Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Heroes of Psychoanalysis

While reading Daniel Pick's The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind I was amazed to read about the experience of psychoanalyst, Walter Langer, who was a patient of Anna Freud in Vienna in 1938 and helped the Freud family escape the city following Hitler's annexation of Austria.
  "On one occasion," Pick writes, "the Freud family's maid Paula, told him that his analyst had been taken by the Gestapo for questioning, but the analysis resumed the next day, 'as if nothing had happened.' " (Gifford interview with Langer, cited in Pick, Pursuit, p. 40).  You can read the relevant section of Peter Gay's Freud biography describing how she managed to get released and the impact of this event on her father  here

 To me, it's a heroic example of dedication to one's work and a testament to the significance of strong relationships between analysts and patients. One could certainly understand if Dr. Freud had decided to cancel or perhaps reschedule, after departing from town.  I wonder what the impact was on Langer that he had this sense of priority in his analyst's life. Or perhaps I am being overly dramatic, ahistorically imagining a consciousness of Nazi brutality in 1938 Vienna, reflected by present-day knowledge of the Holocaust. After all, her father, Sigmund Freud did not want to leave his home at all - until this incident finally convinced him that it was time to go. Gay's bio does say that Anna Freud suspected that she might be "casually deported or shot" simply if she was waiting in the hallway at the end of the day instead of being interrogated.

This story, showing the seriousness with which good therapists take their work and how committed someone can be to a patient, is a good corrective to stereotypes of therapists we often see in popular culture. 

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