i am, being, be, Ludwig Binswanger

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Ludwig Binswanger

Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who is widely regarded as the founder of existential psychology (Britannica, n.d.). He was influenced by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Karl Jaspers, as well as the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, with whom he had a close collaboration (Wikipedia, 2021). Binswanger developed a distinctive approach to psychotherapy, known as Daseinsanalysis, which focused on the existential meaning and possibilities of human existence (Oxford Handbook, n.d.). He applied this approach to various clinical cases, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, and published several influential works, such as Dream and Existence (1930), Being-in-the-World (1942), and The Case of Ellen West (1958) (Wikipedia, 2021).

He was born into a family of prominent psychiatrists and studied medicine at the universities of Zurich, Berlin, and Lausanne. Furthermore, he became interested in psychoanalysis and corresponded with Sigmund Freud, but later distanced himself from Freud’s theories and methods.

Binswanger believed that the key to understanding a patient’s subjective experience was their lifeworld, or the way they perceive and relate to their surroundings. He also emphasized the importance of freedom, responsibility, and authenticity in human existence. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of existential psychology and phenomenological psychiatry.

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Influence on existential psychology

Ludwig Binswanger influenced existential psychology with his concept of “Daseinsanalyse” or “analysis of existence”. He argued that human beings are not merely biological organisms or psychological systems, but also have a unique mode of being-in-the-world that shapes their experience and behaviour. He described humans as having the choice of “being a hunter, of being romantic, of being in business, and thus (we are) free to design (ourselves) toward the most different potentialities of being” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 82).

Binswanger also emphasized the importance of dialogue and interpersonal relationships in human existence, as he wrote in a letter to Freud: “Dialog in my sense implies the necessity of the unforeseen, and its basic element is surprise, the surprising mutuality” (Binswanger, 1958, p. 208). Binswanger’s work was influenced by phenomenology, existentialism and personalism, and he drew on the ideas of Husserl, Heidegger, Kierkegaard and others. His approach was both descriptive and therapeutic, as he aimed to understand and help his patients by exploring their existential situation and possibilities.

Major publications

In his 1930 essay “Dream and Existence“, Ludwig Binswanger argued that dreams reveal the existential possibilities of human existence, beyond the Freudian interpretation of latent thoughts. He wrote: “Dreaming is an original and authentic mode of being-in-the-world, a mode in which we can experience the world in its pure possibilities” (Binswanger, 1986, p. 55). He proposed a phenomenological approach to dream analysis, based on the manifest content of the dream and the personal situation of the dreamer.

Binswanger also distinguished between three modes of existence: Umwelt (the physical world), Mitwelt (the social world), and Eigenwelt (the self-world). He claimed that dreams can express the tensions and conflicts between these modes, as well as the potential for transcendence and freedom.

One of the main themes and concepts covered in Ludwig Binswanger’s “Being-in-the-World” publication is the notion of Dasein, which means “being there” or “existence” in German. Binswanger adopted this term from Martin Heidegger’s philosophy to describe the human way of being in the world, which is characterized by intentionality, temporality, spatiality, and rationality. Binswanger argued that Dasein is not a static entity, but a dynamic process of becoming, which is influenced by the historical, cultural, and personal context of each individual. He wrote: “Dasein is not something finished that exists before us; it is always something that emerges anew from the possibilities of its being” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 82).

Another theme and concept that Binswanger explored in his publication is the distinction between three modes of being-in-the-world: Umwelt, Mitwelt, and Eigenwelt. Umwelt refers to the natural or physical world that surrounds us and that we perceive through our senses. Mitwelt refers to the social or interpersonal world that we share with other human beings and that we communicate through language. Eigenwelt refers to the inner or personal world that we experience through our emotions, thoughts, and values. Binswanger argued that these three modes of being-in-the-world are interrelated and interdependent, and that they shape our understanding of ourselves and others. He wrote: “The world is not a rigid framework into which man has to fit himself once and for all; rather it changes with him as he changes” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 121).

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Binswanger illustrated his themes and concepts with case studies of his patients, who suffered from various forms of mental illness. He showed how their modes of being-in-the-world were distorted or disrupted by their symptoms, and how he tried to help them restore their authentic existence through existential analysis. He used quotes from his patients’ own words to demonstrate their subjective experiences and perspectives. For example, he quoted a patient who said: “I feel as if I were living in a glass house; everything is transparent; I can see everything and yet nothing touches me” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 211). Binswanger interpreted this statement as an expression of the patient’s alienation from his Umwelt, Mitwelt, and Eigenwelt.

Ludwig Binswanger’s “The Case of Ellen West” publication is a classic example of existential analysis, a branch of psychotherapy that focuses on the meaning of human existence and the challenges of living authentically. Binswanger used the case of Ellen West, a young woman who suffered from anorexia nervosa and committed suicide, to illustrate his theory of the three modes of being-in-the-world: Umwelt (the physical world), Mitwelt (the social world), and Eigenwelt (the self-world). He argued that Ellen West had a distorted and conflicted relationship with these three modes, which resulted in her alienation, despair, and self-destruction. He wrote: “Ellen West’s life was a flight from being-in-the-world into being-in-the-self, from reality into fiction, from Mitsein [being-with] into loneliness” (Binswanger, 1958, p. 361).

Binswanger also explored the themes of freedom, responsibility, death, and transcendence in relation to Ellen West’s case, and how her existential crisis was influenced by her cultural and historical context. He concluded that existential analysis aims to help the patient “find his way back from his inauthentic existence to his authentic possibilities” (Binswanger, 1958, p. 364).


Daseinsanalysis is an existentialist approach to psychoanalysis that was developed by Ludwig Binswanger in the 1920s. It is based on the phenomenological anthropology of Martin Heidegger, who proposed that human existence (Dasein) is open to all experience. Daseinsanalysis aims to understand the meaning and structure of human existence in relation to the world, others, and oneself. It does not reduce human beings to biological or psychological factors, but rather explores their existential possibilities and limitations.

Binswanger applied Heidegger’s philosophy to clinical practice by focusing on the patient’s mode of being-in-the-world, or their way of relating to reality. He distinguished three modes of being: Umwelt (the physical world), Mitwelt (the social world), and Eigenwelt (the self-world). He also identified four existential dimensions of human existence: spatiality, temporality, corporeality, and relationality. By analysing these modes and dimensions, Binswanger aimed to reveal the patient’s existential situation and help them overcome their alienation or anxiety.

One of Binswanger’s famous cases was that of Ellen West, a woman who suffered from anorexia nervosa and committed suicide. Binswanger analysed her case as an example of a distorted mode of being-in-the-world, characterized by a detachment from reality, a rejection of her body, and a lack of authentic relationships. He wrote: “Ellen West’s life was a flight from being-in-the-world into an ideal world; a flight from time into eternity; a flight from the body into pure spirituality; a flight from others into loneliness” (Binswanger 1963, p. 207).

Daseinsanalysis has been criticized for being too abstract, subjective, and metaphysical. Some critics have argued that it neglects the role of unconscious processes, cultural influences, and empirical evidence in psychotherapy. Others have questioned its compatibility with Heidegger’s original philosophy and its relevance for contemporary psychology.


Umwelt is one of the three existential dimensions that human existence relates to. Umwelt means “environment” or “surrounding world” and refers to the physical and natural world that a person inhabits and interacts with. Binswanger saw Umwelt as a fundamental aspect of being-in-the-world, the term coined by German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) to describe the human condition of being immersed in a meaningful world. Binswanger wrote: “The Umwelt is not only the world of nature, but also the world of culture and history, which man has created for himself and which he constantly transforms” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 213).

Adopting the notion of Umwelt can help us understand how human beings are shaped by their physical and social environments, and how they in turn shape those environments through their actions and choices. Umwelt can also help us appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of human experiences, as each person has a different perspective and relationship with their surrounding world. As Binswanger put it: “Each individual has his own Umwelt, which is different from that of any other individual” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 214). By recognizing the importance of Umwelt, we can foster a more holistic and empathic approach to psychology and human wellbeing.


Mitwelt is one of the three modes of existence that Ludwig Binswanger, a Swiss psychiatrist and existential psychologist, identified in his Daseinsanalysis. The term Mitwelt means “with-world” or “shared world” and refers to the interpersonal dimension of human existence, that is, the way we relate to and interact with other people. Binswanger argued that Mitwelt is an essential aspect of being-in-the-world, as we are always situated in a social context and influenced by our relationships. He wrote: “The Mitwelt is not something added on to the Umwelt as a second world; it is not a mere annex or appendage of the Umwelt; rather, it permeates the latter through and through” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 213).

The benefits of adopting the notion of Mitwelt are manifold. First, it helps us to understand ourselves better by recognizing how our identity and values are shaped by our social interactions. Second, it enables us to appreciate the diversity and complexity of human existence, as we encounter different perspectives and experiences in our Mitwelt. Third, it fosters a sense of responsibility and care for others, as we realize that we are not isolated individuals but part of a larger whole. As Binswanger put it: “The Mitwelt is the realm of love, hate, sympathy, antipathy, understanding, misunderstanding, agreement, disagreement – in short, everything that binds us to others or separates us from them” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 214).

In conclusion, Mitwelt is a key concept in Binswanger’s existential psychology that captures the relational dimension of human existence. By adopting this notion, we can gain a more profound insight into ourselves and others, and cultivate a more authentic and compassionate way of being-in-the-world.


Eigenwelt the third existential dimensions proposed by Ludwig Binswanger (Wikipedia, 2021). The term means “own world” and refers to a person’s own subjective experience, or the relationship that one has with oneself (AlleyDog, 2021). This mode of existence is the most difficult to grasp because of its vague definition, but it involves the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, and choices. It also encompasses the sense of identity, authenticity, freedom, and responsibility that one develops over time (Existential Leadership, 2021).

Adopting the notion of Eigenwelt can have several benefits for personal growth and wellbeing. First, it can help one to recognize and accept one’s own uniqueness and individuality, without being influenced by external pressures or expectations. Second, it can foster a more profound understanding of one’s own motivations, goals, and potentials, as well as the challenges and limitations that one faces. Third, it can enhance one’s capacity for self-reflection, self-regulation, and self-transformation, as well as for creativity and innovation. Fourth, it can enable one to establish a meaningful and coherent narrative of one’s own life history and future aspirations. Fifth, it can facilitate a more authentic and autonomous expression of one’s own voice and values in relation to others and the world.

As Binswanger himself stated, “The Eigenwelt is not a world which is given to us but rather a world which we give ourselves” (Binswanger, 1963, p. 213). This implies that Eigenwelt is not a fixed or static reality, but rather a dynamic and evolving process that requires constant attention and cultivation. By exploring and developing one’s own Eigenwelt, one can achieve a greater sense of self-awareness, self-fulfilment, and Self-actualization.


AlleyDog. (2021). Eigenwelt definition | Psychology Glossary | AlleyDog.com. Retrieved from https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Eigenwelt

Binswanger, L. (1958). The case of Ellen West. In R. May, E. Angel & H.F. Ellenberger (Eds.), Existence: A new dimension in psychiatry and psychology (pp. 237-364). New York: Basic Books.

Binswanger, L. (1963). Being-in-the-world: Selected papers of Ludwig Binswanger. New York: Basic Books.

Binswanger, L. (1986). Dream and Existence. In M. Foucault (Ed.), Dream and Existence (K. Hoeller, Trans.). Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry.

Britannica. (n.d.). Ludwig Binswanger | Founder, Psychoanalyst, Psychotherapist. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ludwig-Binswanger

Existential Leadership. (2021). Existential Dimensions – Existential Leadership. Retrieved from https://existenzielle-fuehrung.de/en/2021/02/17/existential-dimensions/

Foucault, M. (1986). Dream, Imagination and Existence. In M. Foucault (Ed.), Dream and Existence (K. Hoeller, Trans.). Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. Harper & Row.


Oxford Handbook. (n.d.). Ludwig Binswanger | The Oxford Handbook of phenomenological Psychopathology. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from https://academic.oup.com/edited-volume/27976/chapter/211630428

Wikipedia. (2021, November 29). Ludwig Binswanger. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Binswanger


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