Colour photograph of Heinz Weiss

Heinz Weiss

Medical and psychoanalytic training

Heinz Weiss was born in 1955 in Würzburg, Germany, where he later studied medicine and philosophy at university. As a medical student, he wrote a thesis on the theory of consciousness as mapped out in Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, with reference to the work of French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Later, for his postdoctoral qualification, he explored the intersubjective nature of the transference situation. He went on to train as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, in addition to studying clinical neurology. This breadth of knowledge and experience has done much to shape Weiss’ thinking and clinical practice, and led him to produce written work that is theoretically driven while always anchored by the realities of analytic encounters.

Teaching and editorial roles

Weiss is the head of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine at the Robert Bosch Hospital, Stuttgart, a post he has held for over 20 years. He teaches at the University of Tübingen, and is a director of the Sigmund Freud Institute, Frankfurt. In the 1990s he was a Visiting Scientist in the Adult Department of the Tavistock Clinic, London, and he has also taught in Italy, France, the USA, and South and Central America. Since 2012, he has chaired the Education Section of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

Kleinian influences

While Freud is ever-present in his writing, Weiss’s thinking is firmly rooted in Kleinian theory. He draws often upon the work of Klein’s colleagues and later followers, including Herbert Rosenfeld, Wilfred Bion, Betty Joseph, Henri Rey, Edna O’Shaughnessy, Ron Britton and Michael Feldman. The work of Hanna Segal and John Steiner – both of whom supervised Weiss – has made a deep impact on his analytic understanding, not least in relation to borderline states. He edited a Festschrift for Segal and has worked collaboratively with Steiner on many occasions.

Exploring the concept of ‘psychic retreats’

Weiss often returns to one of Steiner’s most significant contributions: the concept of ‘psychic retreats’. This idea is keenly relevant to many of the aspects of psychic life on which Weiss has written: pathological organisations, projective identification, borderline pathology, narcissism, and countertransference. The concepts of space and time have played an important role in Weiss’ thinking. They feature centrally in his account of the internal reality of borderline and psychotic patients, as he conceptualises the ways in which experiences of the past, future and present are distorted – even ‘exploded’ – in psychotic states.

Trauma and reparation

Most recently, Weiss has looked at the workings of – and the difficulty of working through – trauma. In Trauma, Guilt and Reparation: The Path from Impasse to Development, he describes the challenge of working with severely traumatised patients, and examines the central Kleinian concept of reparation in relation to guilt, envy, time and a sense of reality. As always in his writing, he makes frequent reference to his own clinical work with patients to both illustrate and complicate his theoretical positions.

Work in the Klein archives

Over the past two decades, Weiss has also worked frequently in collaboration with fellow German analyst Claudia Frank. They have explored material from Melanie Klein’s archive in London, co-writing and editing articles and books on her clinical notes, particularly those about her earliest analytic work with children in Berlin. They are currently researching the work of Roger Money-Kyrle together, and are in the process of editing a German-translation collection of his papers.

Eleanor Sawbridge Burton, 2020

Key publications

1988 Weiss, H. Der Andere in der Übertragung. Untersuchung über die analytische Situation und die Intersubjektivität in der Psychoanalyse [The Other in the Transference. Investigation into the Analytic Situation and Intersubjectivity in Psychoanalysis]. Frommann-Holzboog Verlag.

1996 Frank, C. and Weiss, H. ‘The origins of disquieting discoveries by Melanie Klein: The possible significance of the case of ‘Erna’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 77, 1101-1126.

1999 Weiss, H. (ed.). Ödipuskomplex und Symbolbildung [Oedipus Complex and Symbol Formation. A Festschrift for Hanna Segal]. Edition discord Verlag.

2007 Frank, C. and Weiss, H. (eds.) Projektive Identifizierung: Ein Schlüsselkonzept der psychoanalytischen Therapie [Projective Identification: A Key Concept in Psychoanalytic Therapy]. Klett-Cotta Verlag.

2009 Weiss, H. Das Labyrinth der Borderline-Kommunikation. Klinische Zugänge zum Erleben von Raum und Zeit [The Labyrinth of Borderline-Communication. Clinical Approaches to the Experience of Time and Space]. Klett-Cotta Verlag.

2013 Weiss, H. ‘The explosion of the present and the encapsulation of time. Transference phenomena in the analysis of a psychotic patient’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 94, 1057-1075.

2014 Weiss H. ‘Projective identification and working through of the countertransference: A multiphase model’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 95, 739-756.

2019 Weiss, H. and Horn, C. Zeitlose seelische Zustände [Timeless States of Mind]. Brandes & Apsel Verlag.

2020 Weiss, H. Trauma, Guilt and Reparation: The Path from Impasse to Development(trans. Ursula Haug). Routledge. (First published in German, 2017).