With Georg Groddeck (192 I)

Through Freud, Ferenczi had discovered the work of Groddeck in 1917, well before meeting him in the summer of 1921. Although at first Ferenczi was more reticent than Freud about Groddeck’s unorthodox practices, surprisingly, he was soon won over. In a letter to Freud dated June 14, 1918, he expresses surprise at the therapeutic achievements of a practitioner who claims to treat physical ills with psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy. Ferenczi thinks he has uncovered the secret of Groddeck’s ait of healing:

The enclosed letter from the crazy Swedish woman provides us with interesting insights into Dr. Groddeck’s method of treatment [...] It strikes me altogether as more and more probable that Groddeck is not curing at all with analysis, but rather that with the aid of the transference he puts the plastic power of hysteria into the service of the organic tendency to heal. Precisely because he doesn’t analyze but rather displaces the tendencies as a block, he is able to perform such feats.

Ferenczi senses that Gr oddeck could provide an answer to the question that accompanied his request for analysis - the question related to the intervention between the psychic and the organic in pathological states. But, even more importantly, we think, when reading Groddeck, Ferenczi recognises an outside source that clearly echoes his own secret reflections. It is, in fact, he, Ferenczi, who after Iris recent analysis thinks, as yet vaguely, that classical Freudian analysis does not cure if it limits itself to the application of the usual technical rules. It is he who, going beyond Freud, truly believes hi the unsuspected power of the virtues of transference, in which love places itself in the service of the organic tendency to heal. A year later, Ferenczi implicitly relies on Groddeck’s ideas when he writes “The

Phenomena of Hysterical Materialization” (1919). He was to do this again much later, in May 1931, when he attributed a second function to dreams. To Freud’s dream function, the fulfilment of forbidden wishes, Ferenczi adds a second, “trau-matolytic” function of the dream: the elimination of day-residues and life-residues containing psychic impression of trauma. On September 5, 1921, Ferenczi meets Groddeck for the first time in Baden-Baden, where he would vacation several times after that. That year, on Christmas Day, he writes to this stranger who stays away from psychoanalysts. In his letter, he points out the main characteristic of his recent analysis: “I could never be completely [flank] with him, there was too much of this ‘fearfill respect’; he was too large for me, too much the father.”

Even more stuprisingly, like hi his letter requesting analysis, Ferenczi describes his inhibition to put his most personal analytic intuitions in writing. He associates this reaction to the painful memory of the 1910 Palermo incident. For the first time, he reveals what he experienced as the most violent aspect of the incident: the request that he take down the notes Freud wanted to dictate to him. This was not how they were intended to collaborate. Ferenczi jumped up and refused. In his letter to Groddeck, he associates the traumatic impact of this incident with some still vivid humiliating memories. For instance, his mother’s cold disapproval when, as a little boy, he tested his phallic ability as a burgeoning writer by making a list of all the swear w'ords he knew, and proudly showed it to this mother, this busy woman he describes as indifferent to his need for tenderness and recognition. It is safe to guess that all this w'as discussed and worked through in the sessions, with no effect on the symptom.

But in this letter, and precisely thanks to the analytic work accomplished, Ferenczi goes a step further - a major step forward in our opinion. After describing in detail the various organic and functional ills that prevent him from writing, he speaks of the redeeming power of wilting, which held such an important place in his life, just as it did in Freud’s. “Had I your wiiterly talents I w'ould write - as I began to do above - straight from the heart about my physical and mental ailments.” At this point in his associations, as if he just heard what he has been saying, he makes another revelation that brings back another memory. Now; it is as if we are in the middle of a session, when suddenly Ferenczi inserts a not a bene in parentheses after what he has just said: “(Stop: I am dishonest! I believe that I do have wiiterly talents; I recall how much a disparaging judgment on a piece of w'ork, or before that a poem, hurt me.)” The poem in question was a love poem he had written as a young man to his mother, who made fun of him. We suppose that at this juncture Ferenczi is aw'are of the dishonest component of his hallowing complaint, as well as of the reality of the symptom, recognised as the depositor}' of an unspeakable jouissance: “The evil part of this is that my erotic self is apparently not satisfied with these revelations. I, my ‘Id,’ doesn’t w'ant analytic insights, it wants something real; a young woman, a child!” He w'ants the impossible, the very thing which he gradually consented to give up. Ferenczi ends his long letter as he started it, with a conunent made in the new' tone he has adopted with this new' friend, who is not “too much the father”: “It was, as I said, no small matter, either, for me to [set aside] my scholarly [pride] and present myself not as the superior one, the competitor, but rather as naive, childish - what comes to mind is the word ‘humble.’”

What Ferenczi discovers thanks to this intermittent, accessory transference to Groddeck is that he is not condemned to everlasting inhibition, and that he is a talented writer and can show it if he can relinquish the jouissance that maintains the symptom. This recovered freedom to think and to write is particularly valuable now that, with Groddeck, Ferenczi has given his research a new orientation, which a few months later he would defiantly present to Freud, invoking the need to “structure and complete the old experiences and know-how.”

With Eugenie Sokolnicka (1920)

In The Correspondence with Ferenczi, Freud first mentions this name on January 19,1918: “Sokolnicka [1884-1934] appears to be founding a psychoanalytic society in Warsaw.” Ferenczi probably knows that she is Polish, that she studied at the Sorbonne before beginning her training at the Burghblzli Hospital in Zurich, and was then analysed by Freud (1913-1914) before becoming a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Ferenczi is sure to know that Freud dislikes her. On February 10, 1920, he informs Freud that Frau Sokolnicka has been in Budapest for six weeks, “completing her analysis [...] with me.” On March 20, he reveals the interest he takes in her training: “Frau Dr. Sokolnicka is attending our sessions, which are being held in German for her sake [I had her ■write down a short but quite pretty observation of hers.] It is enclosed with this letter.”

But it is not until June 4,1920, that the difficult case of this analysand takes on a peculiar and unique role in the correspondence between the two men. When Freud expresses concern about not receiving any personal news from Ferenczi and asks to be informed, the latter responds in a strange way. Roughly, it is as if he were saying: “I will tell you about myself by talking about a difficult patient.” But his actual response is more subtle: “I can [now tell you about certain] purely personal matters, which are nonetheless not uninteresting scientifically (to me); therewith I also accede to your request to write ‘personal things’ about myself.” From now on, he would speak of himself no longer in tones of neurotic complaint, but through the description of an analysis that Freud had refused to pursue to its conclusion: “Point of departure [of personal things] is the analysis of Frau Dr. Sokolnicka, which I would now like to summarize in more detail.” We leave it to the reader to enjoy the rest of this account in the letter. Before coming back to it, let us look at Freud’s answer on June 17, in which he paints an unflattering picture of his former analysand: “Don’t let yourself resolve to take Sokolnicka along on vacation. She has always been repugnant to me, despite undeniable talent.” And he goes on:

[The conduct of her analysis] seems quite excellent to me; the therapeutic prospects should be good, for you know that she always held onto her men, not out of love but rather out of unsatisfied anger, and you gave her the possibility of finally getting this affect out.

Freud admits that Ferenczi is conducting the analysis well, but he thinks it is a lost cause:

But she also won’t let go of you so soon. I don’t consider her a paranoia but a basically disgusting person; she doesn’t want to see now that she has already become an old woman. In that there is little to be done, and the development of quite crazy [meschuggener] traits can hardly be impeded.

There is nothing to add.

Sometime after this second analysis on his couch, Ferenczi helped Eugénie establish herself in Paris. Not being a physician, it was hard for her to be accepted into the French psychiatric milieu, but she was welcomed into the literary milieu, where those associated with the Nouvelle Rexaie Française gave her an enthusiastic welcome. A pioneer in child psychoanalysis, she was also the analyst of André Gide and a few distinguished figures of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (PPS): Sophie Morgenstem, René Laforgue and Édouard Pichon. hi 1926, she was co-founder and vice-president of the PPS. In 1934, marginalised within her institution, she committed suicide by turning on the gas in her apartment. She was 50 years old.

To understand how Eugénie came to belong to the ranks of those “few others” in Ferenczi’s circle, let us go back to the analysis through which Ferenczi wanted to communicate to Freud certain personal things of great scientific importance. By reporting on this analysis, Ferenczi is letting Freud know that his method of interrupting certain analyses before their completion is unjustified, and that other techniques have to be devised. But, in our opinion, what is most valuable for Ferenczi in this situation is something else. With this difficult patient, an analyst who wishes to deepen and complete the analysis left unfinished by Freud, Ferenczi glimpses the new form mutuality can take in the transference. As early as 1920, with Eugénie he responds to the first request for mutual analysis; ten years later he would consent to mutual analysis with other difficult patients - women psychotherapists wanting to receive psychoanalytic training.

Eugénie and the disturbing strangeness of mutuality (1920)

The character trait that distorts Eugénie’s relation to men and to women is clearly identified by Ferenczi: “In a word: she exaggerated her femininity in order to conceal her virility [Her rage to please] (and a kind of érotomanie conceit about her feminine powers of seduction) expressed itself from the very beginning.” This tendency was repeatedly enacted in the cotuse of the analysis:

She also claimed, [for instance, that I too] had been somewhat in love with her in Vienna and she [supported this claim by referring to] the way in which I once asked her in a coffeehouse to tell me where else [we] could meet in Vienna.

The analysis continues in this tempestuous climate, with crises occurring from time to time; Eugénie does not want to be seen by the patient whose session follows hers, whom she met at a congr ess (Budapest?), for fear of being taken for a neurotic. To avoid this, she asks for a different time for her sessions. But Ferenczi stands his ground: “I hastened not to comply with her wish to change the hour, whereby I provoked an outburst of rage in her that lasted a few days.” Then his attitude softens: “Finally, I accommodated her and wanted to analyze the entire event once and for all, i.e., interpret it as a repetition of earlier (at the time perhaps suppressed) rage fantasies. That also went on for a while.” But this concession to the request for changing the time of the sessions, and the recourse to interpretation, did not produce the expected effect:

But soon she began to find fault with my indulgence; in every hour she found fault with something else in my technique (which she praised earlier as especially fine), but this time I remained steadfast, i.e., continued to be indulgent, let her do everything herself (which she also did gladly, without being asked), but this indulgence increased her anger even more.

Let us remember what Ferenczi had emphasised in his letter to Freud requesting analysis, on December 26, 1912, concerning the impossibility for rage to be externalised as hate, and as a result turning into an explosive and deathly attack in the living organism. Ferenczi supposes that, in Eugénie’s case, it is such deep-seated rage which repeats itself in a hallucinatory fashion in the trance-like state in which the analyst embodies this other who personified absolute seduction, the other who invited her desire only to reject it and refuse the love offered in response to Iris invitation. But Ferenczi observes that in the transference the rage which can become murderous in true erotomania takes another form, expressing itself in words of despair: “[...] finally there came words like ‘idiot,’ ‘ass,’ ‘washcloth,’ ‘characterless,’ but not as associations, but as her ironclad conviction. I did not yield [...] until finally, today, after some weeping, she hesitatingly resumed work (which she evidently wanted to interrupt).” With the return of tears, a threshold is crossed: Eugénie reveals some of her pain, kept silent until then under her outbursts.

Armed with this new strength, she dares to go from insults to criticism of the analyst:

Lately (since the feeling of her psychoanalytic superiority [...] with respect to me has solidified), she tinned [things] around, began to analyze me, called me a severe neurotic [who paralyzed the keenness of his own perception], counted out my analytic sins to me, my inability to work out my ideas, etc. In spite of this I remained steadfast and hope that, [for the time being,] we will be able to continue working.

Ferenczi ends the presentation of this singular analysis by asking Freud a question: should he or should he not let his patient come along to the place where he will be vacationing, to pursue her analysis. He is worried about the volatile dynamics of the treatment:

Naturally, the case does not appear easier because of this! Her suicide threats, which appear in a [worrisome] light [after] an attempt at poisoning herself (in Poland) and [... ] the infantile suicide known to you (jumping into hot water), command me not to give up the case. She is a very valuable personality.

But Ferenczi’s reservations are easy to understand: “This prospect is certainly very unpleasant to me. It costs me no slight mastery to remain philosophical with her bickering; but I want to have peace and quiet in the summer.” The analy-sand, in a hurry to finish her analysis, is making this demand of continuing the work over the summer. Rather than comply with this request for accelerating the analysis in order to end it sooner, Ferenczi adopts a position contrary to that Freud took with him in the fall of 1916: he advised continuing the analysis in the fall:

Unfortunately, I did not protest immediately, out of an excess of caution; she was just then at her unhappiest. I told her only that I can’t give her any date, and admitted that the analysis can only continue in the fall.

A fierce defender of the analysis, Ferenczi overlooks nothing: “That is unbearable to her; she feels abandoned here, her means, as mentioned, have become smaller, she can't earn money here (as I told her) because of the language difficulties.” He remains firm, despite her objections: “So I got to talking about whether (if she has no trust in me) she doesn’t want to go to you again; but she is (you will say: thank God) much too insulted by you.” In order to stay on course and ensure that the analysis can continue, Ferenczi counts on her desire: “I [...] offered myself in further assistance, as befits my tactic of being mild with her.” But he reminds Freud, who is reluctant to work with Eugénie again: “[...] she recognizes only one single analyst; you are he. She feels herself to be superior to the others, without exception. Despite her real talent. I see herein [typical megalomania.]”

Eugénie. Analysant/, analyst or supervisor?

In the second part of this long letter dated June 4,1920, after the detailed description of this problematic portion of an analysis of great interest for the emerging science that psychoanalysis was at the time, Ferenczi discusses his personal affairs more directly: “That is how matters now stand. Now, where is the personal in all this, you will ask. The answer is that the patient has this time diagnosed something correct in the doctor.” The patient would have seen in her analyst something that the latter’s analyst was unable to see. This accurate perception, which does not come from academic knowledge but springs, rather, from a different source, allows her to perceive a symptom persisting in her analyst:

With her observation sharpened by the neurosis she has guessed that my ‘laziness’ in working cannot be explained by the (justified, by the way) tiredness. There is something else neurotic behind it. - Naturally, I must report to you once more about my married life.

At this stage, Ferenczi no longer reports to Freud the ups and downs of his love life. Here, he refers to it again as a way of reminding Freud that the marriage to which he wholeheartedly consented did not solve the problems he experiences in relationships with women. In fact, he refers to the last 12 months as “the unconscious year of mourning.” He is expressing his gr atitude not to Freud, but to this woman who has heard the distress of the unwelcome child he once was:

Despite my analytic mildness, the patient seems to have guessed that scolding and bickering out of the mouth of a woman affects me as extremely unpleasant. That has to do with the most painful and effective traumas of my childhood, the relationship with my strict mother.

There it is: because she is a woman, because she is crazy and not crazy at all, this woman could hear, in her analyst and his passion for therapy, the traumatised child, the child petrified by the terrorism of suffering that a mother can inflict on a child she could not welcome. Because she herself was going through a painful time in her analysis, Eugénie was able to hear in her analyst, and precisely in his excessive solicitude, the child in the power of maternal hypnosis. It is this maternal hypnosis Ferenczi had tried in vain to bring to Freud’s attention. Invited to her analyst’s table, just as Ferenczi had been to Freud’s, Eugénie went even further in her analytic interpretations:

Right! The patient also tries to project her grandiosity onto me; she claims I want to undo [you]; that’s why I am so slavishly subservient to you. The idea is good, but not new to me. What do you think, is this complex still active in me?

“Please would you share with me your opinion about the questionable points, in not too long a time, if possible.” We already know that on June 17 Freud advised Ferenczi not to give in to his patient’s demands.

What, then, did Ferenczi gain from his analysis of Eugénie Sokolnicka? We believe he gained a conviction which confirmed what he had glimpsed with Grod-deck: when classical Freudian analysis - free association, evenly-suspended attention and interpretation of unconscious formations or of resistances - does not heal, does another approach to the furnace of transference or of madness make it possible to bring about a cure? With Eugénie - that darned woman - Ferenczi discovers that analysis can be continued beyond what Freud considers the bedrock of transference, particularly in the analysis of women like Eugénie, who do not present the characteristics of likeable hysterics.

In the company of these “few others,” Ferenczi no longer needs to make bitter reproaches; he is now happy to see new research path open before him. He forges ahead, determined and optimistic. This is what makes us ask: what happened to explain that ten years later Ferenczi has become a broken man? Our hypothesis is that after he presented himself to Freud as an accomplished analyst in May 1922, Ferenczi failed to find, among the analysts of the Secret Committee, “a few others” whose approval could have provided continued support.

An analytic community between a group and a collective?

As we were asking: what happened between 1922 and 1932? How did Ferenczi, a determined and enthusiastic analyst in the time of the “few others,” come to be a broken man in the end? In Impardonnable Ferenczi, malaise dans la transmission {Unforgivable Ferenczi: Unease in Transmission),1 we recounted the often solitary and laborious struggle he had to wage in order to pursue the revision of “the old know-how,” a revision for which he was not forgiven. The first step in this work was “A Historical Critical Retrospect,” his richest contribution to The Development of Psychoanalysis (1924), written with Otto Rank, which did not meet with the reception it deserved. On this occasion, Ferenczi discovered the extent of the destructive effect his intermittent association with Rank - encouraged by Freud - had exerted on him. Rank, who had Freud’s favour, was not part of the “few others” mentioned earlier. The combat Ferenczi later led in the United States in favour of lay analysis resulted in the hostility of American analysts. Upon his return, although at that point Freud considered him his only reliable ally, he also criticised his passion for analysis as endangering the International Psychoanalytic Association by disagreeing with the 1920 principles of analytic training established in Berlin. Thus, several times, the presidency of the IPA, which Freud thinks should rightly be his by virtue of his analytic rigour, is denied him for different reasons. As a result, Ferenczi concentrates more and more on his analytic practice and his pupils. This isolation torments him. He is unable to accept the fact that Freud agrees with his new ideas, but criticises the political danger created by his analytic opinions which, in fact, threaten the cohesion needed by the analytic movement. Exasperated, Freud refuses to listen to him. This is devastating to Ferenczi, who for a long time wanted to see Freud as the most valuable of his “few others”; but this role could not be played by Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, nor by Freud, Ferenczi’s analyst.

Ferenczi sadly admits this on October 2, 1932, in his Clinical Diary:

(I have just received a few personally friendly lines from Jones. He has sent roses, suggested a circular letter). Can not deny that I was pleasantly touched even by this. I did indeed also feel abandoned by colleagues (Rado, etc.) who are all too afraid of Freud to behave objectively or even sympathetically toward me, in the case of a dispute between Freud and me.

Where he was expecting to find a collective favourable to mutual exchange of ideas and open debate, he runs into political considerations and group phenomena: “A more restrained circulation of letters between Freud, Jones and Eitingon has certainly been going on for a long time. I am treated like a sick person who must be spared.” Ferenczi knows his future is being decided. Although he does not yet know what dire treatment Freud and his friends are preparing for him, he is not mistaken. After his death in 1933, in addition to speculations of paranoia concerning him, there were those who opposed the publication of “Confusion of the Tongues between the Adults and the Child,” the paper he presented at the Wiesbaden Congress, and who wanted his last writings to remain unknown, in order to protect his memory.

In the same note of the Diary, Ferenczi is clear about what gives him the strength to go on at this time when Freud and those close to him - although not excluding him entirely - give him no support: “My students’ confidence in me could give me reassurance [...]” Indeed, it is in the circle of his students that he finds a collective which appreciates his contributions and his style of analysis, always on the brink of crucial questions, and in this circle he finds “a few others.” Thus, he grants a special place to a particular person who, in our opinion, enabled him to continue his work in those dark times. The Diary speaks of having “in particular the confidence of a person who is both student and teacher.” This person is, clearly, Elisabeth Severn, designated as R.N. in The Clinical Diary. This American woman was already a psychotherapist and author of two books on psychotherapy. Like Eugénie, she had a strong character, was a particularly difficult case, and wanted to become an analyst. Elisabeth forced Ferenczi to put into practice the “mutual analysis” to which Eugénie had initiated him.

From Eugénie Sokolnicka to Elisabeth

Severn (1920-1932)

In 1920, Eugénie’s analysis is taken beyond the point where Freud abandoned it: an incompleteness he rationalised based on the principles he advanced in 1915 in “Observations on Transference-Love.” Just as he would later advise Ferenczi to be wary of Eugénie, Freud was already advising analysts to “withdraw” from “women of elemental passionateness [...] who refuse to accept the psychical in place of the material.” With such women, he wrote, “one has the choice between returning their love or else bringing down upon oneself the frill enmity of a woman scorned. In neither case can one safeguard the interests of the treatment.” Was Freud thinking of his analysis of Eugénie when he wrote these lines? With Eugénie, Ferenczi discovered that there may be a way out of this impasse. This is what he was trying, in vain, to tell Freud, without laying blame or complaining.

In 1932, Ferenczi does more than continue Elisabeth’s analysis, which started at the end of 1924. In the last years of this analysis, he finally consents to the patient’s request that he recognise his deafness and ambiguity during analytic listening, given the reality of his human condition, and specifically the reality of his maleness. He therefore sometimes lies down on his own couch, letting the patient sit in the analyst’s chair. Ferenczi is no longer misled by the inconsistency he attributes to Freud on August 4, 1932, referring to the ease with which Freud sacrifices the interests of women in favor of male patients. This is consistent with the unilaterally androphile orientation of his theory' of sexuality. In this he was followed by nearly all his pupils, myself not excluded.

Not only is Ferenczi ready to accept responsibility, but he takes up a therapeutic challenge he is the first to criticise and recognise as impossible to put into practice. But even in this extravagant situation he remains true to his desire as an analyst, to review and revise the established know-how. It is for this reason that he is willing to insist on his demand for personal analysis, and a cure that must involve the repetition of the traiuna in transference, so that a pre-traumatic link can be restored. On this daring journey, Ferenczi makes many discoveries: post-traumatic narcissistic splitting, identification with the aggr essor, alien transplants, etc. - which cannot be discussed here.

In 1932, when Ferenczi’s exclusion becomes obvious, it is made even more painfi.il by his admission of his personal failure. His personal analysis was left unfinished. No matter what he gained along the way, he cannot claim to have completed his project. And although mutual analysis had much to teach him, it ultimately led to an impasse as well.

He admits this with great lucidity in a moving note dated June 3,1932, bearing the eloquent heading: “No special didactic analysis!,” which we suppose could constitute his analytic testament. In this note, he objects to the “training analysis” intended for future analysts, as well as to the “therapeutic analysis” conducted with patients. His conclusion is clear: all this results in analysts less well analysed than their patients. If a long analysis lasting several years is not possible, this must be corrected, he says, by “continuous complementary analysis.” Although he openly criticises the training and teaching dispensed in Berlin, he also condemns mutual analysis, seeing it as “only a last resort.” In this future, he says, “an authentic analysis by a stranger, without any obligation, would be better.” His criticism of training analysis reserved for preselected candidates, not too neurotic and preferably physicians, leads to a firm conclusion: “The best analyst is a cured patient. Otherwise the student must first be made ill, then cured and made aware.”

Uris criticism of “didactic analysis” is accompanied by a re-questioning of supervision analyses, standardised since 1920. Ferenczi always remained on the margins of the training and teaching models of the Berlin institution. He admitted seeking an alternative - yet to be devised - to a genuine and much-needed supervision in uncertain, “last-resort” situations. This was also a recognition and admission of his own difficulties and weaknesses. In his Diary, he rioted: “Strictly supervised by the patients! No attempts [should be made] to defend oneself.”

A few months before his death, Ferenczi confesses that when Eugénie introduced him to “mutual analysis,” and when Elisabeth later forced him to conduct it, they were wildly but legitimately seeking to submit his practice to supervision, and to obtain what he himself could not obtain from Freud: the questioning of the desire that sustained his work as an analyst. The analytic aspect of “supervision” had now been defined.

This “last will” note expresses Ferenczi’s sustained belief in analysis and in its future: “[...] a small group of men could be thoroughly analyzed - whose ambition is to know more than the patients they analyse.” The strength of this desire authorises us to conclude that Ferenczi’s personal analysis, so dearly paid and considered failed, was, after all, a success.


1 Lugrin, Y, Impardonnable Ferenczi, malaise dans la transmission, Paris, Campagne-Première, 2012.

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