Sunday 1 January 2023

‘May you live to 120!’ Medard Boss (4 October 1903 – 21 December 1990). Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 287 (15 October 2023)


‘May you live to 120!’

Medard Boss

(4 October 1903 – 21 December 1990)

Boss and beyond:

from Daseinsanalysis to Diahermeneutics

Anthony Stadlen    Aleš Wotruba

conduct by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 287

Sunday 15 October 2023

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Medard Boss

Alice Holzhey-Kunz
  Martti Siirala

Anthony Stadlen    Thomas Szasz

Aleš Wotruba

The fourth of October this year is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Medard Boss (4 October 1903 – 21 December 1990), a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded Daseinsanalysis as a form, roughly speaking, of existential psychoanalytic therapy grounded in the thinking of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, and worked out in collaboration with him; though all three words – existential, psychoanalytic, therapy – were rendered questionable by this thinking. (Ludwig Binswanger had already used the term Daseinsanalysis to name his own method of psychiatric research, also intended to be grounded in Heidegger’s philosophy; but Heidegger insisted that Binswanger had to a significant extent misunderstood him.)

We marked Bosss centenary year, 2003, with two Inner Circle Seminars; and his successor, Gion Condrau, was due to conduct a third seminar on 26 October 2003,  close to the actual centenary, but was unable to do so due to illness. 

Has thinking on Bosss work progressed in the last twenty years?

The first of the two 2003 seminars examined Bosstwo books on dreams. The second explored the relation between his thinking and that of Thomas Szasz. This is how the two seminars were announced:

Medard Boss, The Analysis of Dreams (1953), 50 Years On

Inner Circle Seminar No. 66, Sunday 16 March 2003

Medard Boss was born a hundred years ago this October. Fifty years ago, he published The Analysis of Dreams, perhaps the most important twentieth-century book on dreams after Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Written in collaboration with Heidegger, it asks the simple, profound question: ‘What if there are no dream symbols at all?’


Boss and Szasz on ‘Illness’
Inner Circle Seminar No. 68, Sunday 22 June 2003 
In the second of this year’s centenary seminars devoted to the work of Medard Boss, we explore the relation between his thinking and that of Thomas Szasz. For both, the concept of freedom is crucial. But they appear to have radically different concepts of ‘illness’. In Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology (1971), written in collaboration with Heidegger, Boss defines ‘illness’ as a restriction of Da-sein’s free possibilities. For him, ‘schizophrenia’, for example, while existing only in relation to a given social situation, is an ‘illness’ of Da-sein.

For Szasz, this invalidates the ‘ill’ person as not responsible for his or her actions, and is a pretext for imprisoning the innocent and excusing the criminal. In his view, ‘illness’ can predicate only the body, not the ‘mind’, and is established by scientific medicine according to Virchow’s criteria. Are these positions in any way reconcilable? We examine key texts of both men, and seek an answer that will do justice to both.

For more than three decades Anthony Stadlen, himself a Daseinsanalyst, the Independent Effective Member for the UK of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis, has written, lectured, and conducted seminars proposing a balanced, non-idealising perspective: that Bosss Daseinsanalysis is, on the one hand, in many respects refreshing and revolutionary, but, on the other hand, limited in two important ways, which we explored in the above two and many other seminars, particularly in the last few years.

First, we have examined what the Finnish existential therapist Martti Siirala called the violent’ and absolutist assumption that the Daseinsanalyst has direct, unmediated access to phenomena and has the task of teaching this to the incorrectly seeing analysand (see, e.g., Inner Circle Seminars Nos. 63 [24 November 2002], 159 [23 January 2011], 278 [22 January 2023]).

Second, we have exposed the fact, and the consequences of the fact, that both Boss and his teacher Martin Heidegger appear to have assumed without question that Daseinsanalysis should be, and is, a medical discipline, concerned with mental health and mental illness, despite Heideggers having in 1953 answered, with a decisive No’, his own question Is the madman mentally ill?, thus in some ways anticipating Thomas Szaszs paper The Myth of Mental Illness (1960) by seven years, as we shall discuss in Inner Circle Seminar No. 292, Is the madman mentally ill?  

Szasz himself asked just what Boss meant by his question, ‘What if there are no dream symbols at all?’ Szasz endorsed Stadlens critique of Heideggers and Bosss project of medical Daseinsanalysis; but, when Stadlen lamented that this project was an unnecessary and contingent flaw of Daseinsanalysis, Szasz retorted that it was necessary’, in the sense that it could not be so easily corrected, given Heideggers and Bosss commitment to this medical ideology.


Szasz also wrote that Bosss apparent assurance to his patient Dr Cobling’, recalled by her in a letter reproduced  in his book Psychoanalysis and Daseinsanalysis (1962), that he would be available 24 hours a day to come round to her home and feed her from a babys bottle, as he did on occasion, was a sham’. However, Stadlen’s research on the case did show that Dr Cobling’, who wrote her own account of her therapy with Boss, was deeply grateful for the radical transformation she said it enabled her to undergo, resulting in greatly enhanced autonomy and spiritual fulfilment. 

Bosss close colleague and successor Gion Condrau, as well as the highly original, independent, and level-headed Daseinsanalyst Erna Hoch, who had worked for many years as a psychiatrist in India, collaborated with Stadlen in revealing in Bosss writings contradictions and what might be euphemistically called, in the language of psychiatry, confabulations’ or, in the language of literature, poetic licence’. Everything suggests that these were deliberate distortions, intended to produce a desired impression, for instance about his time in psychoanalysis with Freud, and about his discipleship in Kashmir with his guru Gobind Kaul, who was also the guru of Hoch; as well as about the superiority of Daseinsanalysis to Freudian and Jungian analysis. Condrau bluntly called his senior colleague a fantasist. However, CondrauHoch, and Stadlen all acknowledged Bosss admirable qualities.   

These and other questions about Boss are still scarcely acknowledged by most Daseinsanalysts, although Alice Holzhey-Kunz, from early on dissatisfied with daseinsanalytic orthodoxy, started an independent school of Daseinsanalysis in Zurich, still a member of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis (IFDA). 

These complexities should not obscure the fact that, as well as his now deceased paradigmatic patients Dr Cobling and Regula Zürcher (also researched by Stadlen), there are patients, supervisees, students, and colleagues of Bosss still alive today who also testify that they remain profoundly grateful to him, while being clear-sighted about his limitations.

One such important witness is Dr Aleš Wotruba of Prague, who attended some of the last Zollikon seminars conducted by Heidegger, and had a personal Daseinsanalysis and subsequent supervision with Boss. Today he will honour us with his memories and reflections on Boss and the questions we are raising.

Today we continue to value Boss for the authentic freshness of his innovations and for his stature as a therapist (in 1971 he won the Great Therapist Award of the American Psychological Association), while declining to engage in the widespread idealisation of him by Daseinsanalysts. We shall continue investigating the dialectic between the approaches of Boss and Heidegger and those of Holzhey-KunzSiirala, StadlenSzasz, WotrubaThis will mean extending our recent investigation of Heideggers decades-long suspicion of dialectic itself, and of how this appears to limit his and Bosss teaching in the Zollikon seminars and elsewhere. We repeat our suggestion made in recent seminars and conferences that these restrictions might be remedied by recalling Heideggers fleeting reference in 1919 to Diahermeneuticswhich he never pursued. We shall continue to ask whether, and how, Daseinsanalysis as conceived by Boss and Condrau might be welcomed and affirmed but also developed and transcended as Diahermeneutics.  

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175; some bursaries; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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