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Kurt Schneider: biography and main contributions of this psychiatrist

Kurt Schneider: biography and main contributions of this psychiatrist

April 26, 2024

Kurt Schneider is, together with Karl Jaspers, the main representative of the School of Heidelberg, an important antecedent of phenomenology and psychopathology of a biologicist nature.

In this article we will analyze the biography and the theoretical contributions of Kurt Schneider , particularly those related to schizophrenia, depression and psychopathy.

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Biography of Kurt Schneider

Kurt Schneider was born in 1887 in the town of Crailsheim, which is currently in Germany but at the time belonged to the independent kingdom of Württemberg. He studied medicine at the universities of Berlin and Tübingen, and in 1912 he obtained a PhD with a thesis on psychopathology in the syndrome (or "psychosis") of Korsakoff.


After serving in the army during the First World War, Schneider continued to be trained as a psychopathologist, philosopher and teacher. In 1922 he was hired as an associate professor at the University of Cologne. In 1931, he became director of the Institute of Psychiatric Research in Munich and head of psychiatry at a municipal hospital.

He collaborated with the German army as a senior physician and psychiatrist in the years of World War II. Subsequently, in 1946, was appointed head of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Heidelberg , an institution that played a fundamental role in the later developments of academic psychopathology.


Schneider retired from professional activity in 1955; until that time he retained his position as dean in Heidelberg, obtained four years earlier. He died in October 1967 at the age of 80, leaving psychology and psychiatry a legacy that would have a remarkable influence.

One of the key points of Schneider's methodology was his particular interest in the analytical description of the subjective experience of patients. In this sense his proposals can be related to the phenomenological method , and should be understood in a broader theoretical context: that of the Heidelberg school of psychiatry.

The school of psychiatry in Heidelberg

Kurt Schneider is considered, along with Karl Theodor Jaspers (1883-1969), one of the main theorists of the school of psychiatry of Heidelberg, whose nucleus was in the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. This current was characterized by its Approach to mental disorder from a biologist perspective .


Jaspers is known primarily for his work around delusions; A very important aspect of his work is his emphasis on the importance of topography (the formal aspect) of psychopathological symptoms, as opposed to their specific contents. Other relevant authors of the Heidelberg School are Wilhelm Mayer-Gross and Oswald Bumke.

The clearest antecedent of the School of Heidelberg is Emil Kraepelin (1855-1926). This author created a classification of mental disorders according to their clinical manifestations, opposing previous systems that used hypothetical causes as the main criterion. The influence of Kraepelin on modern diagnostic classifications is evident.

Contributions by this author

The most significant contributions of Kurt Schneider to the field of psychopathology are related to diagnostic methods.

Specifically, he focused on the most characteristic symptoms and signs of certain psychological disorders in order to systematize and facilitate its identification, as well as the distinction of similar but not equivalent phenomena.

1. First-rate symptoms of schizophrenia

Schneider defined the conceptualization of schizophrenia from a series of manifestations referred to as "first-rate symptoms", and that would help distinguish this disorder from other types of psychosis. It is important to bear in mind that at that time the term "psychosis" also referred to phenomena such as mania.

The first-rate symptoms of schizophrenia according to Schneider would be the auditory hallucinations (including voices that comment on the actions of the subject and the echo of thought), the experiences of passivity (such as delusions of control), the delirium of theft of thought, the diffusion of thought and the delusional perceptions.

The influence that this grouping of symptoms has had in the subsequent diagnostic classifications has been very significant.Both the DSM manuals and the CIEs are largely inspired by the Schneiderian conception that there are nuclear symptoms (such as delusions and hallucinations) that may be accompanied by other less specific ones.

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2. Endogenous and reactive depression

Another of Schneider's most important contributions is the distinction between two types of depression: the endogenous, which would have a biological origin, and the reactive , associated to a greater extent to psychological alterations, in particular due to negative life events.

Currently the usefulness of this distinction is very questioned, in large part because it is known that in the so-called "reactive depressions" the functioning of neurotransmitters is altered, in addition to the idea of ​​Schneider underlies a dualistic conception of the psychology However, the term "endogenous depression" remains popular.

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3. The 10 types of psychopathy

Nowadays we understand psychopathy in a similar way to the antisocial personality disorder described by the main diagnostic manuals. These ideas owe much to another one of the contributions of Kurt Schneider: his description of psychopathy as an ambiguous deviation in relation to normative behavior, and of the 10 types of psychopathy.

Thus, this author created a non-systematic typology, based purely on his own ideas, differentiating in this way psychopathy characterized by abnormalities in mood and activity , those of insecure-sensitive and insecure-anancástico type, the fanatical, the self-assertive, the emotionally unstable, the explosive, the insensitive, the weak will and the asthenic.

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