Binswanger, Ludwig

Binswanger, Ludwig (1881-1966), a Swiss psychiatrist, sought to understand people as total human beings. This belief ran counter to the theory that humans are only organisms. Although Binswanger was influenced by the leading philosophers of his day, he never followed any one particular school of thought. Instead, he developed an original approach to psychiatry that incorporated phenomenology, existentialism, and psychoanalysis. He stressed that the most important part of therapy is the relationship between clients and therapists. Through this relationship, clients learn to take increasing responsibility for their lives and actions.

Binswanger is not commonly studied in the United States because many of his writings have not been translated into English. The philosophical nature of Binswanger's work is often considered too abstract or too distant from contemporary psychology issues. This is not true in Germany and Switzerland, however, where his work has an impact on modern-day psychiatric care in clinics, hospitals, and private practice.


Binswanger was born into a family of distinguished psychiatrists. In 1857, his grandfather founded the Bellevue Sanatorium, which became world famous. Binswanger studied at the universities of Lausanne, Heidelberg, and Zurich. After earning his medical degree from the University of Zurich in 1907, he trained at the Burghlzli Hospital in Zurich. He studied and worked under Carl Jung, an influential psychologist. In 1910, he was named president of the Zurich Psychoanalytic Society. From 1910 to 1956, Binswanger served as the chief medical director of the Bellevue Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Following his retirement in 1956, he continued to write.

Binswanger met Sigmund Freud in 1907, and the two developed a friendship that lasted until Freud's death in 1939. Binswanger dedicated his first book, Introduction to the Problems of General Psychology (1922), to his teachers Eugen Bleuler and Sigmund Freud. Another title by Binswanger, Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins (1962), was translated into English and published in an abridged version as Being-in-the-World (1963).