Jürgen Körner

IPU President from 2009 until 2012 – the Founding Years of IPU

How did we, Christa Rohde-Dachser and I, develop the idea to found a psychoanalytic university? From our experience, we saw that psychoanalysis had been disappearing from universities in the 30 years prior, and especially from the field of clinical psychology. We were (and are) convinced that in order to secure its future as a therapeutic method and sociocultural science, psychoanalysis needed to first regain its presence in university research and teaching. And so, in founding the IPU, we were not necessarily pursuing the goal of providing psychoanalytic training institutes with candidates, but rather we sought to foster future generations of scholars who could then successfully apply to universities.

Founding a university, which at that point was so unique with in Germany, was a challenging task. What should the university be called? Where should it be located? Which programs will it offer? How was it to be financed, since we did not expect any financial support from the state of Berlin? Would many students enroll despite the high study fees?

Looking back on it, with some luck, we were able to answer these questions to our satisfaction. Then name International Psychoanalytic University IPU was found quickly, as were its corporate design and colors. The location at Stromstrasse in Moabit fell into my hands by chance; it proved quickly to be an ideal spot—almost a romantic place by the Spreeufer and well connected to public transportation. It was fortunate that the buildings had been empty for some time, so that we could continue to develop the rapidly growing IPU there.

We began with the MA Clinical Psychology/Psychoanalysis study course. We chose the master of arts because we did not see psychoanalysis as a natural science (as a MSc), rather, we associated it with the cultural sciences and humanities. Initially, it was only a full-time program, and a part-time version followed after.

In parallel, we also set up two psychoanalytically oriented, part-time advanced training programs: Initially with the focus of Early Help, Early Intervention and then Counselling and Psychoanalytic Cultural Studies a little later. Additionally, we were encouraged by the growing interest in the Clinical Psychology/Psychoanalysis master’s program, which led to us beginning a bachelor’s program in psychology in the Winter 2010 semester.

Although the foundation supporting us offered strong financial backing, it turned out that founding a private university was very risky at the start. Therefore, at the beginning, we followed the modest plan of setting up and running a master’s program in clinical psychology/psychoanalysis at universities that did not yet offer a master’s program in psychology. This minor solution would have significantly reduced our risks. I had presented this idea to the Universities of Hannover and Siegen, but we cut ties due to professional differences. We also thought that locating the new university in Berlin would increase its pull. After this small detour, we decided to take the risk and found our own private psychoanalytic university in Berlin.

It was not foreseeable whether enough students would enroll despite the high study fees, especially since there were already two large universities in Berlin that had master’s programs in psychology—of course, for free. Would the psychoanalytic focus be attractive enough, or would most applicants be those who had been rejected from the public universities due to their limited enrollment capacities?

Most of the students we accepted during my time in office stated a particular interest in psychoanalysis as their reason for applying. Often, they were encouraged by relatives who worked as psychoanalysts, and could rely on their family for support.

We decided on a complex admissions process and did not want to rely on the predictive validity of a numerus clausus. Instead, we invited every applicant to an exhaustive interview, which not seldomly led to rejection when the applicant’s motives and eligibility were unclear. Finally, we began the first semester in 2009/2010 with 74 students.

For professors, we naturally wished for psychoanalytically oriented scholars who preferably could provide the qualifications for teaching at a university. Some of those who were eligible were connected to domestic or foreign universities and perhaps did not want to give up their positions in favor of an uncertain future at IPU. Many younger academics were hesitant, since it was not yet apparent whether professional involvement with the IPU would be helpful for their careers or not. Luckily, we were able to attain some professors shortly after they had retired who had made themselves available, and who were certainly qualified – such as Horst Kächele and Rainer Krause. This would be important for the subsequent accredidation process. We began in 2009 with 10 professors, some of whom worked part time, especially those from abroad.

I can remember the opening celebration on 28 November 2009 well. Otto Kernberg gave a speech titled “Psychoanalysis in the University: Contributions and Challenges”. He congratulated us on founding the IPU and shared in our enthusiastic mood, which was borne in particular by the excited students who were in attendance.

The establishment of the IPU, the development of the university’s self-govermnent, and the assembly of the academic staff and administration proceeded largely without issue. Our relationships with third parties, however, did pose significant challenges. First, the Berlin Senate administration did not want to recognize the IPU as a Universität, but rather as a Fachhochschule. Had this been the case, our graduates would not have been eligible to be accepted for psychoanalytic training. With the help of a quickly-composed research concept, we were able to win over the Senate administration. We were also able to dispel concerns as to whether a program called “Clinical Psychology/Psychoanalysis” could even be considered a fully valid master’s course.

It proved much more difficult to achieve our goal of attracting applicants from educational and social science programs to the MA Clinical Psychology, in addition to those from psychology programs. This plan was based on our belief that psychology education at the time was by no means the ideal prerequisite to beginning the psychotherapy training, especially if graduates were to pursue the psychoanalytic training.

Our concept made provisions for graduates of the social or cultural sciences to fill possible gaps in their clinical or therapeutic competencies through a number of “Bridge Courses” so that they could then begin their master studies at IPU. This concept was universally approved during a briefing with the Regional Office for Health and Social Affairs. Unfortunately, the approval was later revoked—probably in response to advisement from competing universities.

I deeply regret that because of this, I had to disappoint so many students from differing academic backgrounds to whom I had promised a master’s degree. Because the IPU, unlike its sponsor, had no right of action, our hands were tied. It was only after I left the office of university president that a graduate succeeded in her second attempt at a lawsuit, so that the Quereinstieg model is now legally irrefutable. Additionally, the most recent amendment to the psychotherapy law forces a change to psychology studies in our direction: From the first semester on, its aim is the psychotherapy profession and includes, among others, social and educational sciences as “related fields”.

My time in office ended with encouraging developments: An externally-commissioned teaching evaluation certified that our courses are of high quality: According to the survey, the IPU promotes, not only academic competence, but also the “personal competence (engagement and interest)” of the students in particular, and to a significantly higher degree than other universities. The university’s first accreditation was successfully acquired without restrictions. And again in May 2009 after a visit to the German Council for Science and Humanities, I was given the prospect of being allowed to award doctorates soon, especially since we were already allowed to grant the first doctorates due to a cooperation with the HU.

I can only briefly mention much of what we accomplished in the first years here: the establishment of an attractive library and a modern campus management system, the development of international partnerships through the DAAD, the start of a doctoral program, the acquisition of Germany Scholarships, and the founding of the IPU Fundraisers Association.

I was very fond of the opportunity to take part in the development of the IPU. And I thank the many people who helped to make this project a reality.

At that time, the state of Berlin received significant funds from the “University Pact” in order to cope with the increasing number of students. A portion of this sum is also thanks to the students of IPU, but has not proved advantageous to them.