L. Szondi

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The Latin Section

The History of the Szondi Movement in Sweden,

(a subjective description by Leo Berlips, leg. psyk., leg.psykoterapeut, psykodramadirector)

Rolf Kenmo, the main driving force behind the creation of a Swedish Szondi group asked me in August 2000 to document my memories of the history of the Szondi movement in Sweden. He sent me the following questions.

1. Why did you interest yourself in Szondi´s theory?

2. When and how did you start to learn about the theory?

3. Did you find your knowledge of Szondi’s theory useful?

4: Did you meet Szondi or Achtnich and how did you react on their way of being?

5. How did your Szondi contact net develop during the last years?

6. How do you expect the future of the Szondi movement in Sweden to be?

Question 1. Why did you interest yourself in Szondi’s theory?

At the time I answer these questions I am a senior of eighty years and looking back I can only make the conclusion that my interest in Szondi’s theory was in advance decided by the forces of my personal destiny. It became for me the most important chain in the story of my professional development. To illustrate this I will give herewith some details of this long story.

Already around 1934, at the age of 14/15 I started to collect clippings and pictures from newspapers which described unusual behaviour. I tried to classify them in different sections, murder, depression, crazy (!) people etc. At the same time I tried also to find some kind of answer to my personal problems by reading cheap booklets about psychology, which I bought at the street corner kiosks.

Other contact with psychology I got by listening to “the radio doctor”, a psychiatrist who discussed human problems. He was then in thirties the ideal of all the working class women, who often lived in sordid poor conditions with husbands who did not understood them. My mother admired him and this doctor became somewhat of an ideal identification object for me. I wanted to become a psychologist to understand people, help them (and myself).

My intellectual horizon started to lighten up by reading Freud’s “Introduction to psychoanalysis”, when I was 15 /16, around 1935. In this book I found some solid answers on how to understand human problems. In those days it were mainly the graphologists who presented a differentiated description of personality and characterlogy. With great interest I read some introduction books in this field.

I remember that I also found in one of these books a reference to Wilhelm Reich’s: “Character Analyse”, that described a psychoanalytical viewpoint about character development. (In this book is also a reference to how Reich used already “primal therapy). First thirty years later I could get hold of his book, by then it had become the starting point for the development of biogenetic therapy forms. Moreover Wilhelm Reich had in the sixties, become one of the ideal figures for the revolutionary students, especially in France, due to his viewpoints about sexual liberation. However I am proud to mention that already at the end of the thirties Wilhelm Reich was well know in small groups of young workers in Amsterdam. They were mainly Dutch syndicalists, who spread his ideas by stencilling main parts of his works. I remember myself having contributed to this by assisting many Saturday evenings, working at a stencil apparatus!

From this time I remember also how around 37/38 I started to plough through the 700 pages of Jung’s “Psychologische Typen”, written in German. In these days and probably based on the reading of some of the articles on psychoanalysis, I decided that a study of early childhood might be important. As a 17 years boy I went so far as to enregister and to join a short course for young mothers about baby care! Quite by hazard (?) I got a book in my hands about “Child psychology”. In this book I read for the first time a reference to a personality test: the “Rorschach test”. (for more info about this test see: http://www.phil.gu.se/fu/ro.html).

By saving my pocket money I could buy Rorschach’s original book “Psychodiagnostik” in German and ordered also the test itself. I was then 16/17 years of age. The owner of the bookshop informed me later that it was the fourth (!) Rorschach test, that was imported into the Netherlands. It gives me a nice feeling that I discovered the Rorschach test earlier then many of the prominent psychiatrists in Holland. Anyhow I studied in detail Rorschach’s instruction book and have still a little Cahier with my notes from these days.

At the University in Utrecht there existed in those days already a department for the study of para-psychological (occult) problems. The docent Dr. Tenhaeffe, who was in charge, became an international well-known specialist in this field. His book about this subject I read with great interest and became still more interested in psychology.

I think his book was the reason that I started to experiment with hypnosis. In those days Dr. Berthold Stokvis wrote the best-known professional introduction to hypnosis. He studied at the Leiden University under Prof. Carp, who was a specialist in psychiatry. It might interest you to learn that Prof. Carp already in 1936 was one of the few University teachers in Europe who dared to show openly his appreciation of psychoanalysis, which was very unusual in those days. One of his textbooks on psychiatry was about Freud’s theory of neuroses.

Dr. Stokvis discovered a suggestion method based on the physiological visual reaction when one looks at the midfield between two colour strips. (one blue, the other yellow). A normal reaction in such case is that the subject gradually starts to see a green colour in the midfield. Stokvis used this to focus the subject’s concentration on one spot and to prove to the subject that his instructions were having effect. I made successfully several experiments with this method. However I created my own technique (!), also based on a normal sensory reaction, by putting a hidden electrical stove behind the subjects, which I gradually could turn on. By suggesting the subject that he would feel more and more warm I got the same results! They experienced the warmth as a result of my instruction.

I wrote to Stokvis about my “discovery”. He worked at a psychiatric hospital and I was invited to explain my method to him. He received me there together with his staff. They were probably very curious to know what an uneducated rascal had to tell them. My main memory of this meeting is that I asked them for advice how I could realise my dream to become a psychologist. As I had not even finished the most elementary secondary school (I never did!) they could not tell me much more than to go to a gymnasium or to try to become psychiatric nurse instead. I never got their psychiatric diagnosis of me (sic).

My experiments with hypnosis ended abruptly when I got a borderline artist as a subject, who quite unexpectedly came into a kind of psychotic twilight state. I became dead scared and stopped with my experiments.

However having the famous Dutch entrepreneur mentality I let make a shield on the door of our home, with my name and the title Psychologist on it. To be honest it did not help me much. I never got any paying clients (I suppose they were lucky). The only exception was that, thanks to this shield, I impressed the girl who initiated me in what sex meant. So it had still some effect!

The war and the first ten years afterwards meant for me no more time for psychology studies neither for the luxury of having a personal neurosis. Instead I lived a very dangerous life, with many adventures, illegally crossing frontiers, short prison period in Germany, etc. etc. After the war I worked in different countries etc. as a newspaper photographer, hotel porter, tour conductor etc. It was only after my arriving in Sweden in 1956 that I could seriously start again studying psychology.

Question 2. Why and how did you start to learn about Szondi’s theory?

Even here I think I need to give some kind of introduction. In 1956, when I was 36 years, I met a Swedish woman, who invited me to come from the Netherlands to Sweden where I arrived in autumn 1956. Sweden was in those days for a Dutchman somewhat like America, in the way that it was very easy to get a well-paid job. In the evening I worked in a restaurant and made in a few hours a lot of money. During my free time during the day I started again, “for fun”, to read and study books about psychoanalysis. It was around this time, at the end of the fifties, that I got to know about Szondi. I found in a bookshop some folders about Szondi, published by the famous Swiss editor “Huber Verlag ”. They were specialists in psychiatric and psychological literature. I got interested and ordered some of Szondi’s standard works in German, some of them of more than 500 pages.

Around this time, when I had no work at the restaurant during the summer, there was such a lack of hospital personal that I easily could get a job in a hospital as a caretaker. My main task was to sit aside very serious ill people and regularly check their pulse and blood pressure. This did not take more than a few minutes, each 15 minutes, the rest of the time I could study Szondi’s books. Often I worked many days in one stretch from 7.00 in the morning to 23.00 in the evening. It was in this way I studied and worked through, with great enthusiasm, the main works of Szondi.


Question 3: “Was your investment in learning the Szondi´s theory worthwhile?”

My answer is a very positive yes. Although I accept the possibility of Szondi´s gene theory and the familiar inconsciousness, Szondi’s conclusions were for me in the first place a confirmation of the value of Freud’s psychoanalytical concepts. As I already before have pointed out, Szondi’s “drive diagram” gave me a possibility to fill in Freud’s rather abstract psychoanalytical concepts with a concrete content.

For instance when interpreting projective tests, e.g. a Rorschach protocol I interpreted the results within a general “Szondi- psychoanalytical” framework. In other words I used the knowledge that lays implicit in Szondi’s famous drive-diagram as a psychoanalytical compass that helped me to get a very practical overview (orientation).

As Prof. Schotte later has shown, Szondi´s theory can also be seen or interpreted as a kind of psychoanalytical psychiatry. Schotte developed this idea in a research program with had as its main object the use of

“the principle of an analysis of the possibilities of the human existence, through its difficulties and suffering (pathic)”.

This theoretical orientation (current) is described as the “Pathoanalytical School of Louvain".

Dr. Bob Maebe gives a short description of its content with the following words:

>This "school" prefers to continue the psychoanalytic lecture of Szondi's scheme, putting aside the biological basis. It favours a further exploration of the analytic fundaments, especially the structural value of the drive scheme (Triebsystem). This analysis of Szondi's oeuvre disclosed its fundamental coherence and heuristic sense for the analysis both of a particular existence as well as for human existence in general. This "tour de force" was accompanied by a rethinking of the whole field of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. It took place in the shadow of another powerful challenge in analysis, developed by Jacques Lacan in Paris, although less aimed at creating disruptive effects, even if it did not less promote radical reorientations in the theory and practice of both psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

These developments - aimed at the disclosure of the play and nature of the basic elements at work in every existence bear the seeds of an "antropo-psychiatry": to understand better man and man's existence through its pathological experiences, and rediscovering the fundamentally human dimension in every form of mental suffering<

As such and in this way Szondi’s theory has been of great positive and practical importance in my everyday work. It has very much enriched me as a person and given me a better insight in human nature.

Question 4: Did you meet Szondi or Achtnich and how did you react on their way of being?

To answer this question I have again to refer to my personal Schicksal (Fate) because these meetings are also a part of my earlier development. When in Sweden, working in a restaurant around the end of the fifties, I met a young man who told me he would start studying psychology at the Gothenburg University. That sounded – then - like a dream to me. He informed me that, although I had no high school certificates, even I could get a permission to follow the psychology lectures at the University as a none- official attendant. (ascultant, auditeur).

I registered as such, at the department of psychology in Gothenburg, and studied at daytime, working in the evening. Most of my study time I concentrated on studying personality analysis, projective techniques and especially Szondi’s books.

In this period I met Docent Dr. Gösta Fröbärj, teacher in Rorschach techniques. He promised me a great future if I would seriously continue my studies in psychology. We became friends and he introduced me into a circle of psychologists who were interested in depth psychology. At last I had come in stimulating company and could exchange ideas with them, I was then already about 38 years of age.

During this time I read a Swiss book about an abbreviated Rorschach test, the ZULLIGER test, that consist of only three tables. I got interested in this Z-test because I had observed that many professionals found projective testing much too time consuming. (The average time a Swedish psychiatrist can take to meet a patient is about 15 minutes, if he wants to keep up his time schedule)


Experimenting with the Z-test I found out that, notwithstanding the shortened time for registration, it might give the same basic information as the complete Rorschach. This was made possible by applying psychoanalytical concepts to the Rorschach responses ( as described by Roy Schafer and Dr. Fritz Salomon).

I became convinced that the Z-test showed an optimum relation between the registration time and the information one could get out of it. In contrast to the Rorschach test, that takes about 45 minutes to register, while the Z-test takes only about 15 minutes. Another great advantage was that the interpretation of the Z-test takes also less time.

One of the university teachers introduced me to Bo Lindquist, the managing director of a big company for applied psychology. This firm employed already then 60 psychologists who worked mainly as vocational selection counsellors. I told him that the Z-test could save his company a lot of time and money, but although I got a friendly reception he did not believe me.

However fortunately for me, only a few months later a Swiss psychologist, Heinz R. SCHMIDT, published a dissertation for a Doctors degree titled:

"Der Zulliger-Test in der Berufsberatung" = “the Z-test in vocational selection”, that proved that my reasoning was right. That book became my passport to enter this company. After I showed this book to the director he gave me a possibility to show how to use the Z-test, notwithstanding that I had not yet any official certificate as a psychologist. In this firm, I became soon specialised in projective technique interpretation.

My successes depended mainly on the fact that the other psychologists up till then never were much interested in studying psychoanalysis. Referring to this period I often state that I lived on my intuition, for I had not yet any official degree. However thanks to my successful work I got already within six months the same salary as the certified psychologists. My colleagues, who knew about my interest for projective test interpretation, started to send me their projective test registrations of problematic cases. Based on their registrations I often worked out successfully blind-diagnostic reports. I enjoyed myself very much doing this kind of work.

Due to the fact that I spoke several foreign languages some time later I was often sent to assist local researchers (sociologists and psychologists) in other European countries when our company started with market research for big Swedish companies.

When afterwards these companies decided to open up offices abroad and needed new employees I got the commission to travel abroad and assist in selecting new employees. (“Selection des cadres”). My international background was a great asset for me. During many years I travelled regularly by plane to France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. My job existed generally in selecting the person with the best qualifications out of about five to eight persons.

As the applicants often came from different parts of these countries and could only be present one day at the main office I did not get much time to work with them. I got an average time – at most - of one and a half-hour pro person. However I did not interview them, the manager did this part. I worked only with my projective test battery. My experience of blind diagnostics was of course a great asset to me for this kind of work.

My short test battery was composed of 1) the Z-test, (which I exposed two times during the same registration). 2) some short graphological tests: e.g. drawing a fruit tree or drawing a person 3) some colour tests, e.g the Lüscher colour test or the more extended Frieling colour test and 4) an abbreviated type of the TAT test: “the Four pictures test” and 5) if possible three Szondi test registrations. Sometimes when I did not get enough time I had made a double check of my conclusions by sending a handwriting example to a Swiss graphologist.

Since the beginning of my work at this big company I tried to introduce the ideas of Szondi to my colleagues. One of the main assistants to our director, Lars-Erik Liljeqvist, who had a gift for practical application and paedagogical explanation of test, became interested in Szondi’s ideas. He started to discuss with me if we could not make a “vocational choice” -questionnaire, based on the affinity between specific occupations and the eight Szondi factors.

However only shortly after he started to experiment with such a questionnaire, I think it was around 1964, I read in the publication of the Szondi Institute: “Szondiana”, that a certain Dr. Martin Achtnich had started experimenting with a vocational selection test made of pictures, which he had ordered according to the eight Szondi factors. (This was later to become the “BBT”- test (Berufs Beratungs Test).

Due to the difficulties I had met trying to introduce Szondi’s ideas to Swedish psychologists I got very enthusiastic when I read Achtnich’s adaptation of Szondi’s difficult psychiatric concepts into a “everyday language”. At the same time both Lars-Erik Liljeqvist and I understood that Achtnich test might become one of the main instruments in our work. (This was the reason that Liljeqvist and I stopped to continue his development of a Szondi questionnaire. (It was first around 1985 that Rolf Kenmo, an industrial consultant in Stockholm, started together with Liljeqvist, to continue creating such a questionnaire. See:


After having read Achtnich’s article I became so enthusiastic that I did not want to wait to write him a letter but immediately sent a telegram to him, asking for a possibility to meet him. Just in those days a Szondi congress was planned to be held in Zurich. It was then that we met the first time. At this congress I met also for the first time Szondi himself and Prof. Schotte, who later developed Pathoanalyse, a new way of interpretation of Szondi’s theories.

To be present at this congress was for me very inspiring. Although to be honest I felt sometimes like a cat between the ermines meeting all these brilliant psychiatrists from different countries, as I had not finished yet my studies and had no formal certificate whatsoever.

I remember still very well my first meeting with Achtnich. I was waiting for him in a small typical Weinstube in Zurich when he entered. My first impression of him was that he looked like a Russian scientist. When I some time later mentioned this to him he told me that his grandparents were Russian Jews, who had emigrated to Switzerland where they became owners of a factory.

He told me also that at the time my telegram arrived he found himself in a deep depression. He had then already invested more than 100.000 Swiss francs in his research and his wife wanted him to finish with this project. He told me later that the enthusiastic content in this telegram from a foreign country gave him suddenly unexpected new stimuli and a new hope to dare to continue developing his test.

After his divorce at the end of the sixties Achtnich went to America where he studied the new age therapies. Through him I got regularly the latest news about the beginnings of Gestalt therapy, the use of Psychodrama, the “Guided Daydream” (rêve éveillé), bio-energetics, sensitivity training etc. After two years in the USA he returned to Switzerland in 1973. His vocational picture test was then completed.

I had then the good luck to be able to get some extra holidays from my firm and spent nearly two months in Zurich. I was present when Achtnich opened a new Psychotherapy Centrum in Zuerich, called: “the Phoenix House”. Thanks to his generosity I could live there. During the day I studied at ease, reading books about Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” and during the night I was present when Martin worked with his different groups and demonstrated some of these new therapeutic techniques.

I accompanied him several times to the countryside where he did extra research about people’s reactions to his pictures. After this long stay I visited him several times during the next thirty five years in Winterthur, where he lived together with his new wife Heidi Achtnich.

Martin Achtnich was a very quiet and friendly person with a slight depressive tendency. Although we were rather great contrasts in our personality make up we became great friends. Our friendship lasted to his death nearly thirty-five years later. We regularly exchanged letters about our experiences and development. For me his death in 1996 was a great loss. He was a very inspiring person and a great psychologist and he has contributed much to my development as a psychologist.

As for Szondi:

I met Szondi only three times under relatively short periods during the international Szondi conferences in Zürich, at the end of the sixties and in the seventies. My meetings with him were of a formal and superficial character and therefore I really got no chance to know him well personally. However Szondi was generous enough to give me permission to be present in some of the more restricted discussion groups. Of course I felt honoured, although I suppose it might also depend somewhat on the fact that he appreciated that someone of such an exotic country as Sweden was represented.

However by way of the Rorschach specialist Ewald Bohm and Martin Achtnich I got more information about him. Something I remember very well was when Bohm told me that when he and Szondi once visited together a common friend in a hospital, Szondi took the picture standing on the table at the side of the bed and started suddenly to give a description of the main events of the live of the person on this picture. In my opinion Szondi was a true visionary with a capacity for clair voyance and a person with an extremely well developed self-discipline that showed up in his infatigable work capacity.

My great respect for Szondi and for the positive influence he had on my professional and personal development I try to express in my work, spreading his ideas by way of the Szondi Forum.

Question 5. “How did your Szondi contact net develop during the last years?”

After I stopped working as a psychotherapist in 1996. I got “at last” time enough to take up my international contacts with other Szondians. To do this in an effective way I started to develop the Szondi Forum on the Internet. Up till today (00 01 09) the amount of the Forum visitors, registered today is nearly 13.500, but as we in the beginning did not register any visitors, the real amount ought to have been more than 15.000. It shows that the Forum really filled a vacuum and is of value as a source of information.

For me personally, thanks to the Forum, I have been able during the last years to correspond with quite a lot of interesting people from all over the world. It all started with a contact with a Japanese psychology professor,who was to become my very best friend Takahisa Yamashita. (He visted me two times in Sweden and my youngest son spent his last holiday in his family over there). So I can without exaggeration answer this question by stating that my contact net during the last years has increased more and more. However unfortunately due to my age I have gradually to reduce the time I can spent on developing the Forum further.

Question 6. “What is your opinion about the coming development of the Szondi movement in Sweden”

To answer this I have another time to put this in a historical perspective and to go back to my memories of the late fifties. I remember of these days that, when discussing with other students the importance of Freud’s ideas, their general attitude was expressed by the reply one of them: “What about him, he is already dead for a long time”. This attitude can be better understood when one knows that that the main research at the Gothenburg Psychological Institute in those days was concentrated on the behaviour of rats! Since than Freud has become more and respectable and at present one can even meet (beware!) psychoanalytical fundamentalists!

However even in these days there were some admirable exceptions. Especially I remember the Rorschach lecturer Dr. Gösta Fröjbärj, he had already then a thorough knowledge of psychoanalyse and became soon my friend. I remember with pleasure the many interesting discussions with him, at the home of Inga Allwood, who later was to become Chief psychologist in Gothenborg. With great respect I remember also Prof. John Elmgren, who had an open mind for new ideas and was interested in projective techniques and my collegue Lars-Erik Liljegren, who had an open mind and was always open for and interested in new applications.

From my side I tried in those days, at the end of the fifties and beginning of the sixties – of course! - to introduce psychoanalytical ideas at the Psychological Institute. This was done mainly by writing at the end of the fifties a compendium about the “theory of neuroses”. For me it is still a source of satisfaction to know that this compendium during several decennia was used by one of the lecturers at the University.

However with the then existing general lack of interest in psychoanalyse and depth psychology it is easy to understand that it was next to impossible to introduce Szondi’s theories. Another great handicap was that, after the war, Szondi’s ideas about the inheritance of specific personality items were – and still are - difficult to accept.

This changed somewhat when Achtnich’s Vocactional Interest test (BBT) based on Szondi’s ideas was introduced in Sweden in the seventies. However the complexity of Szondi’s ideas and the practical difficulty to use the Szondi test ten times were – and still are – a great hinder for spreading his ideas. This is not only the case in Sweden.

One of my friends in Belgium, a psychiatrist who lectures about Szondi and psychopathology for young psychiatrists, told me that his students were much more interested in learning the chemical formulas of psychopharmacology then to take the time to study thoroughly Szondi’s ideas. (Prescribing medicine saves time and – let us be true – is an easier way to make money than to use the Szondi test!)

With the “present state of the nation” however the future seems to be brighter even in Sweden. At present the basic ideas of psychoanalysis and depth psychology are more and more accepted over a broad front.

Rolf Kenmo, industrial consult, did an excellent job by developing a Szondi questionnaire and succeeded to organise all the professionals in Sweden who are interested in Szondi’s ideas by starting a Szondi group.

To my Szondi friends in Sweden I would suggest that they try to make contact with the Lacan group of psychologists and psychiatrists in Stockholm. One can expect that, when people have the intellectual interest and capacity to study Lacan’s theory, many of them could easily assimilate and might become interested in Szondi’s ideas. Another suggestion might be to invite Prof. Schotte, who e.g. knew Lacan personally very well, and ask him to give some lectures in Stockholm for professionals and the Lacan group.

Most important of all is in my opinion to translate the French and German articles about Szondi into Swedish or English. Anyhow I am quite optimistic about the future of Szondi’s ideas in Sweden and send my best wishes to my friends and members of the Swedish Szondi Group.

c 1996-2000 Leo Berlips, JP Berlips & Jens Berlips, Slavick Shibayev