Antoni Kępiński

Antoni Ignacy Tadeusz Kępiński (November 16, 1918 – June 8, 1972) was a Polish psychiatrist and philosopher. He is known as the originator of concepts of information metabolism (IM) and axiological psychiatry.[1]

Antoni Kępiński
Antoni Kepinski.jpg
Antoni Kępiński
Born(1918-11-16)November 16, 1918
DiedJune 8, 1972(1972-06-08) (aged 53)
Known forinformation metabolism, axiological psychiatry
AwardsKnight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, Gold Cross of Merit
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology, Psychiatry
InfluencesIvan Pavlov, Roman Ingarden, Ludwig von Bertalanffy
InfluencedAušra Augustinavičiūtė, Józef Tischner


Kępiński was born in Dolina, which at that time was part of Poland (now southwestern Ukraine). During the childhood years, he resided in Nowy Sącz where his father held the position of starosta.[2] He attended the high-ranking Bartłomiej Nowodworski High School in Kraków. In 1936, Kępiński entered the Medical Faculty of the Jagiellonian University. In 1939, he interrupted his studies before graduation and volunteered for the Polish Army to defend his country from the German invasion. After the successful invasion of Poland by Germany, Kępiński was captured and imprisoned in Hungary, to where he had fled. In 1940, he managed to escape imprisonment and headed to France, then Spain, where he was imprisoned in Miranda del Ebro.[2]

Later he was freed and moved to the United Kingdom, spending a short time with the Polish aircraft division. In 1944-5, he continued his medical studies in Edinburgh, graduating in 1946. Soon he returned to Poland and took up psychiatry at the Psychiatric Clinic in Collegium Medicum of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Shortly before his death in 1972 he was appointed as professor of that faculty.[3]

As a concentration camp inmate himself, Kępiński took part in a rehabilitation programme for survivors from the Auschwitz concentration camp.[2]

His workEdit

Auschwitz syndromeEdit

Due to his involvement, in the 1950s, in the rehabilitation program for the former concentration camp prisoners, Kępiński may be regarded as the pioneer of the PTSD research.[4] The idea of such research originated in the mind of Kępiński's colleague Stanisław Kłodziński.[5] Together with fellow researchers from the Psychiatric Clinic of the Medical Academy in Cracow they examined large number of Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors and mapped out the clinical picture of the concentration camp syndrome which they called the KZ-Syndrome. As noted by psychiatrist Krzysztof Rutkowski, the same syndrome was later investigated in other countries (for example in the United States after the Vietnam war in the 1970s), and it is currently known as the post traumatic stress disorder.[6]

The specificity of psychiatric examinationEdit

Co-workers and biographers of Kępiński emphasize that the key characteristic of his professional activity was his unique approach to the patient, inspired by the philosophy of dialogue.[7][8] Part of his writings is devoted to peculiarities and subtleties of the psychiatric examination. In his view, diagnosis and therapy should not be based solely on logical analysis, as the inclusion of the emotional dimension is indispensable in psychology. Therefore, the therapist should form an emotional relationship with the patient, based on empathy and trust.[7] The hierarchy in such relationship should be more or less horizontal, as both parties can learn a lot from each other. The general attitude of the therapist should encourage the patient to share experiences, feelings and thoughts without the fear of being judged.[8] In such way, the doctor obtains the chance to better understand the structure and beauty of the inner world of the patient and to establish an appropriate base for the diagnosis. Wearing masks, assuming the position of superiority and being inauthentic during the therapeutic interaction are the most significant mistakes made by therapists.[8]

Axiological psychiatryEdit

In philosophy, axiology is the theory of value.[9] According to Kępiński, the problem of value is of the greatest importance in psychiatry. It has two dimensions. Firstly, there are certain ethical values which should guide the doctors in their medical practice. Secondly, the therapeutic process in psychiatry should lead to reorganization or rebuilding of the hierarchy of values in the patient.[7]

Kępiński's bioethics was derived directly from The Hippocratic Oath. In his view, the main goal of the psychiatrist is to bring relief to their patients. Being a physician is a type of mission or calling rather than an ordinary paid occupation. The key value which should never be ignored is hope. Without it, the actions undertaken by the doctors become meaningless. Moreover, patients are able to read from the faces of their physicians and will quickly recognize any doubt. Therefore, the belief in the possibility of improvement is indispensable in the medical profession.[7]

Another axiological theme in Kępiński's psychiatry was his view on the nature of neuroses, especially schizophrenia. According to that view, neuroses may be seen as distortions of the hierarchy of values which is one of the key aspects of the information metabolism process occurring in the organism of the patient.[4] Therapeutic work should lead to formation of a healthy hierarchy of value, allowing the patient to interact with reality in a balanced manner.[7] Axiological take on psychopathology was seen as something unique and new in Polish psychiatry. It opened the way for new directions of research, and due to that some reviewers recognized Kępiński's works as the foundation for a new branch of psychiatry.[7]

Information metabolismEdit

Information metabolism is a psychological theory of interaction between biological organisms and their environment based on information processing.[10] The most detailed description of information metabolism concept was given by Kępiński in his book Melancholy (1974).[11] In this model, the living organism is considered an open system as understood by von Bertalanffy. Living beings are characterized by ability to increase and maintain their own negentropy - an idea popularized in Schrödinger's book What is life?.[5] This ability makes the difference between them and inanimate objects which obey the increase of entropy principle. The body retains the same basic structure, although its building elements (molecules) are replaced quite frequently in anabolic and catabolic processes. The energy derived from food and oxygen is spent on securing the integrity of the organism. To refer to anabolic and catabolic processes in cells Kępiński used the term "energy metabolism". Any activity of an organism is an informational sign to other beings. Activities in the physical realm are reactions to changes perceived in the external or internal reality of the organism. Bearing that in mind, the psyche can be seen as the information-processing unit. As emphasized by Kępiński, psychological structure of an individual remains relatively stable despite an ongoing exchange of information, analogically to the physical structure subject to energy metabolism.[12] In his books, Kępiński explained various mental conditions as disorders and imbalances of the information metabolism in general and its inherent value structure in particular.[4] During his life, Kępiński mentioned that his model of information metabolism is not complete.[13] The work upon it was interrupted by his illness and death.

Kępiński as philosopherEdit

Despite being essentially scientific, Kępiński's works invoked great interest among Polish philosophers, most notably Józef Tischner, who greatly appreciated his anthropological insights.[7] Kępiński was not afraid of hypothesizing about the most difficult philosophical problems such as the nature of life, the problem of free will, consciousness and human autonomy. On the other hand, he was skeptical about methods and theories which lacked solid scientific basis, e.g. psychoanalysis, and rejected various forms of magical thinking in psychology.[14] Kępiński supported the idea that human ethics is not socially-constructed but it is rooted in biology and its prerequisites can be found in the animal world.[15] He strongly rejected every form of ideology and extensively commented on the destructive impact of ideologies on human history.[5] Tischner emphasized that many interesting ideas found in Kępiński's works are taken from other thinkers. He recognized information metabolism and axiological psychiatry as two truly original ideas of Kępiński.[8] Kępiński's disciple - psychiatrist Jacek Bomba - noted that the greatest value of information metabolism theory is its quality of being an accurate and comprehensive synthesis of knowledge from neurophysiology, psychology, social science and medicine.[16]

Kępiński maintained good relationship with phenomenologist Roman Ingarden - a prominent disciple of Edmund Husserl. The influence of phenomenology is apparent in his approach to human psychology.[8] It may be regarded as his second favorite analytical tool, next to the scientific approach.[8]


His books:

  • Refleksje oświęcimskie (Auschwitz Reflections, 1968)
  • Psychopatologia nerwic (Psychopathology of Neuroses, 1972)
  • Rytm życia (The Rhythm of Life, 1972)
  • Schizofrenia (Schizophrenia, 1972)
  • Z psychopatologii życia seksualnego (From the Psychopatology of Sexuality, 1973)
  • Melancholia (Melancholy, 1974)
  • Psychopatie (Psychopathies, 1977)
  • Lęk (Anxiety, 1977)
  • Podstawowe zagadnienia współczesnej psychiatrii (Basic Problems of Contemporary Psychiatry, 1978)
  • Poznanie chorego (Understanding the Patient, 1978)

Some of the works were translated to Russian, but not to English. As a result, his contributions in the field of psychiatry and anthropology are not known well in the English-speaking world.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kokoszka, Andrzej (2007). States of Consciousness: Models for Psychology and Psychotherapy. New York: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-387-32758-7.
  2. ^ a b c Ryn, Zdzisław. "Mistrz Antoni Kępiński". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Antoni Kępiński's short biography (In Polish) at".
  4. ^ a b c Schochow, Maximilian; Steger, Florian (2016). "Antoni Kepiński (1918–1972), pioneer of post-traumatic stress disorder". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 208 (6): 590. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.115.168237. PMID 27251694.
  5. ^ a b c Kępiński, Antoni (1972). Rhythm of life (in Polish). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
  6. ^ Jurszo, Robert. "Syndrom obozowy mógł latami trwać uśpiony w psychice więźnia". Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Bulaczek, Aleksandra (2013). "Relations patient – doctor in axiological psychiatry of Antoni Kępiński (in Polish)" (PDF). Studia Ecologiae et Bioethicae UKSW. 11 (2): 9–28.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Kokoszka, Andrzej (2012). "Dialog according to Antoni Kępiński: comments to the session "The patient as the person" (in Polish)" (PDF). Psychoterapia. 4 (163): 47–54.
  9. ^ Schroeder, Mark. "Value Theory". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  10. ^ Bielecki, Andrzej (2015). "The general entity of life: a cybernetic approach". Biological Cybernetics. 109 (3): 401–419. doi:10.1007/s00422-015-0652-8. PMID 25985758.
  11. ^ Kępiński, Antoni (2014). Melancholy (In Polish). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
  12. ^ Kępiński, Antoni (2012). Schizophrenia (In Polish). Wydawnictwo Literackie. ISBN 978-83-08-04947-1.
  13. ^ Struzik, Tadeusz (1987). "Kepiński's Information Metabolism, Carnot's Principle and Information Theory". International Journal of Neuroscience. 36 (1–2): 105–111. doi:10.3109/00207458709002144. PMID 3654085.
  14. ^ Zawiła-Niedźwiecki, Jakub. "Kępiński, philosophy of mind, an inquiry into some limits of patient's autonomy". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  15. ^ Kępiński, Antoni (1977). Anxiety (in Polish). Warszawa: Państwowy Zakład Wydawnictw Lekarskich.
  16. ^ Ceklarz, Jan (2018). "Revision of Antoni Kępiński's concept of information metabolism (in Polish)" (PDF). Psychiatr. Pol. 52 (1): 165–173. doi:10.12740/PP/65751. PMID 29704423.

External linksEdit