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Sándor Ferenczi

Sándor Ferenczi (July 7, 1873May 22, 1933) was a Hungarian psychoanalyst.


Born Sándor Fraenkel in Miskolc, Hungary, to Baruch Fraenkel, a Polish-Jewish man from Kraków, and Rosa Eibenschütz, from a Polish-Jewish family that settled in Vienna. Sandor magyarized his name to Ferenczi. In his works he came to believe that his patients' accounts of sexual abuse as children were truthful, having verified those accounts through other patients in the same family. This, among other reasons, resulted in a break with Sigmund Freud. He was president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1918 to 1919.

Prior to this break he was a member of the inner circle of psychoanalysis and was notable for working with the most difficult of patients and for developing a theory of more active intervention than is usual in psychoanalytic practice. In the early 1920s, criticizing Freud's "classical" method of neutral interpretation, Ferenczi collaborated with Otto Rank to create a "here-and-now" psychotherapy that, through Rank's personal influence, led the American Carl Rogers to conceptualize person-centered therapy (Kramer 1995). Ferenczi has found some favor in modern times among the followers of Jacques Lacan as well as among relational psychoanalysts in the United States. Relational analysts read Ferenczi as anticipating their own clinical emphasis on mutuality (intimacy), intersubjectivity, and the importance of the analyst's countertransference.

Ernest Jones, a biographer of Freud, termed Ferenczi as "mentally ill" at the end of his life, famously ignoring Ferenczi's battle with pernicious anemia, which killed him in 1933. Though desperately ill with the then-untreatable disease, Ferenczi managed to deliver his most famous paper, "Confusion of Tongues to the 12th International Psycho-Analytic Congress in Wiesbaden, Germany, on September 4, 1932. In 2002 Ferenczi's reputation was revived by publication of Disappearing and Reviving: Sandor Ferenczi in the History of Psychoanalysis One of the book's chapters dealt with the tragic nature of the relationship between Freud and Ferenczi.

Ferenczi's work has strongly influenced theory and praxis within the interpersonal-relational movement in American psychoanalysis, as typified by psychoanalysts at the William Alanson White Institute.

Ferenczi’s main ideas and his contribution to the evolution of psychoanalysis

1. Activity in psychoanalytic therapy. Contrary to Freud’s view of an abstinence therapeutic stance, Ferenczi purposed a more active role for the analyst. For example, instead of the relatively “passive” stance of the listening analyst encouraging the patient to free associate, Ferenczi used to curtail certain responses, verbal and non-verbal alike, on the part of the analysand so as to allow suppressed thoughts and feeling to emerge. Ferenczi (1980) described in a case study how he used a kind of behavioral activation (uncommon in the psychoanalytic therapy at that time) when he asked an opera singer with performance anxiety to “perform” during therapy session and this way to face her fears (Rachman, 2007).

2. Clinical empathy in psychoanalysis. Ferenczi viewed the empathic response during therapy as the core of clinical interaction. He based his intervention on responding to the subjective experience of the analysand; if more traditional views saw the analyst in the role of the physician, administering a treatment to the patient based upon diagnostic judgment of psychopathology, Ferenczi wanted the analysand to become a co-participant in an encounter created by the therapeutic dyad. This shift to empathic reciprocity during the therapeutic encounter was an important contribution to the evolution of psychoanalysis. Ferenczi also believed that self-disclosure of the analyst is an important therapeutic reparative force. The practice of bringing the therapist’s personality into therapy led to the development of the idea of the mutual encounter: the therapist is allowed to bring to the therapy some content from his own life and from his inner world, as long as it is relevant to the therapy. This is in contrast to the Freudian abstinence therapeutic stance according to which the therapist should not bring to therapy content which relates to his personal life, and should remain neutral (ibid). The mutual encounter is a forerunner of the psychoanalytic theory of two person psychology.

3. The “confusion of tongues” theory of trauma. Ferenczi believed that the persistent traumatic effect of chronic overstimulation, deprivation, or empathic failure (a term further elaborated by Heinz Kohut) in childhood is what causes neurotic, character, borderline and psychotic disorders (ibid). According to this concept trauma develops as a result of sexual seduction of the child by a parent or authority figure. The confusion of tongues takes place when the child plays, in an infantile way, to be the spouse of the parent. The pathological adult interprets this infantile and innocent game according to his adult “passion tongue” and then forces the child to conform to his “passion tongue”. The adult uses a tongue the child does not know, and interprets the child’s innocent game (his infantile tongue) according to his disturbed perspective. For example, a father is playing with his little girl. During their common game, she offers him the role of her husband and wants him to sleep with her like he sleeps with her mother. The pathological father misinterprets this childish offer, and touches his daughter in an inappropriate way while they are in bed together. Here, the child spoke her innocent childish tongue, and the father interpreted her offer with his passionate adult sexual tongue. The adult abuser also attempts to convince the child that the lust on his part is really the love for which the child yearns. Ferenczi broadened the idea of trauma to emotional neglect, physical maltreatment, and empathic failure. The prominent manifestation of these disturbances would be the sexual abuse.


Further reading

1. Ferenczi, S. (1980). Technical difficulties in the analysis of a case of hysteria: Including observations of larval forms of onanism and onanistic equivalents (J. I. Suttie, Trans.) In J. Rickman (Ed.), further contributions to the theory and technique of psychoanalysis (pp. 291-294). New York: Bruner/Mazal. (Original work published 1919).

2. Rachman, A. W. (2007). “Sandor Ferenczi’s contributions to the evolution of psychoanalysis”, Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 74-96.

3. Wolman, B. B. (1977). International encyclopedia of psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, & neurology, (vol. 5). Aesculapius Publishers, New York.

See also

External links

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