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Lester, D. (1971). Ellen West's Suicide as a Case of Psychic Homicide. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(2):251-263.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(2):251-263

Ellen West's Suicide as a Case of Psychic Homicide

David Lester, Ph.D.

The case of Ellen West and the discussion of the case by Binswanger2 are famous, if not infamous. The case was analyzed by Binswanger from an existential point of view, and one of the conclusions of his analysis was that self-destruction was the correct and necessary path for Ellen West to take.

… the existence in the case of Ellen West had become ripe for its death, in other words, that the death, this death, was the necessary fulfillment of the life-meaning of this existence.2a

… only in her decision for death did she find herself and choose herself. The festival of death was the festival of the birth of her existence.2b

This conclusion was shared by Ellen West's doctors. They felt that to discharge her from the institution where she had been hospitalized meant certain suicide2c but they nevertheless resolved to give in to her demand for discharge.

Ellen West's life and death were used by Binswanger as a vehicle to demonstrate the technique of existential analysis. As a result of this, the facts of the case of Ellen West have been distorted by omissions in the report of the case. Binswanger included only those facts pertinent to his thesis.

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