Why Mutual Analysis Failed: The Case of Ferenczi and Rn
Karen Maroda, Ph.D.
The prevailing opinion concerning Ferenczi has shifted dramatically in recent years. Often depicted as emotionally and physically ill in the last years of his life, he has recently been resurrected and restored to his rightful place as one of Freud's most brilliant colleagues. Accusations of madness made about him have been dismissed, and his death by pernicious anemia is thought to have prematurely ended a courageous and innovative career in psychoanalysis. Much of the controversy that has surrounded Ferenczi, both in his lifetime and since his death, centered on his treatment of the American woman Elizabeth Severen, codenamed RN. The years he spent conducting a highly unorthodox treatment with her, climaxing with their adoption of mutual analysis, cast a shadow not only over Ferenczi's clinical judgment, but also his sanity.
Fortune (1993) describes how an American woman named Leota Brown, who had suffered much of her life from eating disorders, depression, and other ailments that resulted in repeated hospitalizations, transformed herself into Elizabeth Severn. Born and raised in the Midwest, she bore a daughter by age twenty-two, recovered from a major breakdown at twenty-seven, and subsequently made the decision to become a “healer” herself. She divorced her husband and moved to Texas, where she sold encyclopedias door-to-door, helped her customers with their problems, and finally opened an office, calling herself “Elizabeth Severn, Metaphysician.”
From 1914 to 1924 she practiced psychotherapy, sans credentials, out of a hotel suite on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Though successful, she suffered from confusion, hallucinations, nightmares, and suicidal depression.
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