“Textbook of Psychoanalysis” and “A Dangerous Method" - Coincidence, Psychic Determinism or Serendipity?

The book begins with Freud and his circle, and the origins of psychoanalysis, and goes on to explore its development in the post-Freud era. This general introduction orients the reader and helps to contextualize the six sections that follow.
The book begins with Freud and his circle, and the origins of psychoanalysis, and goes on to explore its development in the post-Freud era. This general introduction orients the reader and helps to contextualize the six sections that follow. | Source

Psychic determinism is a fundamental principle of psychoanalytic theory which asserts that nothing happens by accident, chance or in a random way; nothing in the mind or in the world. Events in our mental life are determined or caused by events that preceded them, just as events in the physical world are caused by events preceding them.

On October 27, 2011 American Psychiatric Publishing released the second edition of Textbook of Psychoanalysis; the only comprehensive textbook of psychoanalysis in the United States. On November 23, 2011 Sony Pictures released the movie, “A Dangerous Method,” which features the true life events of the founders of psychoanalytic theory; Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein. The movie is based in part on copies of Speilrein’s medical records, diaries, journals, and copies of her written correspondence with Freud and Jung.

Is it a coincidence that two significant psychoanalytic events occur within thirty days of each other? For a true proponent of psychoanalytic theory, such a phenomenal coincidence cannot be dismissed as meaningless or accidental. The questions, “What caused this?” and “Why did it happen so?” beg to be asked. The questions are asked because of the firm belief that an answer exists. Whether or not we are ready to hear the answer remains to be seen.

Psychoanalytic theory maintains that much of human life is so painful that it cannot be experienced in a fully conscious state. Much of what we do and the reasons we do it are unknown to us, or unconscious. We have defense mechanisms that protect us from being fully aware and conscious of our reality. Our defenses would enable us to remain in blissful ignorance, were it not for the conflict between our conscious reality and unconscious material, and the psychological distress that this conflict creates. Thankfully, our distress can be treated and resolved through years of psychoanalysis.

If in the course of our analysis we become aware of strong positive or negative feelings toward our analyst, we can rest assured that these feelings are part of our unconscious drives for lust and aggression, and that we are becoming more aware of them as a result of our analysis. If on the other hand, an analyst becomes aware of strong positive or negative feelings toward a patient, it is preferable, prudent and ethical for the analyst to consult with a supervising analyst about this phenomenon. For an analyst to act on these feelings and pursue a romantic relationship with a patient is a breech of ethics, a violation of the doctor patient relationship, and potentially traumatizing for the patient. The fact that these phenomena, known as transference and counter transference, and other sexual and aggressive dynamics often occur in psychoanalysis is the reason for the title, “A Dangerous Method.”

Enter Sabina Spielrein. Sabina, at age 18 is admitted to Burgholzi Hospital in Vienna just before WWI under the care of her 29 year old psychiatrist, Carl Jung who lives in the hospital with his pregnant wife, Emma. Sabina is an intelligent, attractive and well educated Russian who speaks German and presents with disruptive and violent behaviors. Jung decides to use the new “talking cure” with Sabina, and consults with Freud on its use. An interesting love triangle develops between Freud, Jung and Sabina that is complicated by the presence of Jung’s wife, Emma, and Otto, a psychologist who is also a patient of Jung’s, and who is described as a “committed immoralist and drug addict” who believes strongly in not repressing any desire.

Licensing boards for various mental health professionals vary in how long after treatment, if ever, it is appropriate for a therapist to engage in a sexual relationship with a client. In the movie, it is noted that Carl Jung did wait until Sabina’s treatment was complete before he succumbed to his sexual desires and engaged in a sexual relationship with her. The movie, however, promotes the notion that it was the sexual relationship that followed, as much as the analysis of sexual and aggressive phenomena that healed Sabina. She was able to link her masochistic and submissive sexual behaviors to her history of physical abuse by her father as a child. While portrayed as transformative for Speilrein, the affair is shown as destructive for Jung who, years later, is still riddled with guilt about it and has experienced negative personal and professional consequences because of it.

After her treatment and before her sexual relationship with Jung began, Spielrein began her studies to become a psychoanalyst herself. Her theory that the sex drive is an instinct of destruction as well as transformation preceded Freud’s death wish theory and Jung’s views on transformation. The movie shows how she inspired Jung and Freud and contributed to psychoanalytic theory, even though historically she has not been given credit for her contributions.

Spielrein took psychoanalysis to Russia when she eventually returned there. From a family of Russian physicians herself, Spielrein married a Russian physician. They had two daughters. At age 57, Sabina Spielrein and her two adult daughters, ages 30 and 18 were killed by an SS death squad during the Holocaust in 1942. She had lost her husband during Stalin’s Great Purge from 1936-1938.

Is it coincidence or psychic determinism that explains the emergence of two significant works about psychoanalysis within thirty days of each other? Are we collectively more conscious now than we were 100 years ago and less resistant to the notions that our biological drives determine our behaviors? Are we any less repressed with our sexual and aggressive drives, and freer of the symptoms caused by repression? Are we any better equipped to solve the problems created by sexual and aggressive instincts today?

Perhaps there is no connection between the two events. Perhaps thirty days is nothing more than the amount of time it takes the average person to read the 620 page text before going to see the 99 minute movie. It is at least serendipity that brought the two events to the attention of this writer, who routinely searches the web for interesting material about behavioral health to share with her readers.

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Comments 16 comments

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writeronline 5 years ago

Hi Kim, this is a very wide-ranging, fascinating and informative Hub that traverses very complex ground, not to mention moral/ethical quicksands. Plus some plain old-fashioned human tragedy. Thanks for posting it.

I'm always impressed with the scope of your knowledege and understanding of "psycho-everything", but on the central question of your article,

"Is it coincidence or psychic determinism that explains the emergence of two significant works about psychoanalysis within thirty days of each other?",

I have to revert to my 'adman' self. I'd simply put it down to good Media / Event Management.

Each team would have known (or been made aware) of the other project. Each would understand the benefits of launching within a time frame, (30 days), sufficiently long to seem coincidental / serendipitous, but also short enough to be sure each was still in the minds, if not top-of-mind of practitioners / aficionados like yourself,to guarantee the raising of the type of question you raise here. And, as a consequence, enhance the launch/es, and maintain the mystery..

Well, that's the strategy I'd have put in place, anyway...

Very interesting Hub, whatever the 'explanation'.


diogenes 5 years ago

A profound hub which could spark-off debates and could probably provide enough information for a book.

It's hard, nay, impossible to review this article without writing a comment at least as long. WOL above has contributed an important comment. I will restrict my comment to addressing the second to last paragraph of your hub.

I could not verify or discount "psychic determinism," a state which would seem hard to prove. We are "collectively more concious" today and attuned to the fact our genetic makeup and natural selection do control our basic drives - all "biological," those of shelter, sex and procreation and finding sustenance. I think we can seperate sexual and aggressive drives (the latter may not exist except in relation to supporting the other drives).

The trouble is, that which made us successful is now destroying us, and our sex drive and ultimate survival may be in conflict.

Undoubtedly, the Internet has made most of us better informed although what good 99% of this information is to our lives may be in question. It seems no matter how much better we are prepared and understand out basic drives and their outcome, we seem helpless to really affect them. Genetic fine tuning, some time in the future, may change this.

Great hub Voted up across the board...Bob

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Kim...."Behavioral Health," a subject which is central to my life and career. I share your interest and drive to learn more & more. I haven't a single doubt in the concept of "nothing happens by accident or chance or in a random way." My understanding and belief is so powerful in this regard, I take an unmoving stance. Your article is superb and so well-written....Kudos to you! You have captured a new fan.....who looks forward to reading all your work!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

WOL. In retrospect, it would be a perfect strategy.... and I should be well paid for my role! I don't think it was planned though. I think the book appeals to academicians and clinicians and the movie has more mass appeal. I like your adman take on it though. It's possible. My head is still swelling from your compliments to think clearly right now:)

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

@diogenes - perhaps it is destroying us, only so we can ultimately be transformed. Perhaps, we are only a little above the animals with enough self awareness to see our own demise! Thanks for sharing your insights, Bob, and taking the time to write them down:)

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Hi fpherj48:) Thanks for your kind words. Behavioral health is an interesting field with so much that remains to be known about it. There is a little bit of behavioral health in every human pursuit, so a little understanding goes a long way... as does, I suppose, a little misunderstanding:)

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PenMePretty 5 years ago from Franklin

Voted up! Exceptional work.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Thanks PenMePretty:) Appreciate it.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota

Great article Kimh and brought me back to my Psychology classes. Reading about these personal stories about Jung, Freud and Sabina, really makes you realize that throughout history, we keep struggling with the same issues. Voted up and hit all buttons except funny. Super article Kimh.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Hi Minnetonka Twin! Good to see you've landed here from twitter.... and that some old psych memories are stirred:) Same story; different cast of characters? I like to think we've evolved, but the evidence of that is not forthcoming! Thanks for reading, voting and pushing buttons:)

Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

Dr Bill Tollefson 5 years ago from Southwest Florida

Very good HUB! This article brings up a lot of issues in the field and could spark a lot of discussion. I was trained in psychoanalytic theory when I first started in the mental health field. That was a long time ago. I am aging myself. I felt you did a great job with the subject. I am sure this will enlighten a lot of people. Great job with a hard topic! I voted it up.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Thanks Dr Bill. This hub was more challenging once I got into it than I thought it would be at the beginning. I almost missed the fact that the movie really does promote the idea that the sexual relationship was curative, and thought the ethical implications would be of interest to readers/viewers who might not be aware of them. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment... and sharing your theoretical background:)

Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

Awesome hub! I hadn't heard of the book or the movie before this, but will now make sure to see the movie.

Quite interesting that the movie portrays the sexual relationship between Jung and Sabina as healing for her while destructive for him. One would have expected it to be destructive for both.

Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking and professionally written hub. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season with your family.

Sending Hub Hugs and Love,


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Thank you Gail. I'm looking forward to the movie myself. I'll wait for it to come out on video though. The textbook looks interesting too.

Psychoanalytically speaking, Sabina's perception may have been distorted by a "reaction formation" - a defensive reaction in which unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration of the directly opposing tendency; like Stockholm Syndrome, when a hostage or kidnap victim 'falls in love' with the feared and hated person who has complete power over them.

We had a wonderful Christmas here. I hope your holidays are blessed as well. Very receptive to hub hugs and love, and sending some your way as well:)

Happy Holidays


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

I came back to this hub because I recently saw "A Dangerous Method." I enjoyed the movie and you did a great job of relaying its basic premise and the relationships between all the main characters, plus the influence each character had on psychoanalytic theory.

The movie's sexual scenes were quite graphic but were also important to the context of the story.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 4 years ago Author

I'm glad you came by again, Gail, and that you enjoyed the movie. Remember when we were left to imagine what was happening under the sheets? There are signs of spring here and i think they are headed in your direction. Enjoy:)

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