Would a psychopath make a good judge


Horst-Eberhard Richter has died

We mourn the loss of our author, long-time mentor and friend Horst-Eberhard Richter, who died on December 19, 2011 at the age of 88. For almost five decades, Richter acted as an ambassador for psychoanalysis, ensuring that psychoanalytic arguments were heard in Germany in public.

With the journal »psychosozial« he founded, which later became the Psychosozial-Verlag, and his numerous books and lectures, he sharpened his sensitivity to the importance of social and political problems in dealing with emotional emergencies. At the same time, his constructive political engagement, especially in the peace movement, encouraged and motivated many people to take their own initiatives in order to get involved in social conflicts.

Trin Haland-Wirth Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Wirth
- Psychotherapist and publisher - - Psychoanalyst and publisher -

On the death of Horst-Eberhard Richter

Hans-Jürgen Wirth

In the reading frenzy

More than 40 years ago, in the summer of 1970, I was not yet 20 years old, Horst-Eberhard Richters pulled me Patient family into a real reading frenzy. Next to Sigmund Freuds Lectures to introduce psychoanalysis and Erich Fromms The fear of freedom This book gave me a reading experience that I hadn't had since the days of reading Hermann Hesse. A new world opened up for me, and my curiosity was awakened to make the psychoanalytic exploration of the complex relationships between psyche and society (Richter had not yet coined the term "psychosocial" at the time) the center of my further life. What I read at Richter seemed - in religious terms - almost like a revelation. I actually still remember that afternoon of reading because suddenly my family and my associated fears and conflicts were so open to me. Since then, the question of what holds the psychosocial world together has not let go of me.


Born on April 28, 1923 in Berlin, Horst-Eberhard Richter grew up as an only child. He describes his mother as a very emotional woman who clung to him strongly. Richter experiences his father, a successful engineer and department head of a large company, as a "quiet, withdrawn brooder". After the Hitler Youth and labor service, Richter was drafted into the military at the age of 18 and served in an artillery regiment at the front in Russia. Shortly before his troops were transferred to Stalingrad, he fell critically ill with diphtheria. At the age of 22 he was taken prisoner of war and only found out on his return of the death of his parents, who had been murdered by two drunk Russians two months after the end of the war on a walk near their village.

After studying medicine, philosophy and psychology in Berlin, Richter received his doctorate in 1949. phil. and in 1957 Dr. med. In 1950 he began his psychoanalytic training at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, which he completed in 1954. Five years later, in 1959, Richter became head of this institute and held this position until 1962. At the age of just 41, he was elected chairman of the German Psychoanalytical Association (DPV) in 1964 and remained in this position until 1968.

Parents, child and neurosis

In 1963, a year after he was appointed to the second German chair for psychosomatic medicine, alongside that of Alexander Mitscherlich in Heidelberg, Horst-Eberhard Richter published his book Parents, child and neurosis. On the psychoanalysis of the child's role in the family, which, curiously, had been rejected as a habilitation thesis. Richter becomes professor without habilitation and for three decades managing director of the Center for Psychosomatic Medicine at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. In the years that followed, his book became an influential basic work for the new psychoanalytic treatment method of family therapy, which he was the first to develop in German-speaking countries. On the basis of his experience as a senior physician (1952 to 1962) of the "Advisory and Research Center for Mental Disorders in Childhood" at the Berlin Children's Hospital in the Wedding district, he formulated his psychoanalytic theory, which allows the misconduct of children to be unconsciously as symptomatic expression Understanding conflicts that the parents or the whole family are suffering from. "The role of the child," writes Richter (1963, p. 73), "is thus determined by the importance it has in the context of the parents' attempt to cope with their own conflict." The child's conflict is caused by the " Parents' narcissistic projections onto the child ”(Richter 1960) - that is the title of his essay in Yearbook of Psychoanalysis, to whose editorial team he belonged until his death.

These thoughts are so familiar to us today that one can hardly imagine how revolutionary - and thus both attractive and irritating - they must have had an effect both on the psychoanalytic professional world and on the interested lay public. If one compares psychoanalytic couples and family therapy with other forms of applied psychoanalysis, such as group therapy or child and adolescent psychotherapy, couples and family therapy still does not find the recognition it should have received from the psychoanalytical specialist societies. The concepts of therapy for couples and families can certainly be seen as early forerunners of the psychoanalytic schooling that is relevant today, known as "relational psychoanalysis". The theoretical pioneer of relational psychoanalysis, the American psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell, does refer to the fundamental importance of couple dynamics again and again in his books, but without taking the obvious step towards the couples therapeutic setting.

As Richter in 1970, he wrote his second fundamental book on psychoanalytic family therapy Patient family. Origin, structure and therapy of conflicts in marriage and family published, he is already a well-known author and psychoanalytic family therapy, the nestor of which he can be considered in Germany, is well on the way to becoming an influential psychotherapeutic concept. While Richter with his main theoretical work Parents, child and neurosis breaks new scientific ground, it unfolds in Patient family his mastery as an eloquent author who knows how to describe emotional suffering with psychoanalytic empathy and how to place it in its dynamic relationships and social contexts.

Hope for a new way to free yourself and others

Personally, I got to know Horst-Eberhard Richter in 1970 at the beginning of my psychology studies as part of a student initiative group that is active in the socio-political and socio-educational field in the Gießen homeless settlement "Eulenkopf". Like many of my emerging generation, I am drawn to Richter's thoughts and his books published in the 1970s The group (1972), Solidarity as a learning objective (1974), Escape or withstand (1976) and Dedicated analysis (1978) accompanied me during these years. The group has the subtitle Hope for a new way to free yourself and others. Psychoanalysis in cooperation with group initiatives. This book is an expression of the intellectual and cultural climate of the early 1970s and at the same time offers interpretations and reflections in order to better understand the turning point that began in 1968 and the associated psychosocial reorientation and to be able to use it for shaping one's own life. Richter is not a supporter of the anti-authoritarian student movement of the years 68/69, but a sympathizer of the gentler initiative, alternative and ecological movement of the 1970s and the peace movement of the 1980s. It picks up on the spirit of optimism of the 1970s, but also reflects the internal fractures, the exaggerated demands that we make of ourselves and of others, and in this way helps us to come to more realistic political concepts. This is what made his book so important at the time.

Unlike most of the authors of the time who dealt with the phenomenon of the group, Richter recognized its political as well as its psychological and psychotherapeutic significance. He made it clear that this is actually a social reinvention: the type of spontaneous, hierarchy-free group that organizes itself through the means of self-reflection is indeed a social novelty created by the emancipatory part of the youth and student movement has been.

For Richter, psychoanalysis is not only a method of treatment in depth psychology, but, and perhaps first of all, an instrument for enlightening a science of man and society that is socially analytically understood. In the years 1972 to 1981 alone, he wrote the five books which ushered in this new era of a holistic concept of psychoanalysis and which became compulsory reading for a wide range of politically enlightened citizens.

Psychiatry Reform

Far-reaching innovations in the field of psychosocial counseling and therapy emanate from the socio-political experiments of the 1970s and the new working approaches of the initiative, spontaneous and self-help groups, from which Richter is inspired and which he in turn stimulates. The reflection on the psychological and social requirements of illness and therapy and the development of a psychosocial concept of health and illness are hardly conceivable without the critical impulses from the initiative group movement. At the beginning of the 1970s it is almost exclusively critical students who turn to the disadvantaged groups of society, the domestic children, homeless people, psychiatric patients, etc., awaken the conscience of society and force both the public and the specialist disciplines to grapple with these repressed problem areas . Richter is significantly involved in the reform of German psychiatry and social psychiatry, for which he received the Theodor Heuss Prize in 1980. The »Psychosocial Working Group« recommended in the Psychiatry Enquête as a model for the regional self-organization of psychosocial care services, for example, is included at Richter's suggestion and is designed entirely according to the model of the initiative group. Richter's ability to learn something from all of his partners and to transfer the knowledge gained in one field to other contexts is one of his great strengths. After having learned something about the creativity of spontaneous groups with low hierarchies in the initiative group, Richter immediately tries to to integrate something of the free spirit that characterizes these initiative groups into the institutional structure of its psychosomatic center and also the »psychosocial working group« in Giessen.

»Psychosocial«: from magazine to publisher

Through his countless books, articles, lectures and interviews, Richter makes a significant contribution to ensuring that these future-oriented experiments do not remain individual phenomena. Thanks to his function as mediator, ambassador, interpreter and critical companion of the "New Social Movements" - which include the women's, ecology and peace movements - they are the forerunners of a change in consciousness that has significantly shaped our society.

His journalistic activities also include the establishment of the magazine psychosocial, in whose editorial group Richter brings me early. Out psychosocial Later emerged the Psychosozial-Verlag, which I founded and which Richter supports by giving us his books of success for secondary use. Then come as first editions The crisis of masculinity in the adult society (2006) and The mental illness peacelessness is curable (2008) out. In this respect, Richter is the namesake of the Psychosozial-Verlag, which is committed to the conception of psychoanalysis he advocates.

Psychoanalysis and Empirical Research

Richter also played a pioneering role with regard to the cooperation between psychoanalysis and empirical psychology: together with Dieter Beckmann, he developed a personality test as early as the early 1970s, in the conception of which psychoanalytically relevant categories were given special weight.

This psychological test procedure is called the Giessen test (Beckmann / Richter 1972). It is used in numerous studies, e.g. B. also in the pioneering study on "cardiac neurosis" for psychosomatic medicine (Richter, Beckmann 1969). The Giessen test is still one of the most frequently used questionnaires for psychodiagnostics in German-speaking countries. Together with Elmar Brähler, Richter periodically conducts surveys with which the mood and attitudes of the population are ascertained. The Giessen test has been cited in well over 1,000 publications to date. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages. With the help of this test, the name Gießen is literally carried around the world - at least in the psychological world.

The existence of a psychoanalytically founded test, which is also recognized by the methodologists of empirical psychology, allows entire generations of psychoanalytically oriented researchers to gain scientific qualifications in empirical psychology without having to give up their psychoanalytic orientation. Many psychoanalytic colleagues owe their scientific careers not least to the Giessen test and thus Richter's early opening of psychoanalysis to empirical research. The Giessen test is also frequently used in psychotherapy research. As early as the 1970s, under Richter's direction, we conducted psychotherapy progress research and catamnestic studies, in which we investigated the effectiveness of psychotherapy, for example that of short-term therapy for couples (cf. Richter / Wirth 1978). In the meantime, under the pressure of the health reform and in the increased competition with other psychotherapeutic methods, psychoanalysis has been forced to face psychotherapy success research.

Peace Movement and IPPNW

Richter was involved in the peace movement as early as 1980 and in 1981 was one of the main founders of the West German Section of Doctors Against Nuclear War (IPPNW). It influences the political and content-related orientation of the German IPPNW right from the start towards grassroots democracy and collegial cooperation. Engagement in the peace movement is gaining more and more weight in Richter's life.He wrote the famous "Frankfurt Declaration" in which every signatory declares with his signature to refuse any military medical training and further education. In a slightly modified form, as "New Physicians’ Oath ", this declaration will be adopted by the World Federation after Richter introduced it at the 2nd IPPNW World Congress in Cambridge. In 1985, when the nuclear arms race reached its climax, the International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War - and with them Horst-Eberhard Richter - received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize is probably the highest honor one can receive. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the award. Especially in the German government of that time under Helmut Kohl, there was great outrage that an organization that was called "Moscow-controlled" was being honored in this way. Richter always distances himself from being appropriated by false friends, but conversely, he does not allow himself to be diverted from his own path by suspicions.

In 1987, his involvement in peace politics at the international level brought Richter into contact with a working group under the patronage of Mikhail Gorbachev. The Russian nuclear scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, ex-US defense minister and World Bank boss Robert McNamara and the founder of Greenpeace, David McTaggart, belong to this association, which works “for a world free of nuclear weapons and for the survival of mankind” . Richter brought one of the projects that this group started to his clinic: It was about a psychological examination in which 1,400 students from the Justus Liebig University in Giessen and 1,000 Moscow students discussed their attitudes, political opinions, wishes and fears be interviewed. Of course, the casting test is also used. The central result of this study - which takes place before the end of the Cold War, before the fall of the Berlin Wall - indicates that young Russians and Germans are psychologically much closer and have far fewer prejudices about each other than official politics suggests . Richter published the results in the book in 1990 Russians and Germans. Old enemy images give way to new hopes. The word hope appears again in one of his book titles.

When the peace movement was declared dead by the media after the NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1999, in response to this, Richter, together with the IPPNW, organized the »Culture of Peace« congress (Richter 1999): The large number of participants demonstrates that the peace movement in Germany has changed, but has by no means died.

"Remembering helps prevent"

The reminiscent of the National Socialist past is the central motif for Richter's political commitment. Already with Parents, child and neurosis Richter had formulated a theoretical concept with which the unconscious entanglements of the generations, the transgenerational transmission of trauma and unconscious conflicts could be psychoanalytically understood. The concept of the transgenerational transmission of trauma was only to be coined by Holocaust research many years later, but the underlying psychological and relationship dynamics were conceptually understood by Richter as early as the early 1960s. In retrospect, he and other authors saw this coincidence in the same way. It is noteworthy, however, that Richter was also not clear at the time about the overarching historical-political significance of his parent-child concept. The Holocaust and the other crimes of National Socialism were so separated from the general consciousness that they could not be discussed. In Patient family the latent threat posed by the denied subject of National Socialism is even more urgent, without it having been deliberately addressed. The massive spread of fear-neurotic family structures that Richter noted for the fifties and sixties can be traced back, according to the considerations of Tilman Moser (1995), to the »commandments of silence« about the »horrors of the past«. In order not to have to confront the National Socialist past, many families "clung to the illusion of a peaceful, good, orderly world with the help of avoidance and denial tactics" (Richter 1970) and organized their family coexistence along the lines of a harmonious and conflict-free world Sanatorium. For the relationship between parents and their children, this meant that they were fearfully overprotected and phobically bound. The youth and protest movement of the sixties can also be understood as an uprising against this overprotective and restrictive paternalism and as the first emotionally significant thematization of the denied German past.

It was only in connection with the rearmament debate and the renewed arms race between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the early 1980s that Richter became fully aware of the atrocities of World War II, his own war experiences and the inhumanity of National Socialism. Richter coined the motto "remembering helps prevent" under which the German section of the "International Doctors for the Prevention of a Nuclear War" (IPPNW) placed their 1985 campaign, with which they made the public discussion and confrontation with the National Socialist past a central concern their struggle to end the arms race. This is based on the idea that preoccupation with the crimes of National Socialism could sensitize our perception to the psychological and social circumstances that cause the "mental illness peacetime" (a formulation that Richter adopts from Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker [1967]). Our ability to make peace today - so is Richter's consideration - depends crucially on the willingness to remember and to keep in mind the crimes committed by the Germans against the Jews and against the neighboring peoples, as well as, conversely, the active advocacy of overcoming confrontation between the military blocs and preoccupation with the psychological and social conditions of paranoid friend-foe thinking almost inevitably lead to one beginning to grapple with the National Socialist past. In this respect, Richter ties in with the famous one Time diagnosis Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlichs from the Inability to grieve (1967), but applies this to a social therapeutic concept that originally follows psychoanalytic experiences: the reminiscent processing of the traumatic past also frees on the collective level from the compulsion to repeat the old traumas and opens up new spaces for thought and action.

Understand the RAF?

It is part of the central task of the psychoanalyst to deal with the dark, the repressed, even the evil and destructive sides of human life. Since a deeper psychological understanding is only possible if one empathizes and emotionally comprehends the other, the misunderstanding often arises for outsiders that understanding is to be equated with justification, even with partisanship. When Richter looked after the ex-terrorist Birgit Hogefeld in prison, he was accused of being an »RAF-understudy« and thus - at least indirectly - justifying her terrorist acts. In reality, however, Richter wants to enable the return to society through the compassionate understanding of the former terrorist.

Psychoanalysis as a social philosophy

Richter not only has his theoretical interests, but also his practical research strategies and, finally, his attempts to influence the individual on the relationship between two people, from there to the family, from the family to the group, from the group to the neighborhood and the regional psychosocial care systems expanded to help social movements, political decision-makers (The fine art of corruption), the interaction between peoples (Russians and Germans) and finally with philosophical considerations (The god complex) arrive. The god complex (1979) is his main psychoanalytical-social-philosophical work, in which he, on Parents, child and neurosis building on Sigmund Freud's concept of the "prosthetic god" from the Discomfort in culture (1933) developed his understanding of the basic problem of modern man. Richter's far-reaching thesis begins with the transition from the religious security of the Middle Ages to the enlightened modern age. After losing the medieval filiation with God, man fled into identification with divine omnipotence and omniscience. Belief in God was replaced by belief in the omnipotence of man. »The ego's grandiose self-certainty has taken the place of the security in the great, idealized parent figure. The individual ego becomes the image of God. ”The attempt to overcome the darker side of life - old age, illness, frailty, weakness, impotence and ultimately death - by exaggerating the opposite qualities - youthfulness, health, fitness, strength, power and contempt for death - denial is what Richter describes as an "illness of not being able to suffer". But if you don't want to suffer, you have to hate and look for scapegoats onto which you can project your own denied weaknesses, that is his psychoanalytically founded conclusion.

Ambassador of psychoanalysis

It takes great courage and strong self-confidence to cope with the threat of social isolation and ostracism, which judges from the professors' group of doctors, but sometimes also from his colleagues in psychoanalysis, often face. By persistently confronting these colleagues, he gains the strength to distance himself from the constraints and prohibitions of thinking that the various roles entail. What I particularly appreciate about Richter is that he is an innovator in psychoanalytic thinking, who has not broken off contact with psychoanalysis, who has not founded a more or less sectarian school of his own, as has so often happened in the history of psychoanalysis. Rather, he let his thoughts flow into the stream of psychoanalytic discussion. Significantly, it is he who, after his retirement in Giessen, takes over the management of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt, which is threatened with closure, from 1992 to 2002 and leads it into a secure future.

In public, Richter acts as an ambassador for psychoanalysis, who in Germany, alongside Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, has contributed like no other to ensuring that psychoanalytic arguments are heard in public. With his publications, which are aimed at a broad readership, he pursues a kind of "psychoanalytic public education", which was part of the self-image of many psychoanalysts in the early days of the psychoanalytic movement. Both psychoanalysis in Germany and the general public owe a great deal to the »psychoanalytic publicist« Richter: He made countless people aware of the fact that there is such a thing as psychoanalysis and psychotherapeutic help for their mental problems. On the other hand, the psychoanalytic community would also be poorer without the "political psychoanalyst" Richter: His books and ideas have sharpened our sensitivity to the importance of social and political problems in dealing with our unconscious conflicts and made it clear that psychoanalysis is not a societal one Space exists. At the same time, his constructive political engagement encourages and motivates many people - outside and within psychoanalysis - to take their own initiatives in order to interfere in social conflicts.

Horst-Eberhard Richter as a charismatic

But how did Horst-Eberhard Richter manage to remain so consistently and influential in the public debate over a period of almost 50 years, with such stressful topics as marginalized groups, prejudices and war? This is related to a quality that sociologist Max Weber calls charisma. The charismatic personality is surrounded by a special aura that has a motivating and fascinating effect on others. Charismatic personalities have a vision of a better future, they have self-confidence, determination and perseverance, they have an extraordinary willingness to take risks and do not shy away from personal risks, they live their vision, act as mouthpieces for the community and are stimulating communicators who deliver their messages convey in an imaginative and emotionally appealing way. Like no other, Richter embodies the belief and hope for a better, more peaceful and just world, even if he often dresses this utopia in one question: Are We Capable of Peace? (1980) or: Is another world possible? (2003). Richter has therefore often been ridiculed as a "do-gooder". This annoyed and offended him, but he also understood this designation as a distinction and played the role of the "admonisher", the "do-gooder", the "conscience of the nation", even the "psychotherapist of the nation" (Johannes Rau) felt comfortable.

Horst-Eberhard Richter was not only the admonisher who denounced social grievances, but also the herald of the principle of hope, who drafts concrete models of how something can be turned for the better. It is this special combination of warning criticism and hopeful optimism that has given so many people such a positive response to his messages.