons for this may be multiple, but Binswanger's great admiration and his almost unlimited affection for Freud were certainly not unimportant in bridging the conceptual gulf between both thinkers.

But Binswanger's friendship with Freud did not keep him from having a different opinion than Freud concerning the central issues of his anthropology and some essentials of the psychotherapeutic treatment. Because both men have in some way discussed the discrepancies between Daseinsanalyse and psychoanalysis, a contrasting comparison seems to be most enlightening and may show the exegesis of some disciples and other scholars to be unfounded. This expectation is all the more important as no other empirical discipline-as psychoanalysis claims to be-has ever been an object of such an extensive exegesis as the writings of Sigmund Freud. For the present, we can state that there is a dichotomy in the understanding of Freud's theories: on the one hand, there is a scientific reading in the field of the natural sciences, on the other we find a tendency to bring Freud close to the humanities. In between these poles there are numerous gradations. The question now is which side Freud himself would have stressed.

To answer it, not only all the publications of Ludwig Binswanger were examined but also the correspondence between both authors. For better reliability of the conclusions, the unpublished writings of Binswanger were also scanned. …

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