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Eisold, K. (2000). Unfree Associations: Inside Psychoanalytic Institutes by Douglas Kirsner. London: Process Press, 2000. Pb Pp. viii+324. £19.95. ISBN 1-899209-12-3. Free Associations, 8(2):170-172.

(2000). Free Associations, 8(2):170-172

Unfree Associations: Inside Psychoanalytic Institutes by Douglas Kirsner. London: Process Press, 2000. Pb Pp. viii+324. £19.95. ISBN 1-899209-12-3

Review by:
Kenneth Eisold

This extraordinary book is a labour of love and of rage. I say “love” because it has obviously been painstakingly compiled. Distilled from interviews with over 150 psychoanalysts conducted over almost 20 years, it carefully details the stories of many of the upheavals and schisms that have beset four of the most prominent American psychoanalytic institutes, The New York Institute, The Boston, The Chicago, and The Los Angeles (LAPSI).

Kirsner tells a number of stories that not only never have been told before in such a balanced and fair-minded way, but stories that I had believed could never be told. Through his profound engagement with his subject and his determination to get it right, he has retrieved these events from the fading memories and obscure records of those who lived through them and who, often, played major roles themselves. Clearly, much has been lost to the dustbin of history, but almost single handedly Kirsner has retrieved these remarkable stories of rivalries, plots, vendettas, narcissistic exploits and injuries as well as idealistic and repressive crusades that comprise the secret history of American psychoanalysis. In doing so, he has provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to better understand our institutional history and professional dilemmas.

It is also a labour of love because it tries to stand apart from the events it depicts and understand them without blame. That is, he calls attention to the anxieties, ambitions and petty motivations of the leaders who brought about these painful events, unsparingly at times, but he doesn't scapegoat them. This is no mean feat as, obviously, no one could undertake such a project without getting caught up again and again in the issues.

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