14 December 2021

Daniel Widlöcher


It is with much sadness that the EPF Executive has to announce the passing of Professor Daniel Widlöcher. He died on December 14, 2021, at the age of 92 in Paris.

Daniel Widlöcher was a highly esteemed psychoanalyst, he made important clinical and theoretical contributions to the field of psychoanalysis. He was President of the EPF from 1979 - 1983, and he was President of the IPA from 2002 - 2006.

Before, he was one of the founding members of the French Association of Psychoanalysis (APF) in 1964, and he served twice as its President, 1974 -1975 and 2007 - 2008.  

The EPF will keep Daniel Widlöcher in grateful and honourable memory and we are in complete agreement with the following appreciative obituary by the APF and its President Dominique Suchet.

Daniel Widlöcher by passing away on December 14, 2021 brought mourning to the French  Psychoanalytic Association (APF), and beyond the international psychoanalytic community.

He was one of the founding members of the APF in 1964, with Jean Laplanche (1924-2012), Jean-Claude Lavie (1921-2020), and also with W. Granoff, J.-B. Pontalis, D. Lagache and J. Favez-Boutonnier. He served twice as its president in 1974 - 1975 and in 2007 - 2008. He was a full member in 1971 and honorary member since 2014.

He was President of the European Federation of Psychoanalysis (FEP) from 1979 to 1983 and then President of the IPA from 2002 to 2006. He succeeded Otto Kernberg and preceded Claudio Eizirik. ​

A training in philosophy, a double doctorate in medicine and psychology, allied with a great culture and a deep interest in art, painting, music, literature to maintain throughout his career a question always to the lookout, on the functioning of the psyche of human. He explored the mechanisms that make each singular human fate shape its own course, which a single theory can never capture.

Psychiatrist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (Paris) where he would later become head of department and then professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University, he met psychoanalysis with Lacan at the French Psychoanalysis Society (SFP). A choice guided by Lacan's proposal to open the field of psychopathology and Freudian concepts to all other fields of the human sciences. However Lacan by breaking in 1953 with the Psychoanalytic Society of Paris (SPP) of which he was president due to a conflict with the director of the Training Institute (S. Nacht), and by creating the SFP (French Society of psychoanalysis) had in fact registered it outside the IPA. A procedure for the recognition of the SFP by the IPA ultimately led to the rupture of some of its members with Lacan and the split of the SFP. It continued under the name of EFP (Paris Freudian School) while the APF was created in 1964. And it is undoubtedly out of fidelity to this principle of refusal of any imperialism of thought that Daniel Widlöcher took part in the rupture with Lacan, and actively in the founding of the APF. But not without having been the one who went the furthest, the longest, to attempt conciliation, understanding and negotiation, to hold discrepancies together.

In this spirit of openness, meeting, and discussion Daniel Widlöcher continued his commitment to the promotion of psychoanalysis and the training of psychoanalysts. His entire career as a professor in psychiatry has been devoted entirely to the Pitié-Salpêtrière university hospital group where he founded, with many students, the foundations of clinical and psychotherapeutic education. He has also taught psychology at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of Paris-Nanterre, Paris-Sorbonne and was Educational Director of the Psycho-Pathology diploma at the Institut de Paris V. President of the School of practicing psychologists and of the Association for Research Methodology in Psychiatry. President of the Psychology and Psycho-physiology Association at CNRS and Director of the INSERM Unit "Psychopathology and pharmacology of behaviours".

But first of all, psychoanalyst and clinician Daniel Widlöcher has never ceased to testify that we cannot oppose the thought mechanisms of psychic life to those of the practice of psychoanalysis nor to those of institutional dynamics and no doubt neither to those of our so-called personal life. We have the same ideals, we take the same risks, we engage the same qualities. He explored metapsychological concepts, compared them to advances in neighbouring scientific fields. He surprised, questioned, disturbed but always enriched the reflections by opening horizons when we believed that the case was heard. Beyond an agreement, was it not important to convince that a scientific approach involves debates, questioning and that, according to him, only interdisciplinarity would make it possible to foresee the conditions of change? Because deep down it is undoubtedly the question of change and the resistance to change that runs through his work. The change had for him an indisputable territory, that of psychopathology, and one only has to look at the titles of the psychoanalytic revew that Daniel Widlöcher initiated or directed: With Pierre Fédida: La revue internationale de psychopathologie (PUF) in 20 issues from 1990 to 1995 offers, with works in English and French, a high-level working tool allowing international exchanges and theoretical confrontations; or the titles of his works since Métapsychologie du sens (Metapsychology of meaning) Ed. PUF 1986, Traité de psychopathologie, PUF, 1994; Nouvelles carte pour la psychanalyse (The new maps of psychoanalysis), Ed. Odile Jacob 1996; Clivage et sexualité infantile dans les états limites, Nouveau paradigme pour la psychanalyse ? (Divide and infantile sexuality in borderline states, New paradigm for psychoanalysis?) PUF, 1999; Sexualité infantile et attachement (Childhood sexuality and attachment), PUF, 2001; Psychanalyse en dialogue (Psychoanalysis in dialogue), Ed. Odile Jacob, 2003; Les psychanalystes savent-ils débattre ? (Do psychoanalysts know how to debate ? ) Ed. Odile Jacob, 2008 ; Psychanalyse et psychothérapie (Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy) Ed. Erès, 2008.

It promotes a living questioning of theoretical conceptions therefore to oppose dogmatism, but also a living questioning of the institutional conditions that we give ourselves to fulfil our mission of transmitting psychoanalysis. Daniel Widlöcher, just as he put his conviction of the need for analysts to account to a community on the principle of the creation of the APF by defending his membership in the international psychoanalytic community, he likewise engaged in international psychoanalytic life. When he was president of the APF he proposed meetings between societies or interdisciplinary discussions while taking the strictest positions concerning the modalities of formation in the most orthodox Freudian fidelity, and he has in the same spirit been President of the European Federation of Psychoanalysis (FEP), then President of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA). He promoted the defence of analytical doctrine by combining a concern for pluralism and a rejection of the trivialization of concepts and practices. He argued what one might call "a gathered diversity" of training models. He was the initiator of the "Three Models of Training" movement which was finally adopted in 2007 at the Berlin Congress under the chairmanship of Claudio Eizirik. Those who worked with him in the executive office of the FEP or the IPA testify to his "quiet strength", he never lost his calm and always remained friendly and respectful of the other even during clashes of ideas.

Attentive to the joint desire for emancipation and belonging of psychoanalysts, he also welcomed and supported the desire of colleagues wishing to found new associations of psychoanalysis throughout the world, or in France with the Psychoanalytical Society for Research and Training (SPRF) when it was incorporated into a Study Group, breaking away from the 4th Group before being recognized as an IPA Company in 2005.

Throughout his career Daniel Widlöcher has not ceased to transmit these essential qualities: the demand for curiosity with his rejection of any unifying thought, and the desire for action. His embodied proposition to think that the psychoanalysis he loved and that we love is both a theory and a practice of communication, a theory and a practice of encounter, let's not be afraid of words, and a practice of listening where there is a very specific work that he called co-thought in the service of the emergence of meaning is this thing so simple and clear that the psychoanalysts who have met it and those who will read it will keep.

Dominique Suchet

President of the French Psychoanalytic Association (APF)

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