Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Letter from Basle

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Letter from Basle

Article excerpt

Socio-cultural background

Switzerland resembles an enlarged city of eight million people, with a wonderful landscape of large, beautiful parks, mountains and lakes; there are five big agglomerations with universities. Geneva and Basle are located on its periphery opening towards other countries (France and France/ Germany). Geneva's features are determined by the United Nations, Basle's by its chemical industry. Zurich functions as a cultural and commercial metropolis. Berne provides a kind of centre with the federal government there. Lausanne could possibly be called the provincial twin sister of Geneva. Switzerland's existence is not geographically, ethnically, or culturally determined and secured. A latent sense of threat is combined with a reactive guardedness. The boundaries of Switzerland and its neutrality have been dictated from outside by the Vienna Congress in 1815. Neutrality was a condition to prevent the passage through the Alps being dominated by one party. Viewed from the outside, Switzerland thus represents a kind of "road watch" on a major north-south transit through the Alps. In the idealized self-understanding of the Swiss, however, the Alps are often viewed more like their very own bastion. Switzerland engages in a skilful handling of minorities and offers them good protection. Its culture of compromise is exceptionally helpful but also slows down a lot of (progressive) steps. Big conflicts tend to be transformed into small and predictable ones. As a result many latent problems only become manifest after some time.

The proud myth of Switzerland as independent, autonomous, completely free and unconnected is linked to the knowledge that this is true for only a very small area. "The home of Switzerland is Europe", says Peter von Matt, a prominent Swiss historian and literary scholar. This, however, refers to a Europe which, until the end of World War II, had been an agglomeration of antagonistic national states; presently, Europe is in the process of a massive transformation. Just as Europe is currently reflecting upon itself, Switzerland is also involved in an intense process of self-reflection geared towards a revised self-understanding, with the aim of an updated new identity.

A country of four languages in the heart of Europe, Switzerland does not belong to the European Union. Instead, it is a kind of little Europe that-by dint of not being an EU member state-endeavours to maintain its independence at the crossroads of four border countries and cultures (Germany, France, Italy and Austria). It consists of 26 cantons, each with its own government, and with the federation, the Helvetian central government, in Berne. As a small country, for the most part spared by the war, Switzerland insists on its independence. It has gained a lot of experience in dealing with the integration of small independent units. After the removal of external threats since World War II, Switzerland is searching for a new national identity that could maintain and promote its specificity in today's international Europe, without being "swallowed" by the four border countries.

The health system is for the most part organized by the federal cantons (i.e. according to the rules of each canton), but is held together by the legislation of the federation. A vast number of private health insurances differ greatly in dealing with the payment of psychotherapy. In this system, psychoanalytic psychotherapy (including high-frequency psychoanalysis) counts as a psychotherapeutic treatment as do other treatments.

The development of psychoanalysis in German-speaking Switzerland

"Since the publication of Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams', psychoanalysis has not ceased to stir interest in Switzerland, like a ferment that is added to a substance to cause its fermentation", Ph. Sarasin wrote in 1931. Under the chairmanship of Eugen Bleuler, the "Society for Freudian Research" was founded in 1907 in Zurich. In 1910 it became the local chapter of the International Psychoanalytic Association. …

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