Max Eitingon and the Pillars of Psychoanalytic Training

As a result of the friendship between Max Eitingon and Sigmund Freud, a great change arises in the world of psychoanalysis. Eitingon advanced one of the first didactic psychoanalysis in history. With time, he was in charge of consolidating the training method for psychoanalysts.


Max Eitingon was one of the most important physicians and psychoanalysts of the first generation. And it was because he made fundamental contributions in relation to the training of psychoanalysts. His particular work marked the destiny of this current of thought.

The training of psychoanalysts is different from that of other mental health professionals. Let us think that in the origins of psychoanalysis there was still no training exclusively dedicated to this study, therefore, a training in Medicine was necessary. That is, the first psychoanalysts were, in essence, doctors.

This trend is still maintained in some places today, although it is not the only existing way to engage in psychoanalysis. Thanks to the work of Max Eitingon and other collaborators, this fact took an irreversible turn, resulting in the split with Medicine.

Currently, one of the major differences between a psychologist and a psychoanalyst is the fact that the former acquires that title thanks to university studies. On the other hand, the psychoanalyst is formed as such during his own psychoanalysis, which must include a didactic component. Max Eitingon turned out to be a decisive figure so that this change could come to fruition.

With this article, we intend to contribute some light to these questions, discovering, at the same time, the man that concerns us today: Max Eitingon.

“The feeling of triumph for liberation is very intensely mixed with affliction, for one comes to love even the prison from which one has been liberated.”

Max Eitingon and his early years

Max Eitingon was born in the town of Moilev, Belarus, on June 26, 1881. He came from a family of Orthodox Jews of very good social standing. The father, Chaim Eitingon, was a prosperous merchant who specialized first in the sugar business and, later, in the commercialization of leather goods. Max had two sisters and two brothers, he being the second to be born.

The family settled in Germany when Max was only 12 years old. He was a shy boy with a rather severe stutter. As a result of his stammering, he dropped out of secondary school, but, later on, he attended lectures in art history and philosophy at the prestigious universities of Halle, Heidelberg and Marburg.

In 1902, he began to study medicine in Leipzig, after having given equivalences of his secondary studies. Later, he was employed in Zurich as an assistant to Eugene Bleuler and, once there, he met Carl Gustav Jung. Of all that group, he was the first to seek a direct approach with Sigmund Freud; for this, he traveled to Vienna in 1907. In his correspondence, Freud described him as: “the first messenger who approached a solitary man”.

Eitingon and psychoanalysis

Max Eitingon began attending the meetings of the Psychological Society of Wednesdays. There, he made an interesting intervention that caught the attention of Sigmund Freud. As a result of this intervention, a meeting arrived in which he spoke of a case that concerned him. Spontaneously, the father of psychoanalysis and Eitingon carried out one of the first didactic psychoanalysis in history. They did it by stages, between 1908 and 1909, during evening walks.

The personal encounter with Sigmund Freud marked a before and after in the life of Max Eitingon. From this moment on, an indestructible friendship was forged, which survived intact until his death. Max became for Freud something like “his man of confidence”. That is why, on more than one occasion, he confided to him the handling of crises in different psychoanalytic societies.

However, not everything was applause and good words for Eitingon, as discrepancies arose among the psychoanalysts of the moment. For Carl Jung, Eitingon was someone without transcendence; Otto Rank, meanwhile, was opposed to entering the Secret Committee, a fact that occurred in 1919. Max was never a great theorist of psychoanalysis, but rather as the faithful guardian of his teacher and responsible for implementing the basic technique of this cut.

Considerable contributions

Max Eitingon founded, together with Karl Abraham, the Policlinico Psicoanalítico de Berlín, contributing significant economic resources to that company. He also did it to support the International Psychoanalytic Editorial.

The Polyclinic, later, would lead to the creation of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, an institution whose objective was to provide a structured training for psychoanalysts.

The three main pillars of the formation, signaled by Sigmund Freud and implemented with great consistency by Max Eitingon, were the following:

  • The establishment of didactic psychoanalysis: this is the psychoanalysis performed by a person who aspires to be a psychoanalyst. The goal is for the person to resolve their unconscious conflicts and learn the technique.
  • Complementary training through structured seminars: in psychoanalysis, participation in seminars or study groups is essential to interact with peers and achieve suitability.
  • Supervision and exposure of cases: each psychoanalyst is supervised by his peers, to whom he must expose the cases he has dealt with.

These three pillars have remained intact to the present, at least in classical psychoanalysis. Max Eitingon was always very close to Freud, until he died in 1939. Max died four years later, in Jerusalem. But his imprint is still alive in psychoanalysis, especially in the field focused on the formation of future psychoanalysts.