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Leitner1, M. (1999). Pathologizing as a way of dealing with conflicts and dissent in the psychoanalytic movement. Free Associations, 7(3):459-483.

(1999). Free Associations, 7(3):459-483

Pathologizing as a way of dealing with conflicts and dissent in the psychoanalytic movement

Marina Leitner1

‘One can spare oneself the refutation with the help of arguments in the case of a large number of authors, if one knows how abnormal they are themselves.’

(Freud to Pfister, 27 February 1934; Falzeder 1996: 79)


The psychoanalytic movement has often been confronted with the fact that members were in dissent from the official and established mainstream psychoanalysis, but they did not always develop into dissidents as a result. It would be an inquiry of its own to search for reasons why, for example, Otto Rank, C.G. Jung, or Alfred Adler were treated as dissidents, whereas Oskar Pfister, August Aichhorn, Lou Andreas-Salomé, or Ludwig Binswanger were able to stay in the movement despite their deviating theories. In those cases where psychoanalysts were treated as dissidents, the strategy often applied was to heap discredit upon them: they were psychiatrically diagnosed and pathologized. This happened during the time of the conflict as well as in the official historiography of psychoanalysis.

One could argue that, in this respect, psychoanalysis does not differ from other movements. However, one characteristic of psychoanalysis is its claim that it contributes to the enlightenment of mankind, it makes the unconscious conscious, and it heals. Its conflicting nature is that the same instrument that is meant to serve enlightenment and healing can also be used as a weapon in a struggle with an opponent.

Psychoanalysis also differs from other sciences in that it is evident that a parallel can be drawn between the analyst's personality and her/his theory.

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