(Biography written at time of nomination)
Professor Gaetano Benedetti noted:
“Over half century of psychodynamic research has proved that schizophrenia is not only a medical disorder, but a biographical facet of the human being – it is a challenge to the whole of society to understand, accept and reintegrate the psychotic patient amongst us.” (Ninth International Symposium on the Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia)
“It is in the psychotic’s suffering that the most serious problems of the human mind are encountered. Tackling them means illuminating the human being with signification and sense, gaining a better understanding of the human being in general, not only of the psychotic person.” (Tenth International Symposium for the Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia)
Gaetano Benedetti was born in 1920 in Catania, Sicily. He joined the psychiatric staff at the Zurich University Clinic Burghölzli in Switzerland in 1947, where he increasingly focused his work on the psychoanalytic psychotherapy of psychotic patients. He worked closely with Gustav Bally, Medard Boss, Marguerite Sechehaye, and Christian Müller. Benedetti and Müller co-founded the International Symposium for the Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia (ISPS) in 1956 at the psychiatric clinic at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. The ISPS has evolved into the currently thriving International Society for the Psychological Treatments of the Schizophrenias and Other Psychoses (www.isps.org and www.isps-us.org). The impetus for founding ISPS was Benedetti and Müller’s dissatisfaction with the predominantly reductionistic orientation of European psychiatry and they had sought the aid of psychoanalysis to find a different approach to the schizophrenias.
In 1956, Benedetti was also appointed professor of psychotherapy at the University of Basel. He continued his work with persons diagnosed with schizophrenia until he retired in 1985. However, Professor Benedetti remains active into the present in his teaching and supervision of clinicians engaged in psychosis psychotherapy. His favorite book has been translated into many languages, in German it is called “Todeslandschaften der Seele” (1998), and in Italian, “Alienazione E Personazione Nella Psicoterapia Della Malattia Mentale”(1980). His collected papers were published in English under the title “Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia” in 1987 by New York University Press. Professor Benedetti has published a multitude of articles covering such topics as gender differences in psychosis psychotherapy, the use of a therapeutic assistant, emergency interventions in psychotic crises, facilitating factors in psychosis psychotherapy, the ego structure and self-identity of the person with schizophrenia and the task of psychoanalysis, and mirror-image experiences in psychosis psychotherapy.
Benedetti moved psychoanalysis with psychotic persons away from the primary emphasis on transmission of cognitive insight, to the transmission of therapeutic transforming images, of transitional subjects, of mirror phenomena, of patient-therapist symmetries, of therapeutic dreams, of progressive psychopathology. He believes that our concept of psychosis psychotherapy must be broad enough to include our psychological concern for the schizophrenic human being as differentiated from, but not divorced from the study of the neurobiological processes observed in schizophrenia. Benedetti sees therapeutic transforming images as arising from the therapist’s ability to identify with the catastrophes occurring within the patient, to live them as if they were our own, to the point in which the therapist’s latent psychotic nuclei may be mobilized. However, these become part of the dialogic interweave, which is ‘antipsychotic.’ The therapist’s containment and consubstantiability with the negative, anxiety-ridden, aspects of the patient helps the latter to gain awareness of the positive aspects of her or his self. It is then that the “transitional subject” emerges within the unconscious or conscious mental processes of both patient and therapist. This also signifies that a “progressive psychopathology” is proceeding, in which previous psychopathological phenomena, such as transitivism and appersonation, become therapeutically transformed, e.g., a patient may still hallucinate, but the hallucination may be an empathic, correct interpretation of the patient’s situation.
Recently, in describing the role of the therapeutic symbiosis, Benedetti commented:
“The dynamic of symbiosis is based upon transference and countertransference; special however is the kind of object, caused by the therapeutic setting, to which the self of the patient relates. The object here is a therapeutic one. This means, basically, that it does not ‘invade’ the patient’s self with its own wishes, demands and expectations, but mirrors back his own positivized image. The fragile psychotic ego is not confronted with demands and fragmented by a stranger. It encounters itself, its own healing origin, in the positivizing mirror of the therapist” (personal communication).
For Benedetti, delusions are a sort of existential truth for the patient. Therapists allow themselves to be pulled into the delusion in order to stand in the same place as the patient before confronting the patient with her or his delusions. By this, one gains a kind of citizenship within the closed world of the patient. The less dangerous, non-fragmenting therapeutic object is gradually experienced by the patient as a kind of second self, which helps the patient withstand panic and feelings of helplessness. Therapeutic devotion is experienced by the patient as a “niche” for her or his own identity. Paradoxically, Benedetti believes, that only the deep experiencing of symbiosis between patient and therapist can lead to the overthrow of symbiotic confusion in the patient. Most recently, Professor Benedetti is concerned with negative and positive self-images, therapeutic mirror-images, self-objects and transitional subjects in the dreams and in the imaginations of psychotic patients.
Benedetti’s influence on European psychosis psychotherapy has been very great, especially in Italy and Switzerland and in the Nothern European countries as well. For the past almost 20 years, Benedetti has collaborated with his colleague Maurizio Peciccia. In 1986 they developed a psychotherapeutic method referred to as “progressive mirror drawing.” Benedetti and Peciccia hypothesized that the core psychological deficits in schizophrenia are two incompatible nuclei of the self. One is characterized by excessive symbiotic needs and the other by excessive needs for separation which can take on autistic-like coloring. There is a de-integration of the separate and symbiotic selves in schizophrenia. Psychosis psychotherapy, according to this model, is oriented towards an integration of the symbiotic (interdependent) and separate (autonomous) selves. Between 2000 and 2005 Benedetti and Peciccia have, according to the latter, “extended the principle of symbiotic/separate self integration and sensorial integration not only to psychotherapies but also to the rehabilitation of psychotic patients using new techniques in new therapeutic contexts” (personal communication, Maurizio Peciccia).
ISPS founder Professor Gaetano Benedetti (1920-2013)
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The funeral and a memorial service of ISPS founder and honorary life member, Professor Gaetano Benedetti both took place on Friday 13th December, 2013 on a cold but clear day in Riehen on the outskirts of his home city of Basle, Switzerland. The services were attended by his three sons and his daughter and othe relatives as well as a strong representation from those connected with his professional life.
The ISPS was well represented with a number of colleagues from Italy, Germany and Switzerland and the UK. ISPS gave memorial flowers for his grave. ISPS Italy chair, and Medical Director of the Gaetano Benedetti Institute of Existential Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (Instituto di Psicoterapia Psicoanalitica Esistenziale ‘Gaetano Benedetti’) in Perugia, Dr Maurizio Peciccia and ISPS International chair, Dr Brian Martindale both spoke at the memorial service in the afternoon. Dr Martindale spoke of Benedetti’s great contributions as a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, physician, healer, teacher, supervisor and writer (of some 20 books) and of the heuristic and technical advances he had made in the therapy of people with psychotic suffering. As well as highlighting his founding of ISPS 56 years ago with Professor Christian Müller and the resulting development of ISPS over 57 years, he also spoke of Benedetti being the Mandela of the psychosis world in his bringing together of common factors in therapist and patient and the equalising and creative therapeutic processes he facilitated in both therapeutic partners.
During the traditional gathering in a restuarant after the formal services there was talk of the setting up of a Benedetti international network for those especially interested in focusing on clinical work and research directly linked with Benedetti’s ideas and the ISPS seems a natural home for this.
Link to obituaries
Dear ISPS Members,
It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of the recent passing of our co-founder Professor Gaetano Benedetti. He had been in far from the best of health for a number of years, but nevertheless his passing is a profound moment for us all.
Without him and his colleague Professor Christian Müller (whose life and recent passing we honoured in Warsaw and in our summer ISPS Newsletter), the ISPS would not have existed.
In addition Professor Benedetti’s deep psychological feel for the therapeutic needs of people with psychosis, together with his teaching, supervision, writings over many decades have enriched the lives of so many of us professionals and patients alike.No doubt we will find many ways in the coming months to honour and recall with gratitude the life of our co- founding father and father figure and preserve and develop all he left to us as an organisation and in therapeutic understanding of psychosis.
Chair of ISPS
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Gaetano Benedetti’s life and work
The birth of ISPS, Central Europe – 1950’s