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Franz Alexander

Franz Alexander
Memorial in the Ludwigkirchstraße, Berlin
Born (1891-01-22)22 January 1891
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died 8 March 1964(1964-03-08) (aged 73)
Palm Springs, California
Citizenship American
Nationality Hungarian
Fields Psychoanalysis
Known for Psychosomatic medicine
Franz Gabriel Alexander (22 January 1891 – 8 March 1964) was a Hungarian-American psychoanalyst and physician, who is considered one of the founders of psychosomatic medicine and psychoanalytic criminology.


  • Life 1
  • Early writings (1923–1943) 2
  • Psychosomatic work and short-term psychotherapy 3
  • The corrective emotional experience 4
  • Publications 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Franz Gabriel Alexander, in Hungarian Alexander Ferenc Gábor, was born in Budapest in 1891 and studied in Berlin. There he was part of an influential group of German analysts mentored by Karl Abraham, including Karen Horney and Helene Deutsch, and gathered around the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. 'In the early 1920s, Oliver Freud was in analysis with Franz Alexander' there — Sigmund Freud's son — while 'Charles Odier, one of the first among French psychoanalysts, was analysed in Berlin by Franz Alexander'[1] as well.

In 1930 he was invited by Robert Hutchins, then President of the University of Chicago, to become its Visiting Professor of Psychoanalysis. Alexander worked there at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, where Paul Rosenfels was one of his students. End 1950s he was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.

Franz Alexander died in Palm Springs, California in 1964.[2]

Early writings (1923–1943)

Alexander was a prolific writer. Between 'The Castration Complex in the Formation of Character [1923]...[&] Fundamental Concepts of Psychosomatic Research [1943]'[3] he published nearly twenty other articles, contributing on a wide variety of subjects to the work of the "second psychoanalytic generation".

'Alexander in his "vector analysis"...measur[ed] the relative participation of the three basic directions in which an organism's tendencies towards the external world may be effective: reception, elimination, and retention'.[4] In this he may have been a forerunner to Erik H. Erikson's later exploration of 'Zones, Modes, and Modalities'.[5]

He also explored the 'morality demanded by the archaic automatized pseudo morality, characterized by Alexander as the corruptibility of the superego'.[6]

Notable too was his exploration of acting out in real life, 'in which the patient's entire life consists of actions not adapted to reality but rather aimed at relieving unconscious tensions. It was this type of neurosis that was first described by Alexander under the name of neurotic character'.[7]

Psychosomatic work and short-term psychotherapy

Franz Alexander led the movement looking for the dynamic interrelation between mind and body.[8] Sigmund Freud pursued a deep interest in psychosomatic illnesses following his correspondence with

  • The corrective emotional experience (1946) (chapters 2, 4, and 17 of the book by Franz Alexander, Thomas M. French et al., Psychoanalytic Therapy: Principles and Application. New York: Ronald Press, 1946)

External links

  • Pollock, G H (1964), "Franz Alexander 1891-1964", Arch. Gen. Psychiatry (Sep 1964) 11: 229–34,  
  • Kurt Eissler: The Chigaco Institute of Psychoanalysis and the sixth period of the development of psychoanalytic technique (1950) – PSYCHOMEDIA Telematic Review (a critical comment to the Alexander's 1946 essay on "The corrective emotional experience")
  • Pollock, G H (1965), "In Memorian Franz Alexander : 1891-1964", International journal of psychiatry (Apr 1965) 1: 306–10,  
  • E. R. Moberly, The Psychology of Self and Other (London 1985)
  • McClean, H V (1965), "Franz Alexander, 1891-1964", The International journal of psycho-analysis (Apr 1965) 46: 247–50,  
  • Kopp, M; Skrabski, A (1989), "What does the legacy of Hans Selye and Franz Alexander mean today? (The psychophysiological approach in medical practice)", International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology (Nov 1989) 8 (2): 99–105,  
  • Freyberger, H (1964), "[Obituray of Franz Alexander , 1891-1964.]", Zeitschrift für Psychotherapie und medizinische Psychologie (Sep 1964) 14: 169–70,  
  • French, T M (1964), "Franz Alexander (1891–1964)", Behavioral science (Apr 1964) 9 (2): 98–100,  
  • French, T M (1964), "Franz Alexander , M.D. 1891-1964", Psychosomatic medicine, Advances in Psychosomatic Medicine 26: 203–6,  
  • Eckardt, M H (2001), "Franz Alexander: a unique outstanding pioneer", The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis 29 (1): 105–11,  
  • Benedek, T (1964), "In Memorian Franz Alexander 1891-1964", Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (Oct 1964) 12 (4): 877–81,  
  • "Franz Alexander 1891-1964", American journal of psychoanalysis 24 (2), 1964: 115,  

Further reading

  1. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A life for our time (London 1989) p. 429n and p. 463
  2. ^ "Died",  
  3. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 593-4
  4. ^ Fenichel, p. 16 and p. 246
  5. ^ Erik H. Erikson Childhood and Society (Middlesex 1975) p. 66
  6. ^ Fenichel, p. 291
  7. ^ Fenichel, p. 375
  8. ^ Asaad, Ghazi (1996), Psychosomatic Disorders: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects, Brunner-Mazel, pp. X, 129–130,  
  9. ^ Erwin, Edward (2002), The Freud Encyclopedia: Theory, Therapy and Culture, Routledge, pp. 245–246,  
  10. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: the impossible profession (London 1988) p. 102
  11. ^ Alexander, Franz; French, Thomas Ewing (1980), Psychoanalytic therapy: principles and application, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, p. 66,  
  12. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London 1994) p. 174
  13. ^ Malcolm p. 118
  14. ^ patrick Casement, Further learning from the Patient (London 1997), p. 91
  15. ^ Casement, p. 91
  16. ^ Jan Grant and Jim Crawley, Transference and Projection (Buckingham 2002) p. 70 and p. 80


  • 1931, The Criminal, the judge and the public: A psychological analysis. (Together with Hugo Staub. Orig. ed. transl. by Gregory Zilboorg).
  • 1960, The Western mind in transition : an eyewitness story. New York: Random House.
  • 1961, The Scope of psychoanalysis 1921 - 1961: selected papers. 2. pr. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1966, Psychoanalytic Pioneers. New York; London: Basic Books.
  • 1968, The history of psychiatry; An evaluation of psychiatric thought and practice from prehistoric times to the present (co-author Sheldon T. Selesnick). New York [etc.]: New American Libr.
  • 1969 [c1935] (with William Healy) Roots of crime: psychoanalytic studies, Montclair NJ: Patterson Smith.
  • 1980, Psychoanalytic therapy. Principles and application. Franz Alexander and Thomas Morton French.
  • 1984, The medical value of psychoanalysis. New York: Internat. Universities Pr., 1984. ISBN 0-8236-3285-7.
  • 1987, Psychosomatic Medicine: Its Principles and Applications. 2nd. ed., New York; London: Norton. ISBN 0-393-70036-4.


In the twenty-first century, the term has passed into common psychodynamic parlance. Thus notions of testing the relationship in cognitive therapy are seen as 'not dissimilar to the notion of the "corrective emotional experience" in psychodynamic therapy'; elucidation in existential therapy as opening up 'new experiences with the therapist, thus providing a corrective interpersonal experience'.[16]

It was championed again 'by Moberly (1985). In the latter's view, corrective emotional experience represents essentially what is therapeutic in analysis'.[14] Even those with continuing reservations about the idea conceded that 'when Alexander was was pertinent for him to be drawing attention to the therapeutic value of the emotional experience of patients in analysis'.[15]

By the sixties, Alexander's conception was in retreat, and at the close of the following decade an analyst could ask rhetorically 'Who talks about Franz Alexander today — except those who want to put down his "corrective emotional experience" or to deny, as the Kohutians are at constant pains to do, that they are offering more of the same?'.[13] Ongoing developments in object relations theory and the rise of self psychology would however lead to a revival of interest in the idea.

The concept provoked much controversy, provoking opposition from figures as disparate as Kurt Eissler, Edward Glover, and Jacques Lacan, who later said 'I did not hesitate to attack it myself in the most categorical the 1950 Congress of Psychiatry, but, it is the construction of a man of great talent'.[12]

[11]Alexander stated:

'In the forties...Franz Alexander, following the lead of Sandor Ferenczi, proposed...the form of a "corrective emotional experience", which enjoyed an enormous vogue'.[10]

The corrective emotional experience

From the 1930s through the 1950s, numerous analysts were engaged with the question of how to shorten the course of therapy but still achieve therapeutic effectiveness. These included Alexander, Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich. Alexander found that the patients who tended to benefit the most greatly from therapy were those who could rapidly engage, could describe a specific therapeutic focus, and could quickly move to an experience of their previously warded-off feelings. These also happened to represent those patients who were the healthiest to begin with and therefore had the least need for the therapy being offered. Clinical research revealed that these patients were able to benefit because they were the least resistant. They were the least resistant because they were the least traumatised and therefore had the smallest burden of repressed emotion. However, among the patients coming to the clinic for various problems, the rapid responders represented only a small minority. What could be offered to those who represented the vast bulk of patients coming for treatment? See further Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy.

  • Autoplastic adaptation: The subject tries to change himself, i.e. the internal environment.
  • Alloplastic adaptation: The subject tries to change the situation, i.e. the external environment.

Together with Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Alexander developed the concept of autoplastic adaptation. They proposed that when an individual was presented with a stressful situation, he could react in one of two ways:


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