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Medard Boss

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists

1903-1990
Swiss psychotherapist who helped build the concept of existential psychology.

The idea of combining psychology and philosophy may seem to run counter to the idea of psychology as a science. But psychology is a science of the mind, and the releationship between the mind and ideas is critically important to psychological study. Medard Boss, trained as a physician, used his knowledge of philosophy to help humanize psychology. He spent his career developing the concept he called Daseinanalysis. "Dasein" is a German word meaning "being there," and it forms a critical element of the philosophy of Martin Heidigger (who became a friend of Boss).

Boss was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland on October 4, 1903 and raised in Zurich. Zurich during the early years of the twentieth century was one of the leading cities for psychological research. Trained as a physician, Boss received his medical degree from the University of Zurich in 1928. Before that, however, he had spent time in Vienna, where he had met (and been analyzed by) Sigmund Freud.

It was Boss's exposure to the writings of Ludwig Binswanger and Heidigger that prompted him to formulate a psychological model. Binswanger (1881-1966) has been called the first existential psychologist. In 1946, Boss met Heidigger, and it was then that he was able to fully grasp the concepts that led to his later work.

Essentially, Boss believed that Dasein was a means of opening the mind—of bringing light to a situation. The symbolism of light played an important role in Boss's work: the idea of "coming out of the darkness," of "illuminating an idea," and ultimately, of "enlightenment." Boss further believed that mood played an important part in how people reacted to their environment. An angry person, for example, would be attuned primarily to things that create feelings of anger. Boss also felt that dreams were important—more so than other existential thinkers. What made his interpretation of dreams different from those of Freud or Jung, however, was that he believed that dreams created their own message rather than displaying symbols of deeper feelings.

Boss's books include Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Dasein-analysis, and The Analysis of Dreams. He died in 1990.

George A. Milite

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