From the beginning of the 20th century on, Freud’s theories became the target of countless attacks

Freud’s friends and foes: bashers versus critics

Publication Date: 17.05.2017
Swiss Arch Neurol Psychiatr Psychother. 2017;168(04):115-120

Henry Zvi Lothane

Please find the affiliations for this article in the PDF.


Few twentieth century thinkers have stirred up so much controversy as Sigmund Freud and the psycho­analysis he created. Freud himself took pride in being controversial when he declared as his mission “to disturb the peace of this world” ([1], p. 285) and chose Vergil’s Flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo(And if Heaven be inflexible, Hell shall be unleashed!) as a motto for “Die Traum­deutung”, perhaps a reference to the netherworld of sex and aggression and otherinstincts and emotions. From the beginning of the 20th century on, Freud’s theories became the target of countless attacks by psychiatrists, psycho­logists, sociologists and ­historians, who mixed criticism of his ideas with wild ad hominem bashing, i.e., defaming his personality as well.

Some examples of Freud critics and Freud bashers

Psychoanalysts themselves have reacted to Freud with ambivalence: early on Jung and Bleuler doubted Freud’s sexual explanation of the Schreber case ­[2]. In recent years, representatives of the American relational school, Greenberg and ­Mitchell [3], wrongly denied that Freud was an inter­personal psychologist [4, 5] and ­Hoffman demolished free asso­ciation [6]. By comparison, in Germany psychoanalysts still ­defend Freud against any criticism, fair or unfair, and among historio­graphers of psychoanalysis, two schools have evolved: the orthodox, represented by, for ­example, Ilse Grubrich-Simitis and Werner Bohleber, and the revisionist, including Karl Fallend and Bernd Nitzschke.

One of the current Freud defenders is Thomas Köhler, who has degrees in medicine and other doctorates, taught clinical psychology and psychoanalysis in Hamburg and ­authored many publications.

Köhler’s first book on this subject was published in 1989 as “Abwege der Psychoanalyse-Kritik”, 234 pages [7]. However, the current 2016 edition [8] is described by the publisher as a “Komplett überarbeitete, er­weiterte und ­aktualisierte Neuausgabe von Anti-Freud-­Literatur !on ihren Anfängen bis heute. Zur wissenschaftlichen Fundierung von Psychoanalyse-Kritik (1996, Kohlhammer Stuttgart)”, 179 pages. Köhler cited his first book in the 2016 references.

For the 2016 edition, Köhler chose the term Freud-bashing as a synonym for ­anti-Freud literature and surveys a number of attacks upon “den Wert seiner Theorien” (p. 9). Actually, the 2016 edition repeats pages from the original 1989 ­edition. For example, the paragraph that began in the 1989 edition on page 36 with the words “Vielleicht am geschmacklosesten Eysenck, der in bezug auf Freud’s Sexualverhalten (…)” is reproduced in the 2016 edition on page 38. The Sexualver­halten in question is the alleged affair ­between Freud and his sister-in-law Minna Bernays and it contains some fatal non ­sequiturs.

First, Eysenck showed no bad taste in discussing Freud’s sex life; Ernest Jones had given us the details.

Second, Köhler quotes Eysenck as saying: “Um (…) mit dieser Affäre zu Ende zu kommen, will ich noch Elms’ abschließenden Kommentar ­wiedergeben, der meines Erachtens den gan­zen Sturm im Wasserglas in recht vernünftiger Weise zusammenfaßt (…) (Freud) ‘mochte über Minna phantasiert haben (…) (ohne dass) er ­jemals solche Phantasien ausgeführt hätte. ­Jedenfalls brauchte er nicht Minna, um für ­Fragen des inzestuösen Verlangens besonders einfühlsam zu werden. Er hatte immer seine Mutter gehabt!’” ([8], p. 46).

Third, Elms [9] was the first to challenge the convoluted story fabricated by Peter J. Swales [10] that Minna and Freud had a sexual affair, a criticism Swales would not be able to disprove.

Fourth, Köhler cited Swales in his 1989 references, where he also included this footnote: “Nicht zur kritischen Freud-Biografik würde ich die Arbeiten von Swales (1982, 1986) rechnen, da sie zunächst um eine historische Klarstellung bemüht sind, nicht um eine Diskriminierung Freuds. Der Mißbrauch von konservativer Seite, der mit Swales’ spekulativen Annahmen getrieben wurde (Eysenck, 1985, S. 153ff.), ist nicht ­notwendig ihrem Urheber anzulassen“ (p. 83), all deleted in 2016.

Moreover, this story was not updated by Köhler in 2016, for in 2006 Franz Maciejewski exploded a bombshell: the sensational news that Freud and Minna had sex in an inn in the Swiss town of Maloja [11]. I challenged ­Maciejewski’s sensation in 2007 [12]. I also ­disputed Swales’ 1982 story of a sexual affair between Freud and Minna and its cooked-up sequel: that Minna became pregnant, that Freud arranged an abortion, and that it was a botched septic abortion with high fever, which turned out to be an acute episode of a gastrointestinal inflammation [13]. All of this qualifies Swales as a Freud basher, in contrast to his critical archival research about the ­important relationship between Freud and Wilhelm Fliess.

The book is a welcome contribution to the ­ongoing debates among Freud’s friends and foes, but it begs two questions: first, why the focus on theory alone, not on Freud’s method as well; second, is a well-founded critique of Freud anti-Freudian? Theorists in any field of science need to have their internal and external ­critics in order to become aware of self-contradictions, mistakes and omissions; and, of course, the same applies to the critics themselves. Freud himself was not immune from mistakes and self-contradictions.

Difference between theory and method

The word theory applies to: (1) an idea to ­explain the cause of a fact in ordinary life, an event, or action, e.g., the detective’s theory of a crime; (2) an unproven ­hypothesis or ­conjecture; (3) a set of principles in a field, e.g., the causal theories and principles of medicine, or accepted theories in science, e.g., the theory of ­gravitation; (4) a theory underlying procedures basic to specialised field, e.g., the practice of medicine or psychoanalysis; (5) theory as ideology. General theories are ­expressed in abstract or metaphysical words, also called universals, which cannot be ­observed but only thought of. For example, we do not observe gravitation, only falling bodies; similarly, we do not observe repression, we only become aware of forgetting as an action of ­putting something out of mind.

Psychoanalysis originated not only in the realm of medicine, but also of literature. This led some researchers to introduce the term of narratology. I proposed the concept dramatology to complete narra­tology [5, 14, 15]: a drama is built on dialogue in the here-and-now, a story on description of a past event. Whether real or fictional, life’s plots and events, lived through in situations (scenes of encounters and emotions) are either dramatized in the here-and-now or narrativized as remembrances of times lost. A dramatic situation, to use Freud’s words of 1937, is endlich, story-telling is unendlich. For example, the historic breakup between Freud and Jung was their interpersonal drama, told and interpreted with various theories, in countless ­autobiographical and ­biographical accounts.

Freud himself said this about theory [16]: “One dislikes the thought of abandoning observation for barren theoretical controversy (…) notions such as that of an ego-libido, the energy of ­ego-instincts, and so on, are neither easy to grasp, nor sufficiently rich in content (…) But I am of the opinion that that is just the difference between a speculative theory and a science erected on empirical interpretation ... For these ideas are not the foundation of science, upon which everything rests: that foundation is observation alone. They are not the bottom but the top of the whole structure, and they can be replaced and discarded without damaging it.

The missing word is method, for both observation and method deal with actions and deeds, with procedures and practices, not only with thoughts and fantasies. Freud defined: “thinking is an experimental action carried out with small amounts of energy” ([17], p. 89). In thinking, we utilize association of ideas in both performing cognitive tasks and engaging in daydreams and reveries [41]. Freud developed the technique of free asso­ciation and defined “psycho-analysis (as) a method of research, an impartial instrument, like the infinitesimal calculus, as it were” [18], as a Methode or Verfahren for investigating (Forschen) unconscious processes and a procedure [19–21] for healing (Heilen) psychological pain and trauma. Furthermore, Freud differentiated the method of studying unconscious processes from theorizing about causes of ­disorders – be it aggression, loss, or sexuality. The sexual theories in particular came to be labelled as Freudism or Freudianism. In the popular mind, “Freudian” came to be asso­ciated with sexually stimulating, smutty, or shameful.

During the last two millennia, sex greatly disturbed the peace of the world as it was turned into sin by the Church Fathers (Augustine) and later theologians (Thomas Aquinas). It was punished by the Inquisition, with torture and burning of women called witches for ­having sex with the Devil. Sex was turned into crime by laws and statutes, and into disease by psychiatry. To this ­tradition of hostility, ignorance and superstition Freud reacted as an enlightened sexual liberator, but was ­attacked by psychiatrists like Krafft-Ebing, Aschaffenburg and Hoche. A noted Swiss ­doctor and author of books on sexuality before Freud was Samuel Auguste Tissot (1728–1797). Between 1895 and 1900, Freud published a number of papers on Aktualneurosen, neurasthenia and anxiety neurosis, and by 1898 [22], without ­denying the causal role of ­common social factors, Freud firmly nailed down sex as the major etiologic ­factor in life, disorder and therapy. Freud’s tolerant openness to critique and discussion gradually evaporated [23] as disciples Adler and Jung ­became the first to doubt the universality of Freud’s libido theory and the first to be branded by Freud in 1925 as “two secessionist movements (Abfallbewegungen) from psycho-analysis”([24], p. 52). Abfall means “(beson­ders Religion, Politik) Lossagung von einem Glauben, einem Bündnis, einer bestehenden Bin­dung; das Abtrünnig­werden gegenüber ­jemandem, etwas” (Duden online). In 1910 Freud referred to Leonardo’s “apostasy from Christianity (p. 124) (“des Abfalles vom Christenglauben” ([25], p. 195) and in 1925 he called Adler and Jung “the two heretics” (beiden Häretikern) (p. 53). But although, as Freud saw it, Adler “entirely repudiated the importance of sexuality” (1925, p. 53), it would not be fair to classify him as a Freud-basher. That is, he was not one who ­attacked his person and character, whereas Jung not only recanted the libido theory but also bashed Freud personally, offending Freud in his brazen attacks on his character as a pathologizing tyrant ([26], letters 330J, 338J, 342F; [2]), which became the final straw that led to their fateful breakup. On the one hand, Freud was understandably disturbed by the seeming denial of the reality of sex, aside from Adler’s emphasis on ­aggression and power and Jung’s spiteful rebelliousness. On the other hand, Freud’s dogged defence of the speculative libido ­theory, his tragic ­complex in which religious analogies suggestive of a pope-like clinging to dogma by a leader demanding a devout ­adherence to his theories and excommuni­cating heretics was an attitude that cast a long shadow on decades of bitter ideological wars in the International Psychoanalytical Association and local societies in Germany, England, and USA.

It is pertinent here to quote from Bleuler’s ­letters ­[27] to Freud explaining why Bleuler could not be a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association with Jung as president: “I can’t simply go along; it is expected of me that I cooperate. There would be always a false note in my speeches and writings, which would harm the cause and would unavoidably paralyze me (…) For you evidently it became the aim and interest of your whole life to establish firmly your theory and to secure its ­acceptance. I certainly do not underestimate your work. One compares it with that of Darwin, Copernicus, and Semmelweis. I believe that for psychology your discoveries are equally ­fundamental as the theories of those men are for other branches of science (…) For me, the theory is only one new truth among other truths. I stand up for it [for psychoanalysis] because I consider it valid and because I feel that I am able to judge it since I am working in a related field (…)

‘Who is not with us is against us’, the principle “all or nothing” is necessary for religious sects and for political parties. I can ­understand such a policy, but for science I consider it harmful. There is no ultimate truth. From a complex of notions one ­person will accept one detail, ­another person another detail. (…) I recognize in science neither open nor closed doors, but no doors, no barriers at all (…) Everyone should accept views only as far as they are his own views; if he accepts more he is insincere; you are, of course, of the same opinion.

I do not believe that the Association is served by such intransigency. This is not a ‘Weltan­schauung’ (…) He (Jung) believed in closed doors (…) as vital for psychoanalysis; it was therefore, his obligation to get rid of me. I cannot blame him for this no matter how painful his hostile attitude towards me is” (p. 5)

Bleuler’s confronting Freud with his dogmatic attitudes can also be seen as the manifest ­content behind which lurks the latent content of the political underpinnings of mixed biological, human and social sciences such as medicine, psychiatry and psychoana­lysis, practitioners dealing as they do with mankind in its social environment and getting paid for their services. As such, these disciplines are also political establishments, or ­institutions, that influence adherents and ­opponents in the service of power, prestige, and pecuniary interests.

Köhler’s first list of Freud bashers includes the “­Canadian” Henri Ellenberger [28], Dutch Han Israëls [29], and Americans Adolf Grünbaum [30–34] and Frank Sulloway [25], all of whom I have written about [36–40]. Later Köhler [41] changed his mind about Ellen­berger’s classic “Die Entdeckung des Unbewussten” (1973): “Genauer … nicht zur oben skizzierten eigent­lichen anti-Freud Literatur zu rechnen” (p. 96).

Ellenberger (1905–1993) lived in Canada towards the end of his life: he was born in ­British Rhodesia to Swiss ­parents, naturalized as a French citizen. studied medicine and ­psychiatry in Paris, with a doctorate under the famous Henri Baruk in 1934 while working at ­Hôpital Sainte-Anne alongside Jacques Lacan, and emigrated to Switzerland in 1941, where he was analysed by Oskar Pfister and became a member of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society. In 1952 he became the head of psychiatric services at the psychoanalytically-oriented Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. A major historian of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, Ellenberger became an inspiration and mentor to many historians, such as Mark S. Micale. Ellenberger’s book first ­appeared in the USA in 1970 and has been my bible ever since; I paid tribute to him in 2000 [28].

Ellenberger’s Swiss connection puts him in the company of two Swiss psychiatrists who left their stamp on the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis in ­Europe and USA – Eugen Bleuler and Auguste Forel’s student Adolf Meyer [42] – as well as Bleuler’s son Manfred and the existential psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger. Ellenberger’s chapter on Pierre Janet is not anti-Freudian either: Breuer and Freud acknowledged Janet’s contribution in the “Preliminary Communi­cation” to their 1895 “Studies on Hysteria” [43]. Köhler doubts Ellenberger’s impartiality in his chapter on Freud, but to me it is a cogent presentation of Freud’s method and theories [38], especially in view of Ellenberger’s reference to the methodological analysis of Freud’s work by Dalbiez [44]. On the other hand, Köhler overstates his criticism of Ellenberger’s description of Jung as a Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s for two reasons.

Firstly, Jung described his ideas about the ­German ­psyche in the essay “Über das Unbewusste”, published in 1918 in a Swiss magazine, comparing Germany to “a blonde beast (…) ready at any moment to burst out with ­devastating consequences” and contrasting the “the Germanic barbarian” with the Jew, who “already had the culture of the ancient world and on top of that has taken over the ­culture of the nations among whom he dwells … He thus has two cultures, paradoxical as that may sound (…) [Freud’s and Adler’s were] specifically Jewish doctrines (…) thoroughly unsatisfying to the Germanic mentality” (Bair [45], chapter 29 “Falling afoul of history,” p. 435). This essay was composed when Jung was recovering from the trauma of losing Freud, a displaced revenge aimed at Jew Freud. These feelings were revived in 1933 and 1934 in interviews on radio Berlin and in articles justifiably cited by Köhler: “Freud und Adler haben den Schatten, der alle begleitet, sehr deutlich gesehen. Die Juden haben diese Eigentümlich­keit mit den Frauen gemein; als die psychisch Schwächeren müssen sie auf die Lücken in der Rüstung des Gegners zielen (…) Das arische Unbewusste dagegen enthält Spannkräfte und schöpferische Keime von noch zu erfüllender Zukunft (…) Die noch jungen germanischen Völker sind durchaus imstande, neue Kulturformen zu schaffen (…) als energiegeladene Keime, fähig zu gewaltiger Flamme. Der Jude als relativer Nomade hat nie und wird voraussichtlich auch nie eine eigene Kulturform schaffen (…) Die jüdische Rasse als Ganzes besitzt darum nach meiner Erfahrung ein Unbewusstes, das sich mit dem arischen nur bedingt vergleichen lässt (…) Meines Erachtens ist es ein schwerer Fehler der bisherigen medizinischen Psychologie gewe­sen, daß sie jüdische ­Kategorien (…) unbesehen auf den christlichen Germanen oder Slawen verwandte”(pp. 29–30)

Such characterizations of the Jewish race can also be found in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”; however, Jung’s having received such an impression (“nach seiner Erfahrung”) again suggests that he also had Freud in mind. A further question is, whether he was similarly impressed in his relationship with Jewess Sabina Spielrein and her ­parents [46, 47], or other Jews he had known in Switzerland, such as James Kirsch.

Secondly, Ellenberger could not have known the 1985 book by Regine Lockot, whom Köhler cites, or Geoffrey Cocks’ “Psychotherapy in the Third Reich The Göring ­Institute”, also published in 1985. A Jewish perspective was ­offered by the Jungian Aryeh Meidenbaum [48], who noted that after the war “Jung personally admitted to Rabbi Leo Baeck that he had ‘slipped up.’” Despite his slippage, Jung had no practical influence on the Nazi-gleichgeschaltet Göring Institute during the war. According to Bair, at some time Jung collaborated with Allen W. Dulles, an agent of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), later the CIA ([45], pp. 486–494).

However, on pages 546–550 in the section “The Influence of Freud,” Ellenberger began by stating: “An objective appraisal of the influence of Freud is inordinately difficult. The story is too recent, distorted by legend and all the facts have not yet come to light” (p. 546). ­After reviewing the assessments by multiple authors, Ellenberger sums it up: “We are perhaps prepared now to give an answer to that difficult question: What does certainly belong to Freud and constitutes the inmost originality of his work? We may distinguish three great contributions: the psychoanalytic theory, the psychoanalytic method, and the psychoanalytic organization” (p. 549). His last sentence was “and this is no doubt a noteworthy event in the history of modern culture” (p. 550).

As with Ellenberger, Köhler also changed his mind about Frank Sulloway’s Freud, Biologist of the Mind: it is not an anti-Freudian book (p. 96). Köhler discusses at length Sulloway’s debate with Freud about priority claims regarding infantile sexuality and Sulloway’s creation of a Freud legend. My critique of ­Sulloway [36] had a different focus: “The ­patient-doctor ­dialogue (…) is the instrument of both healing and ­investigation (…) the rest is Freud’s theories, hypotheses, doctrines – and biases – about the mind (…) To miss the distinction between method and theory is to mis­understand Freud. It has been made for all by Roland Dalbiez [(1936)] (…) The inability to dif­ferentiate Freud’s theorizing about mind from Freud’s working with the mind has been a ­problem not only for Sulloway but for many ­authors (pp. 348–349) (…) Nowhere is the confusion between method and doctrine more evident than in Sulloway’s treatment of dreams, dream analysis, and hypnosis”(p. 353). Briefly: the method refers to working with mind, with its conscious and unconscious processes, and with the procedure of uncovering unconscious processes, employing free association, which is still valid. On the other hand, Freud’s theory that all mental disorders are sexual disorders did not stand the test of time.

This brings me to Köhler’s first citing Christof T. ­Eschenröder among the bashers but later changing his mind because the 1986 second edition of his book “Hier irrte Freud: Zur ­Kritik der psychoanalytischen ­Theorie und Praxis” [49]:“(…) lässt sich nicht als unwissenschaftlich bezeichnen; als sachliche Kritik der psychoanalytischen Theorie Freuds, die – soweit ich sehe – richtig dargestellt ist und deren ­Behauptungen korrekt und zumeist durch ausführliche Originalzitate belegt”(p. 73).

This is a shocking assessment, for almost all of Eschenröder’s quotations are not from Freud but from secondary sources, including journalists writing as ­anti-Freud critics, allow­ing Eschenröder to express opinions with a pretence of infallible confidence.

My assessment is: “hier irrte Eschenröder”! Born in 1949, now practicing in Bremen as “Psychologischer Psychotherapeut mit der Grundorientierung Rational-Emotive und kog­nitive Verhaltenstherapie und Techniken der energetischen Psychotherapie mit sensorischer Stimulierung”, Eschenröder used this ­orientation as a weapon to portray psychoanalysis in a totally negative light, with mistakes into the bargain. Without a single quote from Freud’s “Die Traumdeutung”, he attacked the method of free association by ­incorrectly citing a 1901 publication by ­William Stern [50] as having said: “daß die Richtung der sogenannten freien Assoziationen von Freuds Patienten ‘durch sehr eindringliche Ausfragung und Belehrung, über den Wunschcharakter des Traumes, beeinflußt ist’”(p. 26).

But these words attributed to Stern are not original citations; they cannot be found in the full text of Stern’s review as reprinted by Kimmerle [51]. Stern acknowledged: “auch sonst enthält das Buch viel (…) reichhaltiges ­Material an sehr genau registrierten Träumen, das jedem Arbeiter auf diesem Gebiete hochwill­kommen sein muß” (p. 62), but: “die Unzu­läs­sigkeit dieser Traumdeutelei als wissenschaft­liche Methode mußte mit aller Schärfe betont werden; denn die Gefahr ist groß, daß unkri­tischen Geistern dieses interessante Vorstellungsspiel behagen könnte und wir damit in eine völlige Mystik und chaotische Willkür ­hineingeriethen – man kann dann mit Allem ­Alles beweisen” (p. 64) – an exaggerated danger for a well-trained analyst.

Eschenröder ­exploited these remarks to characterize the entire “Psychoanalyse als Beinflussungsprozeß” (p. 34): “dabei wird nicht berück­sichtigt, daß diese Assoziationen auch durch die Erwartungen des Therapeuten bedeutsam be­einflußt werden[so that] die Gefahr der Will­kürlichkeit von Deutungen ist ausgesprochen groß. (…) Der Analytiker beeinflußt den Patien­ten (…) er lenkt die Erwartungen des Patienten in eine bestimmte Richtung”(pp. 40–41). This is a complete denial of the numerous positive descriptions of free association in Freud’s “Die Traumdeutung”, in the 1912–1915 papers on technique and by contemporary analysts [52].

Eschenröder seems to be triumphantly ad­monishing Freud, when in fact in 1923 Freud was well aware that: “Bei ganz extrem hohem Widerstandsdruck ereignet sich das ­Phänomen, daß die Assoziation des Träumers in die Breite, ­anstatt in die Tiefe geht(p. 302)(…) Es ist nicht so leicht, allgemeine Entscheidungen über den Wert richtig übersetzter Träume zu fällen. Wenn beim Patienten ein Ambivalenzkonflikt besteht (…) (oder) ein feindseliger Gedanke(p. 305)(…) Mit der Frage nach der Wertung der Träume hängt die andere nach ihrer Beinfluß­barkeit durch ärztliche ‘Suggestion’ innig zusammen (…) Daß der manifeste Inhalt die analytische Kur beeinflußen wird, braucht nicht erst bewiesen zu werden(p. 306)… Selbstverständlich ja, denn ein Anteil dieser latenten Traumgedanken entspricht vor­bewußten, durchaus bewußtseins­fähigen Gedankenbildungen (…) Auf den Me­chanismus der Traumbildung selbst, auf die eigentliche Traumarbeit gewinnt man nie Einfluß, daran darf man festhalten (…) Können also Bestätigungsträume wirklich Erfolge der Suggestion, also Gefälligkeitsträume sein? Die Patienten, welche nur Bestätigungsträume ­bringen, sind dieselben, bei denen der Zweifel die Rolle des hauptsächlichen Widerstandes spielt (…) (welcher) muß bestehen bleiben, bis er im weiteren Fortgang der Analyse zur Erledigung kommt” (p. 307)

The other advice is to keep in mind “das ­Verhältnis der Übertragung zur Suggestion”(p. 310).

In denying the worth of psychoanalytic treatment, Eschenröder did not cite any clinical case by any ­prac­ticing analyst; he only referred to two published training analyses, without any awareness that there is an essential difference between a carefully conducted private analysis and an institutional training analysis, the latter being seriously ethically flawed by an inherent conflict of interest of the training analyst [54].

Even more shocking is Köhler’s failure to ­debunk the 1999 book by Han Israëls “Der Fall Freud. Die Geburt der Psychoanalyse aus der Lüge” [29], published in 1993 in Holland as “Het geval Freud Scheppingsverhalen” (the Freud case: creation stories), implying that Freud lied and Israëls told the truth.

Köhler offered this lame ­explanation: “Wenig kann ich zu (diesem) Buch sagen, denn – ich muß gestehen – ich habe bei der Lektüre ­immer wieder den Faden verloren”(p. 78). This is not sur­pris­ing, given page after page of Israëls’ tiresome tirades against Freud’s so-called ­“seduction theory,” a phrase nowhere used by Freud.

In three papers published in 1896, Freud ­described ­seduction as a cause of neurosis:

In “Heredity and the aetiology of the neuroses” [55]among “specific causes” (p. 147) was “the event of which the subject retained an ­unconscious memory is a precocious expe­rience of sexual relation with actual excitement of the genitals (…) either by a brutal assault committed by an adult or by a seduction less rapid and less ­repulsive but reaching the same conclusion”(p. 152), observed by him in “a complete ­analysis in thirteen cases of ­hysteria”.

In “Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defense” [56] Freud noted that “although ­active mas­turbation can be excluded from the list of sexual noxae in early childhood (…) masturbation itself is a much more frequent consequence of abuse or ­seduction than is supposed” (p. 165), so that neurosis “is a persisting ­effect of a memory of childhood traumas” (p. 168). There Freud added a footnote in 1924: since “at that time [he] was not yet able to ­distinguish between my patients’ phantasies and their real recollections, I attributed to the aetiolo­gical factor of seduction a ­significance and a uni­versality it did not possess” (p. 168). However, the lack of causal ­universality that belongs to medicine, for example the Koch principle of tuberculous infection, does not invalidate ­observations made in individual cases by “events that contain the germ of later neuroses (…) the experiences of sexual seduction that will later on make ­repression possible” (p. 169). In fact, Freud will use as an example the case history of the Wolfsmann published in 1918 [57].

In “The aetiology of hysteria” [58] Freud declared that “the singling out of the sexual factor in the aetiology of hysteria springs at least from no preconceived opinion on my part (…) Only the most laborious and detailed investi­gations have converted me, and that slowly enough, to the view I hold to-day. (…) it is ­supported by the fact that in some eighteen cases of hysteria I have been able to discover this connection” (p. 199).

“In the first place, the behavior of patients while they are reproducing the infantile experiences is in every respect incompatible with the assumption that the scenes are anything else than the reality which is being felt with distress and reproduced with the greatest reluctance. Before they come for analysis, the patients know nothing about these scenes. They are indignant as a rule if we warn them that such scenes are going to emerge. Only the strongest compulsion of the treatment can induce them to embark on a ­reproduction of them. While they are recalling these infantile experiences, they suffer under the most violent sensations, of which they are ashamed and they are trying to conceal; and even though they have gone through them in such a convincing manner, they still try to withhold belief form them”(p. 204).

Israëls overlooked the fact that Freud was ­trying to help the ­patients by confronting their denial and resistance and persuading them to remember. Instead, in a prosecutorial manner, he demolished “die gesamte Diskussion (…) daß es der Verführungstheorie zufolge überhaupt hysterische Patienten mit solchen Geschichten gegeben hat. Das ist nicht der Fall. Nach der Verführungs­theorie selbst existieren keine solche Patienten” (p. 181).

No patients with sexual histories? This is a big fat lie. Earlier, Israëls had noted that “So ­behaupteten Breuer und Freud [1895] in den ­Studien zu wiederholten Malen, daß Hysterie vor allem durch sexuelle Faktoren verursacht werde” (p. 132) – in the course of treating ­patients. Freud noted “sexual traumas” in the case of Katharina (p. 134) and Breuer ­observed that “sexuality [is] one of the major complements of hysteria (…) Some girls (…) repress sexuality from their consciousness and the affective ideas (…) which have caused the ­somatic phenomena thus become unconscious”(pp. 244–246).

After citing the aforecited passage Israëls added: “Aus dem Freud-Zitat von 1896”([55], the only 1896 paper Israëls cited) “geht überdeutlich hervor, daß es nicht die ­Patienten waren, die mit solchen Geschichten an­kamen, sondern daß Freud glaubte, solche Szenen (…) ­rekonstruiren zu können” (p. 182) and then ­confidently asserted that “das präsentierte Material war frei erfunden”(p. 189). He then turns Freud’s concern that “(es) wird ange­sichts unserer analytischen Ergebnisse die Frage aufzuwerfen versucht sein (…) ob es denn nicht sehr wohl möglich sei, daß entweder der Arzt solche Szenen als angebliche Erinnerung dem gefälligen Kranken aufdrängt, oder daß der Kranke ihm absicht­liche Erfindungen und freie Phantasien vorträgt, die jener für echt annimmt. Nein, ich habe darauf zu ­erwidern (…) die Bedenken gegen die Echtheit der infantilen Sexualszenen kann man heute mehr als durch ein Argument entkräften”.

Disregarding Freud’s caution, Israëls continued to insinuate that these were “vom Arzt ­erzwungene Szenen”(p. 190). Even if one could force a submissive ­patient to accept as memory what was only a fantasy, the fact that such scenes once really took place cannot be created out of thin air.

Among the psychoanalytic idola tribus, the idols of the tribe, as Francis Bacon called them, is the idea that Freud secretly abandoned the seduction theory in a ­letter to Fliess of September 21 1897 [59]. This led Jeffrey Masson [60] to create a furor by claiming that while in 1896 “Freud fearlessly pursued truth”(p. xx), he “came to see Freud’s abandonment of the seduction hypothesis as a failure of courage”(p. xxi). Ironically, Masson and analysts agreed about the abandonment, but analysts were infuriated by him saying that Freud was cowardly. As poignantly portrayed by Janet Malcolm [61] in her saga of Masson’s rise and fall, replete with twists and turns, Masson was scapegoated and fired as director of the Freud Archives. Freud abandoned only the ­etiological status of seduction as a ­universal formula but not seduction as a historical event, involving either sex and/or violent abuse, with either life-long traumatic consequences or no consequences [62]. In fact, Freud never abandoned the reality of trauma, from 1893 until his 1939 essay on Moses and monotheism. In summary: Freud did not abandon the seduction theory [62].

Of particular interest to me is Köhler’s mention of Paul Schreber in connection with Freud, Israëls, and ­Eschenröder, for Israëls and I are known as Schreber experts and we have been personally ­acquainted since the mid 1980s. Israëls’ book on ­Schreber appeared in 1989 [64] and my first two articles in 1988 [65] and 1989 [66]. For once Eschenröder was right: Freud erred in interpreting Schreber’s “Ver­folgungswahn als Abwehr verdrägter homo­sexuellen Regungen”(p. 86), but he was unable to show how Freud made this error ­because he got his information from Morton Schatzman’s 1973 book “Soul Murder Persecution in the Family” [67], which became a best-seller in Germany in 1974. There Schatzman declared: “In diesem Buch will ich die seltsamen Erfah­rungen des Paul Daniel Paul Schreber, derentwegen er für verrückt gehalten wurde, mit den Erziehungspraktiken seines Vaters in Verbindung bringen” (p. 11). Accordingly, Eschenröder reprimanded Freud because “Erstaunlicherweise machte (…) Freud (…) keinen Versuch die Weltanschauung und die Erziehungsmethoden von Schreber senior aus dessen Schriften zu rekonstruiren und für seine Analyse zu berück­sichtigen” (p. 73) and therefore saw Schreber senior as a “vortrefflicher Vater” instead of agreeing with Schatzman that the father caused the son’s paranoia by making the child slavishly obedient and torturing him with posture-improving appliances which ­Niderdland claimed were applied to the child when he was 3 to 4 years old. Moreover, Eschenröder put William G. Niederland in ­second place, even though Schatzman got all these ideas from Niederland’s papers from 1959 to 1963 [68]. Unfortunately, Niederland missed the boat, for his book appeared in the USA 1974 and in ­Germany in 1978. Nonetheless, as I demonstrated in the aforementioned papers and in my 1992 [69] and 2004 [70]books, their descriptions of the father’s educational methods were biased, and the ­descriptions of the appliances and their uses ­erroneous. In 1963, Niederland admitted: ”I do not claim that the data so far accu­mulated throw light on the nature of Schreber’s psychosis” (p. 206) and Israëls (1989) refuted Schatzman: “Moritz Schreber did not represent the most extreme form of authoritarian upbringing. If Moritz Schreber’s day was preceded by a time of educational practices even more con­fusing to modern eyes, then surely it ­really is ­unlikely that his practices, already milder than their predecessors, should have caused his son’s illness” (p. 333). In 1988 I described a milder and ­friendlier Moritz Schreber who recommended posture-improving appliances for school age children and even adults.

Perhaps Köhler heard about my book, since we share the same publisher, and if so, I wonder if he would classify me as an anti-Freudian, even though I am a ­committed Freudian methodologist. However, amicus Freud, sed magis amica veritas (Freud is my friend, but truth is a greater friend). For the sake of historical truth I corrected some Freud mistakes.

1. Paul Schreber suffered from neither paranoia nor paranoid schizophrenia; he saw himself as a “Gemütskranken“ and not as “Geisteskranken“ ([71], p. 376), as confirmed by Lothane and Peters [72]. Some of his ­fantasies, which psychiatrists described as hallucinations and delusions, were stimulated by the traumatizing conditions of the hospital environment.

2. Schreber was heterosexual, at one time suffering from an aktual-Neurose due to sex deprivation („Entscheidend für meinen geistigen Zusammenbruch war namentlich eine Nacht, in welcher ich eine ganz un­gewöhnliche Anzahl von Pollutionen (wohl ein halbes Dutzend) in dieser einen Nacht hatte“p. 44); his fantasies of turning into a pregnant woman were not a sign of homosexual desires but a dramatization of his compassionately identifying with the pain of his barren wife who gave birth to two dead babies, the last a boy in 1892.

3. In February 1910, Freud started treating the Wolf Man (1918), when he discovered the negative Oedipus complex, and in March got his copy of the “Denk­wür­digkeiten”. In the Russian patient Freud found “a feminine identification (...) a rea­d­iness to give up one’s masculinity if in ­exchange one can be loved like a woman” (p. 84) “and thus let himself be sexually satisfied by his father” (p. 100) “(...) the same ­impulse towards God which was expressed in unambiguous words in the delusional ­system of the paranoic Senatspräsident Schreber“ (p. 84). Without any data about Schreber’s childhood, Freud applied this scenario to Schreber: passive homo­sexual desires for father, transferred to God, then to Flechsig, already in the summer of 1893, i.e., before Schreber became ill and saw Flechsig again.

4. Thus Schreber’s fantasy of being subjected to soul murder by Flechsig did not mean reliving a “feminine attitude towards God”, for soul murder was a legal term first ­suggested by jurist Anselm Feuerbach as a definition of medical malpractice, of which Schreber accused of Flechsig: “Ja, daß ­irgend Jemand Seelenmord getrieben habe (...) als etwas ­Unstatthaftes erschienen sei ... (als) Unstatthaftigkeit” (p. x–ix to x–xi).

Schreber saw himself, as I also see him, as a tragic hero whose “Martyrium (er) in seiner ­Gesammtheit nur mit dem Kreuzestod Jesu Christi vergleichen kann” (p. 293); moreover, hitherto unnoticed, he compared himself with Job [73]. My 2010 paper in SANP [74] was completed in 2011 [75].

Regarding Adolf Grünbaum’s best known 1984 book, “Die Grundlagen der Psychoanalyse. Eine philosophische Kritik”, Köhler asserts: “Zum einem macht er sicher nicht den Versuch einer vollständigen Verwerfung der Psychoanalyse”(p. 193) – not a complete rejection but a criticism wide-ranging enough to qualify as anti-Freudian [37].

The bulk of Köhler’s chapter on Grünbaum ­relates to “Beispiel der Freud’schen Fehl­­­leis­tung­­theorie, die Grünbaum recht ausführlich behandelt” (p. 194), actually a heavily-handed and ­incomplete discussion.

What worries Grünbaum more is that “Der Eckpfeiler des psychoanalytischen Theoriegebäudes: ist die Freudsche Verdrängungslehre wohlbegründet?” (p. 200). But repression is not just a “theory,” it is a defensive method, an ­activity that makes forgetting of names happen, as one of “certain unintentional performances[Leistungen]prove, if psychoanalytic methods are applied to them, to have valid motives and to be determined by motives unknown to consciousness” (Freud, 1901 [76], p. 239).

In 1998 Grünbaum claimed that “There is no cogent support of postulating etiologically thatrepressions, accompanied by emotional suppressions, are causally necessary for the existence of a neurosis. This lack of support for the crucial foundation of the entire theory of repression can be made from the following ana­logous fact: The remedial action of aspirin for ­tension headaches does not lend support to the outlandish etiologic hypothesis that a hematolytic aspirin deficiency in our blood is a causal sine qua non of having tension headaches”(p. 189)

This is sheer sophistry from a philosopher of science; it also implies replacing a psychological process with a pharmacological one. Grünbaum himself admitted that unconscious ideas were discussed by Leibniz and that repression was suggested by Herbart, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and operationalized by Freud. Do we need to reinvent the wheel?

Grünbaum obtained both his M.S. degree in physics (1948) and his Ph.D. in philosophy (1951) from Yale ­University (Wikipedia). In the just-quoted passage he also smuggled in a mixed medico-pharmacological analogy to claim: “Freud inferred that the key therapeutic hypothesis that the remedial disappearance of the neurotic symptoms is not a placebo-effect, but is causally attributable to the cathartic ­lifting of repressions by means of the method of free association. ­According to Breuer and Freud, in a placebo-cure the patient’s expectations of improvement (“suggestion”) is responsible for the cure (…) [whereas] the presumed unique ability of the method of free association (…) vouches for its capacity to identify the causes or pathogens of the neuroses”(p. 188).

This argument is wrong as well: nowhere did Freud bring up the idea of placebo treatment, e.g., giving a patient a fake pill instead of a real medication, nor is placebo the same as sug­gestion. Freud first removed neurotic symptoms, i.e., certain maladaptive behaviors, on the basis of the training he received from Hippolyte Bernheim in Nancy, by ­using suggestion as the method of treatment. The ­patient obeyed the authoritarian doctor’s ­order and gave up his neurotic behavior. The free association method was meant to create a different kind of therapy and result, the ­patient engaging with the doctor in a team effort to recall and analyze his past life and ­become receptive to the doctor’s rational interpretations of his behavior via an exploration of the patient’s past – and persisting – unrealistic thoughts and feelings, as explicated by Freud in his chapter on the psychotherapy of hysteria [43].

Today, patients have the same choice: either pay for the suggestive technique of a relatively brief cognitive behavior therapy that dispenses with digging into the past, or ­explore the latter in a longer treatment as a method to better understand themselves and change their ­unhelpful habits of feeling and thinking.

As in philosophy so in psychoanalysis: the history of the discipline is an integral part of its subject matter and it puts Freud in the class of seminal thinkers, like Aristotle, Kant, or Nietzsche, each of whom has created a ­universe of meaning and a perennial legacy. Their collected works have given rise to an ­ongoing labor of presentation, interpretation and re-interpretation. Such thinkers are the teachers of mankind. These ­geniuses not only create a climate of opinion, they also give birth to knowledge and tools to think with to gain new knowledge. As both a phi­losopher and a scientist, Freud created the new science of dynamic psychoanalytic psychology, clinical and general, built on the foundation of dynamic unconscious processes. He not only operationalized unconscious ­dynamic processes but also the concept of repression, a central contribution to ­psychology since Plato and Aristotle. He was not the first to discover the unconscious and repression, and he admitted as much himself. But it was he who gave these concepts a new meaning and developed a new method for their inves­tigation. It was he who put these ideas on the map for the learned and the lay alike, he who made them into household words ([77], pp. 285–286).

Funding / potential competing interests

No financial support and no other potential conflict of interest ­relevant to this article was reported.


Henry Zvi Lothane MD, DLFAPA
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
1435 Lexington Avenue
US-10128 New York


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