Hyman Spotnitz was born on September 29, 1908 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the oldest of five siblings and grew up in Boston’s North End. After graduating from public school, he attended Harvard University, and in 1934 he earned a medical degree from Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. From there, he continued on at Columbia University, where he earned a Medical Science degree in neurology in 1939.
His studies on schizophrenia were conducted during his time working as a consulting psychiatrist for the Jewish Board of Guardians (JBG) in New York City. This ultimately led him to his groundbreaking and controversial work in modern psychoanalysis.
Influenced by Sigmund Freud, Dr. Hyman Spotnitz felt that the fundamentals of psychoanalysis could be built upon to develop treatments for patients typically written off as untreatable by Freud, primarily focusing on patients with schizophrenia. Spotnitz maintained that schizophrenia could be reversed and that previous attempts at treating this disorder faltered because of the practitioners’ inability to treat the patients due to not yet discovering a proper cure. Spotnitz’s determination to find this cure led him to dive deeper into his own clinical research and practice. This eventually contributed to the innovations in the book, Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient (1969). In this book, Dr. Spotnitz outlines both the theory and technique for the treatment of schizophrenia.
Dr. Spotnitz also established psychoanalytic group therapy while serving as the consulting psychiatrist at the JBG. This work focused on developing an original method for the treatment of narcissistic disorders, concentrating on schizophrenia and borderline conditions. His methods used in group treatment derived from working with schizophrenic patients, and his group work accentuated the therapist’s use of feelings induced by the group, and focused on the therapist joining and reflecting instead of challenging group resistances. The caseworkers employed by the JBG found that Spotnitz’s theories and methods helped them accomplish superb results while treating emotionally disturbed children.
Dr. Spotnitz’s Career
Dr. Spotnitz contributed greatly to the world of psychology, and he conducted further research in neurophysiology at the New York State Neurological Institute as well as in psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. He also served as Adjunct Psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital as well as at the Hospital for Joint Diseases. Dr. Spotnitz is an honorary President of the The Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, The Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies and the Mid-Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis located in New York City. In addition to his first work, he authored the Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, The Couch and the Circle, and, with Phyllis Meadow, Ph.D., co-authored the Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses.
Dr. Spotnitz has published over 100 articles in professional journals, and during his career maintained a large clinical practice working with both groups, families and individuals. He also served as a training analyst, supervisor and lecturer and in 1988 received the Sigmund Freud Award from the American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians for his contributions to the field. In 1991, Dr. Spotnitz was honored by The American Psychiatric Association for his years of service to the Association as well as his contributions to the field of psychiatry.
Dr. Spotnitz lived in New York City with his second wife, Dorothy Spotnitz, who passed in 2007; and until his own passing in 2008, continued working and consulting with psychoanalytic students and colleagues. He will forever be remembered for his revolutionary contributions to the world of psychology.