Leopold Szondi 

Life and Work





Wissenschaftliches Werk







Visionäre Konzepte






Leopold Szondi - A Destiny between Freedom and Compulsion

Thomas Mann, author of “Die Buddenbrooks” and Nobel Prize Winner, wrote to Leopold Szondi on the 23rd of October 1953 from his home in Erlenbach-Zurich:

Dear Dr Szondi,

By sending me your “Schicksalsanalyse” (fate analysis) you made an important gift to me for which I send you my best thanks. The book has been on my mind quite a while and shall still be so. Some items seem surprisingly familiar - just as does suggest the recollection of Schopenhauer's essay “Über die scheinbare Absichtlichkeit im Schicksal des Einzelnen” (On the apparent intention in the fate of the individual). The theory about “Elternwahl” (choice of the parents), figurative as it may be, and at the beginning of our life „even before the copulation of the sexual cells”, the genotropic thinking seems to me to lead over to Schopenhauer's Metaphysica, a philosophy of the “will” to one-self. You know: to save freedom, guilt and merit, Schopenhauer transfers them from operari to esse. Men's actions, he suggests, follow strict determinations, “but it could have been different”. Man with his fate therefore is also what he has chosen to be. Doesn't it come very near to a “genetic schedule”? I cannot enter further into the profound and sharp witted thoughts of the book in pros and cons. It's refused to me. Take these lines as a brief sign of my sympathy!

Yours very devoted                                                                   Thomas Mann

Letter from Thomas Mann (1875-1955) to Leopold Szondi (Archives of Szondi-lnstitute, Zurich)

Who is Leopold Szondi, who put the concept of fate in the centre of depth psychology and psychotherapy? Which ideas of “Schicksalsanalyse” (fate analysis) could have preoccupied Thomas Mann so profoundly for such a long time as he states himself?  What is “Schicksalsanalyse”?

Leopold Szondi: Life and Work, a summary

Leopold Szondi was born as Lipót Sonnenschein on March 11, 1893 at Nyitra, then a Hungarian town (Slovakian Nitra today), He was the second last of nine children of his father's second wife Rézi Kohn. Four children came from his father's first marriage. Forced by a precarious livelihood the family moved from Nyitra to Budapest, because their sons and daughters had found work there and so could nourish the family.

Father Abraham Sonnenschein was a shoemaker, maker of legs to be exact. He had abandoned his profession quite early. At the bottom of his nature he was a Jewish scholar and he devoted himself to the study of the Torah and the Talmudic and Hasidic scriptures. Szondi was convinced to have become a religious person through his father's influence. We know very little about his mother, Rézi Kohn, except that she came from the neighbourhood of Nyitra. Her devoted and sacrificing care for the family kept her in the background. 1911 Lipót Sonnenschein, then 18, passed the maturity exams. His father died the same year.

Change of Name

The 18 year old changed his last name Sonnenschein into Szondi. Lipót Szondi began his studies of medicine in Budapest. During world war one his studies were frequently interrupted because of sanitary service in the front line.

In the Hell of War

During the front battles in the year 1916 Szondi had a book “Die Traumdeutung” (The Interpretation of Dreams) by Sigmund Freud in his military bag. A bullet penetrated into his knapsack and stayed stuck in the thick book. Szondi liked to remark that Sigmund Freud so had saved his life. For his bravery Szondi became decorated. In his own words he lost his fear of death in the hell of war.

Years of Research

After his graduation in medicine he was scientific collaborator of Prof. Pál Ranschburg in Budapest (1919-1926), who was at that time one of the very renowned experimental psychologists, physicians and remedial teachers. From 1927 to 1941 Szondi worked highly esteemed as professor and head at the “Königlich-Ungarisches Staatliches Heilpädagogisches Forschungs-Laboratorium für Psychopathologie und Psychotherapie” created especially for him at the Hochschule für Heilpädagogik (University for therapeutical pedagogy) in Budapest. His expansive family researches and hereditary statistical examinations allowed him to develop a new theory about choice of partners and an own psychology of drives.

In 1926 Szondi married Lili (llona) Radványi (1902-1986). Their daughter Vera was born in 1928, and son Peter in 1929.

Persecution of the Jews

The anti-Jewish professional ban in 1941 made Szondi loose his official occupations as well as his titles in research and teaching. He became isolated, a private scholar without access to any kind of publicity. Jewish colleagues of him were sent to the murderous working-camps behind the fight lines. In spite of the growing terror against the Jews, Szondi continued to work on his theory of drive psychology. Secretly his pupils and non-Jewish colleagues mimeographed his drive-diagnostic works, which as a Jew, he could no more present in public lectures.

The terror of Nazism made itself feel more and more in the everyday life of the Szondi family. They all had to wear the yellow Star of David and were obliged to move to the so called “Judenhaus” (Jewish ghetto). Szondi writes: “I have passed this period - as I can state retrospectively - with a fate analytical calm. The invasion of the Germans put an end to my medical work and my whole activity amounted to nothing more than saving doctors and friends from committing suicide. The deportations had already begun in the suburbs of Budapest and we quietly awaited our destiny. l did not doubt one moment that another destiny awaited us. And that has really happened.”

Exactly during this inhuman period of cold terror and annihilation of life, Szondi looked scientifically into the connections between the ego and the drives, the ego and the spirit, the drives and humanism, as well as the education of the drives. Before his deportation he was able to send the manuscript of his basic work “Schicksalsanalyse” to Switzerland.


In June 1944 Szondi was offered to take part in a “voluntary deportation” to Israel. The background of this offer was a money dealing (“Becher-Kastner-Action”) between representatives of the Jewish help-organisation Waadah (especially Dr. Reszö Kastner, Joel Brand and Andreas Biss) and agents of Heinrich Himmler. Adolf Eichmann too was connected. The Szondi family was displaced on June 29, 1944, in the so-called “Musterzug”, together with other “exchange Jews” from Budapest via Vienna to the camp of Bergen-Belsen, in which the “Hungarian Camp” opened on June 8th 1944. The voyage took place in livestock transport wagons, into which seventy to eighty persons were squeezed. Ten of Szondi's relatives, who had to stay behind, had been victims of the national socialist extermination machinery and persecution in the following months.

In the camp of Bergen-Belsen Szondi founded a “humanistic circle”. In a blackened-out shack he presented his drive-psychological understanding of the human and the inhuman in man, meanwhile he and his listeners were freezing, tormented by fame, and armed SS soldiers went up and down outside.


Negotiations and interventions from abroad made it possible for Szondi and his family to leave for Switzerland together with 1365 other persons on December 6th 1944. One day later, December 7th, they arrived on Swiss territory. In the refugee camp of Caux, Lili Szondi described the daily course in the camp of Bergen-Belsen. Lili Szondi's moving report (“Egy nap Bergenben”) of her family's daily struggle for survival shows the different survival strategies of herself, Leopold Szondi, the 16 year old daughter Vera and of the son Peter, then 15. The report translated in German is accessible under Familienschicksale.

Against the background of the institutionalized contempt for mankind in war and the extermination camps, Szondi as a refugee in Caux asked himself, at Christmas day 1944, how it would be possible to incorporate humanism as a corrective for the inhuman into society. Under the title of “Erziehung der Triebe” (education of drives) he saw a pedagogical and therapeutic way, which he described as “Weg der Menschwerdung” (way to become human). On the way to the highest drive-fate, called “humanism”, people traverse different stations of becoming human, alternating with setbacks. Szondi said of himself that he had changed from a sacrificing to a fighting humanist through his experiences in Bergen-Belsen. He saw himself however as political abstinent. He justified this political abstinence with his humanistic understanding: “Therefore I am not a family man, not Jewish, not a leftwing politician, not a Zionist or Hungarian, for all particular positions would mean a restriction of the ego, which I have already overcome.” Exclusive identification and solidarity with his own family, society class, nation and also religion did not mean humanity to Szondi. Humanity as ultimate goal of becoming human would be identification and solidarity with all men, the entire mankind, notwithstanding their affiliations.


From 1946-1984 the Szondi's residence was in Zurich. The family lived at Universitätsstrasse first, then at Jupiterstrasse and from 1954 to 1984 at Dunantstrasse 3, Zurich-Fluntern. In 1959 Szondi got the Swiss citizenship. Thanks to a generous legacy, the institute of education and research for general depth psychology, especially fate-psychology, could be installed 1970 at Krähbühlstrasse 30, near Szondi's residence. Later the legacy was changed into a foundation of common interest, put under the control of the Federal Department of Home Affairs (Eidgenössisches Departement des Innern).

The End of the Szondi Family

Peter Szondi the highly gifted son died November 9th, 1971 in Berlin, shortly before taking over the chair for comparative literature at the University of Zurich (as successor of Paul de Man). He had been professor for general comparative literature at the Free University of Berlin since 1965, Peter Szondi had committed suicide in the “Halensee” in Berlin, just as his friend Paul Celan had done one year before in the waters of the Seine. 1978 the daughter and physician Vera Szondi died in Zurich of endocrine disorder. Szondi worked in his institute from 1971-1983. He died January 24th 1986 in his 93rd year. Shortly after him, the same year on August 18, his wife Lili Szondi-Radványi died at age 84.

Szondi Way in memoriam

The council of Zurich decided, April 6 2005, to name Szondi-Weg the footpath beneath the Hotel Zürichberg, leading from Zürichbergstrasse 146 to Orellistrasse. The memorial tablet remembers Leopold Szondi (1893-1986), the psychiatrist and founder of fate analysis and of the institute for fate-psychology as well as the specialist for literature Peter Szondi (1929-1971).

Leopold Szondi, Founder of Fate-Analysis, Researcher of Genotropism and the Familial Unconscious

With the publication of “Analysis of Marriages - An Attempt at the Theory of Choice in Love” in 1937, Szondi set up into psychology a new theory of the role of choice in human actions. This theory leads to a very different view concerning fate shaping human actions of choice such as choice of partners, friends, profession, disease and even modes of death.


Further work on the theory of choice puts the notion of genotropism into the centre. Szondi understands genotropism as a force emanating from genes, which attracts bearers of same or related hereditary dispositions and sustains their attachment in love and friendship. People who own identical or related genes and who feel mutually attracted are called gene-related. Genotropism means reciprocal attraction, choice and team play with people whose gene populations are related. The attraction of gene-related persons has its source in the attempt of particular genes to prevail in the contest against other genes and to gain influence over family patterns through generations. People with identical genes choose and help each other in love and friendship in order to promote common genes. Humans unconsciously become team mates of the genes.

Mentor of socio-biology

The theory of genotropism can be linked to research interests of psychobiology, a discipline that connects human and natural science. With Edward Osborne Wilson's socio-biology in the late seventies only appeared a field of science with horizons making sense to the genotropism hypothesis even outside of depth-psychology. In the light of science history, Szondi ranks as one of the first mentors of modern socio-biology. The today almost forgotten comments about the “genetic schedule” of man, which begins even before procreation, as also the conception of the fight and contest amongst genes, comes astonishingly near to analogies and figures of speech, which the socio-biologist Richard Dawkins uses in his book “The Selfish Gene” (Oxford University Press, 1976). Szondi understood, just as socio-biology tens of years later did, the life of each particular person in a casual, evolutionary sense: humans are team mates to the reproduction related egoism of genes, Szondi writes: “Many persons say, “1” choose; fate analysis comes to another wording: it's not “me” who chooses but the latent genes choose in me. ”Where Dawkins recommends to the reader in the preface of his book to read it like science fiction, this recommendation applies also for quite a few passages in Szondi's work “Schicksalsanalyse” (Basel, Schwabe 1944, 1949). Thomas Mann relates exactly to these passages in his letter to Leopold Szondi.

Sigmund Freud's Reaction

With the publication of his theory of choice Szondi presented a new scientific paradigm, which should herald the development of a new discipline in depth psychology: the fate analysis. In 1937 the 44 year old researcher from Budapest sent his “Analysis of Marriages” to Sigmund Freud, the attentive guardian of psychoanalytic theory of human choice in love, then of age 81, in Vienna. Szondi considered psychoanalytic intelligence in the dynamics of human choice in love as principally correct but as epiphenomenon to the genotropism that he postulated. In his written answer Sigmund Freud conceded, though skeptical and with distance as to the subject, some influence although marginal to Szondi's arguments.

Fascinated Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was fascinated by Szondi's genotropical thoughts about man as “gene-being” whose destiny begins long before procreation and birth. After Szondi “gametal genotropism” is the cause of mutual recognition of future parents as gene related and makes the progenitors meet each other. In the letter to Szondi, cited above, Thomas Mann refers to the idea of the choice of parents. In the same way, according to Szondi, genotropic forces decide to which one of our children we as parents and to which parent we as children feel most attracted. For Szondi the characterizing choices in friendship and love, the choice of profession, illness and kind of death are further stations in the “genetic schedule” mentioned in Thomas Mann's letter. Concerning the question how men or genes respectively were able to recognize gene relatives, Szondi thought that gene relationship shows in facial expression and that gene relatives recognize themselves by their physiognomy.

The Szondi-Test

This conviction made Szondi publish in 1937 the “Geno-Test”, which later was better known under the name of “Experimentelle Triebdiagnostik” (Experimental Drive Diagnostic) or “Szondi-Test”. For the test examination persons are invited to choose from a total of 48 pictures of persons suffering from drive diseases the two most likeable and the two most dislikeable each. After many years of research Szondi had arrived at the conviction that facial portraits of men, who show extreme drive dynamics in certain sectors of drives, do have a strong attraction for healthy or ill, gene-related test-persons and so decisively influence the choice of the portraits.

The “Familial Unconscious”

Szondi recognized in the genotropism the functional and creative principle of his postulated “familial unconscious”. From 1942 Szondi equated the unconscious human fate schedule with the notion of the “familial unconscious” (Hungarian: családi tudattalan). With the assignment of the unconscious, genetically embedded human fate schedule to the “familial unconscious”, Szondi succeeded to join his fate analysis to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis with its “personal unconscious” and to the analytic psychology of C.G.Jung with its “collective unconscious”. The conception of the familial unconscious connects with the therapeutic request of “tractable fatalism”. This tractability becomes possible by making conscious the unconscious fate schedules and by looking for latitudes where the individual fate can freely be created.

Bridging the Gap between Human and Natural Sciences

Szondi's fate analysis completed the other already established depth psychological schools of Sigmund Freud and C.G.Jung with a psychobiological dimension. With this he tried to build a bridge between human and natural sciences. Szondi’s importance, seen in the history of ideas, lies in the contributions of his fate analysis to different realms of science, above all to genetics, psychiatry, depth psychology, psychotherapy, pedagogy, medical pedagogy and psychology of religion. For his scientific merits Szondi received in 1970 the title of honorary doctor from the University of Löwen in Belgium and 1979 from the University of Paris VII.

Revision of the notion of fate

From 1946 Szondi, as a private docent, painfully isolated from local university research, developed his drive system and experimental drive diagnostic. In 1954 he differentiated his notion of fate conceived previously in Budapest. The new conception of fate better reflects the bio-psycho-social and mental entirety of man.

Fate of compulsion and freedom

Szondi now distinguishes between “fate of compulsion” and “fate of freedom”. Blind acting out fate steered by drives and affects, living internalized rigid norms and convictions without participation of the ego, leads to compulsive fate. Moreover people become too easily victims of a fate of compulsion when they centre their demands to life (“Seinsmacht”) upon their own person, their self. Such people puff themselves up and get broken on account of their own power of being. One sided transmission of own demands of being on others only results in them not being able to cope with the power received and therefore in suffering a compulsive fate as well. In the inherent capability of man to take up participating connections with a spiritual, transpersonal dimension (“Geist”), Szondi perceived the key to the fate of freedom. Due to his psychotherapeutic knowledge and his experience in contemporary history, Szondi came to the conclusion that finally only a spiritual, transpersonal object of participation can be beneficial to men. Only spiritual authorities and meaningful human ideas of highly integrating capacity to reconcile even polarities could support indefinitely the demands projected on them. Owing to his ability of participation man can have a share in the power and the fullness of being transmitted on these authorities. Only the appropriate to the individual and proportional distribution of the power on body and drive related, material, human and spiritual transmission objects leads to a fate of freedom.


The main work “Ich-Analyse” (The Analysis of the Ego) was written in 1956. It opens new access to the understanding of psychotherapeutically relevant phenomenon, such as sleep dream, delusion and forms of transmission based on the need of participation and unity. Furthermore Szondi describes the so called “Pontifex-Ego” (translated: “bridge maker ego”), a human being of highly integrative, participatory and transcendental abilities. On the path to becoming a person, the consciousness changes from a dualistic “either-or” attitude to an “as well as” orientation, which avoids unilateral dogmatic identifications with doctrines of schools and monopoly of opinions. A person who arrives at least sometimes at the integrative maturity of a Pontifex-Ego is able to bear the constant to and fro between psychic poles, and in the end transcends psychic polarities into a balanced unity. The freedom won and experienced by surmounting the polarities and dualisms is, according to Szondi, the embodiment of fate of freedom and of humanity.

General Depth Psychology

The central concern of the “Ich-Analyse” is rooted in the idea of the Pontifex-ego to integrate the different schools and directions of depth psychology in a “general depth psychology”, without blurring the differences of meaning. Therefore Szondi wanted a multidimensional education of studies in his institute in Zurich, where representatives of psychoanalysis, of C.G. Jung's analytical psychology, and of fate analysis could teach integrative together. Szondi wished to keep together the variety of psychotherapeutic perspectives as a manifestation of the one but polyglot unconscious.

Language Schools of the Unconscious

Szondi understood the particular depth-psychological directions as kind of language schools, specialized in a variety of forms of expression and communication of the human soul. He assigned the language of symptoms to psychoanalysis, the language of symbols to C.G. Jung's analytic psychology and the language of choice to fate analysis. Szondi left it to future research to discover new “language areas” of the unconscious.

The Drive System of Fate Psychology

In the work “Ich-Analyse” the drive system worked out in Budapest developed into a complex structural scheme of human drives. The drive scheme is marked by the number of four. It consists of four drives (vectors), eight drive demands (factors) with two drive tendencies each (+ or -). The sexual drive combines the demands of sensual and sublimate tenderness as well as activity and devotion. The surprise drive is rooted in the human affective life with its demands and tendencies of impulsivity, rage, fear, and sense of justice and also of shame and need for admiration. The ego drive contains the two demands of “to be and to have”, as well as the tendencies of expanding the self (inflation), of partnership (participation), psychic annexe (introjection) and denial (negation). The contact drive comprises demands and tendencies of human ties, of detachment, of change and adherence. One drive has 16, all four drives 64 drive constellations. According to Szondi, they are the genetically anchored stones of human fate plans and forms of existence, which become visualized and interpretable in the drive profiles of experimental drive diagnostic. All factors and tendencies stand in a polar-complementary relation to each other. In and between the four drives a kind of dialectical interaction of drive factors and drive tendencies takes place. To each visible foreground of a person, the so-called “Vordergänger”, belongs an invisible polar background, the “Hintergänger”. Foreground and background belong as aspects inextricably to the psychic entirety. There exist between the two vectorial and factorial “simultaneous contrast effects”. Szondi connects a differentiated system of sorrowful destinies with split offs and blockades of ego functions. Diagonal splits lead to reciprocal divergence and opposition of drive needs. Mental health results from mutual control and cooperation of drive needs. The fate analytic drive system since it’s beginning presented itself as extraordinarily integrative. It unites the four psychiatric hereditary circles of the thirties and forties newly interpreted as fate circles by Szondi: the hereditary circle of sexual deviations (S-Vector), the epileptiform-paroxysmal circle (P-Vector), the schizoform circle (Sch-Vector) and the circular, manicdepressive circle (C-Vector).

Szondi was not only able to integrate the drive theory, psychology of need and the theory of disease elaborated by Freud, but brought in drive psychological differentiations which turned out to be more differentiated and more adequate to therapeutic practice than the drive system of early psychoanalysis. Accordingly he distinguished libidinous-sexual forms of attachment based on sexual drive besides particular, participatory-merging modes of attachment belonging to the ego drive in which the desire of unity and congeniality can be lived. Szondi also assigned to a particular contact drive modes of attachment that are marked by demands of acceptation, support, security and nourishment.

With this Szondi was able to distinguish some non-libidinous transmission bindings besides the libidinous ones described by Sigmund Freud, which psychoanalytical self psychologies and narcissism theories understood only decades later as self-object-transfer (Spiegelübertragung, Zwillingsübertragung, idealisierende Verschmelzungsübertragung after Heinz Kohut). The conception of a particular contact drive comes near to John Bowlby’s attachment theory developed years later. Szondi and Bowlby in their research and theories of relationship took into account behaviouristic-biological research.

Theory of Aggression

The four-dimensional drive system of fate analysis orientated to four life areas (vectors) is the starting point for a differentiated typology of aggressive behavior. Szondi distinguishes four qualities of human aggression, which are, drive psychologically speaking, to trace back to specific sources of energy: the desiring, pleasure orientated aggression appears as sexual sadism, masochism and sadomasochism. The affect conditioned, cainitic aggression manifests itself in sudden fits of affective actions, usually followed by phases of repentance. The egoistic aggression, depreciating everything and everybody, appears in manifold forms of negativism and ideologically motivated destruction. The aggression caused by frustration and by not being accepted can lead to terrorist and extreme actions of despair and relief by members of suppressed societies.

Cain, Abel, Moses

Szondi's show of reality is marked by the experience that in each complementary pair of opposites (polarity) the poles are dynamically and inseparably connected, thus forming an entirety. Therefore it must not be onesidedly aimed at the good and fought the evil, but rather good and evil must be understood as two sides of a unity which to keep in a dynamic balance. To understand human affective dynamics, Szondi attached much importance to the polarity of Cain and Abel. The duty of man to recognize the complementary opposites in him and to live them, finds its symbolic interpretation in the integrating figure of Moses. In the person of Moses the outstanding human achievement of conscience and ethics takes shape through the dialectically combined activity of Cain and Abel.

Fate Analysis: Therapy of Compulsive Fate

Only from 1956 Szondi appeared as the founder of an own fate analytical psychotherapy. In his textbook “Schicksalsanalytische Therapie” (fate analytical therapy), published in 1963, he presents a wide range of methods and intervention forms, which he had already been practicing partly in Budapest.


Multi-generation perspective

The multi-generation perspective is the central starting point of a fate therapy. The familial unconscious forms an invisible bond that binds all family members vertically over the generations to the “circuit of ancestors”. It unites also horizontally the still living members of a family. The vertical and horizontal connections create a highly affective network. The fate analysis considers particular man not as isolated individual but as embedded in the visible and invisible context, which accompanies his whole life through his family origin and kin relations. In Szondi's multi-generation perspective, entanglements, expectations, merits, faults, loyalties, but also resources and forces that cover generations become visible.

Familial Co-evolution

Szondi saw the individual man as bearer and partner of familial co-evolution, as administrator of a general heritage of ideas (“mentales Schicksal”, “mental fate”). According to Szondi, we are responsible for its preservation, development and transmission. An acceptance of this responsibility consciously chosen by the ego gives sense to life, familial identity and solidarity. Szondi spoke of “familial identification”, which conscientiously and responsibly chosen represents a “destiny of ego”, a “destiny of choice” or a “destiny of freedom” (“Ich-”, “Wahl-” oder “Freiheitsschicksal”). Yet if the familial charges and expectations are assumed unconsciously and lived out in blind compulsion, they hinder, even prevent too easily self realization and self development of the particular family member. The family member consequently becomes victim of “familial compulsion to repeat” (“familiärer Wiederholungszwang”) and a “familial fate of compulsion” (“familiäres Zwangsschicksal”), which gives him the feeling of not living his own life.

Fate Therapy

Fate therapy seems indicated with persons who feel forced to repeat unasked their ancestor's life designs. Therefore in a fate therapy it is necessary to put the following questions: What is my familial destiny? What do I want to take over of my familial heritage and expectations of my family (“family identification”)? What in no case do I want to pass on (“familial negation”)? What of my family's one sidedness and exaggerations do I want to change? How can I decisively organize my individual life within the context of my familial heritage (“fate of choice”)?