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Melanie Klein
Melanie Klein

Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis Ireland


Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Sandor Ferenczi (1873 - 1937)

Sandor Ferenczi was born one of a family of twelve in Hungary in 1873. He caught the spark of interest in the psyche in the company of poets that frequented his family bookshop in Budapest. He was an imaginative sensitive psychoanalyst who was also a controversial, daring, and innovative thinker. His work, notably on trauma and the patient-analyst relationship is now experiencing a new wave of interest, as was predicted by Lou Andreas Salome’s entry in her diary in 1913 which read that ‘Ferenczi’s time must come.’
Ferenczi received his M.D. in Vienna in 1894 and served subsequently as an army doctor. He then trained as a neurologist, developed an interest in hypnosis. He was appointed chief psychiatrist at the Royal Court in his practice tended to work with the most difficult of patients. He met Freud in 1908 and they exchanged letters which have since been published as The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi (1908-1914). He became part of Freud’s inner circle and a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. Ferenczi became a close colleague of Freud, especially after the death of Karl Abraham, though their relationship was often difficult and was likened to that of a father and son.
In 1913 Ferenczi founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society and began teaching in the University of Budapest. He differed with Freud in that he argued that that the patient’s account of sexual abuse was true and not based on instinct-driven fantasies. Ferenczi argued that the recovery of traumatic memories was not essential for modifying neurotic behaviour, instead emphasizing the need for the therapist to create a loving atmosphere which, he believed, the patient had lacked in their early object-relations. He was critical of the power structure of the analytic relationship and argued that analytical neutrality was a fiction which re-enacted the abuse of childhood. This view was the precursor of the humanistic psychotherapy movement which posits that genuine caring helps the patient to heal past wounds.
Along with Otto Rank, Ferenczi developed a technique called ‘active analysis’ which was a form of reciprocal analysis. This use of this technique angered Freud, as it involved physical contact between analyst and patient and it was quickly abandoned. Ernest Jones argued that these extreme ideas were caused by a mental illness which led to Ferenczi’s death in 1933, but this view was disputed by Ferenczi’s close friends and colleagues who claimed that he had pernicious anaemia, they also cite the brilliance and lucidity of his 1932 paper ‘ The Confusion of Tongues between the Adult and the Child’. In this paper, Ferenczi argues that abuse can be psychological as well as physical. This can lead to identification with the aggressor and this identification can be transferred to the analyst. Ferenczi’s ideas have influenced many psychoanalysts, and he certainly tested the limits of analytic practice. Currently he has found favour with followers of Jacques Lacan and his spirit is kept alive in psychoanalytic circles, especially in Budapest.

Selected Works:
The Confusion of Tongues between the Adult and the Child (1932)
Further Reading:
The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi ( 1908 - 1914)
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