History of psychology

III. Stabilization and growth in the 1920s, and a new crisis in the 1930s

By the mid-1920s the Horthy regime had been consolidated and in a relatively calm period psychoanalysis was able to reassert itself. Due to the education and cultural policies of the talented Minister of Culture, Kuno Klebelsberg of the 1930s, science, and education received outstanding support. Growing social demand also encouraged the expansion of academic and applied psychology. The period from the late 1920s to the late 1930s was a period of expansion and success for psychology in Hungary.

In the 1920s, psychoanalysis continued to exist as a movement independent of the academic sphere. In the second half of the decade, the membership of the association began to grow. At the same time, the relationship between Ferenczi and Freud loosened, as Ferenczi and the Hungarian Association began to take their own paths. By the 1930s, the movement character of psychoanalysis weakened, and therapy became the primary activity. In 1931, the Psychoanalytic Polyclinic, also functioning as a training institution, was established, second after the Berlin Clinic opened in 1920. Even Ferenczi’s death in 1933 did not radically set back progress, since by then a stable group of followers had formed around him, collectively known as the “Budapest School”. Its members had an interest in early infancy, social issues, and reform of educational practice. Some of the prominent representatives, alongside Ferenczi, were Mihály Bálint, Imre Hermann, Alice Bálint, Vilma Kovács, and Géza Róheim. Psychoanalysis continued to spread in middle-class circles and influenced many prominent Hungarian writers and poets (Mihály Babits, Géza Csáth, Attila József, Dezső Kosztolányi, Sándor Márai, Antal Szerb). In Hungary, Adler-style and Stekel-style psychoanalytic movements also appeared, as rivals to classical psychoanalysis. The work of Lipót Szondi represented an independent Hungarian-rooted movement in depth psychology. Szondi further developed Freud’s theory on instinct and built his theory on the family unconscious and fate selection. In the 1930s, Szondi’s laboratory at the College of Special Education became one of the leading centers of Hungarian psychology. Several later renowned psychologists began their careers here (e.g., Ferenc Mérei, Lajos Kardos, Flóra Kozmutza).


Recovery from the First World War meant significant progress for psychology overall. Under the initiative of Kuno Klebelsberg, 3,500 new classrooms were built in 5 years in the countryside to eradicate illiteracy. Hungarian cultural institutes were established throughout Europe, and foreign academic scholarships were introduced, which enabled many young Hungarian scientists to study at the best foreign universities. Klebelsberg also advocated the study of children. This area was increasingly linked to the institutionalization of psychology and psychotherapy through public and private initiatives. In 1928 the Hungarian Psychological Society was founded and its journal, the Hungarian Psychological Review, was published. Pál Ranschburg and his students played a decisive role in both aspects. The aim of the Society and the Journal was to promote the recognition of psychology as an independent science, to promote the professionalization of psychology and its extension into practical areas such as educational and career counseling, mental ability and aptitude testing, psychological and neurological care, mental health and the education of disabled children. The Hungarian Individual Psychological Association, founded in 1927, was also active in educational issues and maintained a network of advisory services for parents within the framework of the Children’s League. In 1931, the State Educational Counselling Center was established under the leadership of János Schnell, a student of Ranschburg. “Psychotechnical’ laboratories were set up in factories and in the army, where specialists were primarily concerned with measuring mental ability. The expansion gradually extended to practical areas such as educational and career counseling, psychological and neurological care, mental health, education of disabled children, mental ability and aptitude tests, and industrial, military, commercial, and advertising psychology. Academic, educational, and scientific research also advanced. The presence of the most acknowledged scientist of the period, Paul Ranschburg, was significant throughout the period, in the fields of experimental psychology, therapeutic pedagogy, and child psychiatry, in particular.


As a result of the territorial losses due to the Trianon treaty, Hungary lost its University of Kolozsvár (Cluj), which had played a major role in Hungarian science and culture, and also the newly founded University of Pozsony, which had been in operation barely for four years. The higher education system had to be reorganized, which was achieved in a short time. In the consolidation period, and again due largely to the efforts of Kuno Klebelsberg, universities in the countryside began to strengthen. The lost University of Kolozsvár moved to Szeged, where the country’s first permanently and successfully functioning university institute of psychology was established in 1929 under the leadership of Dezső Hildebrand Várkonyi. Psychology was also strengthened at the universities of Debrecen and Pécs. At the University of Budapest, Gyula Kornis established a Psychology Seminar within the Philosophy Department. In 1936, Pál Harkai Schiller became its head – thus, the initiative started by Géza Révész at the end of the First World War to set up an experimental psychology department at Pázmány University in Budapest was realized.


Between the two world wars, the situation of “neurotic children”, the mentally ill, and all kinds of “deviants” was an important issue. Hungarian professionals were influenced by the increasingly influential mental health and eugenics movements in the West. At the same time, the need for humane treatment of mental illness, the exploration of environmental and social roots, and research into heredity were on the agenda. The sterilization practice in the Scandinavian countries and the United States had its advocates in Hungary, but no such measures were introduced in Hungary.


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