Review – The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank
by E. James Lieberman and Robert Kramer (Editors)
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011
Review by Rudy Oldeschulte
Metapsychology On-Line Reviews http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/
Aug 28th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 35)
Freud is often characterized as quite open-minded with respect to his demand for revising psychoanalytic theory and the technical strategies of psychoanalytic therapy — especially in light of new scientific research. This quality of open-mindedness may not however, translate into a trait of receptiveness, as is evident within the struggles depicted in the correspondence in The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank: Inside Psychoanalysis. The editors, E. James Lieberman and Robert Kramer, have done a fine job in presenting a thorough reconstruction of the early developmental stages of psychoanalysis for us — giving us a particularly illuminating view of the relationships that championed the movement. The excitement of the ‘beginnings’ — the creation and birth of the movement, the relationships that fostered the movement — with all the politics involved — are central elements of the letters and the editor’s narrative that accompanies the letters. As noted at the start of the book, Rank and the ‘Professor’, “…steered the psychoanalytic movement [for two decades] from a smoky room at Berggasse 19 to an intellectual, social, and cultural world for most of a century.”
These two colleagues worked closely, formulating the strategies for expanding the psychoanalytic community, directing the publication of new works, and supporting new adherents to the movement, as well as commiserating about the many detractors. Rank acted as the overall secretary for the community, with many responsibilities, including those of the publications and relations within the group. Though heavily influenced by Freud as the man, and Freud’s theoretical and clinical stance as well, Rank nevertheless kept his independence of thought quite intact. He continued to develop his ideas and fostered a close theoretical alliance with Ferenczi — one that eventually led to the dismay felt by Freud and many of the senior or close followers, for example Ernest Jones.
A particular focus of this disquiet was that of the ‘active therapy’ formulated by Rank and Ferenczi, and its inherent basis sought in the early mother-child relationship. The ‘here and now relationship’ was the crux of the issue. While also cognizant of the transference and counter-transference issues, Ferenczi and Rank shifted the focus to that of emphasizing the emotional experience in the analytic situation, rather than that of the intellectual knowledge. Their point was clear: that the emotional experience “…forms the essential therapeutic factor in the cure.” That is, the relationship is the basic building block of the ‘transformation,’ not insight. “The effective therapist provides above all a meaningful human connection, not an exercise in historical reconstruction, no matter how ingeniously formulated.”
This was in stark contrast to Freud’s idea about the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, and certainly led to a great deal of disgruntlement amongst the inner circle of followers. As the editors note however, the anger — and hostility — demonstrated toward other detractors like Jung or Adler, was never present with Rank (…nor Ferenczi, though that relationship had its own relational issues).
For Otto Rank, psychoanalytic work was about creating a person — ‘life as an individual art work’. The editors further note that Rank saw the therapeutic engagement as one of putting the ‘loan of life to good use,’ enabling the individual to deal effectively with anxiety and guilt. In this context, I am also reminded of the message underlying Ella Freeman Sharpe’s work with patients — that neurosis may be fundamentally concerned with a person’s failure to know what properly to do with his life. (This idea is elaborated on in Eric Raynor’s work — a British analyst of the Independent Group).
More than a compilation of letters between Otto Rank and Sigmund Freud, this work is not only a good read that provides details of perhaps the most exciting period in psychoanalytic history, but also a considered and thoughtful narrative on the relationships that formed the psychoanalytic movement — and how these relationships infused the tenor and direction of psychoanalysis for decades.
© 2012 Rudy Oldeschulte
Rudy Oldeschulte received his psychoanalytic education in London, law in Chicago, and educational psychology in Michigan. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Freud museum receives archives of Sándor Ferenczi (historypsychiatry.com)
- Adam Phillips: Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature (jpbohannon.com)