Ernst Kretschmer Biography (1888-1964)


Ernst Kretschmer was a prominent German psychiatrist best known for his studies showing a correlation between body type and personality. He earned a doctorate in medicine at the University of Tübingen in 1913 and began a residency in psychiatry. In 1914 he completed a dissertation on the role of delusion in manic depression ( bipolar disorder).

At the beginning of World War I, Kretschmer joined the medical corps of the German Wehrmacht and served at a field hospital, then at a rehabilitation center for emotionally disturbed soldiers. He observed soldiers who suffered shell shock which led to conversion reactions, in which emotional problems took aphysical form. He also recorded paranoid reactions that were linked with brain trauma. Based on his observations, he published the monograph Hysteria,Reflex and Instinct in 1923. Kretschmer devised a treatment for militaryvictims of hysteria which involved lying quiet in a dark room and receivingelectrical impulses.

Kretschmer continued his investigation into paranoia as it was influenced bythe meeting of body, environment and personality and published this multidimensional theory in 1918 in Ideas of Reference in Oversensitive Personalities, a Contribution to the Theory of Paranoia. While some of the psychiatric community debated Kretschmer's research over the years, the book went intothree editions and the ideas were well accepted.

In 1921 Kretschmer published his famous book, Body Structure and Character, which quickly drew international attention. He claimed that physical properties of the face, skull, and body structure were linked to character andpsychiatric illness. Although this hypothesis was eventually discredited, Kretschmer's writing style was very persuasive and his book went into 20 editions. Kretschmer refined his theories of body structure and character throughouthis career and never abandoned his original hypothesis. He carefully measured and photographed patients and thought of his research as a marriage of psychiatry and anthropology. Although he mentioned correlation in his text, he never applied any statistical analysis and relied on intuition. However, othersin the psychological community used Kretschmer's findings as a starting point for new research.

All of Kretschmer's books were translated into English and Columbia University invited Kretschmer as a guest of honor at the opening of the New York StatePsychiatric Institute in 1929.

Kretschmer went on to link his classification of physical properties to a theory of genius which was designed to appeal to psychiatrists and the lay public. He published Psychology of Men of Genius in 1931. Kretschmer believed genius could be cultivated by mixing ethnic groups and classes, a belief which contradicted the Nazi doctrine of a superior Aryan race. When the Nazistook over the German government in 1933, Kretschmer protested by resigning his position as president of the German Society of Psychotherapy. Surprisingly,Kretschmer worked in Germany throughout the period of Nazi domination without being persecuted. Many of his German colleagues in psychiatry and psychology left the country.

From 1926 to 1946, Kretschmer served as chairman of the department of neuropsychiatry at Marburg and director of the neurologic clinic. After World War II, he returned to the neurologic clinic at Tübingen and published Psychotherapeutic Studies in 1949. In Kretschmer's estimation, Germany was ageneration behind other Western countries in using psychotherapy, and he developed new guidelines for using psychotherapy and hypnosis. Criminal behaviorof the mentally ill was another research interest of Kretschmer, and he advocated psychiatric treatment for prisoners. Kretschmer retired from the University of Tübingen in 1959.

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