Growing Up Alexander: My Life with a Psychoanalytic Pioneer

Author(s) : Ilonka Venier Alexander

Growing Up Alexander: My Life with a Psychoanalytic Pioneer

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Also by Ilonka Venier Alexander

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Franz Alexander was the first trained psychoanalyst in the world and attended the Berlin Institute, where his training analyst was Hanns Sachs. Freud considered Alexander to be the best analyst to go to America and spread the doctrine of psychoanalysis.

In 1932, Alexander duly founded the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and was its director for twenty-five years, before moving on to California. His place in psychoanalytic history is secure and he is regarded as the father of psychosomatic medicine. He is also acknowledged as the father of short-term analysis and psychotherapy, and evidence-based psychotherapeutic research.

His brilliant analytic mind and his major contributions to the field did not, however, stop his family from being mired in dysfunction. His granddaughter Ilonka Venier Alexander, herself a psychotherapist, writes here of her growing up under the watchful eye of her grandfather and how he controlled and manipulated her life from its onset. His interference included renaming her after his older sister and himself when she was six months old. He also kept his family, her family, from her, and she thought she had no relatives until she was in her sixth decade.

The emotional abuse that she endured is not atypical of dysfunction seen in many families. What is unique is that it happened in this family with this giant at its head. Ms. Venier Alexander has since found family previously unknown to her, uncovered long kept secrets, and now feels only compassion for her family, especially her grandfather.

About the Author(s)

Ilonka Venier Alexander is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist with thirty years' experience in the field of mental health. She had the opportunity to testify before the United States Congress in the early days of the HIV epidemic about its impact on Boston area veterans. For years her area of specialization was adults with a severe and persistent mental illness. Later in her career she helped to write the mental health standards for children and adolescents in Nova Scotia, at the time the only such standards in Canada. She received her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Southern California and is the granddaughter of Dr Franz Alexander, founder of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis.

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