Margarete Nielsen was born into a Protestant family in Gråsten. She was the youngest daughter of Danish country doctor Nis Peter Nielsen and his wife Margarete (née Leopold), who was a German school headmaster. She grew up in Denmark and Germany, passing the abitur in 1937 at a private school in Flensburg. After studying literature she turned to become a doctor as her father, studying medicine at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg. She passed the first state exam in 1944 and received a doctorate from the University of Tübingen in 1950.
Her professional work as a psychoanalyst began at an anthroposophical clinic in the Swiss canton of Ticino. She met her future husband Alexander Mitscherlich there who introduced her to the works of Sigmund Freud. They married in 1955. In the 1950s, she completed her psychoanalytic training at the London institute lead by Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Michael Balint. Along with Alexander Mitscherlich, she returned to Germany, taking up work at a psychosomatic clinic her husband directed at Heidelberg, before moving to Frankfurt. In 1960, the couple became co-founders of the Sigmund-Freud-Institut dedicated to psychoanalytic research.
From the 1960s, alongside the protagonists of the Frankfurt School, the Mitscherlichs played an important part in post-war Germany's intellectual debates, employing psychoanalytic thought for explaining the causes behind Nazi Germany and its aftermath in German society to the present day. The first major book they wrote together was Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour), first published in 1967, discussing why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and the sentiment of guilt on the offender's part were not dealt with adequately in post-war German society.
Subsequently, Margarete Mitscherlich's interest in feminist positions grew, as she became friends with German feminist journalist Alice Schwarzer, contributing to her magazine EMMA. In the first issue of the journal in November 1977, she confessed: "Ich bin Feministin" ("I am a feminist"). At the time, she also took an active part in legal actions against anti-women depictions in popular German media. Her book Die friedfertige Frau. Eine psychoanalytische Untersuchung zur Aggression der Geschlechter (The peaceable sex: On aggression in women and men), first published in 1985, is Mitscherlich's most successful book to date, dealing with the roles women play in politics. In the follow-up Die Zukunft ist weiblich (The future is feminine, 1987) Mitscherlich pleaded for values to become more feminine, even men's values.
Until well into her nineties, Mitscherlich worked as a psychoanalyst, advising younger colleagues and commenting political developments in the press. In her latest book, published in 2010, aged 93, Die Radikalität des Alters. Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin (The Radicality of Age. Insights of a Psychoanalyst) she reflects upon her own experience of aging.
Mitscherlich was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2001. She received the Ehrenplakette der Stadt Frankfurt am Main in 1990 and the Tony-Sender-Preis der Stadt Frankfurt am Main in 2005.
Mitscherlich has a son who was born in 1949, a lawyer and executive manager. She lived in the Frankfurt Westend until her death. She died, aged 94, in Frankfurt.
- With Alexander Mitscherlich: Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens. 1967
- With Alexander Mitscherlich: Die Idee des Friedens und die menschliche Aggressivität. 1969
- With Alexander Mitscherlich: Eine deutsche Art zu lieben. 1970
- Müssen wir hassen? 1972
- Das Ende der Vorbilder. 1978
- Die friedfertige Frau. 1985
- Die Zukunft ist weiblich. 1987
- Erinnerungsarbeit. 1987
- Über die Mühsal der Emanzipation. 1990
- With Brigitte Burmeister: Wir haben ein Berührungstabu. 1991. Hamburg. KleinVerlag.
- Erinnerungsarbeit – Zur Psychoanalyse der Unfähigkeit zu trauern. 1993
- Autobiografie und Lebenswerk einer Psychoanalytikerin. 2006
- Eine unbeugsame Frau. Im Gespräch mit Kathrin Tsainis und Monika Held. 2007
- Die Radikalität des Alters. Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin. 5th ed. 2010
- Karola Brede (ed.): Befreiung zum Widerstand. Margarete Mitscherlich zum 70. Geburtstag. In celebration of her 70th birthday. 1987
- Felizitas von Schönborn: Margarete Mitscherlich. Zwischen Psychoanalyse und Frauenbewegung. Ein Porträt. 1995
- Ilse Lenz: Die Neue Frauenbewegung in Deutschland. Abschied vom kleinen Unterschied. 2008
- In Germany, she is commonly known as "Margarete Mitscherlich".
- If not noted otherwise, all biographical information is taken from: "Margarete Mitscherlich". Internationales Biographisches Archiv. 28/2011. Munzinger Online/Personen. 12 July 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Germany mourns outspoken therapist Mitscherlich". DW.DE. 13 June 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- Mingels, Guido. "Margarete Mitscherlich, Teil 1 Interview". Das Magazin. 39/2007. Archived from the original on 4 October 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Alexander Mitscherlich: Biographische Angaben". Frankfurt University Library. Frankfurt University. 9 September 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
- "What did the `68ers read before they became authors themselves? / A critical bibliography of selected writings for a „refresher course“". Goethe-Institut. 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
- Mingels, Guido. "Margarete Mitscherlich, Teil 2 Interview". Das Magazin. 39/2007. Archived from the original on 5 March 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Famed German therapist Margarete Mitscherlich dies". DW. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012.