Who was Grete Bibring Lehner, and what were her contributions to the field of psychology?

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Julie Feng eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Grete Bibring-Lehner was a doctor and psychoanalyst who studied sexuality. She was born in Vienna on January 11, 1899, and died August 10, 1977, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Viennese Jewish parents, who were business people and members of the Jewish intellectual bourgeoisie. 

Bibring-Lehner attended a girls' school where she studied the humanities, including psychology, which led to her discovery of Freud. She began her studies at the department of medicine of the University of Vienna in 1918 and participated in the 1919 working group formed by Otto Fenichel to study sexuality and psychoanalysis, the Vienna Seminar on Sexology. Among the students in this seminar were several future analysts, including Wilhelm Reich and Edward Bibring, whom she married in 1921.

Through her participation in the seminar, Bibring-Lehner was able to attend meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Upon completing her medical studies in 1924, she went on to specialize in neurology and psychiatry. She became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1925. She completed her personal analysis with Hermann Nunberg while she was finishing her medical studies. She was one of the first students of the Vienna Training Institute, founded in 1925. Bibring-Lehner worked at the psychoanalytic clinic, gave presentations on the technique of therapy, and, after 1934, was a member of the education committee of the Vienna Association. Her first work on psychoanalysis, "The Phallic Phase and its Disturbances in Young Girls," was published in 1933 in the Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik.

After the Germans entered Austria, she migrated with her family in May 1938 to Great Britain and became a member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. In 1941 the family left for the United States, where Bibring-Lehner became a member and training analyst with the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. She taught psychoanalytic psychology at Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. In 1946 she joined the administrative staff of the psychiatric division of Beth Israel Hospital. She was named professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in 1961.

She received a number of professional and academic distinctions. In 1955 she was elected president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. From 1959 to 1963 she was vice president of the International Psychoanalytic Association and, in 1962, became president. In 1968 The Teaching of Dynamic Psychiatry was published, of which she was the general editor. Her research on pregnancy and mother-child relationships provided an important contribution to women's psychology.

Sources: "Bibring-Lehner, Grete (1899-1977)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Vol. 1. Gale Cengage, 2005.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Viennese psychoanalyst Dr. Grete Lehner Bibring was born in 1899.  Following the trend of the few females of her time that would become medical students and doctors in their field. She is particularly important for blending in psychoanalysis into the field of psychiatry. Additionally, she is the first female instructor at Harvard Medical School, which she led after becoming the chief of psychiatry at Berth Israel Hospital in Boston.

Lehner's career was, in part, a result of the Nazi takeover of Austria. By then married to a member of Freud's Psychoanalytic Society, Edward Bibring, Greta and her husband had to flee Vienna and set her practice and career in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lehner was inspired greatly by the work of Sigmund Freud in psychoanalysis. She and her husband Edward, who was also a doctor, dubbed themselves "second generation" Freudians for their insistence in mixing the fields of medicine with the field of psychoanalysis.

Perhaps one of the biggest influences of Lehner in the field is based on her studies on women and pregnancy; health issues, psychological effects, and behavior.

Yet, there is a human side to Grete Bibring that supersedes her work. Her collection of a lifetime of correspondence between her and her two sons, the mesmerizing documents she left behind on her cooking, hosting, and entertaining; the cards she kept after her husband Edward died of Parkinson, and the testimonials from students showing their deep devotion for what seems to have been an excellent educator are more powerful than any of her work has been. Her dedication to education and the field of psychoanalysis and her status as first female professor of Harvard earned her a building named after her on campus in 1995.