Professional Psychology in Germany, National Socialism, and the Second World War

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Hundreds of positions for psychologists were established after the National Socialists seized power in 1933. It has accordingly been asserted that professional psychology in Germany experienced significant growth during the National Socialist period. An analysis of archival materials and of a recent collection of biographies indicates otherwise, however. German psychology, in fact, declined because of systematic persecution and a surge of emigration, a deficit that subsequent cohorts were barely able to make up until 1945. The new positions for psychologists were mainly in the military testing service, and could only be filled after manpower was shifted from the civilian to the military sector. In 1941, the Ministry of Science and Education released regulations for an innovative practice-oriented national curriculum for psychology. The move was in line with Nazi policy, but it was initiated by a group of protagonists from psychology under the aegis of the German Psychological Association, not the National Socialist German Workers Party, the government, or the military. The present article elaborates how the conception of practice-oriented, state-approved studies was part of the traditional German dual system of academic and professional qualification, and thus actually predated 1933. The new curriculum was largely not implemented because of the exigencies of the war. However, as a regulatory framework it marked a turning point in the merging of academic and professional psychology in Germany. The relationship between academic and professional psychology is also discussed, along with the role of German psychology vis-à-vis National Socialism and the German military.

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