Syz, Hans C.

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Hans Caspar Syz, M.D., was born on August 1, 1894, in Zürich, Switzerland, to John and Clara Schindler Syz. He studied medicine at universities in Zürich, Munich and Geneva. He became certified to practice medicine at Zürich and received his doctoral degree through the Institute of Anatomical Pathology at the University of Geneva in 1921. While working as an assistant physician at the University Hospital of Zürich (1920-1921), he specialized in internal medicine and psychiatry. He became interested in psychoanalysis while an analysand of Oskar Pfister in Switzerland. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1921 and obtained U.S. citizenship in 1929. Although the United States remained his primary residence, he maintained close personal, professional and business contacts in Switzerland, France, Germany, and Italy.

Under Adolf Meyer, Syz began work at the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1922. He was engaged in both clinical work and research in experimental psychology and taught at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. Here Syz met Trigant Burrow, initiating a long friendship and intellectual collaboration. Burrow, who had studied with Carl Jung and would serve as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association (1925-1926), held an adjunct position at Johns Hopkins at the time.

Starting in 1924, Syz participated in the experimental group-analytic summer camps organized by Burrow in Merrill County, in New York's Adirondack Mountains. In 1927, as an outgrowth of these community meetings, Burrow established the Lifwynn Foundation for Laboratory Research in Analytic and Social Psychiatry. The foundation acquired a permanent research and administration staff and occupied two offices, in New York and Connecticut. Syz's considerable financial contribution was crucial to both the establishment and maintenance of the foundation.

Conceived as a `living laboratory,' the approximately twenty participants of the summer camps were to study their daily interactions in order to shed light on the `noxious' social processes that they believed to be the root of individual neuroses. The research during the foundation's first decade represents an early attempt to enlarge the methods of psychoanalysis to include group interaction, predating mid-century studies of group dynamics and family therapy. The participants, led by Burrow and Syz, came to the conclusion that what their contemporaries identified as normal social roles and behaviors were unauthentic and pathogenic. Convinced that `normal' socialization entailed a divisive individualism and fostered interpersonal aggression (such as that witnessed in World War I), they attempted in these sessions to alter their patterns of interaction. On the basis of these sessions, Burrow proposed a group approach to psychotherapy and social conflict he called 'phyloanalysis'. He and Syz continued to develop and refine this approach in several publications.

Syz moved his practice to New York in 1927 and divided his time between research and administration at the foundation and psychiatric work at several New York hospitals. While the foundation would become Syz's primary research affiliation, he maintained an active involvement in both private and outpatient clinical practice. Between 1930 and 1962 he served in a number of clinics, including the Child Guidance Clinic of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Payne Whitney and General Medical Outpatient departments in the New York Hospital, as well as instructing in psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College. He was also an active member in numerous professional and academic organizations. In 1939, Syz married Emily Burrow, the daughter of Dr. Trigant Burrow. They resided near the Lifwynn Foundation in Westport, Connecticut and had two sons, John Devereux (b. 1941), and Stephan Bryan (b. 1947).

The phyloanalytic approach advanced by the Lifwynn Foundation did not gain the broader audience that its members had anticipated, and Burrow was excluded from normal professional circles. Syz remained the foundation's primary interface with mainstream psychiatry and psychology, and his talks at conventions often featured presentations and interpretations of Burrow's thought and research methods. Despite his productivity, with the outbreak of WWII, Syz became somewhat disillusioned with the ability of the foundation's research to effect large-scale social change. His research turned towards more microscopic and physiologically-grounded processes. In collaboration with other staff members, he sought physiological correlates (in, for instance, eye movement, breathing, heart rate, galvanic skin response, muscle tone) to different states of awareness. This research had a social component in so far as it aimed to reduce interpersonal tension by affecting its basis in physiological habits. One instrument he helped develop, the Lifwynn eye camera, is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1950s the Lifwynn Foundation was dealt a severe blow by the deaths of several founding members, including Clarence Shields (1951), Trigant Burrow (1950) and William Galt (1954). In 1951, at the age of fifty-four, Syz assumed the position of president of the foundation, a position he held for approximately forty years. Syz and other surviving members first occupied themselves with editing and publishing unfinished work by Burrow and Galt. Syz continued to lecture on the social theory, research program, and therapeutic strategies he and Burrow developed. With the greatly reduced scientific staff, however, the volume of research and writing at the foundation decreased substantially.

In 1962, Syz retired from the New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical College. In the years immediately following his retirement, he devoted his energies to the placement, cataloguing and exhibition of his ceramics collection. Syz was a devoted collector of 18th-century European porcelain, and between 1941 and 1963 assembled 15,000 pieces representing nearly all major European factories. He published several articles based on his collection. His scholarship in ceramic arts documents Far Eastern influences on European decoration and design. In 1963, Syz donated his collection to the Ceramics Department of the Smithsonian Institution and helped organize its first exhibition in 1966. The Smithsonian Institution named Syz an Honorary Fellow in 1965. Syz continued to write and direct the foundation until his death in 1991 in Greens Farms, Connecticut.

From the guide to the Hans Caspar Syz papers, 1911-1991, (Manuscripts and Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Trigant Burrow papers, 1875-1984 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Hans Caspar Syz papers, 1911-1991 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Lifwynn Foundation records, 1924-1995 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Binswanger, Ludwig, 1881-1966 person
associatedWith Bleuler, Eugen, 1857-1939 person
associatedWith Bleuler, Manfred. person
associatedWith Bull, Nina, 1880- person
associatedWith Burrow, Trigant, 1875-1950 person
associatedWith Cornell University. Medical College. corporateBody
associatedWith Diethelm, Oskar. person
associatedWith Ducret, Siegfried. person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
associatedWith Foulkes, S. H. (Siegmund Heinz) person
associatedWith Galdston, Iago, 1895- person
associatedWith Galt, Alfreda S. person
associatedWith Galt, William Egleston, 1904-1955 person
associatedWith Gardner, Paul Vickers, 1908- person
associatedWith Gelletti, Iris (Iris Ciarpella) person
associatedWith Gilden, Lloyd. person
associatedWith Goldstein, Kurt, 1878-1965 person
associatedWith Hirschfeld, Gerhard, 1936- person
associatedWith Humphreys, Edward H. person
associatedWith Hurttlen, Christa. person
associatedWith Johns Hopkins Hospital. corporateBody
associatedWith Keller, Tina, 1964- person
associatedWith Kelman, Harold. person
associatedWith Kendig, M. (Marjorie), 1896? -1981 person
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associatedWith Korzybski, Alfred, 1879-1950 person
associatedWith Larsen, A. K. person
associatedWith Lifwynn Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Margenau, Henry, 1901- person
associatedWith May, Rollo. person
associatedWith Merker, Björn. person
associatedWith Miller, J. Jefferson. person
associatedWith Moreno, J. L. (Jacob Levy), 1889-1974 person
associatedWith New York Hospital. corporateBody
associatedWith New York State Psychiatric Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Pfister, Oskar, 1873-1956 person
associatedWith Piotrowski, Zygmunt A., 1904-1985 person
associatedWith Read, Herbert Edward, Sir, 1893-1968 person
associatedWith Riese, Walther, b. 1890 person
associatedWith Rosenbaum, Max, 1923- person
associatedWith Sachs, Eugene. person
associatedWith Schelbert, Leo. person
associatedWith Shields, Clarence. person
associatedWith Sill, Alfreda Payson. person
associatedWith Smithsonian Institution. corporateBody
associatedWith Spence, Lawrence E. person
associatedWith Sperber, Michael A. person
associatedWith Thompson, Charles B. person
associatedWith Ullman, Montague. person
associatedWith Wark, Ralph Henry. person
associatedWith Whyte, Lancelot Law, 1896-1972 person
associatedWith Woollcott, Philip. person
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SNAC ID: 8691721