Freud and Frankfurt

The History and Development of the Sigmund Freud Institute

Psychoanalysis, which was established by Sigmund Freud more than 100 years ago, has traditionally been closely related with the city of Frankfurt am Main. It was here that a group of psychiatrists and psychologists, including Erich Fromm, Klara Happel, Karl Landauer, Heinrich Meng, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, Ewald Roellenbleck and Franz Stein, formed the psychoanalytical working group „Southwest German Working Group“ in 1926. Two years later, the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute (FPI) emerged from this collaboration. However, the science of the unconscious of the human psyche experienced only a brief blossoming in Frankfurt, culminating in the award of the Goethe Prize to Freud in 1930. After the National Socialists seized power, the FPI was forced to cease its activities in 1933. The mostly Jewish psychoanalysts had to emigrate.

Sigmund Heinz Fuchs
Heinrich Meng
Karl Landauer
Erich Fromm
Frieda Fromm Reichmann

The Return of Psychoanalysis

Max Horkheimer

It took almost a quarter of a century for psychoanalysis to return to Frankfurt. Important impulses for this came from a large academic event on the occasion of Sigmund Freud’s 100th birthday in 1956. The philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, together with the psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich, organised a series of lectures on psychoanalysis with internationally renowned speakers in Frankfurt and Heidelberg.

Foundation of the Institute

On 27 April 1960, the Institute and Training Centre for Psychoanalysis and Psychosomatics, which was founded in 1959 at the initiative of Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Georg August Zinn, at the time Prime Minister of Hesse, was officially opened. It was the first and only of its kind in Germany and, in addition to research activities, would in future also be a place for doctors and psychologists to be trained to become psychoanalysts. „A new psychoanalytic era in Germany begins“ – these were the words of Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna at the opening event. The first director of the institute became Alexander Mitscherlich, who combined the study of the unconscious with social psychology in an innovative way.

Developments and Changes at the SFI

During Alexander Mitscherlich’s leadership from 1960 to 1976, the institute, which was renamed the Sigmund Freud Institute (SFI) in 1964, became the most important training centre for psychoanalysts in Germany. Soon it also gained international reputation. In the following two decades, the SFI made an important contribution to the process of coming to terms with the Nazi era and to the democratization in post-war Germany.

After Mitscherlich’s resignation in 1976, Clemens de Boor became director from 1976 to 1983, then Hermann Argelander (temporary) from 1983 to 1985 and then Dieter Ohlmeier from 1985 to 1992. During the following decade, when the institute acquired a new legal form, Horst-Eberhard Richter was director of the institute. from 2002, Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber and (from 2004) Rolf Haubl jointly presided over the institute until 2016; moreover, Heinz Weiß became head of the medical department in 2012.

Since 2016, the Sigmund Freud Institute has been jointly headed by Vera King (executive director of the SFI in conjunction with a professorship for sociology and psychoanalytic social psychology at the University of Frankfurt), Patrick Meurs (director of the SFI in conjunction with a professorship for psychoanalysis at the University of Kassel) and Heinz Weiß (head of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine at the RBK Stuttgart) as head of the SFI’s medical department and outpatient clinic.

Already in 1995, the SFI has been transformed into a foundation under public law to exclusively dedicate itself to research in close cooperation with the University of Frankfurt and the University of Kassel. Since then, psychoanalytic training has been provided at the independent psychoanalytic (training) institutes of Frankfurt.

The SFI is funded by the state of Hesse. The institute’s objectives are research in the fields of social psychology/sociology, psychology and medicine/psychosomatics as well as the promotion of young academics.

At the institute, numerous psychoanalytical, clinical and/or socio-psychological as well as transdisciplinary research projects have been and are being initiated and realised, dealing with psychological consequences of social change in the broader sense, but also with the fundamentals of psychoanalysis or prevention and psychotherapy research – with psychoanalytical and socio-psychological analyses of the present, for example of the consequences of digitalisation and acceleration, migration and flight or transgenerational transmission of trauma, changes in families and parent-child relationships, and much more. (cf. Research).