Kurt Goldstein

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Kurt Goldstein
Born (1878-11-06)November 6, 1878
Kattowitz, Province of Silesia, German Empire (now Poland)
Died September 19, 1965(1965-09-19) (aged 86)
New York City
Nationality German
Fields Neurology
Institutions Institute for Research on the After-Effects of Brain Injury
Columbia University
Tufts University, Brandeis University
Doctoral advisor Carl Wernicke
Known for Holistic Method, Organismic theory
Influences Carl Wernicke, Oswald Külpe
Influenced Frederick Perls, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Paul Tillich, Georges Canguilhem, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Aron Gurwitsch, Alexander R. Luria

Kurt Goldstein (November 6, 1878 – September 19, 1965) was a German neurologist and psychiatrist.[1] Goldstein created a holistic theory of the organism based on Gestalt theory which deeply influenced the development of Gestalt therapy. His most important book in German Der Aufbau des Organismus (1934) has been published again in English: The Organism (1995) with an introduction by Oliver Sacks. Goldstein was co-editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and was the first neurologist to determine the cause of Alien Hand Syndrome[2]


Kurt Goldstein was born in 1878 in Kattowitz, a city then in southeast Germany, now Katowice in southern Poland, into a large Jewish family. After his initial education at the gymnasium, he briefly studied philosophy at the University of Heidelberg before moving on to the University of Breslau where he studied medicine. At Breslau, Goldstein studied under Carl Wernicke. In 1914 Ludwig Edinger invited Goldstein to the Senckenbergisches Neurologisches Institut at the University of Frankfurt, and after Edinger's death in 1918, Goldstein assumed the role of professor of neurology in 1923.

During World War I, Goldstein took advantage of the large number of traumatic brain injuries at the clinic, and established The Institute for Research into the Consequences of Brain Injuries in close cooperation with Adhémar Gelb, a gestalt psychologist. It was here that he developed his theory of brain-mind relationships. He applied the figure-ground principle from perception to the whole organism, presuming that the whole organism serves as the ground for the individual stimulus forming the figure - thus formulating an early criticism of the simple behavioristic stimulus-response-theory.

In 1926 Fritz Perls became his assistant for a year, and Lore Posner studied gestalt psychology with Gelb. Perls and Posner married in 1930, and began developing Gestalt therapy. Goldstein's research and theory had a considerable influence on the formation of this new psychotherapy.

In 1930, Goldstein accepted a position at the University of Berlin. In 1933, the Nazis came to power, and Goldstein was arrested and imprisoned in a basement. After a week, he was released on the condition that he would agree to leave the country immediately and never return.

For the next year Goldstein lived in Amsterdam, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, and wrote his classic The Organism.[1]

Goldstein emigrated to the US in 1935, and became a citizen of the US in 1940. His wife Eva Rothmann was the daughter of Berlin neuroanatomist Max Rothmann.

Selected works[edit]


About Goldstein:

  • Harrington, Anne: Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler, Princeton University Press, 1999. (Anne Harrington dedicates a comprehensive chapter to Kurt Goldstein and his 'organismic theory'.)
  • Stahnisch, Frank W., Hoffmann, Thomas: Kurt Goldstein and the Neurology of Movement During the Interwar Years. In: Hoffstadt, Christian u. a. (Hrsg.): Was bewegt uns? Menschen im Spannungsfeld zwischen Mobilität und Beschleunigung. Bochum/Freiburg: Projekt Verlag, 2010, pp. 283–311
  • Bruns, Katja: Anthropologie zwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft bei Paul Tillich und Kurt Goldstein. Historische Grundlagen und systematische Perspektiven. Kontexte. Neue Beiträge zur historischen und systematischen Theologie, Vol. 41. Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2011, ISBN 978-3-7675-7143-3
  • Teuber,H.-L. (1966) Kurt Goldstein's role in the development of neuropsychology, Neuropsychologia 4, 299-310.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Pioneers In Neurology". readcube.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Alien Hand Syndrome" (PDF). Jsmf.org. JSMF. 

External links[edit]

Two articles that discuss Goldstein's influence on and contribution to Gestalt therapy: