Rejected from the dominant community of medical psychoanalysts in the United States because he did not possess an MD degree, Reik went on to found one of the first psychoanalytic training centers for psychologists, the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, which remains one of the largest and best-known psychoanalytic training institutes in New York City.
As part of Reik's conflict with the medical psychoanalysis community, he participated in the first lawsuit which helped define and legitimize the practice of psychoanalysis by non-physicians.
Reik's first major book was The Compulsion to Confess (1925), in which he argued that neurotic symptoms such as blushing and stuttering can be seen as unconscious confessions that express the patient's repressed impulses while also punishing the patient for communicating these impulses.
Reik further explored this theme in The Unknown Murderer (1932), in which he examined the process of psychologically profiling unknown criminals. He argued out that because of unconscious guilt, criminals often leave clues that can lead to their identification and arrest.
In Masochism in Modern Man (1941), Reik argues that patients who engage in self-punishing or provocative behavior do so in order to demonstrate their emotional fortitude, induce guilt in others, and achieve a sense of "victory through defeat."
Reik presented a forceful criticism of traditional Freudian theory in A Psychologist Looks at Love (1944). Freud had believed that love is always based on some form of sexual desire. Reik argued, to the contrary, that love and lust are distinct motivational forces.
Reik's most famous book, Listening with the Third Ear (1948), describes how psychoanalysts intuitively use their own unconscious minds to detect and decipher the unconscious wishes and fantasies of their patients. According to Reik, analysts come to understand patients most deeply by examining their own unconscious intuitions about their patients.
In his psychoanalytic autobiography Fragments of a Great Confession (1949), Reik turned a psychoanalytic ear toward his own life, interpreting his inner conflicts and their influence on his writing and relationships.
The Secret Self (1952) comprises a number of essays of psychoanalytic literary criticism, in which Reik tried to decipher the unconscious fantasies and impulses lying beneath literary works. In this book, Reik continued to develop his interest in the relationship between his own personality and his work, exploring how his internal conflicts shaped his interpretations of literary works.
In Myth and Guilt (1957), Reik investigated the role of guilt and masochism in religion.
Reik's theories were a strong influence on the French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, and anticipated recent developments in US psychoanalysis, such as its current emphasis on intersubjectivity and countertransference. Reik's legacy for nonmedical psychoanalysis in the US is equally important. The training of nonmedical analysts, such as psychologists and social workers, is now largely accepted, partly because of Reik's efforts.
Jewish Wit Gamut Press 1962