Stierlin helmet

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Wilhelm Paul Stierlin (born March 12, 1926 in Mannheim ; † September 9, 2021 ) was a German psychiatrist , psychoanalyst and systemic family therapist . From 1974 to 1991 he was the medical director and professor of the department for basic psychoanalytic research and family therapy at the Medical Faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg .

Helmet Stierlin (2016)


Origin and family

Helm Stierlin was born as the eldest of three sons of the bridge engineer and government master builder Paul Stierlin (* 1890 in Stuttgart ; † April 1, 1945 in Mannheim) and his wife Elsbeth-Sophie, née Schöningh (* 1905 in Meppen ; † 1995 in Neckarhausen ), born. His paternal grandparents were Wilhelm Stierlin, Royal Württemberg Railway Director (1853–1906), nobilized by being awarded the House Order of the Württemberg Crown , and his wife Anna Stierlin née Bilfinger (1856–1928), from the Bilfinger family, who had lived in Württemberg for generations . Johann Wendelin Bilfinger, dean in Cannstatt, later a Protestant abbot , is an ancestor of Helm Stierlin and the father of Georg Bernhard Bilfinger . Stierlin's maternal grandparents were the landowner Eduard Schöningh and his wife Elisabeth.

Helm Stierlin was married to Satuila Stierlin, a Swiss doctor of psychology and family therapist. The marriage has two daughters. Stierlin died in September 2021 at the age of 95.

Youth and World War II

Due to the father's job, the Stierlin family moved several times. Helm Stierlin grew up in Mannheim, Großwallstadt , Neckarsteinach and from 1935 to 1945 in Stettin . He took part in World War II as a young soldier .

After the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht on May 7, 1945, at the age of 19, he managed to reach his homeland via Prague without being captured. Helm Stierlin's younger brother Gerhard, an anti-aircraft helper , died in World War II at the age of 17.

The National Socialist- oriented father of the three Stierlin brothers took his own life in the last days of the war out of desperation over the collapse of Germany.

Study of medicine and philosophy

When the universities reopened their gates in 1945, Helm Stierlin enrolled at the University of Heidelberg to study medicine after completing a graduate degree . In parallel to the compulsory medical lectures and seminars, Stierlin attended, as often as he could, the philosophical lectures of Karl Jaspers , which occasionally required a balancing act, since the lecture venues of the medical faculty and the philosophical faculty are far apart, but the compulsory lectures and the He was interested in optionally occupied lectures with Karl Jaspers in philosophy in their schedule were very close together. In addition to Jasper's approaches, the Hegelian school of thought remained a lifelong paradigm for Stierlin .

The medical faculty after 1945 - first chair for psychosomatic medicine

Psychosomatic clinic in Heidelberg-Bergheim

In addition to the as yet unprocessed derailments of the ethical attitude and medical behavior of some professorships at the medical faculties of the universities in Germany during the time of National Socialism , there were many positive research approaches and new interdisciplinary ties and connections in Heidelberg after 1945, particularly through the scientific approaches and research work had been initiated by Viktor von Weizsäcker and Alexander Mitscherlich . A chair for psychosomatic medicine was established at Heidelberg University in 1950 , and Viktor von Weizsäcker was the first to hold it. Mitscherlich, who was significantly involved in the creation, left Heidelberg in 1960 and went to Frankfurt am Main, where he became the first director after the war at the re-established Sigmund Freud Institute .

Stierlin received his doctorate in philosophy under Karl Jaspers at the University of Heidelberg in 1950 with a dissertation on: "The concept of responsibility: attempt to discuss John Dewey's pragmatic scientific ethics in comparison with Kant's ethics , taking Max Weber's concept of science into account ". The rapporteur was Kurt Rossmann , the co-rapporteur was Hans-Georg Gadamer .

Five years later, Stierlin received his doctorate in medicine with Kurt Kolle and Gustav Bodechtel at the Medical Faculty of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich with a dissertation on the topic: "The violent patient: An investigation into the attacks perpetrated by the mentally ill on doctors and nurses".

Research years in America

In 1957 Helm Stierlin went to the United States . Here he worked and researched in particular on the psychopathology of schizophrenia , psychotic and psychosomatic illnesses, the detachment process in adolescence and the most recent therapeutic experiences in family therapy with the expanding therapeutic concepts within the framework of systems-theoretical approaches.

Stierlin interrupted his stay in America for a year from 1963 to 1964 in order to pursue further training at the Bellevue Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen . He then headed the Family Therapy Department at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda , Maryland from 1965 to 1973 . During his years in America, he was invited to professorships and professorships at various American universities. He also accepted invitations to guest lectures and lectures in New Zealand and Australia .

During his time in the United States, Stierlin met the most important pioneers in family therapy research, including Gregory Bateson , Milton H. Erickson , Jay Haley , Margaret Mead , Salvador Minuchin , Virginia Satir, and John Weakland .

Call to the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

In 1974 Helm Stierlin received a call to Heidelberg to the newly established department for psychoanalytical basic research and family therapy . He held this chair until his retirement in 1991.

Stierlin made his student body familiar with the interdisciplinary discourses and research results in the field of the etiology and pathogenesis of schizophrenic diseases. These include the work of Gregory Bateson , Wilfred Bion , Murray Bowen , Hilde Bruch , Noam Chomsky , Albert Ellis , George L. Engel , Erik H. Erikson , Milton H. Erickson , Sándor Ferenczi , Frieda Fromm-Reichmann , Stanislav Grof , Ronald Grossarth-Maticek , Jay Haley , Heinz Hartmann , Bärbel Inhelder , Don D. Jackson , Edith Jacobson , Otto Kernberg , Melanie Klein , Ronald D. Laing , Alexander Mitscherlich , Harry Stack Sullivan , Norbert Wiener and Lyman Wynne .

Stierlin succeeded in organizing interdisciplinary advanced training congresses in Heidelberg, to which physicians , psychologists , neurobiologists , molecular biologists , sociologists , cyberneticists , computer scientists , communication scientists , linguists and other interdisciplinary research scientists came to talk to their colleagues and the student body through lectures and in To exchange seminars. In addition to many other scientists, Fritjof Capra , Heinz von Foerster , Ernst von Glasersfeld , Niklas Luhmann , Francisco Varela , Paul Watzlawick and Joseph Weizenbaum were guests in Heidelberg .

In addition to the psychosomatic department - here Walter Bräutigam was appointed to Viktor von Weizsäcker's vacant chair and taught until his retirement in 1986 - a department for psychotherapy and medical psychology was also established . This chair was held by Hermann Lang until 1990 . From 1991 to 2013 as Medical Director of the Institute for Medical Psychology and Full Professor of Psychotherapy and Medical Psychology , Rolf Verres was a professor.

After Stierlin's retirement, the direction of his department was changed; it was now called Psychosomatic Cooperation Research and Family Therapy , Gerd Rudolf was acting as representative until 1998. Manfred Cierpka was then professor until 2015.


Stierlin was co-founder of the magazine Familiendynamik and its editor until 1995. He was the author and co-author of academic writings and books that have been translated into twelve languages. Stierlin contributed significantly to the establishment and further development of systemic therapy in Germany. Stierlin was also a co-founder of the systemic family therapy course at the Bergerhausen Psychotherapeutic Institute .



  • The concept of responsibility. Attempt to discuss John Dewey's pragmatic ethics of science in comparison with Kant's ethics , taking Max Weber's concept of science into account . Inaugural dissertation to obtain a doctorate from the Philosophical Faculty, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg 1950.
  • The violent patient. An investigation into the attacks on doctors and nurses by the mentally ill. Inaugural dissertation at the Medical Faculty of the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich 1955. S. Karger , Basel (Switzerland) 1956.
  • Adolf Hitler. Family prospects. Suhrkamp , Frankfurt am Main 1975. (New edition: 1995, ISBN 3-518-38861-4 )
  • The doing of one is the doing of the other. A dynamic of human relationships. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 3-518-36813-3 .
  • Delegation and family. Contributions to the Heidelberg family dynamic concept, Suhrkamp 1982, ISBN 3-518-37331-5 .
  • Me and the others. Psychotherapy in a changing society. Klett-Cotta , 1994, ISBN 3-608-91631-8 .
  • with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek : Cancer Risks - Chances of Survival: How body, soul and social environment interact. Heidelberg 1998, ISBN 3-89670-534-2 .
  • The democratization of psychotherapy. Record of a great psychotherapist. Klett-Cotta, 2003, ISBN 3-608-96003-1 .
  • Ways to the heart. Carl Auer Systems Verlag, Heidelberg 2005.
  • Justice in close relationships. Carl Auer Verlag , Heidelberg 2005.
  • Psychoanalysis - family therapy - systemic therapy. Lines of development, interfaces, differences. Klett-Cotta, 2006, ISBN 3-608-94036-7 .
  • Cancer Risks - Chances of Survival. 3. Edition. Carl Auer Verlag, Heidelberg 2006.
  • Nietzsche, Holderlin and the crazy.
  • Searching for a stop in unsteadiness .
  • Being a Christian 100 years after Nietzsche .
  • Search for meaning in change. Challenges for Psychoanalysis and Society. A personal balance sheet. Carl-Auer-Verlag, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-89670-754-3 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Obituary by Fritz B. Simon Carl Auer Verlag, accessed September 13, 2021
  2. ^ Helm Stierlin - pioneer of systemic family therapy | On the death of Helm Stierlin on September 9, 2021
  3. Documentation University of Heidelberg Medical Faculty
  4. ^ Amendment template , philosophical dissertation 1950, archive of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, viewed on November 20, 2013.
  5. Evidence on origin and family in: Wolf Ritscher: My encounter with Helm Stierlin. ( Memento from July 25, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  6. Satuila Stierlin: I burned with curiosity. Family stories of important family therapists. Carl Auer Systems, Heidelberg 2001, ISBN 3-89670-209-2 , pp. 200-216.
  7. ^ In memory of Prof. Walter Bräutigam. In: ZPM aktuell. 4/2011, p. 3.
  8. Gerd Rudolf: The clinical view: intuition and diagnostics. ( Memento of the original from August 10, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /