Self Psychology Psychoanalysis

Heinz Kohut in Austria

Heinz Kohut was born on 3 May 1913 in Vienna,and died 8 October 1981 in Chicago, where he had lived for over forty years. There has been relatively little written about his life, except for a brief biographical sketch, written by Charles Strozier(1). Other information about him can be gleaned from a thumbnail sketch of Kohut's work in Time Magazine(2), and the obituaries written by Montgomery(3) and Goldberg(4). As an only child, his precocious abilities were recognized at an early age. He was born in Vienna and spent his childhood and early adulthood there. He attended the local elementary school and later the Doblinger Gymnasium where he excelled academically, and regularly participated in sports such as track and boxing. His many references to such well-known figures as Beethoven, Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky, Horace and the like derived from his thorough grounding in a classical education that included Latin, Greek, French, science, and world literature. Kohut was tutored between the ages of 8 and 14 by a young university student. This young man played an important role in his intellectual and emotional development. Goldberg recounts a "complex and erudite" game that Kohut and his tutor would play, a version of "Guess What I'm Thinking" and "Twenty Questions." The objective of the game was to imagine what would have occurred in world history if a particular event had not taken place or a particular historical figure had not lived. For example, how would the world be different if Hannibal had not crossed the Alps or Caesar had not been assassinated? This rigourous mental game not only expanded his knowledge of history - something Kohut was noted for - but also developed observation skills similar to those that would serve him so effectively as a psychoanalyst. Such skills would evolve from the need to imagine, during this childhood exercise, what it would be like for an individual to live in a certain society or culture.

He went on to study medicine at the University of Vienna and received his medical degree there. During this time he became interested in psychoanalytic ideas and underwent an analysis with August Aichorn. In all his years in Vienna, Kohut never spoke with Freud. However, he frequently recounted having seen his "admired master" at the railroad station when Freud left Vienna to escape the Nazis in 1938. For Strozier the fondness with which Kohut told of this experience suggested "...continuities and Viennese connections...[ons...[and] a special sense of mission that he felt about psychoanalysis as a young man" (p. 6).

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