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Personal analysis and analytic trajectory

Finished analysis? Endless path?

My dear friend.

Thank you for your thoughts, always so dearly welcomed.

You are one of the very rare people whose approval helps me to work and to advance.

Till next time, with all my heart, your René Char.

My dear René,


What a great and profound thing it is to turn away, little by little, from all things and all people that deserve nothing, and to recognize little by little over the years and across borders a family of like minds. How numerous we suddenly feel when we find a few others [...]

You faithfiil brother, Albert Camus.

(Correspondence 1946-1959, Gallimard, 2013)

Ferenczi’s analysis and its sad epilogue

Troubled times (1930-1932)

The storm clouds threatening Freud and Ferenczi’s relation through the years finally burst at the start of 1930, under the pressure of disagreements about the practice and the theory of psychoanalysis, and more importantly still, about institutional policy.

In a letter dated December 25, 1929, Ferenczi summarises the lessons learned in the space of the past dozen years that led him from experimentation with Freud’s “active technique” (1918-1926) to the application of the “relaxation and neo-catharsis principle,” which led to occasional experimenting with “mutual analysis,” that Ferenczi never developed into a technique. He resumes what he learned in two compact, strongly-worded statements. First, Freudian analysis ignores “the traumatic-hysterical basis for illness,” and second, this is due to an “overestimation of fantasy - and the underestimation of traumatic reality in pathogenesis.” This is a radical pronouncement, given that Freud and his disciples have made turning away from traumatic origin, to focus instead on the sphere of fantasy, the springboard of psychoanalysis.

On January 11, 1930, despite Ferenczi’s insistence, Freud does not reconsider the issue raised by the latter; he is content to express regret about the increasing distance between them. In his reply on January 17, Ferenczi, deeply wounded, drives his point home even more forcefully. For the first time, he addresses two reproaches not to psychoanalysis, but to Freud the analyst, the one who, in his words, “did not pennit carrying out my analysis to completion,” and “did not comprehend and bring to abreaction in the analysis the [...] negative feelings and fantasies.”

For Freud, who is 74 and suffering from cancer, this is a severe blow. He does not enter into a discussion and responds without conviction, on September 16, in a few short lines, to Ferenczi’s radical propositions: “The new views about the traumatic fragmentation of mental life that you indicated seem to me to be very ingenious and have something of the great [quality] of the Theory of Geni-tality.” But Ferenczi’s acute sensitivity perceives what lies behind the apparent compliment: “I was pleased to hear that you find my new views ‘very ingenious,”’ he writes, adding: “I would have been much more pleased if you had declared them to be correct, probable, or even plausible.” He forcefully rejects Freud’s comparison between his cunent work and his old theories: “The ‘theory of genitality’ was the product of pure speculation at a time when, far removed from any practice, I totally gave way to contemplation (military service).” After his personal analysis, how could Ferenczi accept seeing his recent work reduced to the level of his old Freudian concerns? He insists: “The newer views [...] originate from the practice itself, were brought to the surface by it, extended and modified daily; they proved to be not only theoretically but also practically valuable, that is to say, usable.” The misunderstanding is obvious, and will continue to deepen. A year later, on September 18, 1931, Freud answers Ferenczi, but not as the latter hoped. Freud is angry and he accuses: “[...] you are trying to press forward in all kinds of directions which to me seem to lead to no desirable end.” On December 5, deeply affected by Freud’s renewed refusal to comment clearly on his hypothesis regarding the overestimation of fantasy and subsequent setting aside of traumatic reality in pathogenesis, Ferenczi remains steadfast: “But honesty obliges me to say that, up to now, I don’t feel called upon to change anything essential.” A letter from Vienna dated December 13, 1931, delivers the final verdict: “[...] you have not embarked upon any fruitful path [...]”

But there is still worse: there is what Ferenczi truly cannot bear, hi addition to the condemnation of the theoretical orientation of his work, his practice itself is subj ected to criticism; what Freud rejects is not his practice as Ferenczi discreetly describes it, but as rumours in Vienna depict it, making a caricature of it. Taking on the tone of the severe father, Freud rejects what he reduces to a syrupy “maternal tenderness technique” that was unable to stop “before the kiss.” This is a cruel blow for Ferenczi, whose work takes the risk of enacting not “his most spiritual experience,” as Lou Andreas-Salome had said years earlier, but what he considered his most highly analytic experience. His desire as an analyst is crushed by tire man whom he has placed in the position of ultimate Other. It is in this context of confusion of tongues between the two men that, in 1932, Ferenczi chooses to set down his observations and develop his ideas in his Clinical Diary, and no longer in the Correspondence.

Ferenczi’s notes in the Clinical Diary’, which might not have been intended to be published in that form, and whose author was dispirited, even shattered, by the recent condemnation of his work, and therefore of the desire that supported him in liis work as an analyst, paint a harsh portrait of Freud, the analyst. While in 1922 we saw Ferenczi express confidence in the future analytic path of the “master and teacher of psychoanalysis” that he had become, in 1932 we discover a tragically broken and desperate man, whose passion for analysis is nevertheless stronger than ever.

While in the past he tended to engage in endless analytical self-criticism of his troubled relations with women and his ambivalent relation to Freud, now he brings into question not only Freud’s own desire, but the desire of the father of psychoanalysis.

Freud, an unanalysed analyst? (1932)

As we read the Clinical Diary, we sense how tense the relation between the two men has become. On March 17, Ferenczi observes:

My own analysis could not be pursued deeply enough because my analyst (by his own admission of a narcissistic nature), with a strong determination to be healthy, and his antipathy towards any weaknesses or abnormalities, could not follow' me down into those depths and introduced the ‘educational’ stage too soon.

On May 1,1932, Ferenczi refers to certain recent remarks made by Freud: “Patients are riffraff. Patients only serve to provide us with a livelihood and material to learn from.” And he added: “We certainly cannot help them.” Ferenczi protests: “This is therapeutic nihilism,” but concedes that despite this, if the analyst Irides his doubts and if hope is awakened in him, he gains the patient’s trust. Ferenczi finds this situation painfill, and he remains opposed to it. He has been driven to solitude since the cooling off of his warm dialogue wdth Freud, who places the search for truth above the process of healing, which he considers secondary. This view' causes him to maintain that analytic training should be reserved for “normal” people, not too neurotic and good at dreaming. Ferenczi only gave up talking with Freud after a long period of renewed attempts. OnJanuary 15, 1928, he had already written to Freud, who agreed with the position taken by the Berlin Institute analysts: “The analyst’s properly being analyzed is the same thing that you call ‘normality.’” In the Clinical Diary he even goes so far as to say that the best analyst is a cured patient. Similarly, in 1930 when Freud was saying that he was “fed up,” tired of analysis “as a therapy,” Ferenczi’s reply on January 17 was:

I, too, often felt ‘fed up’ wdth [the process], but I overcame this impulse and can report to you with joy that precisely here a w'hole sexies of questions is apparently moved into a different, sharper light, perhaps even the problem of repression!

Ferenczi was trying to make his ideas heard, but Freud’s analytic interests were elsewhere.

On August 4,1932, Ferenczi - like Emma Jung before him - reproached Freud for his ambiguous toying with the figure of the respected father, which he embodied so well:

Contrary to all his technical rales, [Freud] adopted Dr. F[erenczi] almost like his son. As he himself told me, he regarded him as the most perfect heir of his ideas. Thereby, he became proclaimed crown prince, with the prospect of making his solemn entrance in America.

On several occasions, Ferenczi suggested that he could take Freud into analysis, perhaps in hopes of freeing him from his symptomatic relation to the figure of the son. Ferenczi knew that although Freud had successfully conducted a very demanding and rigorous self-analysis, he remained, nevertheless, unanalysed. Indeed, Ferenczi explains how his own symptom was intertwined with Freud’s unanalysed symptom: “My enthusiasm, my depression when I was neglected even for one day; my inhibition about speaking in his presence, and my burning desire to win his approval, all this reveals me to have been a blindly dependent son.” Remembering his earlier experience, Ferenczi supposes that Freud, contrary to his stated preference - that of having independent colleagues - may not be able to welcome an analyst who gained his independence in the course of personal analysis. He knows that Freud remains uninterested in the research he (Ferenczi) now dedicates entirely to the technique conducting the analysis, and to its therapeutic goals. Ferenczi considers analysis to have a traumatolytic goal - the only form of analytic healing constituting the true end of analysis - the type of analysis which produces a trained analyst. Partly misinterpreted, Freud’s indifference to his ultimate contribution to the psychoanalytic edifice devastated Ferenczi.

The unwelcome analyst and his death-instinct

Still on August 4, 1932, Ferenczi desperately looks for the cause of Freud’s deafness: “[...] the idea, perhaps very strong in the unconscious, that the father must die when the son grows up, explains [Freud’s] fear of allowing one of his sons to become independent.” He remembers having borne the consequences of Freud’s symptom quite early:

The [aggressivity aiming at mutual castration], which in the unconscious is probably crassly aggressive, is overlaid by [Freud’s] the need - which should be called homosexual - for a harmonious father-son relationship. In any case he could, for example, tolerate my being a son only until the moment when I contradicted him for the first time. (Palermo).

Over 20 years later, on October 2, 1932, in a final note Ferenczi describes the internal devastation to which he is subjected by Freud’s condemnation:

Further regression to being dead. (Not yet being bom is the danger [...]) In my case the blood-crisis arose when I realized that not only can I not rely on the protection of a “higher power” but on the contrary I shall be trampled under foot by this indifferent power as soon as I go my own way and not his.

Suffering from pernicious anaemia that is becoming more and more severe, six months before the end of his life Ferenczi formulates an implacable summary of the unconscious underpinnings of his brilliant career as an analyst: “Scientific achievements, marriage, battles with formidable colleagues - all this was possible only under the protection of the idea that in all circumstances I can count on the father-surrogate (Freud).”

He reproaches Freud with exploiting this pivotal dependence, instead of subjecting it to analysis. Hate and revolt, hiding behind the transference and its early signs of ambivalence that Freud did not know what to do with, were not “abreacted” and worked through. As a result, the child in Ferenczi stayed at the stage of “powerless rage” that caimot be converted into hate. Ferenczi even turned this dependence into a form of identification with his analyst, not identification with the presumed strong ego of the analyst, but with the aggressor as experienced by the hypnotised subject:

Are the “identification” with the higher power [Freud], the most sudden “formation of the superego,” the support that once preserved me from final disintegration? Is the only possibility for my continued existence the renunciation of the largest part of one’s own self, in order to carry out the will of that higher power to the end?

The questioning now takes a tragic tone:

And now, just as I must build new red corpuscles, must I (if I can) create a new basis for my personality, if I have to abandon as false and untrustworthy the one I have had up to now? Is the choice here one between dying and “rearranging myself’ - and this at the age of fifty-nine? On the other hand, is it worth it always to live the life (will) of another person - is such a life not almost death?

Clearly, Ferenczi deplores Freud’s manner of practising analysis, and the humiliating effects it had on him, but more than this, he continues to question the nature of Freud’s desire as the father of psychoanalysis.

Did Freud believe in the unconscious?

For instance, on May 1,1932, overlooking Freud’s reproaches, Ferenczi questions and, in truth, interprets the close relation between Freud the man and psychoanalytic practice. He asks himself if Freud truly believes in his own analytic theory, or clings to it too desperately in order to protect himself from his self-analysis, that is, from his own doubts. Ferenczi goes on to say that although Freud initially followed Breuer with enthusiasm, he is now emotionally detached from psychoanalysis, which he approaches on a purely intellectual level. As a result, he only analyses others and not himself, giving rise to projection. Ferenczi’s hypothesis is that at first Freud “occupied himself passionately and devotedly with helping neurotic patients (lying on the floor for hours when necessary next to a person in a hysterical crisis).” Thus, it appears that when he started out, Freud, like Ferenczi, was extremely passionate about analysis, believing strongly in the power of speaking and listening. Ferenczi goes on:

[...] but he must have been first shaken, then sobered by certain experiences [...] and [by] the problem of countertransference which suddenly opened up before Breuer like an abyss. In Freud’s case this corresponds to the discovery of the mendacity of hysterics.

It is moving to see that Ferenczi is eager to find a space of mutuality between himself and Freud, not noticing that their respective passion for analysis lies in different spheres. While for Ferenczi the difficulties encountered in conducting an analysis constitute opportunities for technical experiments leading to a renewed questioning of the theory' and the practice, Freud turns away from these difficulties and constructs tire theoretical framework of psychoanalysis quite differently. Here, Ferenczi touches upon a characteristic trait of Freud’s relation to psychoanalysis.

This trait, which sheds light on Freud’s long-ago abandonment of the hypothesis of the traumatic aetiology of neurotic suffering is related to a radical disappointment he describes in his 1913 technical text “On Beginning the Treatment.” In it, he describes how much, and in what way, he believed that eliminating the repression related to trauma caused by early sexual abuse would suffice to free the hysterical patient from her obsessive fear. But he found that “the certain expectation of [...] bringing the neurosis and the treatment to a rapid end” was illusory:

It was a severe disappointment when the expected success was not forthcoming. How could it be that the patient, who now knew about his traumatic experience, nevertheless still behaved as if he knew no more about it then before? Indeed, telling and describing his repressed trauma to him did not even result in any recollection of it coming into his mind.

This admission made in 1913 was something Freud had already confessed to his long-ago friend Wilhelm Fliess in the 1890s. In the famous letter dated September 21,1897, Freud confides “the great secret that has been slowly dawning on [him] in the last few months.” He no longer believes in his neurotica (his theory' of the traumatic sexual aetiology of neurosis). He gives Fliess the main reasons for this:

The continual disappointment in my [attempts] to bring a single analysis to [a true end; patients who abandon the treatment, although for a time their engagement was the strongest;] the absence of the complete successes on which I had counted; the possibility of explaining to myself the partial successes in other ways, in the usual fashion [the overestimation of the hold of fantasy] - this was the first group [of reasons].

Thirty years later, when Ferenczi looks once again at the role of the traumatic in psychic life, he does more than simply return to Freud’s old theory of a traumatic aetiology, as the latter supposes. As early as the 1920s, and in his active technique, he has taken notice of the possible misuses of S ee association, and of the limits of interpretation, aware of the secret jouissance underlying them. More importantly still, and contr ary to Freud’s method, he does not insist on the elimination of repression and on remembering, but focuses on repetition. What Freud saw as an inevitable stumbling block in analysis, Ferenczi welcomes as a process serving to repeat the trauma in the context of transference. He works with what Freud considered an impossible to analyse failure of transference - which he later called negative therapeutic reaction - seeing it as an opportunity to relive in the transference tire violation that caused splitting or worse still, atomisation. As Ferenczi has already commented to Freud, the difficult moments in any analysis require taking into account, in addition to the psychic economy of repression, the economy of splitting, which completes it. This is only possible provided that the analyst does not give in to the dread that can take hold of him when he stands before the “abyss of countertransference.”

Is Ferenczi not entitled to wonder about the role played by Freud’s countertransference in his personal analysis, like in other analyses? Hasn’t Freud always avoided the “furnace of transference” and any furor sanandfl In 1895, when he still believed in the sexual aetiology of neuroses, did he not write, in his preface to Studies on Hysteria: “Hysteria, like the neuroses, has its deeper causes; and it is those deeper causes that set limits, which are often very appreciable, to the success of our treatment”? On April 16, 1900, in a letter to Fliess, Freud refers to a five-year analysis that has just been ended by the analysand: “E. at last concluded his career as a patient by coming to dinner at my house. His enigma is almost completely solved; he is in excellent shape, his personality entirely changed. At present a remnant of the symptoms is left.” Freud seems concerned with this remnant of the symptoms, before making a double confession: “I am beginning to understand that the apparent endlessness of the treatment is something that occm s regularly and is comiected with the transference.” Ferenczi would say that the “endless” character of analysis is indissociably, and just as much, comiected with countertransference. Freud’s next statement in his letter seems to confinn this: “I could have continued the treatment, but I had the feeling that such a prolongation is a compromise between ilhiess and health that patients themselves desire, and the physician must therefore not accede to it.” He goes on to clarify his position: “The asymptotic conclusion of the treatment basically makes no difference to me, but is yet one more disappointment to outsiders.”

Ferenczi, who was convinced of the curative effects of analysis, was made to suffer, before, during and after his analysis, by Freud’s ambiguous relation to the end of analysis. He had been personally affected by Freud's relative indifference to what had been a regrettable incompletion, rather than an impossible conclusion. But in his case, disappointment expressed itself in two stages of contrasting nature. In the first stage (1922), it was constructive, while in the second (1932), it was devastating.

Can we try to solve the enigma of the strange timeframe of this disappointment differently than Ferenczi and Freud did? Both of them speak of this analysis as if it was a private affair between two people, in the privacy of the analyst’s office, while in fact it took place in a turbulent analytic milieu and in an analytic community still awaiting the institutionalisation of regulations serving to govern the practices and politics of psychoanalysis. The first of its kind - in temis of what it had to teach and what paths it opened - this analysis, we must remember, took place at a time when analysis of the future analyst, and its end, had not been subjected to any discussion about doctrine. In that pioneering era, today’s concept of supervision did not yet exist.

Some others and the analytic community

In his writings of the 1930s, Ferenczi did not take the measure, any more than Freud did in his 1937 essay, of the role played by the particularly close relationship in which Ferenczi was engaged in 1920 and 1921 with two other people, a woman and a man. These two extremely different people had one thing in common: their marginal position in the analytic community. Eugénie Sokolnicka was a “difficult” analysand whose analysis Freud had cut short a few years earlier, just as he cut short Ferenczi’s analysis. Georg Groddeck was a practitioner of medicine and psychotherapy who, despite Freud’s wishes, refused to join “the savage horde” of analysts. Ferenczi met them when he was still suffering the deferred effects of the definitive end of his analytic sessions, and was trying to leave behind, displace or transform what was left of his dependence on Freud. In May 1922, he presented himself to Freud as a qualified analyst, not only on the authority of his practice, of his detailed knowledge of Freud’s texts, or of his merit in earning victories for the cause, but now also on the basis of the knowledge gained from his experience with personal analysis, which had affected him profoundly. In short, we can agree with Lacan that Ferenczi had become an analyst on his own authority, and was proclaiming it.

But although he can make this claim thanks to the progress, as well as the obstacles, encountered in his analysis, he is also bolstered by two decisive encounters with “some others.” We believe that it is thanks to what he discovered in the analysis he conducted with Eugénie, and while observing the healing practised by Groddeck, that Ferenczi became able to make do with what was missing in his analysis. With these two others, he was able to compensate Freud’s shortcomings in his role as analyst. It is also in their company that he found, outside of analysis, without Freud and outside the analytic circle, the personal sustenance which allowed him to transform the impediment in his analysis into an opening. What had remained left out in his incomplete analysis is now no longer an obstacle, but rather a new world to explore. Bolstered by this perspective found outside the institution, Ferenczi can finally claim and explore more fully and without fear the analytic intuitions he had for so long kept to himself. Certain that he could finally let his voice be heard and present Iris new ideas, he feels no need to reproach Freud with its failings as an analyst. With Eugénie and Georg, he begins to see how he can benefit from these failings, without elevating them, as he would do in 1932, to the status of a failure on the part of the father of psychoanalysis.

If it be the case that in 1922 the absence of any radical blame assigned to Freud is due, as we suppose, to the encounters discussed above, can we speculate that the subsequent emergence of grievances and of the reproach regarding Freud’s unanalysed desire may be related to the undermining of the role played by these “others” in the process of becoming and remaining an analyst? Indeed, what, in fact, did Ferenczi gain from his relationship with Groddeck and from the analysis of Eugénie Sokolnicka?

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