Psychoanalyst and philosopher Carlo Strenger, who made his fame as the “psychologist of the self,” died on Friday at the age of 61. He will be buried on Monday at the Menuchat Olam cemetery in Netanya. He leaves behind his wife, Dr. Julia Elad-Strenger.
Strenger was born in Switzerland in 1958 to a religious-Zionist Jewish family. He called it a “classic neurotic Jewish family,” saying he’d finished his training in psychology by the age of six.
As an adult he stopped believing in God and left religious life. He came to Israel in 1978 and studied philosophy and psychology at the Hebrew University, acquiring two doctoral degrees.
He was a fulltime faculty member by the age of 25, teaching at Tel Aviv University’s psychology department and doing private clinical work.
For years he lived the life of a carousing Tel Aviv bachelor, enjoying cigars and cars. At the age of 47 he married Julia. In an interview he once said that Freud, in replying to a question, said he considered the ability to love and to work as the conditions for a healthy mental life. “That’s a wonderful reply,” said Strenger.
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Strenger’s articles were published in international publications as well as in Haaretz, where he was a regular contributor to the opinions section through his column “Strenger Than Fiction.”
Strenger also authored 11 books. His 1999 book “Individuality, the Impossible Project” became a bestseller, garnering praise from leading colleagues around the world for his research into the creation of the self. He was praised for his wide-ranging scope and clarity of writing, which contributed to both the theory and practice of psychotherapy.
His work was called inspirational, contributing to a deepening of our understanding of the structure of subjectivity, utilizing new categories of thinking, as described by British psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas.
Another of his books, “The Designed Self,” published in 2005, focused on the creation of the self among Generation X, the children of the baby boomers.
His books related stories of his patients, in an attempt to explain how the cultural changes of recent decades have affected the formation of individual identities. His approach was existentialist. He believed that Man creates and shapes his own identity. “There is no destiny or hidden internal self that needs to be discovered. Every person chooses who they want to be and then shapes their personality,” he said.
He believed that psychotherapy should be adapted to our era, not relying only on classical Freudian psychoanalysis. He believed that a person’s social and cultural ties are no less significant than personal and family ties.
“A therapist should be able to get to the bottom of a patient’s deepest unrealized desires, helping him or her shape their lives so that these can be fulfilled,” he said.
“Endless media reports about people who’ve ‘made it’ often cause despair among people who find lesser success. Some of these suffer emotional death, unable to experience their success. Some people feel worthless, whether they’ve succeeded or not. Many feel lost.
“If depression used to result from an excess of taboos and feeling of being hemmed in, today people feel that way by drowning in endless possibilities. There is frustration when viewing the success of famous people such as Bill Gates. The message is an incessant demand to succeed, otherwise you’re worthless.
“There is also a demand for constant excitement and adventure, such as trying bungee jumping or treks in the Himalayas. Changing expectations lead to suffering and confusion. People seek full lives, but they feel empty when facing endless options,” he explained.
His wife wrote on Facebook that he died quietly and painlessly, surrounded by people who loved him. “He was the most amazing person I knew, the love of my life.”